In Tahoe, reggae rock comes full circle for Iration, Pepper
A nationwide reggae tour this summer is called Live From Paradise, but it could be named Full Circle.
Iration went on its first national tour with headliner Pepper in 2008. This time, Iration is the headliner.
Iration, Pepper, Fortunate Youth and Katastro performed Friday, Aug. 23, in the only outdoor show of the year at MontBleu Casino Resort & Spa in Lake Tahoe.
“We are coming full circle,” said Iration’s frontman Micah Pueschel. “Being able to tour together is awesome and a testament to the strength of our fan bases. This whole summer has been a really good time.”
Pepper is a pioneering band in the reggae rock genre, which was influenced by Bradley Nowell and Sublime. Formed in 1996 (the year Nowell died in San Francisco at age 28), Pepper is a trio of best friends – bassist Bret Bollinger, guitarist Kaleo Wassman and drummer Yesod Williams — from Kailua in the North Kona District of Hawaii. Pepper signed Iration on its Law Records label, and Iration’s popularity exploded with its 2010 album “Time Bomb.”
“It was so cool watching them grow up literally right in front of us,” Bollinger said. “Here we are all these years later. They’ve really evolved. They all ‘growed’ up.”
It was the founding member of Iration who first contacted Pepper.
“For my high school graduation party, a bunch of us pooled money and flew (Pepper) back,” Pueschel said. “My dad had a flatbed trailer and a generator, and we put on a show at one of my friend’s ranches. It got really big and we had to hire security.”
After graduation, Pueschel and his friends went off to college in Santa Barbara, where they formed a band. They continue to live in the sunny coastal town.
“They had a different route out of Hawaii,” Bollinger said. “They were from the other side of the tracks. We were a little bit older. When they were making noise in Santa Barbara, we kept running into them. They really loved the music and wanted to be part of shows. Eventually they started hunkering down and really finding their sound.”
Eleven years later, Iration is on its biggest national tour as a headliner. Dates include a sold-out show at Red Rocks in Colorado and a finale at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, which was the venue Iration dreamed of playing when it was “just a garage band,” Pueschel said.
“Pepper gave us an opportunity,” Pueschel said. “They showed us the ropes and how to operate as a touring band. They gave us a lot of our first experiences on the road, so we definitely owe them a big credit for exposing us to our first national audiences.”
Pepper is to Iration as Iration is to Fortunate Youth.
Fortunate Youth is from south bay LA and they play more traditional roots reggae style. They switch instruments and move around, Pueschel noted.
“They’re all guys we’ve known for a long time. Before they even had bands, they were coming to our shows. Now we’re taking them on tour and we’ve toured with them a number of times. It’s been a cool circle, again.”
Bollinger recorded a song with Fortunate Youth’s silky smooth singer Dan Kelly, who is called the Frank Sinatra of reggae.
“All of the band members are killer musicians,” Bollinger said. “Their sound is very dubby, not as structured as Iration. You get lost in a way like when Slightly Stoopid will start to jam. It’s very ethereal. Once you’re in, you’re in. You don’t want it to stop.”
Katastro, from Tempe, Arizona, has a completely different sound. The four-piece band was started by former high school buddies Andy Chaves and Andrew Stravers.
“It is more of an indie and pop and hip-hop mix,” Pueschel said. “It’s got a different feel and sound. We like having an eclectic group so it’s not every band kind of sounding the same. Every set is a different kind of vibe. It’s like going to a mini festival because the acts are so varied, but they work together at the same time.”
Bollinger spoke to Tahoe Onstage before a show in Houston.
“It’s been hot and fun and it feels like an old-school rock and roll summer to me,” he said “It’s been super fun out here with the Fortunate Youth boys and of course the crazy, wild Kastastro fellas, too. Every day has been like a fresh party you are excited for.
“We are one of the smallest genres, the reggae rock genre. It was Sublime, Bradley passed away, then it was Slightly Stoopid and Pepper. That was it at the beginning. Everyone else just jumped on board and followed along and grown up along with it. We’ve been the pillars of it. Thank God, because we’re always excited to catch up with our friends.
“In country music, I am sure there are 200 different acts who are never going to meet or play a show together or do a song together because there’s so much. It’s overflowing. With us, you’ve got 10, 15, 20 bands maybe that are working their butts off to bring this music to the world.
Pepper released its eighth – and perhaps best — studio album, “Local Motion,” on June 28. The trio seems to grow tighter as the years fly.
“Just like any other brothers, we’ve had our knockdown, drag-out fights,” Bollinger said. We’ve had times when it’s hard to be around each other but at the end of the day – and since even before we had the band – we’ve been these people. The band is a byproduct of that brotherhood.
“I think that’s the joy you see 23 years later on the stage. We are literally pouring our hearts out because we look at each other and we laugh and we smile. That’s authentic. We’re getting happier and happier and finding more reasons to laugh. We feel blessed that we bring that out of each other.”
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.