“You’d be surprised how many Hawaiians live in Oceanside.” Kaleo Wassman, the guitarist in Pepper and a Hawaiian transplant himself, says this after he tells me he’s lived in Oceanside for the past three or four years. “Why Oceanside? Because I can afford to live on the beach here and still buy food.”
Wassman says he and his two other bandmates in Pepper chose San Diego because “this was as far away from home as we could afford to go. In 1999, all three of us decided to move from Kona to Carlsbad. We had a friend with a spare bedroom who lived there. Our first night in California, we all went to Tijuana. You wanna talk about culture shock? Going from a small island in the Pacific Ocean to Tijuana in one day — we said, what did we do?”
He says they picked up the San Diego Reader and scanned the listings of venues and local shows to get an idea of the lay of the land as far as the local music scene. “Our first gig was at a sushi bar in Carlsbad. They paid us in all-you-can-drink sake.” Soon after, Pepper began to land gigs at ’Canes and Winstons. In time, they forged a musical alliance with a local band likewise influenced by Sublime, Point Loma’s Slightly Stoopid. “Same attitude,” says Wassman. “Same work ethic.”
The duo that would eventually become Pepper started when Wassman and Bret Bollinger began playing together in middle school in 1996. They found a drummer named Yesod Williams, left Kona for San Diego a couple of years later, and once here hooked into the reggae circuit. In 1999, they released their debut CD Give’n It on Volcom Entertainment.
Pepper began playing as many as 220 shows a year as tour support for acts such as 311, Flogging Molly, and, by 2001, Warped Tours. “That means you’re in the studio during your three weeks off,” Wassman says. But for their new self-titled release, he says the trio spent three years writing and recording, much of it in his home studio in Oceanside. The single “FKARND,” released this month, is license-plate-ese for “fucking around.”
At home, Wassman says he hits open-mic nights at clubs in Carlsbad and Leucadia. “There are these amazing bands in San Diego that nobody knows about.” For eats, he favors the Hill Street Café, and then there’s the ocean. “When we’re home, we surf every day.” He had been in the water on the day we spoke by phone. “Sixty-seven degrees,” he says of the ocean temperature. “No wetsuit needed. Just being by the ocean is incredible,” he says. “Oceanside’s got a lot of grit, but I kinda like that. You got soccer moms, bikers, surfers. It’s got so much in this one little zone.”