There are a million and one things that can go awry while on tour, from the mundane to the absurd to the downright dangerous. But things that happen off the road can be equally consequential. The drummer with the SoCal reggae-rock band learned this first hand.
Yesod Williams of Pepper found himself in the ER two days before he was to sub for Fred Armisen for a week on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers. “You’ve got to understand the whole buildup,” says Williams. “We’ve been a band for more than twenty years, we’ve put out this new album, and I get invited to play on the show, which is such a huge accomplishment as a drummer and as a band. Two days before I was to fl y out to New York, I went up to Venice Beach to surf, and on the last wave my board kind of sprung back weird and hit me in my left ankle right below my leash. The chances of it hitting this area are like getting struck by lightning.”
After four hours in the ER, the doctor told Yesod his Achilles tendon was only 80 percent sliced, and they would stitch him up to return Monday for surgery—the day of his first show in New York. “I basically told them, ‘The show must go on,’” says Williams. “That’s not just a clever saying—it’s absolutely the truth. It was my hi-hat foot, but I wasn’t going to play any crazy double kick or anything, so I was totally able to pull it off for the whole show.” It took Yesod’s Achilles tendon another sixty days or so to heal up without surgery.
Pepper began in Kona, Hawaii, but the trio relocated to Southern California in the late ’90s. In an early misstep on the mainland, Yesod incurred a DUI on his driving record, which he all but forgot about until the band needed to cross into Canada a few years later. “On those borders they check your whole background, and I didn’t know it at the time, but a DUI is a felony in Canada, so they wouldn’t let me go over the border. The Border Patrol had to watch me walk out of the bus and back across the border to the American side.” What followed was a taxi ride to the nearest Amtrak station and a few nights in a lonely hotel room while a guitar tech covered his parts. “The moral of the story is, make sure your techs can play your songs,” says Williams, “because then you don’t have to cancel shows.”
That same guitar tech had to sub for Yesod at least one other time due to a crazy night in Minneapolis, but Yesod has since given up drinking and finds it to be a big part of his health regimen on the road. “I quit a couple of years ago,” he says. “I decided to take three months off , and I was like, Man, this is pretty rad. After being in a band for twenty years, it’s hard to keep up that kind of pace. Another thing is that I only eat seafood. I don’t eat any white meat like turkey or anything. Honestly, I probably would even get rid of the seafood, but growing up in Hawaii, I can’t give up raw fish—it’s my jam.”
Williams and Pepper believe in putting on a real show for their fans, and the drummer had long contemplated how to safely stand above the kit and rile up the crowd, á la Lars Ulrich or Vinnie Paul, who’d stand with one foot on their bass drum and the other on their throne. One day while contemplating life, a solution appeared. “I had an epiphany: the Squatty Potty would fi t perfectly around the bottom of the drum seat!” If you’re not familiar with the bathroom gadget, do a search online, and it’ll make perfect sense. Or maybe just look for some live footage of Williams with Pepper—you’ll get the whole package.
Williams plays a seven-piece Tama Starclassic Birch-Bubinga kit in mirror chrome finish. “It’s kind of my homage to Lars from Metallica during the Ride the Lightning era,” he says. The kit features 7×12 and 7.5×13 rack toms, 14×16 and 16×18 floor toms, an 18×22 bass drum, a black brass 7×13 SLP snare set up as a timbale, and a reissue Tama bell brass snare. “This thing, all thirty pounds of it—it’s my pride and joy right now,” says Williams. His cymbal setup includes Zildjian K Sweet models, some Trash and Oriental effects cymbals, an 8″ K splash, and 14″ K Session hi-hats. He also utilizes a Roland SPD-SX sample pad, a Porter and Davies drum throne, and Vic Firth Extreme 5B sticks.