Monday, May 4, 2009

Duff Interview: The Pepper Pots!

Joan Verges, the drummer for the extraordinary ska/soul band The Pepper Pots, which is fronted by three terrific female vocalists--Adriana Prunell, Marina Torres, and Merce Munne--recently took the time to do a short e-mail interview with The Duff Guide to Ska, just after the band's tour of Texas, Arizona, and California in support of their second album, Shake It! (on Megalith Records in the USA).

For the uninitiated, Shake It! contains a wealth of stellar original ska and rocksteady tunes, including the wonderfully uplifting "Stay on Your Way" (with guest vocals from Dr. Ring Ding), "Lucky Girl," and "Forget the Rules," but the album really shoots sparks when the band cranks up the soul, like on the Motown-y cuts "My Heart Belongs to You" and "I Can Feel It." Really hot stuff.

Shake It! also features a reverential cover of The Pioneers' "Starvation" with The Pioneers still sounding great on lead vocals ("One Unity" is the Dr. Ring Ding version of this track), as well as the band's take of The Ronettes "Be My Baby" (Estelle Bennett died at 67 this past February--an article in the New York Times revealed that her post-Ronettes life was marked by struggles with mental illness and homelessness) and Baba Brooks' arrangement of "Duck Soup" with the French ska instrumental band ASPO.

(It's interesting to note that "Starvation" was also covered by a ska supergroup of the same name consisting of members of Madness, General Public, The Specials, UB40, and The Pioneers for a charity record--released in 1985 on Madness' label--to raise money for Oxfam and Doctors without Borders to help the victims of war and famine in Ethiopia; the project was overshadowed by Bob Geldof's "Do They Know It's Christmas" Band Aid project, despite the fact that the "Starvation" recording was conceived before Saint Bob's--but he had the pop superstars and backing to get the record out the door first. After breaking out the Starvation 12", I decided to take a listen to the other great ska-related 'cause' record of that time, The Special AKA's "Free Nelson Mandela," which now sounds even better to these ears than it did back in 1984--and I loved it then!)

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The Duff Guide to Ska: How did your first U.S. tour go? Were there any surprises--good or bad?

Joan Verges: We are very happy with all the gigs and organizers on this tour. The public received us with open arms everywhere we went and we really enjoyed every show.

We are specially grateful to Jeremy from Megalith Records for all the well-done job, he made all the tour run smoothly.

DGTS: Which show was your favorite and why?

JV: We have good regards from all and each of the US shows, but if we had to mention one or two it must be the SXSW and the Houston one.

The SXSW was a big challenge for us, for what it means for us to play in such a big festival and for the audience response.

Houston was the first place we played in the US and everything was new and exciting for us. We were surprised when we realise that almost everybody speak Spanish there! It was a very special night, together with the local band Los Skarnales we had an amazing ‘welcome party’.

DGTS: What was SXSW like for The Pepper Pots?

JV: Well, as I told you before, it was one of the most special events. We had a huge acceptance from the audience. We could only see people and more people from the stage and everyone was dancing, singing and enjoying our music! We really didn’t expect this hit, bearing in mind the size of the festival where is impossible to see more than a 5% of the shows that take place. It’s by far, the biggest fest we have ever played in.

DGTS: How would you compare the U.S. ska scene with what is happening right now in Europe and Japan?

I think that US is very big and we found different scenes depending on the state where we were. California, for example, has a more classic ska scene, similar to the one you could find in Europe. However, in Texas or Arizona the public seemed more ska-punk, like in Japan.

DGTS: Bucket seems to have taken the band under his wing--when and where did you first meet him? Did you just run into him in Spain?

Bucket has been into this scene for years. We have coincided several times in some concerts with the Toasters and we knew him for a long time. Besides, he’s living in Valencia (Spain) for years. He and Megalith Records made possible the release of our album “Shake It!” in the US.

DGTS: Is there a particular sound or concept your have in mind for your next album, "NOW"? And what has it been like to work with your producer, Binky Griptite?

Now! will be quite different from the other two albums. We just follow the natural evolution of the band and it has brought us to Soul.

JV: Working with Binky Griptite has been an unforgettable experience. He’s very clear about the “old school” sound and it’s captured in every theme of this new album.

We are also recording a “making of” video which includes all the details about the managing and production of this new album from the first day till its release… Something we though had to be seen to understand better this job. A present for all the people that follow us from the beginning and we already consider them our family.

DGTS: Since you are doing some of the recording and mixing in New York City, will the band be performing a gig there sometime soon (please)?

JV: Last touches of the album and mixes has been done in New York, but it was impossible to play there at the end of the tour, because we had no time enough.

But we are looking forward to come back to New York, and we hope that after the release, we have soon the chance for launching there the new album “NOW!”

We fell in love with this country, we’ll come back, for sure!

DGTS: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview!

JV: Thank you so much to you. It has been a pleasure.

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