In the spotlight – Pepe and the Bandits

In the spotlight – Pepe and the Bandits

On this festive Christmas day we are visiting Joe Miller a.k.a. Pepe (UK). Joe lives in a very quaint village on the Lincolnshire/Cambridgeshire border about 10 miles from Peterborough, which is about 45 mins on the train into London. He has always been interested in music from an early age and doesn’t go anywhere without some music on.

What got you into music?

“I have always loved music and was around the music scene as a youngster. A good friend of mine, a legend in fact, called Horace Jones, was involved with Shades Of Rhythm in the early 90s and they were thrown into a rave whirlwind and played alongside groundbreaking artists The Prodigy, N-joi and K-Klass at raves and clubs such as Raindance, Fantazia,The Astoria and The Haçienda. We would attend most of these gigs on the guest list as dancers and attended many after show parties. They were really good times.”

What was the first single you bought?

“The first single I can remember buying was ‘Word Up‘ by Cameo, which at the time I thought was groundbreaking. Thank God, I brought the single and not the codpiece.”

Joe has had pretty full life and lot’s of different jobs. He has worked for Coca-Cola, Mercedes and the National Lottery. 

“I once did a national TV advert for PC world. It was aired in the European Cup Final at half time. I hadn’t told anyone but my wife that I had done this. The response was unforgettable when people called me to say they had seen my live talking on TV. I had to have an agent for that and she was also a film producer, who was going to Africa to film a tribe. I spent a lot of time trying to convince her for diversity she needed a pale, ginger kid. 😉 I was ahead of my time.”

How does someone named Joe end up with a bandname Pepe and the Bandits? Who are your bandits? 

“Often on social media I use a story about how I was I kidnapped by the Cartel whilst hiking in a Mexican Rainforest and forced to play songs for them for many years, until my fingers bled, malnourished and desolate. A daring prison heist by a local Mariachi band, who later went on to become the Bandits. Unfortunately, this is pure fabrication and the truth is far less exciting.”

“My guitar instructor was learning Spanish. He used to save our songs and practice sessions on a 4 track recorder. He would always save them in Spanish. As I got better he started saving the songs we did under the name Pepe and the Bandits, so when I started writing my own songs I used the name he had been using.”

There’s a nice story on your website about your ‘magical’ guitar. When did you start playing guitar?

“The website story is true. After helping a friend move, I did find a very beat up and old guitar in a skip with no strings. I claimed this magical guitar, restored it, restrung it, got some lessons and the rest is history.”

“I didn’t start playing guitar until I was just in my 30’s, but had been involved in Artist Management with a singer songwriter called Paul Errington (Broken Poet). We were recording an EP in the Batcave in Peterborough and I just loved the scene and the ambience of it all. It was then I realised this is something I wanted to do. I have a funny story I often tell about that session. One of the guest musicians, a bongo player, turned up for his session late as he had been partying the night before. In his haste to catch his bus, he had forgotten his Bongo (he had one job) and had to play a kitchen chair on one of the tracks, you really wouldn’t know listening to the track. He was very talented, but with a mind like a sieve.”

“I have been writing and playing guitar now for about 20 years and I do class myself now as a musician. Although, it wasn’t until about 8 years ago I went to sell a guitar in Peterborough and stopped at ASDA to buy a sandwich with the guitar strapped to my back and someone said “Hey are you a musician?”. “Yeah I am”, I said. I hadn’t really ever thought of myself as a musician until that point. It’s funny how a small comment like that can change your thought process, isn’t it? So these days I describe myself as a singer-songwriter that creates music that’s easy on the ears. If I had to pick my genre I would say alt folk/country, but I have been known to dip into a little electronica Lo/Fi.”

​How’s the ‘Buy me a coffee’ on you website going? How do you like your coffee?

“Haha, that’s a bit of an in joke that amongst my other artist friends online, that nobody has ever brought me a virtual coffee yet from the ”Buy me a coffee” widget on my website.   I drink my coffee black with one sugar, but if anyone’s buying I will have a Caramel Mocha Frappuccino with Coconut Milk or just send me a £10.”

What is your creative process like?

“I just have moments of inspiration. All my song writing comes from lived experience, the trials and tribulations of life. I struggle with happy clappy lyrics, they are usually a little dark or poignant.”

How do you record your music?

“I was using Audacity for ‘Corona‘ and ‘Wealth of Time’, but had some feedback from some labels saying they loved the lyrics and the hooks, but the recording process needed to be better if I was to be successful. So, I made a big jump and bought a new interface, and a midi keyboard controller, and now use Studio One for Artists. This was after being given some really advice from Brett Sinclair, who I used to mix and master ‘Never Gonna Let You Go‘ – a love song I wrote for my wife.”

“’Sold my Soul‘ was my first real attempt with the new software and I think you can hear the difference in recording/mastering and editing. Brett was heavily involved in this process again. I’m still finding my feet with as its massive learning curve but enables me to be far more creative.”   

“All my recordings are done at home, in my studio. It’s really an extension with a dinning room table in it as well, but don’t tell anyone.”

Was your first single ‘Corona’ your first attempt in making music or had you played in bands before?

“I have always been going to Open mic nights usually as an observer or stalker, but my guitar instructor said “You’ve got to play more live and get out your comfort zone”. I did a tour of old folks homes here in Lincolnshire, as I wanted to put something back into the community. Just me and my trusty guitar, live and unplugged. That was a tough gig, but I do remember one rendition of ‘Please don’t take my sunshine away’ when they were all on their feet and singing. It was magical, although to be fair they would have probably been doing the same if I was playing a lawnmower.”

“I used to attend before lockdown, a weekly jamming session where about 5/6 musicians would meet at the Cresset in Peterborough and we would just play cover songs but this hasn’t been able to happen since COVID-19. But, no, in answer to the original question I haven’t ever played in band.”

Your new single ‘Sold My Soul’ has a different more upbeat sound. Is that a new direction?

“I think the new Interface Audiobox USB96, new DAW (Studio one for Artists) and outsourcing the mix and master to Brett Sinclair made a big difference, however I do think you loose a little raw edge at the same time. However, this track is nothing like how I originally recorded it about 7 years ago.”

“What is my direction? I’m just going where the mood takes me. I love music and I love writing and that’s going to continue, but where will this go? Who knows? Oddly enough the performing side I’m not so keen on and have to work hard to feel comfortable in that environment. I really like changing things up, so that will definitely continue. I’m currently working on a song about a musician meeting the lord at the pearly gates and gets to play with god, who by all accounts is an amazing organ player. It’s very surreal and it’s a work in progress.”

In ‘Wealth of Time’ you sing “It’s not about the number, it’s all about your health.” What do you do to stay healthy?

“I had been hitting the gym hard, with some weights and some cardio pre COVID-19, but lockdowns have made an impact and just lately the only work out I have been getting is lifting Sausage rolls, although other pastry products are available. I do walk the dog a lot, that’s good for the mind and the body but I do need to get back in the gym.”  

Are you afraid of getting older?

“No, I think “It’s not about the number, but all about your health”. I firmly believe that lyric.  I have had a lot of jobs in some difficult areas. I worked in a Hospital Theatre and was an Ambulance driver for a few years, so I’m well aware of the importance of Health over age. As long as I’m fit and healthy, I don’t mind. I have met some very old young people and vice a versa. It’s a lot about attitude. The fear isn’t about becoming old, it’s about not having any regrets “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. I recently read a self help book where people in an old persons home were asked what they had done in life they regretted and in main their answers were “It wasn’t what they had done, they regretted, but more what they hadn’t”. There’s a lot to learn about that comment.  

So back to another lyric from ‘Wealth of Time’ – “it’s time, that is your wealth.” What’s on your bucket list to do before you die?

“I would love to travel more and would love an adventure. The John Michie Collective has a Twitter room with some really amazing musicians from all over the world, some amazing people and we are planning a tour party somewhere when things settle down – just an excuse for a drunken few days – this would be excellent and definitely something I would like to do.”

“Just before I met my wife nearly 30 years ago, I was going backpacking and I still want to do that. My bucket list has some very strange things on it, one of them is to be arrested (lol!) as I worked in the Police for 6 years and have some very close friends in the force who said they would treat me like a king and play my songs in custody and order in pizza. What a story that would be!”

Who are your biggest musical influences? What’s your favourite song? 

“That’s a really tough question, isn’t it, as Music tastes change? Mason Jennings and his first album aptly entitled ‘Mason Jennings’ was inspirational for me. I loved his stripped back acoustics and southern drawl and this set me on the road to writing my own songs. I would never have written my own music if it wasn’t for him. I am a big fan of his and his style of stripped down guitar. I have seen him live on a few occasions. His next four albums ‘Birds Flying away’, ‘Simple Life’, ‘Century Spring’ and ‘Use your Voice’ are just right up my street. I went to one his concerts and passed him just before the show, he looked busy so I let him walk by. A few years later I tweeted him saying what an inspiration he had been on my music, but he never replied.”

“My other musical influences are the Eels. I just love their sound. The Flaming lips ‘Do you Realise’ is just the most amazing lyrics. I’m also a big fan of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Is there anything you can’t live without?

“I love my dog Luna, everybody should have a dog. We have had a couple of Tibetan Terriers, a truly incredible breed of dog. I love dogs; it’s that unconditional love. Who else would miss you and greet you as you have been away a lifetime when you just went to get something form the car?”

What does every musician need?

“You can make music with anything, a Cup as we have seen, a pencil, music is all around us in many forms. If I was going to say one thing a musician needs its thick skin be prepared for the knock backs and try not to take them to personally.”

And last, but not least. What’s your favourite song in the Cool Top 20?

“I got to go for my brothers from other mothers, the Welsh wizards ‘All for Show‘ the now not so, Unknown Brothers.

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