Asbury Park-based Pepperwine have a slew of muy caliente shows coming up in support of their debut full-length, “Bright Ideas,” including two with fellow female funk-popsters Nalani & Sarina — Sept. 22 at the Ladybug Festival in Delaware and Oct. 6 (also with the headlining Taylor Tote Band) at Asbury Lanes.
While their music is smart, tasteful and funky, Asbury Park-based pop-groove outfit Pepperwine titled their debut full-length Bright Ideas based on its positive, upbeat message. Going hand-in-hand with that positivity is “Power of Females,” the band’s Oct. 6 show at Asbury Lanes with the Taylor Tote Band and Nalani & Sarina, two like-minded female-fronted acts. Pepperwine will be sandwiched by the folk ‘n’ funk, rock ‘n’ soul of Nalani & Sarina and the soulful pop-rock of Taylor Tote Band, both stylistically and within the order of the bill.
Female empowerment also is at the core of the inaugural Ladybug Festival on Sept. 22 in Mildford, Del., which also will feature Nalani & Sarina as well as a slew of other female-fronted acts. Continually moving forward rather than remaining stagnant within one particular scene, Pepperwine also will play Sept. 28 at the West End Arts Festival in Long Branch; Sept. 29 at the Souper Festival in Shelton, Conn.; an afternoon gig on Oct. 6 at Rock for the Run in Lacey (a benefit for the developmentally disabled); Oct. 12 at Triumph Brewing Co. in Princeton, and Nov. 10 at The Chubby Pickle in Highlands.
I recently chatted with co-founding frontwoman Kellie Shane about most of the things this forward-moving band has happening. On behalf of her tight rhythm section, bassist Julian Michalski and dummer Mike Campanile, and her guitarist husband and longtime collaborator Breece Panepinto, Kellie talked about Ladybug, Power of Females, Rock for the Run, making Bright Ideas, and evolving during the past six years from a struggling acoustic duo to sought-after touring act with chops a-plenty and grooves galore.
Q: Tell me about the “Power of Females” show on Oct. 6 at Asbury Lanes, how it came together, why it’s happening, what impact you hope it has, and whether you think it will become a series?
A: Nalani & Sarina created the idea of the “Power of Females” show. We had a bill with them about a year ago, and our show got cancelled due to bad weather, so I’m happy we are finally able to coordinate something! I think it’s really special to bring together a great night of music — with three powerhouse bands — that celebrates strong women following their dreams and playing music. I am super excited for this show.
Q: How and why is this stylistically a good bill?
A: All three groups share similar elements. First off, all are led by ladies who can really sing! Nalani & Sarina have an amazing blend of funk and pop, while Taylor has such a strong vocal that leads her pop-rock-soul songs. I think Pepperwine is a blend of genres that can be funky, rocking, grooving and soulful. We all promote positivity with an upbeat stage presence.
Q: How did you become friends with Nalani & Sarina and Taylor Tote?
A: I met Nalani & Sarina when we competed together in a songwriting contest called the Coffee Music Project in NYC in the fall of 2016. I remember seeing them perform for the first time and being blown away by their stage presence and their catchy originals. Afterward, we ended up making the Jersey connection and decided that we had to plan something in the future to perform together again.
Taylor, I don’t know on a personal level. We’ve only met a few times, but since we are in the same local scene, I always see what she is up to via social media. She is killing it in her own way and seems like she’s established herself in the area very well.
Q: When, where and how did Pepperwine get together?
A: Pepperwine has been a musical entity for a long time. Breece (guitar player) and I are married and when we first met, he was in a punk band. At that time, I lived in a tiny apartment in Ocean Grove, where I didn’t have Internet or cable hooked up. We would spend our time writing and jamming. We then decided to bring our good friend, Jon, who was the drummer of Breece’s punk band, to come play djembe drum with us. We started playing gigs and just getting out there. For years, we worked at establishing ourselves, playing gigs as a duo, self-recorded our own first EP, Mighty Fine, and looked for a rhythm section to fill out our sound. It isn’t easy finding quality players who you also jibe with on a personal level. We’ve had a few different drummers and a couple bassists over the years, but since 2015, we are the Pepperwine that we are today. Julian was the bassist of the punk band, and we found Mike the old-fashioned way by hanging flyers around Asbury and Ocean Grove.
Breece and I are the originators of Pepperwine, but we each bring something different to the table. We would not be what we are today without Mike and Julian.
Q: What other bands are and have members been in?
A: Julian has played with so many people, I’m not even sure of all the groups. He actually used to play with Taylor when he first joined Pepperwine. He also still currently fills in on gigs with Nick Ryan from Taylor’s group. He had a long run with a group called the Jolly Rotten Skeletons, which were a super fun band that no longer plays together.
Breece used to play with the aforementioned punk group, called Treasure Buried Here. They were really good and had awesome songs. I saw a handful of their shows before the group dissolved. Mike used to play in a group with his brother called Tongue and Groove, and he also used to play in a group called The Cellars.
Q: How much formal music training have the members of Pepperwine had?
A: I can’t really speak for every member. I know we all have different backgrounds and get our inspiration from different artists. Everyone grew up listening to different music and learning our instruments as kids. I went to school for music and studied music theory throughout my private lessons and college. In my college piano lessons, I studied jazz, and vocally I studied opera and musical theater. I’ve learned so much from composing music, and I wouldn’t be the singer/musician I am today if I didn’t write my own music.
Q: How does the name Pepperwine relate to the band’s pop-funk sound?
A: I don’t think it does, necessarily. It was chosen a long time ago, and the reason for picking a name so unique would be if you Google search Pepperwine, you would be sure to find us. We had a handful of names we deliberated over for a few days, but Pepperwine came out victorious. We wanted a unique name that when Googled all results would point to us.
Like I said earlier, Pepperwine was created about six years ago. It has changed so drastically from when we first started. If you were to listen to our first EP, which I believe is only available if you come to our house and grab a copy from our basement, you would hear how different it is from anything we put out now. Mike and Julian bring the funk, I am always striving for a catchy vocal melody — I love those jazzy chords — and Breece has an incredible knack for riffs and melody… so there you have it!
Q: How is Bright Ideas a departure from Future Habits?
A: The songs on Future Habits were written differently than Bright Ideas, and a few of them had been written before Mike joined the group. Our songs at the time were way more rock ‘n’ roll and riff-driven. When we wrote “Worries,” that was the first detachment from how we had been composing prior to that.
Over the course of the next year and half, we continued to write, but this time, we wrote together. A lot of times, I will create a concept or vocal line/chord progression and bring it to the band. Usually it’s only a verse and a chorus, and then we take it from there. We also worked with Steve Jankowski in the creation of the Bright Ideas album, and he really helped with our arrangements and made us think about our composition in a different way.
Since we finished recording Bright Ideas, we have written three new songs with a few others in the works, so we are literally always writing and working on growing our sound. We recently started chipping away at recreating and rearranging our old songs from Future Habits to bring them into the new age of Pepperwine. “Carving Time” is one of our oldest songs. We rewrote it recently, and now I’m in love with it all over again.
Q: Which song on Bright Ideas do you like to play live most, and why?
A: That definitely changes from time to time. ‘The Warm Up’ is always fun, and the jam at the end with that beautiful riff gives me chills when we play it. “Little World” is a feel-good song and ends with a soaring guitar solo that has a decrescendo into an energy-packed ball of intensity. I love singing “Golden.” I also love “Dive” because of its deep funkiness and the fact that Julian and Mike get to let loose at the end.
Q: What is developing for Bright Ideas and the band that you want folks to know?
A: We want folks to know that this album is out now and available for you to listen to, for free! We also want everyone to know that this album was 100 percent funded and produced by us. We’ve played over 150 gigs as Pepperwine and almost every cent we earn goes back into the band. We worked so hard for so many months and just want people to know where and how to listen to this album. Earning money is great, but at this point in our lives, while we hope and would love to “catch that break” in the music business, we are realistic with our expectations. We have an album that we worked on for months, and we are so proud of it — we just want people to hear it!
The name Bright Ideas came about because of the lyrics of the album. Out of 11 songs — one instrumental — only two are love songs. All others are about positivity and reflection. It’s about being able to look at what you have, who you are, where you’re going, and what defines you. We can’t always be happy. Being able to look at life and knowing it may not be exactly what you planned or exactly how you like it all the time, but you’re okay with it and happy with what you have.
Q: In addition to “Power of Females,” you’ll play with Nalani & Sarina at the Ladybug Festival. What are you looking forward to most about that gig?
A: Both of these gigs are about the empowerment of females and celebrating groups that are fronted by women. There are so many bands out there, and I think it’s important for us to encourage each other and support one another. It will also be our second gig in Delaware! We are excited to be able to travel around the area and play music. We don’t want to be stuck in any one scene.
Q: The afternoon of the Lanes gig, Pepperwine are playing a benefit in Lacey. For what and why?
A: This is an event booked by Dan Kelly who used to play in a band with some good friends of ours called The Union. The event is called Rock for the Run which is in support of individuals with developmental disabilities. We will be playing an hour set in the afternoon.
Q: Are there any additional shows Pepperwine are playing besides what’s currently listed on Facebook?
A: We are currently in the throes of planning Nov. 10 at The Chubby Pickle with Hambone Relay from Philly. We’ve played with them a few times and each time it’s been an awesome night. Meg O’Shea is hosting the night, so I am really excited for it. We also have some other things up our sleeve, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Q: What other plans do the band have as far as touring, making videos, releasing singles, recording and anything else you would like to mention?
A: This fall, we have created a concept for a music video for a song off the album, so we will be looking to film that. The plan is to keep pumping out videos, keep booking shows, keep writing music, rebranding ourselves with some new merch and probably — hopefully — get back into the studio to record a single sometime this winter! We just want to keep growing, getting out there, and getting people into our music. It’s not easy having a full-time job while promoting, booking and writing for Pepperwine — it’s definitely a labor of love — and I wouldn’t change it for anything!
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.