The Ghost of Music Past

The Ghost of Music Past

Pepper's Ghost takes its musical cues from classic rockers.

Philadelphia-based band Pepper's Ghost is an up and coming band who have recently toured with Ashlee Simpson and recorded with Andy Johns, the legendary rock producer who has worked with Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin and other heavyweights. The band has toured all over the U.S., and will be coming to Vienna to play at Jammin' Java this weekend.

The band is led by two brothers, Michael and Anthony Montesano, who both sing and play guitar. Rob Bennett plays piano, guitar, mandolin and other instruments. Zil is their drummer, and David Hartley plays bass and sings. Hartley recently answered some questions about the band's past, present and future.

How did the band form? The band ultimately sprang from Anthony and Michael meeting Rob in high school. The brothers were already playing together on an amateur level, but wanted to get more serious and bringing a skilled multi-instrumentalist into the band was the way to do it. There have been a couple line up changes — Zil joined the band about two and a half years ago, and I've been playing with them for more than a year and a half.

Describe the Pepper's Ghost sound. We make music very informed by the late 60s/early 70s, with a focus on vocal harmonies. It's hard to pin down, because we are comfortable performing entirely acoustic (acoustic guitar, light percussion, piano), partially acoustic (drums, bass, acoustic guitars, etc.) or full blown rock (all electric, aggressive amplifiers, etc.). We try to keep the singing interesting and melodic, with an emphasis on songwriting instead of "jamming."

Biggest musical influences? The Beatles, Roger Waters, David Bowie, The Band, Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones.

Biggest non-musical influences? I think the city of Philadelphia has influenced our sound indirectly, but in a very real way. We've been labeled a lot of things, including "music geeks" and "puppets" of a record label, a manager or a producer. At the end of the day, though, we're a bunch of broke guys from Philly who work their asses off, write their own songs, run their own Web site, build their own tour bus, and don't know a whole lot else. We're blue collar and we're underdogs — we're the guys you root for.

What's been your most surreal band-related moment? There have been a lot, including playing the Tower Theatre in Philly, the 9:30 Club in D.C., the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, and the Universal Ampitheatre in L.A. For me, also, working with Andy Johns was a shock. He's every bit as colorful and "legendary" as advertised. Also, when we started working with him, I had only been in the band a very short time, so it was quite surreal to be welcomed into Pepper's Ghost by meeting this guy who'd been behind the board for "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main St."

How was opening for Ashlee Simpson? It was interesting. We got the gig through our record label and booking agent. The tour was mostly positive; we were playing in front of over 3,000 screaming girls a night, which is an incredibly welcoming and easily-influenced demographic. Of course, we've garnered lots of criticism for the move, so there's that part of it. But I think anyone who has truly taken the time to listen to our record and come see us perform, though, realizes what we're about, and that we're genuine. As for Ashlee herself, she's just a normal 20-year-old girl, and there's nothing at all "evil" about her at all, despite what her detractors say. Her music is not my bag personally, but that's OK. She loved our band, and was extremely gracious towards us.

What does the future hold for Pepper's Ghost? Who knows? There are lots of unknown factors affecting the future outlook of the band — the music industry, record labels and the like. The most important thing, though, is that we are all writing (especially our principal songwriters, the Montesanos) lots of new and exciting songs and we are five guys that really love each other. I've seen so many bands on the road that either all hate each other, or have the "odd man out" disease. There's none of that here (unless I'm the odd man out and no one is telling me). We genuinely get along and allow each other space to be who we are. I think that our chemistry and songwriting will be the fuel that keeps us going — on future tours, future records, and in our future business endeavors. We're just getting started.

Pepper's Ghost plays with The Echoes and Justin Jones, Saturday, Aug. 27, at 9:30 p.m., at Jammin' Java. For more, call 703-255-1566 or visit