Savannah-born reggae rockers Passafire have come a long way in the last 16 years.
Formed in 2003, by Ted Bowne and Nick Kubley while they were SCAD students, Passafire rose up in the U.S. reggae scene through heavy touring and a string of excellent albums that mix reggae with hard rock, hip-hop, alternative, and prog. The band remained in Savannah for years before they splintered off into different directions — Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Maryland.
The bandmates, which besides Bowne (guitar/vocals) and Kubley (drums) includes Kubley’s brother Will on bass and Mike DeGuzman on keyboards and guitar, continue to meet up for tours and recording at Bowne’s Maryland studio. Passafire’s latest album, 2017’s “Longshot” (Easy Star Records), is their sixth and most accomplished record to date, with a lean towards progressive and alternative rock sounds, and more introspective lyrics about growing up. The album gets its title from the idea that “making it as a musician is a long-shot,” but that sentiment hasn’t dissuaded the band, even when they took a much needed break from recording and touring.
“Early on we sort of did what came naturally to us musically, and business-wise we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing and we did it how we thought we should do it,” Bowne explained. “Over the years we’ve definitely learned by going on tour with bigger bands and seeing how a bigger production operates. We’ve learned how to operate it as a small business and how to write music that we like, but also music that’s aimed at getting out there to a broader audience. I think our songwriting has gotten better, the lyrical content has gotten more meaningful. We just grew up... We’ve evolved as human beings and the music goes along with that.”
Now Passafire are returning for a show at Élan Savannah and are happy to come back to where it all began.
“There is always something about Savannah,” said Bowne. “The drummer, Nick, and myself were there two weekends ago for a friends wedding, and Savannah’s always going to have a place in out hearts. It’s cool to see old friends.”
Passafire spent much of their early career playing at the former Live Wire Music Hall, but when it closed down, it left the band few options in Savannah.
“We didn’t really have a place to play in Savannah for awhile until The Jinx started booking us there,” said Bowne. “The Jinx was a place we always went to in college, so it’s a very familiar place and we love playing there. But, I’m excited for this upcoming show because the capacity of this club, Élan, is much bigger and I’m interested to see how many more people we can bring in a large capacity room.”
When not concentrating on Passafire, Bowne produces other bands from his studio, and working with in unfamiliar genres has been a learning experience. “It’s really refreshing to sit down with a band and play something that is out of my realm of expertise and learn about how that music is made, and teach myself how to mix that kind of music, produce that kind of music, and then apply it to our music.”
Bowne is surprised to find that many of the bands he works with were inspired by Passafire. “We’ve seen bands from the Philippines post covers and it’s super humbling,” Browne recalled. “The most recent band I had in my studio is from Baltimore... They tell me that they used to come to our shows when they were 14 or 15 years old, and they’ve covered our songs and that it was surreal for them to come here and record..., but their perspective was, ‘We’ve been listening to this guy’s music since we were kids and now we’re recording music in his house,’ and it’s cool to see them stoked about it. I’m stoked about it.”
Passafire are sharing the bill with Zach Deputy, another Savannah artist who is known for his live-looping shows and a style he describes as “island-infused drum n’ bass gospel ninja soul.” The show also happens to fall on Deputy’s birthday.
“I’m very much looking forward to doing a double bill with him, and it’s his birthday party, so it will be a lot of fun,” said Bowne.