In Conversation With . . . Gregory Pepper, Part I

Gregory Pepper is a Guelph-based visual artist as well as a writer and singer of deliciously gloomy experimental songs. He is now on tour to promote his latest CD, With Trumpets Flaring (soon to be reviewed in The Mindful Bard). Recently Gregory took the time to answer some of Wanda Waterman St. Louis’s questions.

Getting Started in a Music Career

I’m still not sure if I can justify calling it a ?career? since I really don’t make very much money. Although after releasing albums independently for almost a decade being part of an actual label feels pretty legit.

Like many angry young men before me I was very much taken by punk rock in my early teens. There was a sense of freedom to it that inspired me to pick up a guitar and almost immediately start making up songs?terrible songs, but incrementally less so. Then the usual stuff: playing in bands, learning how to multi-track and arrange music, and eventually crossing paths with a like-minded label (Fake Four Inc) willing to release my record. Frankly I’m still waiting for that ?big break,? but fame is a strange and fickle friend so for now I’m pretty comfortable in the afternoon shadows of obscurity.

Musical Background

I studied guitar in a formal environment for a few years, but shredding on the instrument never really appealed to me as much as chords, rhythm, and melody. Once I figured that stuff out I applied it to drums and piano and sort of taught myself, which explains why I have appallingly poor technique.

Tell me about your childhood . . .

My mom was telling me a story the other day about how when we were living in Zimbabwe all the kids would crowd around and reach out to touch me because they’d never come in contact with white people before. I can’t recall that myself, but I think it marks some subliminal development of my brash, narcissistic personality disorder. Pretty normal stuff though, really. Training wheels and skinned knees. Nothing dark or fascinating.

On Touring

I haven’t had a chance to tour the new record yet, although past experiences have taught me that you should always bring plenty of duct tape and felt-tip pens. Oh, and Pepto-Bismol too. Lots of sitting around and waiting, eating poorly and consuming illicit substances. It seems fun in retrospect, but I get a lot more out of being productive, creating something from scratch, you know? Playing shows can be a pretty fleeting pursuit, since there’s nothing left to show for it when you look back.

What do you need in your life in order to be creative?

Beer. Maybe a bit of grass.

Are there any books, albums, or films that have been landmarks in your creative development?

Yeah, I mean, everything you see gets absorbed and reconstituted as something else. Michel Gondry, Charles Bukowski, Brian Wilson . . . I mirror all these guys, but in a skewed, gimpy sense.

Whatever possessed you to write a suicide song (?If You Try?) in doo-wop style?

I really wanted to mimic the Harlem doo-wop sound, but I think I failed on a sonic level.

The subject matter, though, seemed to fit perfectly. There’s a marked sadness to those old 6/8 tunes and I felt like a brash, timely depiction of hopelessness was called for.

Did ?I Was a John? emerge from personal experience?

No, it hasn’t quite gotten to the point where I’ve paid for sex. That tune is more a meditation upon looking at the loose, lewd photos of my wife around the time we met, five or six years ago. The ?little something extra? is not an STD reference as some have speculated but rather a parallel between love and a roll of bank notes on the credenza.

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