Life is good for Savannah, Ga.’s Passafire. The four-piece reggae, dub and prog rock band’s fifth album (and first with Easy Star Records), Vines (2013), debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ and Billboard’s reggae charts, the latter feat involving knocking Snoop Lion’s Reincarnated to the second spot. At the time of this writing, the album is 17th on iTunes and no longer on Billboard’s top 10, but guitarist/vocalist Ted Bowne is still enjoying the sweet smell of success.
“The coolest thing is that something so DIY could become so popular,” Bowne told the Current on the phone from his mother’s home in Salisbury, Md. “It was a very nice treat. We were hoping to repeat what we did with [2011’s] Start From Scratch [which peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s reggae chart], and we did, I guess: You can’t get any better than number one.”
Start From Scratch, the only album not self-produced by the band, also marked the beginning of the band’s SA connection, as it was produced by the Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary, who also mixed Vines after the band decided to go back to the roots and do it all themselves.
“We love Paul, but we needed to cut costs,” said Bowne. “We even financed the whole record ourselves, and we couldn’t be happier with the results.”
Vines, as well as the previous two albums starting with 2009’s Everyone on Everynight, were recorded at arguably the band’s favorite place on earth: Sonic Ranch Studios. Located in Tornillo, right next to El Paso, it is the world’s largest recording complex.
“We wanted good sound, good equipment and good engineers, and Sonic Ranch is the place for us,” said Bowne, who also recorded guitar and vocals at his home studio in Georgia. Even though he and bassist/vocalist Will Kubley had a more hands-on approach to the project, the album was a truly collaborative effort, and keyboardist/guitarist Mike DeGuzman and drummer Nick Kubley (Will’s brother) had considerable input. The result is one of the best-sounding Passafire albums, especially for Bowne.
“[Leary] did an amazing job mixing,” said Bowne. “When he was producing [Start From Scratch] … I sometimes used my own amplifier and sometimes what was in the studio. But [on Vines] you’ll hear my real tone, the actual settings I play with live.”
Better than any other Passafire album, Vines reflects the band’s strongest facet: an identity devoted to Jamaican grooves but not artificially confined by it.
“We play reggae but we don’t ever try to sound like something we’re not,” said Bowne. “I don’t try to sing with a Jamaican accent or adopt a foreign sound. We play reggae because it’s part of our collective musical consciousness, this is the music we grew up loving.”
Vines also sounds like a band expanding their sonic map, branching out and starting to incorporate forms of rock, folk and funk, without abandoning reggae but also staying away from a pseudo rasta image and sound.
“We’re not trying to prove to ourselves or anyone that we’re capable of playing any particular type of music, nor do we try to appeal to any particular listener,” he said. “We want to appeal to everybody instead of trying to earn some street cred by being, say, ‘rootsier.’”
San Antonio is a usual stop for Passafire. Bowne remembers dates at the White Rabbit in 2008, Warped Tour in 2011 and a bunch of dates at Jack’s Bar, including one last year.
“San Antonio is a great place with a lot of history,” he said. “[Leary] always told us how great it was growing up there. Austin’s great, but SA has its own flavor and we always love it, and that’s why we keep coming back. When we play the harder stuff in SA, things tend to get rowdy.”
Needless to say, Passafire has its mellow moments, but it’s far from being a chill-out band. The sound is closer (at least in spirit) to the militant side of reggae.
“You know… Mostly minor chords and with the artists usually mad about something,” said Bowne. “When I was getting into reggae I was also obsessed with Rage Against the Machine. I think both Zach de la Rocha and Bob Marley had the same militant outlook on the changes that needed to be made in the world. That’s where our harder stuff comes from.”
On Tuesday, Passafire will be all over the place, following their usual formula of every five songs
coming from each of their five albums. It’s a fun band, but not necessarily a party one. They move around a lot, throwing in slow songs here and there, but mostly keeping it upbeat, with Bowne and DeGuzman adding dueling guitar solos.
“It’s not your typical reggae show,” said Bowne. “You’re not going to come and nod your head the whole time, but [you’ll] probably jump into the mosh pit at one point.”
Winter BrewHaHa feat. Passafire, Ballyhoo!
9:30pm Tue, Jan 21
3030 Thousand Oaks