Getting Raw And Salty With Pepper Jane

Feisty go-getter Pepper Jane is an artist unafraid to live her life-calling and chase her musical yearnings, a journey which has seen the Darling Downs born troubadour (and her trusty guitar, Maureen) wow audiences from Woodford through to Tasmania and the Top End, as well as opening shows for and sharing stages with acts of the calibre and diversity of Renee Geyer, The Angels, Neil Murray, Deni Hines and Darren Hanlon.

In 2018, she released her debut single, ‘Keys’, with an EP, ‘Raw and Lightly Salted in Tasmania’, (including songs written in such far flung locations as Exmouth, Gatton and the UK, via Norway) coming out earlier this year and scheduled to be officially released on 1 August.

Having recently returned from her first overseas performance, at the oldest contemporary folk festival in Norway, (before heading straight to the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest in Tasmania), we managed to snaffle an enlightening chat with Pepper, gaining an insight into her idiosyncratic, ‘tell it like it is’ world view.

You recently played at the Egersund Visefestival (the oldest  contemporary folk festival in Norway). How did you go down with the Norwegians? 

Norway was fleeting! I was there for five nights, one of which was an overnight train. There was a lot of bread and cheese (not staple foods for me), and they don’t really say please but that’s ok since I was the one there asking for help. When I landed I discovered my credit card wasn’t working… some kind of long story about how the first attempted transaction to pay for my flights was still being held, on top of the successful payment… so my card thought it was going to max out. They assured me it would clear itself within 7-10 days – not much use on days 2-7 of that fine selection. Because I couldn’t buy a phone charger I borrowed one from a baggage handler for a while, then I borrowed another worker’s actual phone to call the bank and airline for about an hour before giving up and messaging my brother from my tablet, which I’d conveniently fully charged on the plane. I had spent a chunk of the flight chatting with a hot flight attendants from Mauritius and Melbourne, then standing at the exit looking at Turkey and Czech Republic, listening to John Mayer, taking photos for the gram. Wow punctuation is important in that sentence.

This may have been a misappropriation of my time, but it certainly drew me closer to the people of Norway by necessity.

Before I found out about my only source of funds not working, I had met Rickie Lee Jones’ band at the carousel – they had misplaced their bag of merch. They added my name to the door list for the show and so that’s why I eventually gave up on the bank (did you know they can fix that kind of thing in 4 hours not 10 days) and got my little brother to bail me out, God bless him, so I could make it to the show.

While I sat outside waiting for the venue to open (Rockefeller, in Oslo) I met two ladies who invited me for a drink (I was very thirsty for water after about 23 hours of flights) and we had a mad old chat and they both offered me a place to stay. At the show I was mortified to find Rickie Lee Jones singing the most pub-requested song in Australia – ‘Horses’. I took video on my ridiculous tablet ready to post with vengeance on socials the next day if I could be blessed with wifi, but in the morning when I just happened to call Amanda Emblem, fellow muso and co-director of Mitchell Creek Rock n Blues festival up near Gympie (we’ll come back to that in a minute) and she redirected my facts to the part where it was actually Rickie Lee’s song.

The other thing that happened was our family friends, who were the ones to refer me to the festival co-ordinator three years ago, were away holidaying in the south of France while I was in their neighborhood. So I had to make new connections, which was superb in the end ‘cos now I have other places I can stay, AND I wrote a song with a local artist who also played the festival, Kjersti Sleveland. The video for that on YouTube has reached a couple thousand people and she said a few days later “I feel like everyone in town knows about our song!” It is rather a banger if I do say so. It felt super satisfying to finish it – and it only took about two hours. Some of that was probably just drinking chai.

My one set in the whole festival and for the entire trip was really well received – they started talking about me coming back next year and putting me on a better stage. I don’t like to plan too far in advance but I guess I’ve gotta start accepting that if I’m going to have real world tours.

You have a very wide ranging tour schedule, from Norway to Tasmania then back here for some local shows over these coming months. Is this a typical snapshot of your life as a musician? And is it tough for you to be on the road for extended stretches, or is the wanderlust of the touring muso something you revel in?

Egersund Visefestival (in Norway) was my first international festival, and it was really cool to come straight back and play my first interstate one, Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest in Tasmania. I play in Tassie three to six times a year – I just find it reasonably easy to get gigs there, I have a few friends because y’know I just breezed into town with no budget a few times and had to ask randoms if I could crash on their couch.

Although I do look like a bit of a street urchin a lot of the time, once people hear you sing I feel like their little soul can tell a bit what your little soul is like, so they trust me more than they expect they would – and I of course have to trust them, but if they’ve responded that way it’s a good sign. Music does things like that. There is no typical snapshot. Sometimes I stay in mansions, more often the front seat of my car, and if you can’t be with the one you love you might as well sleep in another air plane seat. There I go giving up my lyrics ahead of time…

I don’t know that I’ve ever actually been on the road for an extended stretch – the longest would have been one month in the Territory. There’s no ‘wanderlust’ – this isn’t a romantic notion, it’s just a willingness to say yes and to go spread the message.

By definition of where you grew up, one could classify you as ‘local’. Do you consider SE Qld to be home, or with your roaming tour schedule and its accompanying nomadic lifestyle, do you consider yourself more as a citizen of the world?

“This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.”

I see that your current EP, ‘Raw and Lightly Salted in Tasmania’, was recorded ‘live at the Green Room’. Was recording the songs ‘in the moment’ the best way for you to capture your essence as a live performer and translate the spark and energy of playing live into a studio recording? 

I’m glorifying this release by calling it an EP – it’s more like a live demo. Certainly its purpose at the time (late 2017) was just because I get to play with these incredible musicians from The Con down there (in Tasmania), and I really wanted to have some record of that sound and use it for pre-production of future releases. Which basically just means something to listen back to and figure out where to make improvements. I’m also glorifying it with the term ‘live’ – it just means we did the tracks at once so it was live (together) in the studio, there was no audience other than my coffee cup agreeing with me that I really had needed that almond capp to smooth out my throat.

But yeah, recording actually live would be best. There’s an exchange that happens that you can’t replicate in a studio. I mean, you can learn to pretend – but I don’t really want to pretend. That’s exactly why I set out to record my double debut album in front of live audiences earlier in 2017. I just didn’t finish writing the songs in time, and still haven’t.

As for the name of it – must be every week at least one person will say “oh hi Pepper, I’m salt…” and I thought if you guys are gonna use that joke then I’m gonna own it. Funnily enough, my first trip to Hobart I did actually meet a guy when I walked into a music store who’s last name WAS Salt. He let me crash on his floor beside the drum kit one night. That was timely.

How is the mooted double album, ‘Released’, coming along? Did you always plan to launch big with a double album, or was it a case of having too many worthy songs to know what to do with?!

I have too many songs I don’t bother finishing. The double part was just because I was going through two simultaneous things. It’s somewhat of a concept album in that the first disc will be called ‘Waiting and the Lost Art of Devotion’, and the second is ‘Starting Now’. I’ve been waiting for someone who’s taught me a lot about what love means, what devotion is, meanwhile we can’t be together right now and so I have to press on with filling out the shape I was created to be. In fact I have to continually be starting now. Every day we have to start. Not necessarily all over again, but we have to start. And we have to wait. And we have to release some things. And keep starting.

I like the fact that you’ve chosen to bestow your guitar with a name. Can you tell us a bit about your trusty sidekick, Maureen?

I don’t kiss and tell. Actually that’s a moot point because I don’t even kiss. Maureen, or Moro has been my mostly trusty workhorse since I took her down off the wall at the shop six years ago. It’s important to remember though that it’s not only dogs that suffer in hot cars. Her bridge lifted off last year because I left her in the van for nearly a couple of months. That’s what being stationary does to me.

Is there a place in the world where your music has taken you that stands out in the ‘wow’ factor stakes? And is there somewhere in the world that you still need to tick off your ‘must play’ bucket list?

As yet I don’t think music has taken me to too many mind-blowing places. No more so than how incredibly beautiful the garden next door is. Being a touring musician isn’t as romantic a notion as it sounds.. When you’re famous like John Mayer though you can hide away in hotels, whereas I might still see a few things accidentally while I’m still drudging along on the sidewalk. I just wanna play everywhere. Church halls, caves, natural amphitheatres, stadiums. Why not?

So what’s next on the live performance horizon in the world of Pepper Jane,? 

I’m picking up a few more jazz kind of gigs – it’s nice to put an instrument down and stick to my highest competency: voice, so it’s a bit of new territory. The free Gold Coast show at Ground N Sound, in Labrador/Chirn Park (August 1)will be my truest solo acoustic chocolate sample box version of myself. The show at the Doo-Bop Bar in Brisbane (August 9) will be a fun-stravaganza with mostly covers and a couple of mine that I or the band deem worthy of their treatment. The next night I’ll bring a smaller band to the Dusty Attic in Lismore (August 10), where we’ll just be exploring our hay fevers together I suppose.

In September a have a few shows in WA, then I jump on a few planes and head to Nashville to see what goes on at Americanafest, and hopefully write some real clanger-bangers. Sounds like half the lineup of Groundwater will be there. OK I really just mean Andrew Swift. Then I come straight back to play the Mitchell Creek Rock n Blues festival, up near Gympie, on the following weekend (September 19-22).There’s a lot to do when you’re just passing through.

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