Photo by Kevin Seconds

Kepi Ghoulie gets ready to release his fifth solo album in just four years

Most sharks are renown not only for their prowess as predators, but because they never stop moving, even when they’re asleep. They do so in order to keep breathing. Such is the case for local pop-punk impresario Kepi Ghoulie, who lives in a state of perpetual motion as far as his music career is concerned. In fact, his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle even inspired the song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Shark” on his upcoming album, to be released Nov. 29, 2011 on Asian Man Records, aptly titled I Bleed Rock ‘n’ Roll. Funny enough, Kepi says he wrote that song while hiking Mount Shasta, singing into his iPhone.

When Submerge spoke with Kepi, he was at home, but true-to-form, certainly not at rest.

“I came home last Monday, and I played Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and then I’m painting for this art show, and as soon as that’s done, I’m recording for my kids record,” Kepi says. “So even though I’m at home, the pace is still as if I’m on tour.”

Recently, Kepi hit the road with Canadian pop-punk icons Chixdiggit. He played bass for the group and also opened for them, its members serving as his backing band during his set. As for the children’s record he mentioned, he says he will start tracking that in December for release in March or April 2012. Mike Park, head of Asian Man Records, convinced Kepi to write children’s songs.

“Mike at Asian Man said, ‘You’ve got to make a kids record. Your songs are already kids’ songs,’” Kepi explains. “I have stuff about taking a bath; and I was in Canada for a month, and I ended up writing this song about the provincial flower of each province. It would be cool to have something like School House Rock, where you learn something with each song.”

The children’s songs will be short and catchy–as you should probably expect from the ex-Groovie Ghoulies frontman. He says School House Rock had some of an influence on the songs he’s writing for the forthcoming children’s record; however, he says that some of those songs were too long. His inspiration mainly came from the acts that have inspired him all along.

“I wanted to make [my songs] two minutes,” he says. “A Ramones song, or a Little Richard song, two minutes is perfect–sort of get in and get out. I wanted to do a song about the U.S. presidents or something, but I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll do two songs, so there are only 20 presidents at a time,’ so there are no four- or five-minute songs. I remember when I was a kid, slow songs were weird, and long songs were weird.”

Until then, though, Kepi is focused on his latest release, his fifth since The Groovie Ghoulies went their separate ways in 2007. He has a record release show planned for Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Dec. 2, 2011, which is where the paintings he’s been working on will come into play.

“I’m hand-painting 30 album covers for the release show, and I’m going to be selling a test pressing with a hand-painted piece of art for $150. I’m going to do 15 on the show and 15 online,” Kepi says. “I’m going crazy doing that.”

Much like Kepi’s songs, his paintings are fun and perhaps simplistic, but instantly indelible. It’s a straightforward, honest approach that has served his music well over the years.

“A lot of my songs are so minimal, I don’t want to make them do anything else,” he says. “Like, ‘This song doesn’t need a bridge.’ Like, T. Rex, Marc Bolan would just play this riff, and that would be enough for him. I don’t want to mess it up by adding too much.”

Kepi carries his love for minimalism over into I Bleed Rock ‘n’ Roll; however, as he told Submerge, he was eager to inject a healthy dose of huge rock energy into his songs. The veteran songwriter answered questions about the process of making his new album in the following interview.

How’s it going? You’ve got the album coming out in a couple weeks?
Yep! New record coming out. Everything’s great. I’m super excited. I think it’s the best-sounding thing I’ve ever done…

I spent about a month making it in Oakland, because usually I make a record in three days or a week or something. We don’t usually have a lot of time, but my buddy down there had a studio, and we spent a lot of time tracking everything. It was really fun, six layers of guitars sometimes, just stuff I’ve never been able to do because of budget concerns and that sort of thing.

How come you had a little more time this time around?
It was the flexibility with the studio and no rush… I think the songs on this record were a lot more fleshed out. I don’t know what it is, but it was just really fun, and a difference–bigger than what I had been working on.

It definitely sounded like more of a rock record. Was that something you were going for when you wrote these songs?
Yeah, totally. I was in Austria a couple times early this year, and there’s a club called the PNK, and in Europe, after the rock show, there’s DJs playing The Bouncing Souls and The Ramones, and all that stuff, and people are dancing and hanging out. I wanted to make a record that people can dance to at the after party–just big, loud, fun. Songs like “Nikki Lee,” “Part Time Romeo,” “Break My Heart,” those were made for rock ‘n’ roll after parties… It was a goal to make a big rock record that you could dance to. That was part of my mission here.

Usually, you said you make a record in three days, but this one took you a month, on and off. Did that affect your creative process at all? Did you have to tell yourself to slow down in the studio because you’re used to doing things so fast?
No, actually, music and lyric-wise, it came really fast. It’s this big, loud, three-chord rock ‘n’ roll. When I got in, it was like, boom, boom, boom. Like, you know, don’t think about it too much. This isn’t some super profound record lyrically, this is just a big rock ‘n’ roll record. When I went in, I tried to be super up. The other thing was, if I wanted to go somewhere and just sing to the backing tracks, I can. I’m getting these weirder and weirder gigs. I was just flown to Oslo, Norway, for a show, and I was also flown to Nebraska to play a zombie walk… You can’t fly a band to Norway to do one show, usually, so you have to have alternate options. This record was also made for that. Last year, I was in Rome, and I was supposed to play acoustic at this really loud club, and there was no possible way I was going to be able to play acoustic. The DJ happened to be playing a Groovie Ghoulies record, and I just started singing along with it as a joke. He just kept playing more records, and my show ended up being this live karaoke set. I was singing The Monkees and Kiss and Johnny Thunders, and he was trying to stump me, but I knew the words to every song. And people were blown away, like, “Whoa, what was that?” I like the kind of anything-goes factor that’s in my life right now.

You mentioned that the lyrics weren’t meant to be very deep, but toward the end of the album with songs like “I Just Wanted You to Know,” “Love to Give,” “Break My Heart” and “Cupid Is Real,” there seemed to be a heavy love theme. Was that something you noticed when you were writing lyrics for this record?
It’s funny. In the Ghoulies, I never really wrote love songs, but this time a bunch of them came out. “I Just Wanted You to Know,” that one I heard a little T. Rex riff in my head. I demoed it. I tried to send it to Kevin Seconds, but I failed. It was on my GarageBand or something and I ended up recording that. Rusty Miller [of the band Jackpot] played on some of those songs. He did that one and played exactly what I heard in my head. “Break My Heart,” I woke up one day and thought that was a cool little title, like, I know you’re going to break my heart one day, so let’s just get this over with… I don’t know. They all just came. Songs come to me, and if they’re catchy, I keep them. As far as them all being at the end of the record, I always try to pace my records like a movie or a roller coaster ride. I put a lot of thought into how it was going to end, like, “Hard to Forget” is a good song that will hopefully keep ringing in your head after it’s done.

This is your fifth solo album since the Ghoulies split up. That’s not even that long ago. It’s only like four years ago.
I’m averaging about one a year. The first thing I did was put out an acoustic and electric record at the same time, so people couldn’t be, “Oh, he’s doing this or he’s doing that.” I’m doing a bit of everything. It’s really cool. I’m in a place like Neil Young or Johnny Thunders, where I can do whatever I want, and I really like that.

Kepi Ghoulie will play his CD release show at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Dec. 2, 2011; however, Sacramento fans will only have to wait a week after to see him live in town. On Dec. 9, 2011 he will play an acoustic set at Naked Coffee with Pets. Later in the month on Dec. 30, 2011, Kepi will plug in and play with Dog Party as his backing band at Luigi’s Fungarden. Look for I Bleed Rock ‘n’ Roll on Asian Man Records on Nov. 29, 2011.