Gregory Pepper

It is a very tricky thing to introduce you to Gregory Pepper.  In fact, it was so intimidating that for awhile I put it off.  Finally, I stopped being such a baby and decided to ship this interview with Pepper because by now he's probably thinking: "WTF, Schutt?!  What ever happened to that interview you asked me to do??" 

Here goes ...

Who is Gregory Pepper?  

He is a man of many nicknames: Peps, Pep Pep, Pepper, GP.   

He is a man of many bands and band names: Gregory Pepper and His Problems, Common Grackle, Big Huge Truck (to name only a few). 

He comes from the Royal City of Guelph, Ontario.  Guelph (pronounced "gwelf" ... if you don't know, now you know) is the best little gem of an Ontario town.  I lived there for seven years.  I call it the "Austin, Texas of Canada."  It's filled to the brim with amazing musicians and artists and there's a real, honest-to-goodness live music scene there.  That's where I met Gregory and how (through the suggestion of a friend) I got to be one of "His Problems" ... specifically his guitar and backing vocals problem, and, sometimes, his bass problem.  

He is a sly, strange, and hilariously captivating illustrator and visual artist.  He plays many instruments.  For sure, I know that he sings and plays the piano, the drums, the guitar, and the bass.  He is also a swiss-army style engineer and producer.  

He is -- above all  -- a very convincing dude.  He made me do this ...


That's Pepper on the left rocking the bass and me on the right rocking the little black dress.  Even my mother couldn't make me wear a little black dress on stage.  True!

There's not much I wouldn't do for this crazy dude!  Obviously.  I mean, I wore a VERY short dress whilst playing VERY, VERY loud guitar for him!  That is devotion.  That is sacrificing for (his) art!

I could regale you with tales of our adventures -- practicing for hours in the basement of his house in Guelph, touring through Canada and the eastern seaboard of the United States ... But, I think I'll save those for a later date. 

Instead, I'll get this interview out into the world so more people can hear Pepper's music and get on board the love train that is headed in his direction.

GREGORY PEPPER ... The Tenacity Interview
(This interview is part of the TENACITY series.  Read the FAQ here.)

1.  Tell me a story about or describe to me your lowest musical moment, were you were at rock bottom, the most frustrated, the most discouraged.
It probably happens once every couple of years. I'll get writer's block or lose a band member or whatever and basically deflate. I only own one electric guitar because I'd sold the rest of my collection in one of these low points. It's not even really symptomatic of a particular event. I just get totally disillusioned with music in general and turn on myself, like, repulsed by my entire catalogue. 

2. What change or changes did you make?  How did you get out of that place?  What made a difference?
It actually helps to walk away for a while. Focus on drawing, maybe go on a bender. Pretty soon those old feathers have moulted and you suddenly get jazzed something new. Like, for a little while I only wanted to play sludgy doom metal, so i said "OK, brain: If that's what you want i'll put these fingers to work". Right now I'm only writing sickly sweet bubblegum pop. It's weird, man. 

3.  Tell me about your most meaningful or your biggest musical triumph?  It can be very personal or very public.  How did it come to happen?
That's a tricky one, in part because I'm a totally obscure bedroom pop guy but also cuz I wouldn't even want to set a high water mark. Success - I assume - can be a pretty scary thing.

4.  Tell me how being a musician has made you a better person? 
I would say this about any type of art - and I don't limit that term to just painting or whatever. Cooking, trimming the hedge, giving your homie a haircut, it's all good. Doing stuff makes you feel less crazy, especially if you manage to express something intangible while you're at it. "Better" is all relative though, right? You're not winning any humanitarian awards but at least if you have some sort of outlet the desire to punch people in the face should subside. 

5.  To whom would you like to ask question #4 to -- living or dead?  Why would you want to ask them?  What do you think their answer to question #4 would be (as succinctly as you can state it)?
I enjoy a good chuckle so I suspect that if you asked that question to The Beatles in a circa 1964 press conference one of them would respond with an effortless repartee. Perhaps something sarcastic about money or haircuts?

6. Do you have a musical challenge you'd like to issue to my readers?  Some small / do-able practice they could try for 1, 7, 14, 21, or more days?  Something that you worked on that made a difference to you as a musician, songwriter, person?
Yeah, we'll end this on a positive vibe: Quit saying I hate that band or this song sucks. Try to find something you like about every piece of music that gets imposed upon you during the day. A lot of times there's a real sweet melody in that background music playing at the department store or an emotionally vapid top 40 song might have an incredible snare tone. It takes a bit more effort than knee-jerk criticism but it's all the while less draining. 

One question to rule them all

I just finished a re-read of the book  The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

This book dares you to define your #1 priority (in one area of life) and then do that “ONE Thing” for as much of the day as you possibly can.  

How do you define your #1 priority?  By asking yourself “What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”  

As a musician, I struggle with this question every day, all day long.  What IS my one thing? There are so many of them.  What’s my ONE thing for today? (Do I practice scales? Learn a new piece?  Review something I already know?  Do I transcribe something?  Will any of this really make a difference in the long run?)  What’s my ONE thing for my next project? (Do I work on writing a new song today?  What DO I need to be doing to move this project along?)  What’s my ONE thing for my career overall?  (What is REALLY going to make a difference in my music career?  Being a better player or writing more songs or both?  How do I do both when I feel like there isn’t even time to do ONE thing well each day?)  It’s easy to get overwhelmed.  Something about working on priorities and getting super serious about focus cranks up the mental chatter.  

Time to stop, take a deep breath, and schedule time to answer the ONE thing question in systematic way. To me, there are at least three ways to go about it.  

Way #1:  Ask and ask and ask ...

One way to create the answer is to keep asking the question “What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” over and over until you really, truly, to-the-best-of-your-ability, at-this-moment-in-time can pin-point your ONE thing that will make the most difference in your life.

Way #2: Hack (away at) your to-do list until you’re left with a success list

We all have to-do lists.  The problem is there is rarely any order to them.  As Keller and Papasan note, “Most to-do lists are actually just survival lists—getting you through your day and your life, but not making each day a stepping-stone for the next so that you sequentially build a successful life.”

Take your to-do list and whittle it down to the few things (four? six?) that will make a tremendous difference in your life.  This will be your “success list”—a list that is purposefully created around your most important goals and dreams.

Then, keep whittling.  Find the ONE thing that will make the most difference for you in your life.  Keller and Papasan sum it up by saying, “There will always be just a few things that matter more than the rest, and out of those, one will matter most.”

Way #3: Use your gut

This might be the quickest way to figure out what your ONE thing is.  I tried it out after reading the book for the second time.  Make a list of your top five or sixgoals in life.  If you already have a list like this, then use it.  Next, step back and ask the question, “What’s the ONE thing on this list I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

I’ll be writing more about my ONE thing in the months to come.  I am doubling-down on my ability to focus this year.  That’s what the 2 Songs A Month challenge is all about. 

Are you game to find your ONE thing?  Want to hear more about it?

Like the idea?  Hate it?  Let me know in the comments below.



What does it mean to you? For most musicians, solitude is an old friend. We spend hours and hours "in the shed" practicing, alone with our selves, our instruments, our dreams, and our limits.

To me, solitude means uninterrupted stretches of time (long or short) to read, write, compose, play guitar, meditate, think, draw, or work on a project that might or might not have a deadline or point.

In an increasingly noisy world, solitude is rare and valuable. Accordingly, the "things" that come from spending time in solitude can be rare and valuable too - a flash of insight, a distillation of thought, a connection of ideas, an acceptance of what is. 

I've been reading the literature of solitude over the past few months. Here are two of my favorite books on the subject. 

"A Woman in the Polar Night" by Christiane Ritter 

"How To Be Alone" by Sara Maitland 

How do you experience solitude? Do you deliberately create time for it? When you have it, do you luxuriate in it or does it make you uneasy? Where is your favorite place to "practice" solitude? Outdoors? A certain room in your house? 

House concerts and radical vulnerability

I hosted a house concert on January 29th. Maybe you saw it on my tour page?  You were invited … Did you come?  Were you there?  Were you the one that brought the director from Spain with you?  Were you the one who came from a meeting with an NFL-er?  Or were you the one who brought your saxophone and absolutely killed us with your snakey, gorgeous, breathy lines?  Maybe you were the one sitting in a chair basking in the glow of the candles and the surprise puppet show?

Yeah … that’s it.  That was you!  You!  You get it!  

You came because you’re starting to figure out how I operate, something I like to call “radical vulnerability.”  That’s the thing I am working on.  Thank you, Sonya, for getting radically vulnerable with me -- both at the Redstack show in December and at the house concert last week.  Thank you for getting radically vulnerable with your writing and reviewing the house concert. I’ll see you at the next one -- from the stage, singing, winging-it, shoulder to shoulder.  Hell yes!

Write 2 songs a month?

Hell Yes!

how awesome is this awesome?

how awesome is this awesome?

This year ... that's my plan, that's my jam. 
2015 -- The year of consistent awesomeness.

I'll be posting new tunes here and on my Soundcloud (where there is already a lot of goodness going on).

This means I am writing ...

No Matter What. 

Through thick, through thin: foot surgery, travel, Mom's cancer stirs up trouble, RedStack blows up and becomes the hottest new band in NYC, lots of other things I cannot even fathom right now, etc.

Gulp!  Here we go ...

What are you saying HELL YES to?  Let me know, down below.

(Awesome image courtesy of the Bringing Awesome Back blog.)







Questions of questions

Another image from my journal.  Read the journal FAQ here.

I like this description of music as a series of questions of questions of questions ... It somehow seemed right to me when I read it.  The quotation came from the book The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. 

What are you reading?  Do capture any thoughts, lines, words when you read them?  If so, how?  What's your way of keeping these shards of words and phrases?  Tell me.  Tell me more.

Want to sing with me Thursday night?

'cause I want you to sing with me ... at the REDSTACK gig, Thursday, December 11 at 9:30pm sharp! at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 3.

I've got a little song in mind I want to arrange for two or three or fifty voices.  But I am only one little person and Jules doesn't know the song (yet) and still that would only be two little people.

So if you are coming to the gig and you want to sing with me, send me an email

And if you're not coming to the gig and you want to sing with me, send me an email.

And if you want to come to the gig and sing with me but you forgot to get a ticket or didn't have the internet or 10$ to get a ticket and it's now sold out, send me an email. 

How sweet it is to be loved by you.  It's true.

A little hand-made, collaged, show poster goodness, by yours truly

Best thing I've done all week v1

The best thing I've done all week is play drums and guitar along with the album "Coltrane Plays the Blues."  The first two tunes "Blues for Elvin" and "Blues for Bechet" have totally lit me up!!! I am playing along with them multiple times a day!  Seriously!  It is like some kind of musical crack. 

Rick Considine, my drum teacher, told me to play along with that first track and once again I understand why he is the man and why I travel to Bushwick and sit in a tiny, dimly lit, freezing cold, grungy little practice closet to study with him.   Thanks, Rick.  Seriously.  Thank you for once again blowing my mind.

What makes playing along with these two tunes so great?

  • Because playing along with real music is the next best thing to playing real music.  Ha!  What I mean is, it is the next best thing to playing a gig with your heroes ... and I love playing gigs and love playing gigs with my heroes even more.
  • Because the tempos of these songs are MY JAM.  These slow tempos speak to my soul.  I get so pumped to find music that exists in this slow, spacious land of time.  Ben Webster plays a lot at this tempo and he is one of my touchstones.  Gillian Welch plays at this tempo.  Damn.  So much good and soulful music at these slow tempos. It is a kind of soul food for my ears.  Delicious.  Sweet.  Lingering. 

Check out the entire Coltrane album here.  And you tell me -- What was the best thing you did all week?

How are you creating community?

The awesome gals at Kind Aesthetic wrote this great little wrap-up about a house concert I had in my apartment in NYC last summer. 

In the post, they write about how the night CREATED community.  How it made community and connection happen.  The night was full of great people, all of whom I wanted to introduce to each other.  Sure the music was great (especially because I was playing with the King of Newfoundland gypsy jazz guitar, Mr. Duane Andrews and the King of the Beaches in Toronto, the bluesman, Mr. Paul Reddick), sure the vibe was killing, but the best part of all ... getting all of my cool peeps together in one room and seeing what happened!

Here is what happened: Boom!  Ideas flying back and forth!  Sparks!  Collaborations!  Laughs!  New friendships!  New workout partners!  Hilarious, revealing convos!  I think there was even a late night trek to the 55 Bar to see Julian play??  (Can someone who was there confirm?)

How do you make community happen?  Talk to me.

Augusto Monk

Multi-instrumentalist Augusto Monk is one of my oldest musical friends.  He's been in the trenches with me since we first met at Berklee College of Music way back when.  We would meet in the school's shitty little practice rooms with the broken-down pianos at midnight almost every night of the semester to practice ear training together.  We'd stay until they kicked us out at 2am.

Originally from Argentina, he's lived in Boston, London, and now Toronto.  His music is equally as nomadic.  At any given time, I have no clue what instrument he is playing, what kind of music he is making, or if he is even making music at all -- sometimes he paints, draws cartoons, or makes films

(PS: watch the entire film; the password is Brass)

We go a long time without seeing or talking to each other, but when we do, we always fall into deep discussions about the nature of making music.  Invariably, we wonder: did those endless nights of ear training teach us anything? Anything at all?  Or were they just an exercise in stamina?  Or was that the point?

(This interview is part of the TENACITY series.  Read the FAQ here.)

I get a kick out of you / u

I'm working away on new songs this month.

Often, writing songs includes a lot of research: looking up words in the dictionary, checking out synonyms and antonyms, using a thesaurus, reading up on the etymology of a word, seeing how else it's been used, etc.  Sometimes, I end up down the rabbit hole.

It happened to me today, working on a new tune that is kind of a "list" song.  It made me think of other great list songs (someday, I'll make a list of list songs ... there are some great ones out there).

I wanted to remind myself of the lyrics to my hero Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out of You," so ... I googled it.  After reading the lyrics and listening to a bunch of different versions, I came upon this wonderful rendition / spoof.

It made me smile!  Hope it makes you smile too ...

Do you know other equally as inspired takes on popular songs?  I'm talking Weird Al and beyond?  Clue me in, will you?  Leave a comment below!  Share the wealth!

Your most important word as a musician is


NOs are how you become a player (or band or singer or songwriter or producer) who has something to say. 

Nobody remembers the players who can do EVERYthing, who do ANYthing that comes their way. 

We remember and love and get absolutely rabid about the players, singers, and bands who are unabashedly good at, basically, one thing.  That's why we love them!  They do one thing to the maximum!  They don't give a sh*t about all the other things they could do or should do.  

You can think of a bunch of examples, can't you?  Some that come immediately to my mind: Tina Turner (fiery vocals, legs), Mick Jagger (energy, lips), Stevie Ray Vaughn (blistering guitar, that black hat), etc.  I'm not even gonna start listing jazzers who kill one thing, one sound, one emotion.

So your most important word is NO.  Actually, it's HELL NO.  (Many thanks to John Morgan and Rich Litvin for teaching me this invaluable life lesson.)

HELL NO, I'm not spending 1000 hours learning how to play Cherokee backwards in all 12 keys at quarter note = 248!  Screw that!?  (Unless, of course, that is exactly the thing you want to say HELL YES to!)