Interview: Passafire

Interview: Passafire

The Pier caught up with the Savannah, GA reggae-rockers, Passafire, before last Saturday’s performance at the Florida Music Festival in Orlando, FL. Lead singer and band guitarist, Ted Bowne, took some time out to talk via telephone and spilled the details on the four-member outfit’s upcoming release, who he wants to check out while on Warped Tour all summer, Adam Willis’ departure as band keyboardist and the decision to bring Mike DeGuzman in to take his place. Check out our conversation below.

(Side note: During the interview, Bowne and I randomly discovered we’re both from the same little dot on the globe known as Maryland’s Eastern Shore and know several of the same people. However, because our small town roots are irrelevant to most readers, I’ve left the convo out. Still, totally random and awesome for this interviewer)

The Pier: Being from the southeast is the Florida circuit one that Passafire enjoys playing? Do you have any favorite venues in the sunshine state?
Ted Bowne: Yea, the circuit is always awesome for us. But in general, Florida is kind of like the California of the east coast because it has the beach culture all over, but it’s also got the same Georgia-vibe we like and are used too. We really enjoy playing Ft. Lauderdale and St. Pete, but Orlando has always been amazing and a great time, so it’s probably our favorite city to play in Florida. But then there’s Jacksonville too, and Freebird Live is another spot we like playing.

The Pier: Yea, I always hear about that place and have never been. Never been there or The Culture Room in Ft. Lauderdale and would love to check out shows at both of those spots because they’re so popular.
Bowne: The Culture Room is awesome! We’re always so excited when we play there.

The Pier: Cool. So, Warped Tour definitely seems like a bill to be on this summer for reggae/rock bands. Could you tell me how it came about for you guys to play the tour and what the upsides are to playing a huge, well-known festival with tons of other musicians?
Bowne: Well, the story is, I have a friend who works for Skullcandy so when we were touring in Park City, Utah, where the headquarters are, we would go by there and just try and butter them up for a sponsorship thing, but they never really responded to us. Then, all the sudden, one day last summer my friend called and was like You guys want to be on Warped Tour this summer? We need someone for five dates. At that point we were super excited, so we did it last year and, I guess, we impressed the powers that be and were asked to come back and do the whole thing.
There are a lot of perks to doing the tour, like getting to network with other musicians on our level. You can leave at the end of Warped Tour with plans to tour with five bands in all kinds of genres and, for us, that’s one thing we really want to get into — touring with different genres. It’s also really great because, once we release our new album in the fall, we’ll be out touring and promoting it in all the cities we just went to all summer on Warped Tour and had the opportunity to play in front of thousands of kids. You don’t play in front of everybody, of course, but there’s like 10,000 people at Warped Tour every day. So at the end of the summer – I calculated the capacity – if every date was full, it would be like 800,000 people coming out to the tour. So, you get a lot of fans out of it. It’s all around just a really awesome festival. We are completely honored to be a part it. It’s definitely an honor just to be asked.

The Pier: Are there any bands or musicians from the Warped Tour line up that you’re looking forward to being on tour with or checking out?
Bowne: Yea, I haven’t checked out the whole line up, but definitely Gym Class Heroes. Also, there’s a band called Bad Rabbits I just randomly clicked on when I was looking at the bands. Then I watched one of their videos and am so excited to see them, and more so excited maybe just to hang out with ‘em because they’re cool guys and their music is cool and I’ve never heard of them. So, Warped Tour is great for stuff like that — you go to see your favorite bands, but you’re going to check out at least six bands by accident that you’ve never even heard of, and you’ll buy their CD and go home and find ‘em online and discover all new music.

We’ve been wanting to tour with hip hop groups and more rock groups, so this summer’s tour will help make that happen. Don’t get me wrong, I love touring with fellow reggae bands and seeing reggae shows and there is definitely a community, but I think our specific niche of the reggae rock world can sort of cross over. I, personally, really want to go on tour with a jam band. Like Umphrey’s McGee. If we could get on tour with Umphrey’s McGee it would be the coolest thing because their fans are into technical musicality as opposed to just getting wasted all the time, which is definitely a whole part of the reggae-rock thing sometimes. So it would benefit us greatly to go on tour with a band whose fans are really focused on the technicality of our music.

The Pier: I scanned through Passafire’s Facebook profile to prep for this interview, and there were a few people requesting your presence at the 311 Pow Wow Festival in north Florida this August. Is this a possibility for Passafire or no because of Warped Tour’s dates?
Bowne: If we weren’t doing Warped Tour, we would be doing everything in our power to try and get on that festival. And it’s funny because people just keep asking us, why aren’t you on it? And it’s not like we can just snap our fingers and be like, ok, we’re on the festival. No one’s asked us. So even if we weren’t doing Warped Tour, no one has asked us. It’s not like we’re giving up the opportunity to do Warped Tour because it would be an awesome opportunity. They just did the 311 Jam Cruise, and the Expendables are good friends of ours, so we saw videos of the cruise and I was so jealous! So, like I said, if we weren’t doing Warped, we would be doing everything to get on Pow Wow and I don’t think it would be too hard. We’ve played with 311 before. It’s at the Suwannee Music Park, right?

The Pier: Yea. Again, I’ve never been and it looks awesome.
Bowne: I love that place. I’ve only been there once, but I really, really love that place. It’s so cool.

The Pier: I was hoping to talk about Adam Willis’ departure as keyboardist after eight years with Passafire. From the letter he wrote to fans, it seems like it all went down on positive terms. What can you tell me about the decision and how it eventually came to pass?
Bowne: Basically, touring is a beast and touring can take a real toll on you. I think over a period of time we all noticed Adam wasn’t very happy. And it wasn’t like he was unhappy with the band or the shows, it was just unhappy with not being home. And I think it’s something we all think about a lot. So we were like, what’s up, man? What do we need to do to make this right for you? And he said, well, I want to take a break, not go on this next tour and come back when my head is straight. So, we’re all best friends before anything and as friends we told him to do whatever it is he needed to do and then when we get back together later on, we’ll talk about it. In the meantime, we needed a keyboard player for the winter tour and we got Mike [DeGuzman], who played with The Expendables once in Chicago and so we randomly contacted him, asked him to come on tour and he said ok. After the tour, we came back to Adam, who had gotten a job, and he told us he was comfortable where he was and if he were to come back on the road with Passafire it would be more of the same. And we knew it. So, eventually we just had the conversation where it went down and we said everything was and is cool between us. We’re all still great friends. Passafire just isn’t something he can do anymore because he has different aspirations for his life.
And Mike has just been great. He’s into jam band stuff and has a natural tendency to improvise and to play a lot of jazz and funk that we’ve always wanted to hear in our music. Mike’s been playing keys his whole life, so he’s very dedicated and into all different genres. He’ll play everything and anything. You can check out his piano covers of Expendables online and that’s what got him here with us. We are just very lucky to have a keyboard player who has his range of skill.

The Pier: What can you tell me about the new album you’ve been writing? Where are you at as far as progress? What can you tell me about the general vibe or sonic feel of the album?
Bowne: It’s going to be recorded at Sonic Ranch in Texas, about a half mile from the boarder of Mexico. It’s a beautiful place. And for the first time, we’re going out with a producer. And, considering it is our first time working with a producer, we scored a pretty awesome one – Paul Leary, who’s done Sublime, Expendables, Pepper and is also the guitar player of the Butthole Surfers. This is really a new thing for us, we’ve never had someone coach us, and we’ve been sending him the pre-production ideas and he’s stoked. I am blown away by his comments. I talked to him briefly yesterday and just to have someone to bounce ideas off of who has professional experience is going to be really cool. Hopefully, we have something going by September/October. A lot of the songs are going to have a serious rock influence on this next album. There’s one track we put harmonics on, just to hear what it sounded like, and it totally transcended the whole track. I don’t know how to describe the music, really. It’s not reggae, but it is. There’s definitely a southern rock influence. There’s going to be a lot of mandolin, banjo and stings. There’s a song we’re doing that’s completely acoustic. Also, we’re diving into a little bit of electronic stuff here and there and there’s one little breakdown that gets pretty dub steppy at one point. We’ve already appealed to a certain niche’ of people, so now we want to take it to where we can cross over to people who listen to all kinds of different music. It always ends up feeling reggae, but it’s less important and we’re just not trying to make the same thing over and over. This time around there is just this conscious notion that we want to make music that will appeal to everybody.

The Pier: You guys released Live from the Road Vol. II in March as a “Name Your Own Price Download.” With things like letting fans pick the price and the way you seem to interact one on one with fans through Facebook and Twitter etc., why is showing fans love and communicating with them a priority for Passafire?
Bowne: It should be a priority for every band out there. I’ll tell you a brief little story and I won’t mention any names, but when I was young and impressionable, and we had just started Passafire, I went to a show of a band I really dug and was like, those guys are doing what I want to do. So, I went up to the lead singer, told him I dug his music and handed him a copy of our demo at the time. He told me to fuck off. Pretty much from that moment, I realized no one ever wants to feel like that. Especially, when you gain so much respect for somebody and you tell ‘em they’re awesome and they say fuck off (laughs). Fans that come see you pay for you to play music for a living. The fact that we play music for a living is a blessing in itself and the fact that we can do just that, and nothing else, is amazing. And it’s all because of the people who support us and buy our music and come out to our shows. So, it behooves us to completely stay in touch with our fans at all times. Sure, it gets crazy sometimes. You talk to people once on Facebook and they think they’re your best friend and it gets weird. But, for the most part, the best thing we can do is keeping in touch with our fans on a very real and genuine basis.

– Interview by: Amber McDonald
– Photography by: Bill Colbridge