“Life is kind of funny,” Bret Bollinger recalled from his dressing room moments before he stepped on stage. “I’ve done this basically my entire life; started the band, played our first show, did our first tour when I was 17 years old. We just had our 20-year anniversary of Pepper. Sounds crazy, right?”
Sitting backstage with Bollinger and The Bad Habits at the Slidebar in Fullerton, Calif., several miles away from Los Angeles, the conversation flowed between laughter and musical interludes. The intimate setting provided just the right environment for the vocalist and his new group to huddle together for an a cappella rehearsal prior to their performance.
While Pepper’s summer tour with reggae greats Slightly Stoopid and Stick Figure doesn’t kick off until June, fans don’t exactly have to wait to hear more from the guys behind one of the genre’s most celebrated bands. Two decades strong, and on top of their music, Pepper has been hard at work cultivating not only their own talent but that of others, as well. Bollinger, along with drummer Yesod Williams and vocalist/guitarist Kaleo Wassman, also run their own label - LAW Records.
“With the other guys it manifested in totally different ways,” Bollinger said of their inspiration. “[Kaleo] started a yoga studio adventure and he’s doing a podcast now and [Yesod] is at the forefront of our record label; he’s signed probably 10 bands in the last year. He’s also doing a drum networking podcast which is so cool. For me, I just got more excited about music.”
In addition to Pepper, the frontman has teamed up with fellow musicians to form The Bad Habits. Signed under LAW Records, their dynamic is the perfect example of how the label is changing the landscape of reggae within the music industry. Bollinger enlisted Jeff Nisen on guitar and backing vocals, Andre Davis on bass and Patrick Salmon on drums. Davis and Salmon have bounced around with Nisen in several bands over the years, including their own project called Cheers to Nothing. Both on-stage and off, the group has the vibe of a loving family. Everybody is a part of the movement, including their monitor engineer, Jeff Bates, who you can often hear hopping in on vocals during a set.
Starting this spring, Bret Bollinger and The Bad Habits will be launching some new music. “We’ve been recording, doing a lot of co-writing with different artists, and working with different artists in the studio, too. We’ve stockpiled a collection of songs through all those different things. So, you can imagine the music sounds very different from track-to-track. The good thing about that is we’ve been able to cherry-pick all the ones that we really like in the form of two different EPs.”
The first EP, Lo-Fi, will debut at the top of summer 2018. As Bollinger describes, the album carries a vintage, ‘70s reggae vibe, similar to the sounds you’d expect to hear from the early years of The Police. “It sounds so authentic which is why this was so fun. To just capture the idea of the lo-fi record, you’re going to hear it. You’re literally going to taste the ‘70s when you’re listening to it.”
“We were originally setting out to do a bigger album and then realized that one half sounded totally different from the other half,” Nisen added. “So, we decided to make one EP out of it; I think we’re going to do a series of EP releases. This one was a reggae one, the next one is going to be a little bit more pop/radio-friendly, maybe the third one will be a rock one.”
Aside from their collaboration on Pepper’s Ohana album, it was actually Nisen and Bollinger’s love for ‘90s grunge that bonded them creatively. As to how extensively they plan to expand outside of their own genre, fans will just have to wait and see.
Luckily, we’ll get to find out sooner rather than later. Pepper’s 2018 summer tour will be sandwiched in between a Bret Bollinger and The Bad Habits tour. Armed with a new EP, you can expect to see these guys hitting the road this May, and again in the fall.
As for what’s next, Bollinger says that he’s excited to continue to get into the production realm of things. “I’ve done it for the last few years for certain projects,” he tells AXS. “I’ve been really selective when a band or an artist brings me music that they want to do or has an energy they want captured in the studio. I want to encourage other artists to expand on that too because I think we’re going to find incredible songwriters and incredible producers that way. It took me 20 years to consider working in music in another capacity and I would challenge other artists who haven’t yet to give it a try.”
For more on the artist’s apparel line, check out the BOLLINGER BRAND website. You can pick up tickets to see Pepper on the Schools Out For Summer 2018 Tour here at AXS, and stay up-to-date with Bret on social media to find out more about The Bad Habits.