When you hear the music of Zervas & Pepper it’s difficult to comprehend that the city they call home is not located in the golden state of California. Hailing from the Welsh capital Cardiff the pair create harmony-fuelled folk rock that transports you to the sun soaked coastal roads of Big Sur or to a shamans mystical hideaway in the dramatic slopes of the Tehachapi mountains. Cat On The Wall’s Jo Whitby caught up with Kathryn Pepper and Paul Zervas via email to find out more about their new album ‘Lifebringer’…
Cat On The Wall: I’d like to start off by saying that your new album ‘Lifebringer’ is a really wonderful record. Congratulations! How has the response been so far? Do you get pre-release nerves?
Kathryn Pepper: Thank you so much! We’re so glad you’ve been enjoying the album! The response so far has been great! Both the press and national radio have really got behind the record and more importantly for us our listeners seem really happy with progression of our overall sound as a band. It’s a record we ourselves felt proud to deliver, we had hardly any pre-release nerves this time around.
Paul Zervas: Material-wise we were both very aware during the recording stages that we’d not be putting something out that we weren’t entirely happy with, so quality control was high and there were couple of tracks didn’t make the final cut.
COTW: Am I right in thinking many of the songs on ‘Lifebringer’ started life in LA? Why did you decide to visit LA in particular and did the location influence you musically?
KP: We’ve always been drawn back to California. We love the changing landscape there, the arid desert of Joshua Tree to the Green coastal forests of Big Sur and back again to the sprawling cityscapes. Los Angeles in particular because of our shared love for the music that came out of the Canyons in the late 60’s- early 70’s. We both grew up listening to songs that sold us on this dreamy, golden, laid back way of life and when we finally did experience it for ourselves some years ago. We realized it’s all true!
PZ: LA and especially Hollywood has been the media epicentre for nearly a century now, so in that time it has stored up a hell of a lot of mojo in those hills! It’s just full of artistic and creative types and just the oddest of characters, you can’t help but want to write songs out there.
COTW: You are very good story tellers lyrically – I find your songs very visual if that makes sense? What is your creative process when song writing? Do you have set roles or do you shake it up a bit?
PZ: Thank you! It varies, rarely ever is it completely collaborative from the outset. Usually one of us will have the bare bones of an idea lyrically and musically and then we’ll fine tune it together. It works because both myself and Kathryn tend to be quite adventurous when it comes to ideas and together we tend to expand on that.
KP: We’re really into creating a back story and a landscape for the characters, something that the listener can escape into. For this record we got into the idea of creating something fairly epic in around 3 to 4 minutes. So lots of drama lyrically and musically in a short burst.
COTW: The artwork for the record is really original and striking. How did you come to work with Logan Maxwell Hagege?
KP: We discovered Logan’s paintings in a gallery in LA. The bold colours and his eye for detail caught our attention straight away. The pieces we fell for were actually pretty different from the cover art we chose and the first time we saw his work we felt sure he was among the classic American ‘turn of the Century’ painters. When we did some research online we found out he was actually the same age as us and was very much ‘on the scene’ as a fine artist we could hardly believe it. We were simply blown away by his style and subject matter that we eventually got in touch with him online and became friends.
PZ: On visiting Logan’s LA studio later in the year he very kindly named one of his most recent paintings depicting a powerful Native American Chief after our own song ‘Buffalo Crow’. It was a great gesture and of course we were made up when shortly after Logan gave us the green light to use his painting of a spiritual Kachina doll for the cover of LIFEBRINGER. It’s such a striking image and we think it goes hand in hand with the music.
COTW: Do you feel you’ve progressed musically since your first release in 2008? What would you do differently looking back (if anything)?
PZ: I think the main progression has been that the production process is firmly in our hands now which means we don’t have to compromise on where we’re trying to take the song. Over the years we’ve grown in confidence which has allowed us to ignore outside influences and make the music we really want to make. With ‘LIFEBRINGER’ the audience is hearing more of the real Z&P sound. I don’t think we’d change anything really, of course you always feel you could have done things better but that’s all part of developing as an artist.
COTW: What are you listening to at the moment?
KP: We’re really digging ‘Mogwai’s Soundtrack to ‘Les Revenants’ (The Returned). It’s a brilliant album of brooding, intense instrumentals that work musically in their own right outside of the actual TV show, visuals are not needed. We’re also enjoying the new Beth Orton album. A great return to form! Bob Dylan’s ‘Desire’ has been knocking around this summer too and anything from Steely Dan usually gets a spin in our house. For long journeys with the band it’ll be mostly The Beach Boys, we like to get the four part harmonies going on.
COTW: Finally, what are you plans for the near future?
KP: We have a few more festivals left this summer, Croissant Neuf Summer Party and Green Man Festival and then late summer we’ll be doing a couple of acoustic tours, one around the North of the UK and one around Devon/Cornwall area. We also plan to release the next single from Lifebringer called ‘Living in a Small Town’.