Reggae outfit Pepper’s new album pays tribute to Sublime’s late Bradley Nowell.
Reggae trio Pepper’s version of Sublime’s “Work That We Do” is the lead single off a new compilation, The House That Bradley Built, due September 4 and featuring never-released acoustic covers from the catalogue of the late Bradley Nowell’s band, performed by more than 20 guest artists. Nowell died after a 1996 heroin overdose.
“‘Work That We Do’ has always been one of my favorite Sublime tracks since the first time I ever heard it on the Robbin the Hood album,” says Pepper singer-guitarist Kaleo Wassman. “It was so hard to get that CD in Kona in those days, and I was lucky enough to have a friend who owned it. I remember sitting in the parking lot of Taco Bell listening to the album for the first time. It was magic for me, hearing those great songs with so many different sounds and textures. There were a lot of different recording styles on that album, and we wanted to recreate the raw vibe of that track in our cover of it. So, with quarantine in place, we were able to work remotely at my home studio with the production team.”
The duo that would become Pepper formed in Hawaii when Wassman and bassist-singer Bret Bollinger began playing together in middle school. They found a drummer named Yesod Williams, left Kona for San Diego in 1999, and took up residence in Carlsbad, Vista, and Oceanside. In 2003, they landed a record deal with Volcom Entertainment and began working with Matt Phillips of Silverback Management (Fishbone). They went on to play as many as 200 shows a year as tour support for 311, Flogging Molly, and on multiple Warped Tours. The band landed on top of Billboard’s Reggae Chart last year with their eighth studio album, Local Motion, and they’ve often shared bills with another Sublime-ly inspired local act, Point Loma’s Slightly Stoopid.
Other performers on The House That Bradley Built include locals Hirie, also heavily influenced by Nowell and Sublime. “When you have a band like Sublime, the Clash, or Big Audio Dynamite that fuse so many styles of music effortlessly,” says Wassman, “you understand that they are true music fans at their core, not just musicians but lovers of music. That energy, that frequency resonates through people and is felt with this authenticity. San Diego is a border town and we have so much culture here. I live in Oceanside now, and it’s the only place besides Kona that I’ll live in the States. The vibe in San Diego has so many layers, which is why these types of bands continue their influence here.”
The album also features G. Love, the Expanders, Common Kings, the Skints, Long Beach Dub Allstars, and Trevor Young (SOJA). Descendents contributed a ukulele rendition of their song “Hope,” a song Bradley covered on 40 Oz. to Freedom. Half Pint performs his song “Lovin’,” which was the original sample for Sublime’s “What I Got,” and Jim Lindberg of Pennywise covers “Boss D.J.” A duet of the Melodians’ classic “Rivers of Babylon,” which Sublime covered on an acoustic release, is sung by Bradley’s son Jakob Nowell and Bradley’s father, Jim “Papa” Nowell. Proceeds from the album will help fund the Nowell Family Foundation’s opioid recovery facility, Bradley’s House.
So what touchstones do San Diego bands still have in common with the music Bradley Nowell made with Sublime so many years ago? “Passion for what they’re playing and singing about,” says Wassman. “And authenticity, a unity of cheering each other on in the genre, always giving the maximum respect to the artists that started it all, our Jamaican brothers and sisters.