Written by: Shawn Hallman
Passafire started off in 2003 and have since grown into one of the most distinguishable bands in the reggae/rock community. After self-releasing their debut album, they were picked up by Law Record who put out Submersible and Everyone on Every Night. Since then Passafire has continued to tour hard and hit the studio as much as possible. Their latest release Start from Scratch features the start of Flame Guy Records and Mike DeGuzman at keys. I got to speak with drummer Nick Kubley outside on 6th street before their show at Red 7. The show itself was amazing, a reggae powerhouse of bands all meeting up to rock a Friday night here in Austin, TX. Episode Phive and Proper Entertainment managed to bring together Fortunate Youth, Inna Vision, Josh Henrichs and Skillinjah, and Passafire all on the same bill. Listening to all these bands was like a time trip for me. Hearing Jah Roots classics and old Passafire tunes brought back memories of my high school days while hearing Inna Vision and Fortunate Youth showed me how the genre is thriving and staying young. The boys put on a great show and rocked Austin for as long as they could. After we left the venue for a quieter area, the interview began.
What can you tell us about the status of your new album?
Musically all of the songs are done, but we’re still in the process of writing lyrics.
Are the lyrics a group effort?
Sometimes, but mostly Ted and sometimes Will. There are about 12-13 tracks.
Was it all recorded at The Sonic Ranch?
All the drums, keyboard, and bass tracks were done there and the rest will be done in Savanna at Ted’s home studio.
Are you guys mixing everything yourself?
No, We’re going to have Paul Leary mix it. He actually lives here in Austin. He might be at the show tonight.
Do you have an approximate release date for it yet?
We were thinking late summer, but it will probably end up being around early September. We don’t want to rush it. We want to give it enough time
Will you guys be releasing a single before the album release?
It’s possible, we haven’t even really thought about that yet. We’re just trying to get it all finished so far.
Did you have all the songs already written going in to the studio?
A couple months ago we did 6 songs there, and then we came back during this Texas run to do the rest. This last batch we just put together about 10 or 12 days before we came out here. We had the basic ideas, but we all got together in Savanna and worked it all out. Will lives in Michigan, Mike lives in Chicago, and me and Ted live in Savannah. We’re kind of under the gun, but the stuff we came up with I think is really strong. I think it will be our best new album yet.
Are you guys still associated with Law Records?
No, we have our label, Flame Guy Records, that we put Start from Scratch out on. It’s not really a label per se, we don’t have any other bands, just us. We just use that name to put the record out.
Any big upcoming tours planned?
We’re doing a co headliner with Stick Figure this summer. Those dates should be released pretty soon.
Does Will being your brother affect the rhythm section chemistry?
I think so. I’m lucky to be in a band with a bass player as good as him and is also my brother. It makes it really easy to lock up.
How did Will get invited into the band?
Me and him had band stuff growing up. He was mainly a guitar player, but he plays everything. The switch to bass wasn’t a big deal. We got him right out of high school.
Has there ever been any sibling rivilary within the music?
We get into it no and again, but it’s just brother stuff. Musically we’re on the same page.
Will’s got a very unique bass style, how do you try to compliment that?
He uses a lot of effects pedals. I think the fact that he was a guitar player really comes out in his playing. I try to compliment it by mimicking a lot of the same patterns that he’s doing with the kick drum.
Do you two ever practice by yourselves?
When we’re in Savannah at the same time we will. Sometimes me and him will come up with a drum n’ bass groove and the rest of the guys will just kind of add on to it.
How did you originally meet Ted?
I met Ted in college in Savannah. Our first bass player was my neighbor, and Adam, our first keyboard player, lived in the dorms with Ted. That’s kind of how we all met.
When you first started did you guys already have an agreement on genre?
No, we never really talked about it. Ted was into a lot of reggae stuff and I was too, but more like Dispatch and John Brown’s Body and stuff like that. All of us listen to Sublime and Bob Marley. It’s just kind of what we started playing. It was probably a little more jammy in the beginning. I think we kind of started to figure it out on first record what we wanted to do.
Were you guys going to school for music at the time?
No. Me and Ted were at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Ted went there for sound design and I went there for illustration, but none of us went to music school.
You’ve done tour art and posters for the band before, are you going to continue to do that and are you going to be working on the next album cover?
Oh yeah. I am going to do the next album cover actually.
Do you have a name for the release yet?
No. Half the songs don’t even have words yet.
Have you named those songs yet?
They have some stupid working titles that just don’t make sense. We have this heavier one that has just a bunch of riffs and we’re calling it “Cal Riffkin”, but all the titles should change.
How long do you guys plan to stay in the music industry?
It’s been ten years. The longer we do it, the better it gets. We’ve almost paid of all of our debt, so we’re gonna keep going. It’s just going to get better. We’re going to do it as long as we can. We will probably not want to be on the road as much as we are now ten years from now, but who knows.
How did you guys find Mike DeGuzman?
Mike sat in with The Expendables one night in Chicago because they had found him on YouTube covering one of their songs. We kind of new about him through that and he covered one of our songs on YouTube. We hit him up right away, he was the first person we talked to and that was that. We always just tell people he was a YouTube Star and that’s how we found him. Journey got a new singer the same way.
Is it easy to make connections within the genre?
Most of the time it is. Usually everybody gets a long and if you hit it off you might try to plan a tour down the line. If you go on tour with a band, that’s when you really become friends. All the bands we’ve ever toured with we’re all pretty tight with. This scene is pretty tight-knit. Everybody knows what everybody else is doing.
Have you guys always had an agent or management?
No. We didn’t use an agent until 2007. Before that we booked all of our tours by ourselves. We would do regional stuff, but the first time we brached out up the east coast was in 2006 and we’ve been touring pretty hard ever since.
You guys play a lot of big packed in shows. What’s it like when you go into a new city or have an off-day? How do you keep morale up?
It sucks, but there are always going to be shows like that unless you’re like Rebelution. You can’t get too bummed out about. If you’ve never been somewhere before you can’t expect there to be a lot of people there. Tomorrow night we’re going to Shreveport and we’ve never been there so who knows how that’s going to go. Usually you have more good shows then bad, so that’s how you keep morale high, the good ones. You can’t expect a ton of people to come out on a Tuesday.
What do you think helps bring people out to shows more? Building up a fanbase online or constantly going tour after tour and building personal connections, or is it a combination?
It’s a lot of both. The online stuff is huge this day in age. The fact that you can keep up with your fans on Facebook and Twitter is huge. We manage all of those ourselves. It’s mostly me on facebook and Will does all the Twitter stuff. Making personal connections to fans online really helps. Old school ways of getting your shows in a newspaper doesn’t really do that much anymore. It’s mainly online, street team, and word of mouth. You have to really really put in the work on facebook and trying to make connections for every single show with targeted posts.
Your music is a lot more focused on musicianship then most bands in the scene. You add a lot more elements to most songs then traditional reggae. Would you agree with that?
We get that a lot. We all love reggae and we respect it as an art form, but after a while it just gets really repetitive. We try add our own flavor to it and make it interesting for us. I love reggae, but I listen to everything else too and so do the rest of the guys in the band. We try to add stuff in just to keep ourselves excited. We try to write as cool of songs we can and just hope other people enjoy them.
So you do what’s cool to you guys rather than attempt to make what the mainstream would find cool?
We keep that in mind, but we just try to write the best songs we could possibly write rather than doing a dumbed-down reggae tune just because we’re in this genre.
What genre would you guys consider yourselves?
We’re in the rock/reggae genre, but we’d like to start branching out of that. We’re not going to abandon the scene or anything, but we’d like to start playing with other types of bands like harder rock bands or jam bands. We’re open-minded. We’re open to exploring outside the scene.
You guys opened for a big rock band a few years ago. I forgot who.
We opened up for Van Halen. No one ever believes us, but we did. In Reno.
How was that?
It was unreal. They’re like one of the biggest rock bands of all time. David Lee Roth’s solo project has the same agency as us and he requested a reggae type band to open for the first Van Halen show. We flew out there and played 30-40 minutes and then we left.
Did you gear your setlist more towards the crowd?
Definitely, we tried to play our heavier stuff.
Are there any big differences in this album and Start from Scratch?
I don’t want to scare anyone away, but it probably has the least amount of straight-up reggae on it. It has a lot of reggae; don’t get me wrong, it’s just got some heavier stuff. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s got some more riff heavy rock tunes and a lot of synths. I think it’s taking what we did on SFS but taking it a little further. Hopefully people will understand that description.
Passafire has always been one of my favorite bands ever since I found about them through Pepper during my high school days. “Bad Taste” was the first song I ever played on repeat for an hour straight and “Start From Scratch” was the song blaring in my car when I totaled it on I-35. I’ve always felt a personal connection to their music and have been obsessed with how this band is evolving. I am very thankful for Nick sharing his time with us and look forward to seeing what’s in the cards for Passafire. I cannot wait to hear the finished product once Paul Leary is done putting the finishing touches on it. Check MusicBailout.net often to find out the most up-to-date info on Flame Guy Record’s sophomore release.
Written by Shawn Hallman
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