The music associated with the west coast of America always goes down a storm in this city. Love, CSNY, The Byrds… if it’s got a heavenly harmony, then it can wander down Hanover Street and make a mate in no time at all around here. Welsh folk rockers Zervas and Pepper have headlined Liverpool a few times and are back in town this weekend to spread their songs around some more. By Alan O’Hare.
“We love performing in Liverpool, it’s a fabulous city and your musical history speaks for itself.” I hear that a lot. Chat to any touring musician, except maybe Bruce Springsteen, and chances are that the Liverpool date is the one they’re looking forward to. Kathryn Pepper, one half of Welsh harmony rockers Zervas and Pepper, is no different: “It’s been a while since we last performed there, so we cant wait to come back! Our previous shows in Liverpool have been a mixture of both headline and support slots – we did some nice acoustic shows at Leaf a few years back and we supported Deacon Blue at the Echo Arena in 2014.”
That’s par for the course with bands like Zervas and Pepper these days. Acoustic support slots will lead to headline full band shows around a release and so it goes. “We don’t really have a preference, though” the singer reveals. “The acoustic gigs have that sixties troubadour feel and we can get up close and personal with the audience and make the most of the musical subtleties. The band shows get real dynamics, power and are more raucous.” Raucous isn’t a word I’d use to describe the music Zervas and Pepper make. But it’s very good, whatever box they fit in. Yes, there’s a real Laurel Canyon vibe and those heavenly harmonies are pure west coast of America, but something else stirs here, too. Guitarist Paul Zervas’ love of open tunings and psychedelic melodies take the tunes twisting down the the boulevards of broken dreams they occupy.
Fourth album, ‘Wilderland’, was released earlier this year and is the duo’s best yet, featuring the CSNY-esque stroll of ‘Dark Matter’ and ‘Hotel Bible’ (video below), with its The War On Drugs-atmosphere and Neil Young high spots. They’re in town, at The Zanzibar Club this weekend, and are on a bit of a roll: “We’ve been touring in Germany, but can’t wait to get back to the great indie venues over here,” says Pepper. “They are the lifeblood of the live music scene… even the biggest acts have to start at those first!”
How do singers and writers from Wales sound so much like the product of Laurel Canyon?
Before Paul and I had met, we had both separately discovered and fallen in love with that period of song craft that came out of California in the seventies. The music spoke to us in a way other music hadn’t.
It’s melodically complex and thoughtful… music wrapped up in an intoxicating rock and roll package. Once we’d started diving into Joni Mitchell, CSNY and Steely Dan records, there was a whole family tree of great records to discover. We were both writing songs and performing when we met and bonded over a shared love for this pool of songwriters. Their sound was second nature to us by then.
I believe you visited the Rocky Mountains to record the new album…
We were looking for a place to write that was completely removed from the distractions of modern life, so we flew to the USA and rented a log cabin high up in the mountains of South Park, Colorado. It was surrounded by rivers and forestry… and we had no phones, TV, Internet. Nothing. It was the perfect place to write.
Sounds idyllic. How has your relationship changed as the band have continued to tour and record?
The best way to get to know people is to tour together. It’s challenging, physically demanding and you have to operate as a team. We get on well and we have a really good laugh, it’s always fun. We indulge in music, chat all day and night and throw ourselves into the adventure of turning up in new places and meeting new audiences.
The ‘grown-up’ music magazines etc. dig you – does that translate into tickets sales?
All promotion helps. People often tell us how they found us from reviews, features, radio play and word of mouth. We still read those magazines, too, so we like to think the music mags’ still hold weight with audiences.
Tell me about any memories you have of previous Liverpool gigs?
Supporting Deacon Blue was an amazing experience… that was a really fun audience!
What have you been listening to on the road this year?
Loads of Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, Elliott Randall, Joe Walsh, Allman Brothers and Steve Tilston.
Zervas and Pepper
Saturday, October 7th 2017, 8pm
The Zanzibar Club, Seel Street, Liverpool
Pic courtesy Z&P