With over 20 years as a band under their belt, Katchafire has eyes on cementing their place in reggae music history. The all-Maori band out of Hamilton, New Zealand deliver their fifth studio album, and first in over seven years, with the appropriate title Legacy. Katchafire’s instantly recognizable brand of sweet and smooth reggae has embedded itself in the hearts and ears of music fans around the world.
We recently chatted with Katchafire frontman Logan Bell to discuss the band’s new album, their influence on music in their homeland, as well what they hope to achieve in the next 20 years as a band. Bell also shared his itch to get back in the studio and continue making new music.
On Legacy, Katchafire tapped into their expansive musical network of family and friends to create an album that is both classic and progressive. Bell talks about what it took to bring the final product together, and why he’s hopeful to put out more and more Katchafire tunes in the near future.
Interview: Logan Bell of Katchafire
The Pier: Let’s start with the new album Legacy. It seems like classic Katchafire on the surface, but is there something particular to you that sticks out as different from previous releases?
Logan: Yeah you’re right, I think it’s a natural progression. The boys have taken a bit more of a risk. This time we used not only the musicians within Katchafire, but some of our great and talented friends we’ve met over the years that we’ve done collaborations with. Some Grammy Award winning, and nominated producers, mixers, engineers and artists. I think that would be the big stick out and change for me.
The Pier: Seems like you also used the talk box quite a bit as well.
Logan: Yeah, I think that was a common theme coming in. Over the last couple of years we’ve had a new guitarist come in and replace my father by the name of Wiremu Barriball, a very talented young man. And he started introducing talk box to our live show a couple of years back. It’s just been a natural progression for the writing of this album. The guys have been sort of like, “What does this song need?” And you know, we’re quite partial to the old talk box.
The Pier: Going back to those musicians outside of Katchafire, we specifically noticed that nasty saxophone solo on the song “I Can Feel It A Lot.”
Logan: Haha! Yeah. There’s a lot of Dean Fraser and his mate Dwight (Richard) on the horns. Dean Fraser is probably one of the most recognized saxophone players in the reggae game. We’ve got him and his bro Dwight on a lot of the tunes. Also, I have to mention our California-based horn section, which is Rafael Postel, Tony Peebles. And I have to give thanks to our New Zealand-based horn section, which is Mr. Thabani Gapara and Christian (Mausia). We’ve got musicians in every country these days!
The Pier: We know Katchafire has been trying to put this album out for sometime now. Is there any reason in particular the release got pushed back to summer 2018?
Logan: I think mainly due to our schedule. We have a pretty thick touring schedule. Sort of more than a lot of other bands that I know. That’s no excuse, it’s just hard to find a bit of momentum after coming home from touring eight or nine months of the year. Only having a few months at home you want to divide up the time with family and still remain productive. So yeah, the schedule and just not being home enough really.
But we’re excited! This album we had to finish wherever we were in the world, so we just went and booked studios in Jamaica and studios in California. I think we even did some work while we were in Europe. And if it wasn’t going into the studios, it was on the tour bus doing our own production. Just on the go, using any spare moment we had, you know? Wherever we were to get it done. It’s hard to find a good two weeks of momentum in the studio to get stuff done, because you do need about that much just to get things done.
The Pier: Katchafire tends to take on a more rigorous tour schedule in Europe and North America. What are the main differences between touring at home and abroad?
Logan: When we travel kind of far from home we like to stay as busy as possible, and productive. Man, I love it! A lot of the guys are accustomed to spending time away from home. It’s (North America) one of my favorite places to tour. I’m starting to feel at home there. Obviously the West Coast has a lot of love for Katchafire. But we’ve gone from the East to the West and everywhere in between. I always enjoy little towns that I’ve never been to. And they’re quite quirky, and they haven’t heard of Katchafire that well. Places like Jupiter in Florida. Or in Minnesota. I really like to embed myself in the landscape and know where I am, geographically, and to meet new people.
The Pier: And Katchafire has a lot of love for Hawaii as well. They think you’re from there don’t they!
Logan: They do! I think it’s because we go there dressed in jandals and lauhalas, full Polynesian mode. Quite a seamless transition. But when we talk they go, “Oh, you guys aren’t from here. You’re our cuzzies from Aotearoa!” We really enjoy going there any opportunity we get.
The Pier: Is there anywhere else in the world you still feel like Katchafire needs to visit and play a show?
Logan: Yeah, sure. There’s a lot of place we haven’t been. Asia being a big one. We’ve had a lot of offers from there, but I think it’s been around our American or European tours. But I really want to get in there. Japan. Anywhere, really, that will take us. Obviously the boys have been working our way around the Pacific, but there’s still a lot of Pacific Islands that we haven’t been to.
Europe’s been a big one on our agenda for the last 10 years or so. It’s quite a hard, and expensive place, and very far away from us to tour. But that’s always on the campaign front. We’re looking to hit up South America again. You know, Brazil has been really cool for us. We’ve had maybe 3 or 4 tours in there over the last 7 years. That’s got a real good vibe for us.
The Pier: Brazil seems to have a really big reggae scene down there.
Logan: Yeah, Brazil’s got a huge reggae scene. We opened for a band called Natiruts over there. I mean, these guys don’t need to play anywhere else. There’s enough population in Brazil and in South America, and they’re so well loved they don’t have to go anywhere else, you know? They’re getting 10,000 people at their headlining show. Not a festival or anything, it’s just their show. It’s an amazing movement going on over there. So we’d love to tap into that. 2018 I’m hoping.
The Pier: What can you tell us about reggae’s presence back home in New Zealand?
Logan: Yeah reggae is absolutely huge. Still not on the mainstream scene, where it should be. But some of the biggest festivals here throughout the year are reggae ones, namely One Love. Or if they’re not reggae festivals, they’ll still have the biggest reggae bands headlining the festival. So it sort of speaks volumes. New Zealand was one of the biggest buyers of Bob Marley records per capita in the world around the 70s and 80s, so we have a huge affinity towards reggae music and its messages, and its vibe. It speaks to us.
When Katchafire was coming through, 17 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of reggae bands around on the scene playing live or getting radio play. We sort of changed that, or helped usher in that new attitude towards the music. There was a few bands before us doing it, mainly the founders, the fathers, the Herbs. But there wasn’t a lot of belief in this music as a career path. I think we’ve helped smash that down, and change the perception around that. There’s a lot of belief for young people to get into music and to make a career path out of it. I think Katchafire has hugely contributed to that, and showing that there is a path and that it can be done.
Before us there was this stigma. Parents didn’t want my generation to get into things like arts and music because it wasn’t seen as a proper career path. But yeah, Katchafire has been pioneers ushering in that change of attitude for musicians coming through. Over the last seven years we’ve seen maybe 120+ reggae bands pop up in New Zealand. The scene is absolutely thriving and everyone wants to be in a reggae band.
The Pier: Tunes of I is a local one that caught our ears recently.
Logan: Oh yeah! We’re talking about maybe taking them on the road with us in Australia. That would be cool.
The Pier: Last year, Katchafire celebrated 20 years together as a band. What is the aim for Katchafire over the next 10 or even 20 years?
Logan: To be honest, we do see ourselves being one of those, dare I say it, iconic bands. We want to be a Steel Pulse. We want to be a UB40. In 30 years we want to be a household name and reggae legends. It’s where we’ve adjusted our goals to, you know? We’ve seen ourselves playing the same circuit as these bands now, in California and Europe. Same festivals. Rubbing shoulders, and opening up for them when they come here. So our goal is becoming more achievable. We’ve adjusted our goals along the way, and will continue to do that.
We’re hoping to get nominated for a Grammy for this album. I think the boys have gotten back on the saddle so to speak. It’s been seven years since our last album, but finishing up this album we really had a great time, and felt that love again for the studio. The boys have a renewed vigor for that and want to quickly get back into the studio. Get working on our next studio album, so that people aren’t waiting so long. Maybe a year, maybe two, but we’ve got the bug back!
The Pier: We’re glad to hear it, Logan! Thanks so much for taking time to chat about the new album and all things Katchafire. We also share your excitement for the rest of world to hear Legacy.
Watch: Katchafire – “Addicted”