The Baeble Next: The Laurel Canyon Resurgence of Zervas & Pepper

    • Posted by: Don Saas

    A trend that I would have never predicted three years ago was the return of 70s soft rock. We've been getting this huge infusion of bands that are inspired by the blues and Americana rock and classic punk and power pop and heavier rock. But it's rare for me to hear a band and think to myself "Oh yeah, this makes me think of 'Rhiannon' by Fleetwood Mac" or, "This track makes me want to bump America's 'Ventura Highway.'" But that's what's happening now. Milo Greene, Delta Rae, and a host of other bands who are reclaiming softer rock sounds. And now we have another band who are mining those "Laurel Canyon Sounds" to gorgeous effect. Let me introduce you to Zervas & Pepper.

    We had the chance to chat with the Welsh folk-pop-rockers about their new music, their upcoming record, and the resurgence of love for Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, and CSNY. As someone who woke up to Fleetwood Mac on my alarm clock every day in high school for years, this is a trend I can get behind.

    A phrase that I keep hearing thrown around by music writers and bands and publicists is "Laurel Canyon sounds" talking about a resurgence of groups more inspired by the California 70s soft rock of Fleetwood Mac or America than something heavier like Led Zeppelin. And your music certainly seems to fit into that bill. What does that sort of music mean to you?

    Kathryn Pepper: The Laurel Canyon sound that was coming out of LA in the 70's connected with us in a big way. When we were kids, long before the likes [of] YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, we relied on friends passing round VHS videos of these artists and we got hold of the BBC 'In Concert' sessions that featured Crosby & Nash, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot. They were so well recorded and the songs were emotive, mature and required the listener to dig a little deeper. As young teenagers, the music was very intoxicating. We used to go [to] the record fairs and back then you really had to really search hard for music, sometimes order import albums and have to wait a few weeks to hear how it sounded.

    This era of songwriting was very autobiographical so we felt we were almost being led into adulthood by older friends who'd kind of worked out how the world was and there was a sense of a collective ideal. We were lucky to have a back catalog of really strong songwriting to jump into. All of Joni's albums, CSN&Y, Steely Dan, America, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Buckingham/Nicks and some of the lesser known artists like Jackie Lomax, Emitt Rhodes, Judee Sill were bands/artists that were very much part of our world and still are.

    Is there a reason that you think that particular sort of sound is mounting a comeback?

    Perhaps the listeners/audiences of today are feeling the need to hear music that cuts a little deeper with a more reflective/socially conscious narrative, so whether it's a personal subject, political or just an all-out 'feel good' song, this type of sound speaks to people. There's a lot of heavy stuff going on in the world and it seems much of the music of nowadays doesn't really touch upon that, whereas in this particular genre it does, And everyone loves great harmonies don't they?

    As a Welsh band, were there any acts from the U.K. that were influential on you all as musicians?

    Yes there's lots, Aside from the obvious like the Beatles, Who, Stones etc, Certainly early Fairport Convention, John Martyn, 60's Fleetwood Mac, Richard and Linda Thompson and of course the more proggy stuff like 'Yes', 'ELP' and Early Genesis.

    Your new record is called Abstract Heart. Are matters of the heart already abstract or is there a deeper meaning to the title?

    I think the 'Heart' part of the title represents human emotion, ideals and beliefs, the core of a person. The 'Abstract' element is the complexities and changing states of life. The album endeavors to explore our collective place in the world, our vulnerabilities, weaknesses, our need for each other and mortality, the journey. We've had quite a few e-mails from our listeners giving us their own versions of what the title means to them, it's really interesting to find out how they are conceptualizing the album.

    If you could play on stage with one band from the late 60s/early 70s that worked in the same vein of soft rock/folk-pop that you all play, who would it be?

    To pick just one band is far too tough!.... but to try to narrow it down i guess it would be Mid 70's -period Joni Mitchell and The LA Express, Just for that slick, cinematic sound. The other would be 'The Band' with Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson et al, quite simply would be the roots-iest, most homespun jam of all time!.. If we could pick a historical live show to jump on board it would be Woodstock of course or The Band's last show, The Last Waltz.

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