Interview: Passafire

Interview: Passafire


On May 12, Passafire released their sixth full-length album, Longshot, via Easy Star Records, featuring 12 new tracks which will warrant your speakers to be on high volume. The band is comprised of Ted Bowne (lead vocalist and guitarist), Will Kubley (bass and vocals), Mike DeGuzman (keys and guitar) and Nick Kubley (drums).

For 14 years, Passafire has been setting (and continuously raising) the bar for infusing and blending their own unique style of reggae-rock together across multiple different genres, ultimately creating their own. One of the hardest working artists across the music industry, Passafire plays copious amounts of shows on a yearly basis to the delight of their fans, igniting stages and breathing energy into their audience every night without fail. Over the years, they have continued to expand sonically with each release, cementing themselves as a household name and fan favorite among the reggae-rock community.

We had the opportunity to connect with Ted Bowne for an exclusive, in-depth discussion on the band’s new album Longshot, the overall recording process highlighting several tracks, and the dynamics behind their new music video for the albums titled track “Longshot.” We also discussed various influences that ingrain themselves within Passafire’s music, and how the 90’s were the golden age for hip-hop and alternative rock — find the full interview below!

Interview: Passafire

The Pier: Congratulations on the music video! What brought you to Florida?
Ted: Yeah, we were in Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida. The video was for “Longshot” -– we based the whole thing off of location. I gotta give Will (Kubley) huge credit for taking the reins and basically being the middle man between us and Sugarshack as far as what we wanted to convey. Will was very much a part of the directing, photography, all aspects of making this video. The rest of us kind of just did what he said.

The location was kind of the basis for the concept that they came up with. The location is this river that’s about an hour and a half north of St. Petersburg -– I’ve been up there paddle boarding with friends numerous times in the last couple of months and decided that would be a really awesome place to shoot a video. I showed the guys some pictures from my trips up there, and they were like yeah let’s go there for sure. So we went up there, I can’t think of a better word to describe it other than serendipitous — everything came together so fluidly. We got to the house that we rented and it was in a very good location to get to the river, but we really needed a jungle scene –- which is what the river is kind of known for, it’s very “jungly.”Passafire Van

We drove around scouting out spots and not even half a mile down from the house we were staying at there was this Christian Camp that was closed until summer time. The caretaker was there and he agreed for us to use his property for two days and oh man it was perfect! We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect spot to shoot. Everything came together, it was very last minute. We didn’t go up and location-scout before we got there. Within the first hour we found this place and we’re really stoked. The results are that much better because we found the perfect spot.

The Pier: Excellent, that’s really cool — Who directed the video?
Ted: Sugarshack Sessions from Bonita Springs. They were the camera operators and directors. The concept they came up with was based on our explanation of the song. Will took their concept and turned it into a shot list, and turned it into a story board for them to work off of, and then throughout the whole process it was mostly the three Sugarshack guys that were there (Eddie, Justin and Jamison) and Will kind of talking about actual setup, framing, lighting and all that stuff. And like I said Mike, Nick and I were just concentrating on doing our best acting and trying to look cool in the video [laughs].

The Pier: Congratulations on the new album! It’s truly an incredible record! Moving and cohesive from start to finish. There’s definitely that true Passafire feel and sound to it. There’s that dichotomy of heavier tracks as well as lighter tracks and everything in between. Was there a certain direction you guys wanted to take it sonically, or did the mix of songs just happen organically during the writing process?
Ted: As always, they come organically without any real regard to “Is this going to be a reggae record? Is this going to be a rock record?” It’s going to be a Passafire record no matter what! It makes me happy to hear you say it sounds like a true Passafire record –- a lot of people who have heard it so far, the people involved with the label, close friends and family, they’ve heard the record and they say the same thing. It makes me happy that after 14 years we are able to maintain continuity of our sound and our own style. I think it came out better than we even expected. We are on a reggae record label, Easy Star Records, and this will be our third release with them.

I wouldn’t say there was imminent pressure from the label to make a reggae record, but we wanted to sort of help them help us, you know? If they’ve been using their efforts towards reggae music and towards the reggae market, why not give them at least a handful of reggae tunes that they can really push. So we did constantly focus on making the reggae songs that are on the record rootsy, marketable in the reggae world and simplified. Some of them have just two or four chords the whole time. They’re just simple and they’re easy to sing along to. I feel like that’s key to a lot of the bands in our genre’s success is the ability to just relate and sing along, hear the melody once and know it forever.

The Pier: You had mentioned on previous records, such as Start from Scratch, that there was a feeling that you may have been racing against the clock. Longshot was written across several different locations before you hit Sonic Ranch, did you feel pressed for time or was this album recorded at more of a desired pace?Passafire_Basement
Ted: I think we were not rushed at all on this one. We had ample time to sort of come with multiple versions of things. We went through three different writing sessions in three different locations, where by the third one we had all the songs from the first and second sessions and a few new ones, and we were able to put down new versions of things that evolved in our minds from listening to the songs in the time between the writing sessions. We listened to them and we were like, “Oh man what if this one was more like a four-on-the-floor reggae beat instead of a rock beat?” And then you put that in there and we’re like “Oh shit that was it, that’s what we need to do!” So there was a lot more time.

The Pier: Passafire hasn’t done many collaborations in the past, what was the process for bringing in Mr. Lif on “Blow” and how did that collaboration materialize?
Ted: I’ve been a fan of Mr. Lif –- the first time I heard him was actually a guest feature on the STS9 song for a remix of “Possibilities.” Then I heard him with Thievery Corporation and I started checking out his own full-length albums and found out about The Perceptionists. I’ve been so into hip-hop since I was like 13-years-old, he’s underground! It’s cool, he’s one of the MC’s that has stuck to rhyming over beats with samples, sort of a 90’s hip-hop feel. I think the 90’s was the golden age of hip-hop, people got really experimental with beats and new rhyme schemes and stuff and he’s very much paid homage to that world.

So, I straight up hit him up on Instagram, like any fan of another person would do, and sent a message to Mr. Lif through Instagram and said, “Hey, we’re big fans of you –- what do you think about being on one of our tracks?” And he responded within five minutes and was like send me the track! And we started talking the day we left Sonic Ranch actually. I spoke to him on the phone and he said he could have something that he could send to our mixing engineer within the next couple of days.

And he went home, and busted it out, sent it to us, really great sound quality and I was like “Man, that went so much better than I thought it was ever gonna go!” This guy was so down to do it, the verse that he wrote, we got to talk about the song for a minute, and he took that and spun it into this kind of espionage themed, dark future, really cool lyrical imagery in what he wrote which is what I like him for anyway so it was perfect.

The Pier: That’s awesome — the track itself is really cool, and you guys have already dropped it live a couple times!
Ted: Yeah! I’ve been rapping his verse which is kind of weird, but it’s kind of fun because I used to rap when I was in high school and stuff, but I haven’t really rapped on a Passafire song before, so it was interesting.

The Pier: Longshot is going to be the third Passafire album via Easy Star Records -– what’s the relationship been like so far in working with the Easy Star Records family?TedBowne_Passafire_Live
Ted: It’s a family man, they’re very hands on. We talk to them multiple times a day via email or phone. When it’s time to get on the phone, we call everybody -– everybody gets on the phone and we talk about stuff. It’s very much been a family, community kind of thing. We’ve been over to Europe and linked up with Backbeat Soundsystem through Easy Star, and Easy Star is associated with Soul Fire Records who brings us over to Europe. So we’ve seen a lot of things happen since we’ve signed with Easy Star, positive things. So it’s been really good.

The Pier: Every track on the new record definitely has its own identity, standouts for us after the first listen (you could pick from every song really!) – but “Growing Up,” “Find My Way,” and “Tacoma” were definitely standouts, would you be able to talk to those tracks and address the meaning and process behind them?
Ted: I love every song, “Growing Up” is very much afro-pop influence musically. We definitely made a conscious effort on that one, we were like “Hey let’s sit around and come up with something that sounds afro-poppy.” I live down in St. Pete now where The Hip Abduction lives. We did a tour with them, it was just really exciting listening to their music every night. I’ve always been a fan of afro-beat music, and then when Vampire Weekend came on the scene, at first I was like, “Wait what is this?” And then I listened to it and was like, “Okay, this is really enjoyable!” People have been doing it for years, like Paul Simon, Phil Collins, all these people throughout the last couple of generations have been adapting this American-Roots music that has roots in African rhythms and stuff too, so this one is like a Paul Simon song basically.

The Pier: It’s an awesome lead-off track as well, at the beginning it almost feels like there is some environmental sound-scaping which makes it feel like a track you can wake up to.
Ted: Yeah, I like how the album has sort of been book-ended by instrumental crescendo and decrescendo basically, instrumental intro and outro. “Tacoma” like I was saying, the 90’s was the golden age for a lot of things, hip-hop as well as alternative rock. When Will played that bass-line in rehearsal or a writing session one day, he just started playing it and Nick started playing drums to it. They just kind of went over and over for a while with that same bass-line and I was like, that sounds like a Soundgarden song or like a Pearl Jam song. We wrote that instrumental, then Will came up with the lyrics. Basically, we write a bunch of instrumentals, and then Will and I look at the songs from a lyrical standpoint and write as many lyrics as we can to whatever we want.

That was one that Will was like: “I like this one, I’ll tackle this one.” I think he knocked it out of the park with the lyrics. It’s reflective of road life and talking about the things that people really don’t realize about going on the road. People are like, “Man you go out there and you hook up with girls, and it’s cool” -– and you’re like “Yeah until you hook up with one you want to spend the rest of your life with,” or one that you’re mad in love with. You try to keep that relationship when you go on the road and it’s so damn hard. So its talking to that, and talking to the other people we know in this industry who feel that way as well.

The Pier: For sure, and the chorus is pretty powerful too. With “Find My Way” you rock a pretty sick solo towards the latter half of the song, and you guys have dropped that one live already as well -– What was the background behind that song?WillKubley_Passafire_Live
Ted: “Find My Way” is something also that’s back to 90’s alternative rock. That one was also driven behind the riff. I played the riff and then we kind of just went off of that, it was kind of just a stream of consciousness thing when we were sitting around the studio. And then when we had actually written out the entire musical part of the song. I went to sit down and write lyrics and all I kept hearing was Brandon Boyd in my head and was like, this is Incubus. And it basically put on my What-Would-Brandon-Boyd-Do bracelet and went to town with it! And so that one was very much like “Souvenir” which was fast, we’ve always had a fast rock song — “La Fuenta” or “Here in Front Of Me” — and we were like we need to have a fast rocker on this one, so that became the fast rocker.

The solo that you’re talking about, the sound of that solo on the record is solely due to the pedal. The 1970 Fender Fuzz Wah pedal, the one at Sonic Ranch has a defect, but it makes it sound that way. Like it’s kind of messed up but makes it sound better.

The Pier: You just wrapped up the Spring Break ’98 2017 Tour with Ballyhoo! and Bumpin’ Uglies –- Can you talk briefly about taking Bumpin Uglies on the road for the summer?
Ted: I’ve known of those guys for years, I think we played our first show with them in Annapolis many years ago, which is where they’re from and they’ve kinda been working the ropes just like we did 10 years ago. They’ve been doing their thing for 7-10 years now, and they’re dedicated to it and don’t have any desire to stop. We recognize their same hunger for this as ours, and they’re really good musicians. They write songs that are real, and not bubble-gummy. I’m a huge Rage Against the Machine fan, huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan — bands like that are super influential in that they don’t do bullshit stuff to please anybody but the ones who want knowledge and wisdom. They go above and beyond and it just blows my mind. Bumpin’ Uglies are one of these bands that don’t try to please anybody with their music, they just make music and hope that you get it as well as playing really great music — all four of them –- they got a new guy Chad (Wright) playing keys now and it kind of fills out the sound a little bit, it’s really cool. So we clicked with them on the last tour and decided to take them out west after Cali-Roots.

The Pier: How often do you get to play in front of the home crowd in Savannah, GA? You just had the 420 show at The Jinx, did you break out any new songs from the record or add any new covers to the mix?
Ted: Not for Savannah, we basically added the new Longshot album songs throughout the beginning of the tour, and by that point in the tour we hadn’t had the time to go over any of the other ones. So Savannah was kind of just like a normal set. Savannah was a great town to start the band in, we lived there for 13 years. The Jinx is one of the only spots in town that you can go and get treated like a normal treatment on the road in other towns. Its only 115 capacity or something, Savannah doesn’t have a venue in between that and The Civic Center. There’s no room to grow for a band in Savannah, so going back to Savannah is fun and its always great to see friends, but I would like to see Savannah’s music scene grow a little bit so that we can go back there and start having bigger shows. It’s kind of the same thing every time because the venue is only so big and there’s no other venue to play in after that.

The Pier: We also wanted to bring up the album art and the cover for Longshot. Can you speak to the album cover for the new record?
Ted: Most credit for the album cover is due to Nick, who’s kind of Passafire’s official/unofficial art director. Nick does a lot of the official design stuff for the band. We did decide that we wanted to include a photograph this time because we’ve never done that. We found a photograph in a huge Dropbox folder from the guy who took the photos that ended up turning into the Start from Scratch cover –- so we have used photographs, that one is kind of more spacey and artsy looking, but that same guy is a friend of Nick and Will’s from childhood, Joel Parrish. He sent us a Dropbox link to a bunch of photos, and Nick chose one out of that, did the cover overlay and the Flameguy. We had also never really included a Flameguy on the cover or even on the back of a record, so we wanted to step up the branding of the band and say here’s what represents us on the front of the album. No mistake about it, this isn’t a secret. This is our logo, this is what we stand for.

The Pier: One other cover that’s always caught our attention is the album art for Everyone on Everynight. On the surface it looks like a group of fans with their hands in the air, enjoying and celebrating life with each other, and then there is a sunset color scheme. What was the overall essence of that cover?
Ted: The guy who designed that cover actually designed the Flameguy, and he designed the Submersible album cover as well. With that one, for Everyone on Everynight, we told him this album is dedicated to everyone who comes out every night, even Monday and Tuesday nights when we play in Nowheresville, USA — this one’s for them. With that being said, he took it into a whole sci-fi realm and said, what if everyone on every night got together to work on this thing, and once they were done they were going to send it out into the world, into the universe to share this thing that they made together with other people?

We were like yeah, that sounds awesome — what is this thing? The idea was that it’s going to be a bird, it’s actually a spaceship. But these people are building it as it looks like a bird and operates like a bird. Once they’re done building the bird, they have a giant launch party. Which is why you see the people with their hands in the air and the bird off in the distance, and they launch the bird out into the universe and in the next-fold cover the bird is flying through the universe. That was when we were still doing four-panel or six-panel gate folds. Start from Scratch, we were like alright let’s just do one little, simple thing.

It’s tough man, album covers are cool – not as many people buy CD’s anymore. Vinyl is now the thing that people buy because it’s more of a collector’s item, and you can display it and see the art better. We just decided with our CD’s, we’re going to make it simple. If you buy it, you’ll probably lose the jewel case at some point unless you get it signed and it’s something you keep. But I really dig the photo that they came up with for Longshot and I think that its representative of the song “Longshot” and the overall sentiment of the album that everything’s going to be OK regardless of all the bullshit. It’s a very calming image and we talk about a lake and a river in the song “Longshot” and we try to go to lakes and rivers and stuff on our days off on the road, because that grounds us. It makes us feel the connection to the earth that everybody needs to feel in order to have balance in this world. We really gravitate towards images like that, whether it be in real life or in our minds. That kind of represents our “happy place.”

The Pier: One last question — what do you hope for listeners to get out of the new record and what do you hope their overall experience is with Longshot?
Ted: I really do hope that the experience that people talk about, is when they come to our show and then when we talk to them after the show, they say, “Man, I got your CD’s, but I had no idea it was going to be this much more intense live.” That’s something that we constantly sat back and we’re like, “Well why is it more fun for them live?” It’s a simple answer -– it’s because we’re actually playing our instruments together, and there’s that cohesion, that spark and that energy that we have together. Whereas in the studio, we’ve been doing a lot of one instrument at a time, everyone is sort of starting at that guy that’s playing his instrument at that time and giving orders to say, “Play like this! Do this!”

When we actually got in the studio, we played the album, for the most part, live and then went in and overdubbed guitar solos, vocals and special things — it made it feel more live. It made the tracks feel more alive and breathing, instead of just stagnant and right to the grid and everything chopped up on a computer. It actually sounds living and breathing. We’re all in the same room, amps are isolated, but we’re all standing in a circle looking at each other, playing these songs and then going back and overdubbing vocals and guitars.

I’m hoping that people are able to hear that, and able to equate an album to a live experience finally.

Huge thanks to Ted for taking the time to discuss the new record and congratulations on another fantastic addition to the Passafire catalog! Go pick up Longshot on iTunes by clicking HERE!

Watch: Passafire – Longshot


Related Links:
Passafire Website
Passafire Facebook
Easy Star Records Website

Interview by: Brian Glaser
Live Photos by: Keith Zacharski

Listen: Passafire – “Bright”

Listen: Passafire – “Blow” featuring Mr. Lif