Cardiff duo Zervas and Pepper release their third album, Wilderland, in June. It’s a gorgeous, expansive sounding record sure to gain the couple even wider ranging exposure and perhaps even win them some further high profile endorsements to go along with the mighty David Crosby. The wonderfully affable Paul and Katherine took time our from their busy schedule to talk to God Is In The TV.
How much has your life changed since we first met outside a Neil Young show a few years back?
Katherine Pepper: I guess the main thing is that we stopped working when we were picked up. We’d never toured before but then 6Music picked up on us and we did a Lauren Laverne session – we got LOADS of festivals and shows from that and it really raised our profile.
I remember you were a little concerned that you were getting “too much 2, not enough 6” at the time…
Paul Zervas: That definitely wasn’t meant as any disrespect to Radio 2; obviously we’re hugely grateful that they picked up on us too. I think the point we were trying to make there was the difference between the stations – obviously Radio 2 has a much wider reach, with their listeners being people working through the day, like lorry drivers regularly tuning in and generally casual music fans, whereas with 6, it’s not going to get you that influx of sales so much, but it’s a real music fans’ station. They’re more likely to make a conscious effort to tie your sound to another artist’s. Radio 2 on the other hand, are more like “here’s another pop record.”
Kath: The great thing for us is that we get played on both, which is a real nice situation to be in.
You wrote most of Wilderland in Colorado, didn’t you? Did that inform the songwriting much, do you think?
Kath: Loads. It’s just a case of getting away from where you live; it heightens your senses. At a time there when there is so much turmoil going on in the world, with Palestine and stuff like that, to get away and just see deer on a daily basis instead feels so far away from what it is to be human, like another world, and we were grateful for that peace.
Paul: It was just nice to go to a place, shut the door where there was no Internet, not even any box sets to distract us…it was just us, a guitar, nature and a purpose.
That sounds like a tagline for the band itself! Now, my favourite album this year, to date, is Hurray For The Riff Raff’s The Navigator. I felt that your own ‘Roses Of Jericho’ shared a kind of kinship with that album’s themes – yours focuses more upon the present time, whereas Alynda Segarro is looking back to her Puerto Rican roots, albeit through a semi-autobiographical character’s eyes, and trying to mentally exorcise the demons of her oppressed ancestors…
Kath: That sounds amazing, we haven’t heard that yet but we’ll check it out…
Paul: ‘Roses Of Jericho‘ came about when we were driving through this town in America and we thought “The next little town we come to, we’ll get something to eat“, but when we got there, all the shops were boarded up and we were worried that we were going to run out of fuel…
Kath: Yeah, and it was like a real High Sierra town, and it was totally deserted, except for this one restaurant. When we went in there, it really hit us how old everyone was, except for this one young girl, the waitress. We got talking to her and it was obvious that there was no work here, and everybody had just been trying to get out in order to get some kind of a life. She was really worried about what she was going to do as there was nothing there. The place felt like a prison, it was so far from anywhere, and after we left, we just kept thinking – and talking – about this young girl and how she was going to survive in the world. It must be so daunting to just head off on your own like that with nothing but blind hope.
And it’s a really beautiful song, as much of your music is, in fact. So much so that you caught the ear of David Crosby…
Paul: That was a bit of a weird story. Back in March 2014, we booked to go to the States but it fell through. We were devastated because we knew David Crosby was going to be playing during the time we were there and now we were going to miss him.
Kath: Then by some bizarre twist of fate, David somehow got himself hospitalised, and changed the date to when we happened to be going back! So we thought “That’s it then, we’ve GOT to meet him now!” – it felt like a sign!
Paul: So we went to three of the shows, and met Marcus Eaton, David’s guitarist, who took us backstage and introduced us to David, so we gave him our album, and eventually he tweeted us to say how much he loved it! That was amazing.
‘Mountain To Ocean’ is something of a change of direction for you – it reminds me, in the verses anyway – of The Faces. You’ve somehow managed to pull off the impressive feat of ‘wistful but not twee’…
K: Wow, they’re one of my favourite bands ever! I’m not sure how you came up with that comparison but I’m flattered, so thank you. I think the reason it doesn’t sound twee is…we never shy away from being earnest, you know, we don’t really care about being “cool” – if it sounds good to us, and as long as it sounds sincere, that’s all that matters, I think.
A lot of Wilderland sounds very personal…
K: There’s always an element of us in there, even if it isn’t necessarily about us.
P: Even things like ‘Mazeppo And The White Horse‘, which is a poem by Lord Byron about a man who’s been tied to a horse as punishment for an affair, and they go on this journey all over the place, through Heaven and Hell, but Mazeppo and the horse end up forming this deep bond of friendship and there’s a happy ending to it. And you know, Kath and I have been together for so long now that we can relate to it – it’s very subtle but it can be related to so many things in life. It’s all about the journey.
…and speaking of journeys, Zervas And Pepper hit the road in October. Don’t miss ’em:
2nd Oct – Junction 2, Cambridge (Band)
3rd Oct – Thousand Island, London (Band)
5th Oct – Gullivers, Manchester (Band)
6th Oct – The Zanzibar, Liverpool (Band)
10th Oct – Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham(Trio)
11th Oct – The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh (Trio)
12th Oct – Milngavie Folk Club, Milngavie (Trio)
14th Oct – Cardiff – (Full Band)
18th Oct – The Fleece, Bristol (Full Band)
19th Oct – Arlington Arts Centre,Arlington (Band)
Tickets can be bought here: http://www.alttickets.com/zervas-pepper-tickets