Savannah-based reggae-rockers Passafire are heating up stages with a vengeance. Turning heads and taking ears captive, they don’t seem to be slowing down. The quartet is scheduled to conclude their tour at Ziggy’s by the Sea this Saturday.
Formed in 2003, the group met at SCAD in Savannah, Georgia. Currently consisting of Ted Bowne (guitar/lead vocals), Will Kubley (bass/vocals), Mike DeGuzman (keys) and Nick Kubley, they have undergone mild lineup changes since their genesis, with Will joining in 2006 and DeGuzman replacing founding member Adam Willis in 2011. Passafire began as a natural occurrence of four college students who all had a hankering to make music.
“I think musicians tend to gravitate toward one another [when] in close proximity,” Will says. “[We] started booking shows in the area and reaping the benefits: free beer.”
Since, Passafire has had nothing but favor. They have shared the stage with internationally acclaimed artists 311, Slightly Stoopid, Rebelution, and The Wailers, among others. They have a considerable amount of recording under their belt, with a total of eight studio albums. In 2013 they signed to Easy Star Records, and under the guidance of producer Paul Leary (Sublime, U2, Pepper)-—who previously had helped them record “Start From Scratch” (2011)—the quartet released their latest record, “Vines.” The album reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Reggae Albums chart in November 2013. Considered their best effort to date, the group has toured extensively in support of “Vines.” The immense success, though, was not simply handed to them. Like anyone who “makes it,” their path involved hard work.
“We write quality music,” Will comments. “Our songs are rigorously filtered through all four of us before they see the light of day, and we’re all very particular. We make sure we’re creating relatable songs that, most importantly, make us excited. Any band that has that, coupled with extensive touring, will eventually get somewhere. It’s a very slow process. Bigger bands want to see you have a good work ethic above all. We did everything ourselves for a long time and it paid off.”
Definitely influenced by reggae, Passafire also considers themselves progressive. “Each one of us has varied tastes in all types of music that mirrors how our songs turn out,” Will says. “That’s how we’ll end up with a synth line in a folk song [that goes] to a reggae beat. Collectively as a band, John Brown’s Body definitely showed us that reggae doesn’t have to be so one-sided. They pushed it into new territories and we really responded to that.”
Passafire has followed the paths of their predecessors, choosing to build upon a tradition rather than being subjected to it. Tracks like “Kilo” (“Submersible” 2007) are a good example: The quartet starts off with a relaxing, mid-tempo reggae groove, which is then interrupted by a heavy-rock riff that sends the song into an unforeseen direction. By the end of the sonic journey, Passafire takes the listener from the ebb-and-flow of a shoreline to a rock ‘n’ roll concert hall. It’s bold and unexpected, but these kinds of musical hooks are what give Passafire their gusto.
As a collective, each member contributes to the songwriting process. “We try every combination,” says Will. “One of us will bring a complete song to the table. We’ll come up with ideas just jamming; it’ll start with a beat, or a lyric, melody or chord progression. Even just, ‘It should sound like Ace of Bass right here.’ Whatever the process, it gets picked apart and rearranged until we’re all happy with it.”
Equally important is their live performances. Passafire is known for putting on a great show and attracting dedicated fans wherever they are heard. “They see we are passionate,” Will says. “Seeing the music performed through us hopefully brings a new level of appreciation to the audience.”
With bright prospects ahead, Passafire have no intentions of letting up. According to Will, there is new material in the works. The band will release information about it soon. Catch them live this Saturday with Signal Fire and Medicated Sunfish at Ziggy’s by the Sea.
Passafire featuring Signal Fire, Medicated Sunfish
Ziggy’s by the Sea, 208 Market St.
Saturday, February 7, 10 p.m.