|....|| Zervas & Pepper
One the eve of their appearance at this year's Green Man Festival we met up with Zervas & Pepper who are rapidly gaining a reputation as one of Wales' most exciting acoustic prospects. During the course of our conversation they shared their passion for artists from a bygone age and the importance they place on seeing their music grow and develop organically.
The best bands have always been comprised of musicians who have different experiences and influences. For Kath Pepper & Paul Zervas their divergent musical upbringing provides an interesting insight into the influences that have come to define their distinctive sound. For Kath her journey into music began with British folk music.
" I have lived in Cardiff all my life got into music when I was about 18. Initially I liked Neil Young and then went to a lot of folk clubs and discovered people such as Bert Jansch and Pentangle. Later I got into more California singer song writers such as Joni Mitchell."
Paul's introduction to music came at a younger age and was largely shaped by the record collection of his older siblings:
" I grew up in mid Wales with an older brother and sister who were both music fanatics. The music they listened to had a profound effect on me. My brother was into the new wave of heavy metal (nwobhm) and was listening to bands such as Iron Maiden and Saxon. I loved what I was hearing and it made me see the value in records and I started collecting vinyl from an early age. I well remember being sat in the pub with my family and hearing Free's 'Alright Now' free coming out of the juke box. I had never heard anything like it before!"
What strikes you about the music Zervas & Pepper gravitated towards in their youth isthat it did not reflect the music being made at the time. For Paul this was a musical journey of discovery:
" While I liked some of the music being made when I was growing up when I heard that classic sound from the 60s and 70s I was turned on by it. I picked up on Neil Young's 'Harvest' album when I was about 14 and I then branched out into the family tree of it all such as Crosby, Stills & Nash and Joni Mitchell."
The music of Joni Mitchell was a common denominator between the two with Kath in particular finding inspiration in Mitchell's song writing:
" Pop music of my youth went over my head and had no impact on me. There was no band during my teens that made me think 'I love music'. I have always loved singing and I was introduced to the whole folk scene by some very enthusiastic people who told me 'you've got to watch this guitar player'. That really got me interested in making music. It had a huge effect on me and made me want to dive into music from thereon. Hearing Joni Mitchell had a profound effect on me. She is such an intelligent song writer. I think in general music of that period has a lot more substance than music of the period I grew up in."
As their musical tastes began to coincide it was long before their paths to crossed:
" I started writing songs and playing in loads of different bands for about 4 years until I met Paul. We started playing covers together and then we started writing our own original material."
"B efore working with Kath I was working solo doing a lot of open mike sessions and running them in places like the Toucan Club. All the time I was writing my own songs."
One of the most striking aspects to the music of Zervas & Pepper is the quality of their song writing. This is something that has evolved organically and is increasingly a collaborative process as Kath explains:
" We have always worked separately when writing songs and then came together for production and recording. Having worked together for so long you can get very precious and possessive about your own songs. However, we are starting to let each other in now and our next record will be more of joint co-write/co-production project."
Paul agrees and highlights the joint writing will combine their differing musical approaches:
" We learnt so much doing this record we have really travelled a road together. The songs we are writing now are written with a more of a collaborative approach. Our writing styles do vary with Kath tending to write in more minor keys and I tend to write songs in major keys. We are taking on each other's traits. What we don't want to do is wipe out each other's identities. 'Somewhere in the City' was very much a spread shot of songs (genre wise) with the intention of making an album that would have something for everyone. With our next album we'd like to create more continuity between us as writers and a more organic sound."
The album "Somewhere in the City" has received positive reviews, radio airplay from BBC6 Music and Radio Wales and most importantly has sold well, particularly at gigs. Apart from the quality of the music the artwork on the album has given the band a strong sense of identity through the images designed by Charlotte Little. Paul explains the thinking behind the visuals for the album:
" We really wanted the representation of a road trip for the CD cover. Charlotte knows us well so she really understood where we were coming from. Kath & I have undertaken road trips and gigged together in America and we wanted to somehow show this in visual form. As you open out the CD cover it reflects this with the pictures and images. We feel she has really captured our personalities."
At the moment Welsh acoustic artists such as Zervas & Pepper, Paper Aeroplanes and Al Lewis seem to be making a real impact in UK and parts of Europe. Zervas & Pepper explained why they think this acoustic, melodic sound is so popular and prevalent amongst Welsh musicians:
" Maybe it's the impact of living on the coast. We were travelling through Neath recently and actually in terms of scenery you could have been in California so maybe there are more similarities between Wales and Laurel Canyon than you might think."
After the success of 'Somewhere in the City' Zervas & Pepper are already planning for the year ahead:
" We hope to release our next album early in 2012. It won't be a departure form "Somewhere in the City" more of a blending together and writing more songs together. As far as live work goes Dave Sivell is our mainstay guitarist who has played with us for a while now. We may form a more permanent band as time progresses. We are hoping to perform at more festivals and also get a UK tour support slot."
Zervas & Pepper will be playing the Greenman Festival at the Greenman Pub stage on Friday 19 th August 2.15pm and their excellent new album ' Somewhere in the City ' is out now. The band will also be performing at the next Newsoundwales gig at St John's Church, Canton, Cardiff on Saturday 26 th November. More news on this will be announced soon.
19/8 Greenman Festival, Glanusk
3/9 Watusi Festival, Barry
28/9 Cardiff Arts Institute No Sweat festival
20/10 SWN Festival, Cardiff
12/11 The Pot Café, Cardiff
26/11 St John's Church, Canton, Cardiff
Somewhere in the City (2011)