2023 has been a big year for the progressive-reggae-rock band, Passafire. Not only are the guys celebrating twenty years as a band, they also achieved the musical accomplishment every band strives for, performing a sold out show at the iconic Red Rocks stage in Colorado for the first time this past August. Not to mention, the foursome just dropped their eighth studio album, Remember A Time — high praise has already been given for the five previously released singles.
Frontman, Ted Bowne took the time to talk with us about the new album, the last twenty years, and what the band means to him.
Remember A Time – now available on all streaming platforms.
About the album Bowne says, “There is something very reminiscent of the early days of Passafire in the music we created for this album. In the beginning, we weren’t making music for the fans because we had no fans. We were encouraged by our friends and families to be and express ourselves however we felt comfortable doing so and made music that did just that. While we have always done what we want to do, the years have changed our view on what’s ‘marketable’ versus what’s just for us. I feel like this time around we threw care to the wind and made a record that truly represents the original essence of this band. Much like our early show flyers boast, this album is a mix of reggae, hip hop, rock, funk, and soul. For this reason, we decided to call the album Remember a Time in reference to the personally nostalgic feeling evoked by the music, lyrics, and overall vibe.”
Hey Ted, thanks so much for this. 20 years is no easy feat. How did you guys get started?
- Ted Bowne: When I started school at SCAD I was in a dorm called Oglethorpe House. I became friends with the hippie girls on the fifth floor and soon began spending a lot of time in their dorm room watching movies, working on art projects, and whatever other general college dorm room activities you’d expect. One of the girls invited this guy Nick from her illustration class over to hang out one day and he ended up becoming a part of our crew. One day, Nick said “I live off campus and have a drum set at my place. Would you want to jam sometime?” I was like “Um… YEAH!” At this point, I hadn’t played music with anyone since high school and I was exploding with ideas for songs and wanted to put together a band as soon as possible. We jammed. It was, in our minds, the most epic music ever and we needed to explore this further. We heard a knock at the door and it was Nick’s neighbor, Ed. He wasn’t mad. He had dragged his guitar and amp up the stairs and wanted to jam too. He said “I don’t have a bass, but I can just turn down the treble on my amp and boost the lows!” (He later got a bass, haha) Around the same time, I had shared a burned CD of home recordings with a friend in my dorm. He played it for his friend Adam, a sound design major, who showed up at my dorm room door asking if I would like to record the songs he heard at the SCAD studio. I told him I had a “band” and they were going to come play with me. He brought his keyboard into the session to add whatever overdubs we needed and ended up becoming the fourth member of the band. We had a band! We had recordings! What next? We needed a name. We played our first show under the name “Mystic Mindset” and everyone made fun of our super crunchy name, despite its origins in the lyrics of a hip-hop track by Roots Manuva. We went back to the list of names we created and “Passafire” stuck out. I had been reading the biography of Bob Marley entitled “Catch A Fire” and thought… “We caught it. Now it’s time to pass it on!” The idea was initially dismissed but when we came back to it, it made sense. We play music, people react, and it makes us play better, and they react even more…. it’s a cycle. Energy being exchanged. Pass a fire. Passafire. That was it. We had a name! Now what? We booked another show and it was a success. From then on, it was every weekend and some weekdays throughout the rest of our time in college. We were hooked!
That’s incredible! How have things changed over the last twenty years?
- TB: In SO many ways! Nick and I are original members but, Will joined about three years into the journey and Mike joined about eight years in. We owe a lot to the original guys, but the band really started feeling like a cohesive unit when Mike joined in 2011. I can’t say that we’ve ever really had one distinct style but over time we’ve all individually evolved in our musical preferences and interests and we bring those to the table when writing songs together. For example, if you asked me if I wanted to include elements of modern pop music in our music in 2007, I’d have said “hell no!” But now, I’d say “most definitely!” Things you don’t have a taste for when you’re younger tend to become more appealing later in life– and vice versa. We will always keep reggae at the core of our sound, but we have taken the music to a lot of different places in the last 20 years and I hope to keep evolving and putting out stuff that’s new and interesting to OUR ears as well as the fans’. Life events also play a role… relationships, kids, families, homeownership, side jobs, passion projects… they all start to change who you are individually and how you operate as a band. We tend to adapt and keep it moving though.
What comes first, the band or your friendships?
- TB: They are one and the same. My bandmates are some of the best friends I have in the world. They’re more like brothers than friends. Our moms are all of our moms, you know? We focus on the band together to keep it going, but if one of us is in need, the rest are there to give support. Everyone in this band is an equal member in every way. Nobody contributes more or less and everyone benefits together when things are good. It feels good to travel the world with your friends and make dumb (and often hilarious) comments along the way. We enjoy each other’s company still after 20 years as a band and I don’t see that ever changing.
How has that been tested over the years?
- TB: Our first Europe tour was a test indeed. Ninety days in a small VW Eurovan with us four, a German tour manager, and our gear in the back. We all got REAL close for three months straight, but we grew stronger because of it. There were a few times when things boiled over into a heated discussion (never really an argument) but we learned how to communicate with each other better that summer. We climbed a damn mountain in Austria together! I think the biggest test is always the long tours where after week four it’s just a grind to the finish line. We try to take field trips to cool spots on days off and refresh our heads for the next week of shows which seems to help keep morale up.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
- TB: Leave your expectations at the door. Life throws curveballs at the strangest of times. Setting goals is just fine, but being upset that you haven’t surpassed a goal is only your own fault. It takes a LOT of hard work and diligence to make waves in the music world. We have worked very hard for everything we have achieved as a band but we still have a long way to go to get to where we hoped to be when we started out. If you treat it like a job but remind yourself to enjoy it along the way, it’s way easier. I’ve learned to be in the moment on stage and just do what we came to do which is play music and have fun. When you lose sight of the original goal, the rest is meaningless.
Speaking of achievements, what do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment at this point in your career?
- TB: When we signed to LAW records and then later to Easy Star, I thought those were both big accomplishments. The biggest, however, has been releasing music on our own label Flameguy Records and gaining the ability to record music at home which ultimately saves money for things like marketing and such. We have learned to be as efficient as possible working in the DIY style in the studio. I also think it’s an amazing accomplishment to have recorded four and a half of our albums at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX. It’s one of the best studios in the world and we’ve learned so much just by recording there with the professionals. It was a necessary step to get to where we are today. I’m proud that Strata was recorded at Passafarm (my home studio in Maryland) and mixed at Witness Tree (Will’s studio in LA). We’ve come a long way from the first album which we recorded in my attic in Savannah with minimal equipment and skill.
Is Strata your favorite Passafire album?
- TB: I do love Strata for many reasons, but Start From Scratch is probably my favorite. It was the first album we did with Mike and it was the only time we ever worked with a producer (Paul Leary of Butthole Surfers). From the demo phase to the finished product, I enjoyed every minute of making that record. We experimented with a lot of new sounds and concepts in the studio and each mix had about 15-20 different versions until they were just right. There’s something about the way the low-end sound on that album that is different from all the rest. Paul produced Sublime’s self-titled album so we knew he was someone we were meant to work with and I think it turned out to be one of our best releases to date. So many great memories of that month-long recording session at Sonic Ranch come to mind when I hear those songs– from shooting bee-bee guns with Paul on the porch to exploring the sounds on his original Moog “Little Fatty,” taking breaks at 4 P.M. to watch Judge Judy and riding bikes through the pecan orchards. It all comes back. Even the taste of the red sauce, that is prepared fresh daily by the lovely ladies who work at the ranch. That session was special.
How is Remember A Time different?
- TB: The new record is similar to Start From Scratch in that it is full of variety. There’s a good bit of reggae involved, but we definitely explore the other styles we enjoy playing together. It’s different in that there are new influences, new perspectives, and new versions of the humans who created Start From Scratch almost 12 years prior. We’ve started mixing hip hop techniques into our process and creating a new sound that we haven’t made yet. Combining programmed and acoustic drum sounds, layering synth pads, stacking percussion tracks, and layering thick harmonies are just some of the new things we’re trying. Will has a MIDI setup for the live show now so we can actually pull off some of the “studio magic” stuff live without playing to a track. It’s removed some of the limitations we used to have in the studio. It’s always been “Don’t do it in the studio if you can’t pull it off live.” Now we can pull off more than before so we are expanding our sonic horizons in the studio.
What more can you tell me about the new album? How do you feel about it?
- TB: We’ve always leaned more on the side of a “live” sound when we record. In recent years we have become more intrigued by the idea of blending samples and electronic sounds into the music. We have been borrowing techniques from pop and hip hop producers and applying them to our sound. It’s been a lot of fun. For example, we record the drum tracks with Nick playing the drum part he wrote for whatever song and then we reinforce or replace the kick and snare with a solid electronic or sampled kick and snare for more punch and continuity. People may say it’s a more “produced” sound which sometimes has negative connotations but we are consciously trying to “produce” our own music more than before. We want to use all of the tools and techniques available to us that are appealing. No holding back… if it’s a cool sound and blends well with the track… let’s see if it works. No idea isn’t worth at least trying once. There was an interview with Spoon on Song Exploder where they explained the making of their song “Inside Out.” In the interview, they said that they took the “what would Dr. Dre do?” approach to that track and went with that concept. It seems strange that an indie rock band would take that approach but the result was a song that is easily one of my favorites by any indie rock band to date. They nailed the hip-hop-style production while staying true to their sound. This is kind of what we’re after… applying successful recording and mixing techniques to our music to give it a fighting chance in the vast ocean of music available today. We wanted this new record to stand out not just in our genre, but across the board. There’s reggae, pop, alternative rock, indie rock, funk, soul, hip hop, and electronic music in this salad of a record we made. I’m excited to share these songs with the world!
What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve faced in navigating the music industry when swimming through that vast ocean you mentioned?
- TB: The biggest frustration as a band is seeing a new band come on the scene and build an exponentially larger fan base than ours in a short amount of time. We’ve seen a handful of bands that were opening for us at one point become headliners. I’m not a hater and I understand that clever marketing and strategic touring can be very successful under the right circumstances. Regardless, it makes you feel a certain way when your peers move up to the tour bus and start selling out the big rooms when you’re still driving yourself around in a van and trailer and not selling an impressive enough amount of tickets to get the attention of the big festivals and such. It’s hard to work your way up the festival bill ladder when you don’t have the numbers to prove that you’re worth it. Like almost every business, it’s a numbers game. We are trying to navigate the new world where social media presence is super important and streaming has replaced physical album sales. We realize the necessity of being more present on social media and are trying to do so. I strongly believe that the future is what you make it so I recognize that a lot more work needs to be done to achieve the future I’d like to see for Passafire. I’m here for it.
And what does the future look like for Passafire?
- TB: It’s hard to say! I think we all want to continue making music together as long as we physically can. We have all branched out into side projects in our spare time and I think these part-time musings are what inspire us to bring new ideas to the table for Passafire. We have always wanted to become a “mainstay” on festival bills and I think it’s possible. Festivals are always so fun and we come away with new fans every time. To play more major festivals in the future would be my personal goal for Passafire. That and major rock tours. We’ve always wanted to tour with My Morning Jacket. I think we could have a good time with their fans. Hopefully, the future holds new opportunities for the band. Getting our music in film or television show is another major goal. It’s a lucrative game if you can figure out how to play it. Onward and upward!
Touring with My Morning Jacket would be incredible! If you could collaborate with ANY artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
- TB: I kind of have to give two answers because there are plenty of dead people that I would LOVE to create music with but that’s impossible. The living people I’d want to work with could actually be a possibility someday so there’s a fantasy answer and a realistic answer.
- Dead: I would want to collaborate with Joe Strummer. The Clash was not just one of the first reggae rock bands but they were producers of their own music and made some very “ahead of their time” decisions in the studio. “Rock the Casbah” is a perfect example of a band putting their own spin on modern pop music. For a punk reggae band to have a song that is played on every rock radio station multiple times a day… that’s an accomplishment! That’s a huge inspiration for me and I’d love to have been able to meet Joe Strummer and work with him on a track or album. From what I’ve read, he was an interesting fella!
- Alive: About 10 years ago, a friend turned me on to an artist called Tingsek from Sweden. He told me to listen closely to the subtle production techniques and when I did I was blown away at how he blends natural tones with highly innovative vocal edits. Saying this now, I realize that another similar artist comes to mind… Jamie Lidell from the UK. He’s somewhat of a synth genius and programs his own versions of vintage sounds. He would be another one I’d absolutely love to work with in the studio. So my two answers turned to three… Joe Strummer, Tingsek, and Jamie Lidell. I can’t decide. Too many good ones to choose from!
Before I let you go, is there any advice you have for a group of young kids wanting to make music together?
- TB: Do it for fun first! Don’t get wrapped up in all of the details too quickly. Just make music with your friends and if you come up with something you think is cool… record it! You don’t need a big studio to record music anymore. Make some home recordings and share them with friends. If they are received well, take the next step and play some shows. Maybe even play shows before you record the songs. In the beginning, a lot of bands played their songs live many times before recording them. Later on, you record them and then learn how to play them after. Take advantage of having the time and freedom to craft your songs in the live setting before recording them. Don’t ever take it too seriously… remember to have fun. Don’t ever let music stop driving you crazy. Stay in love with it and it will love you back.
Actually… wait, one more question. If you could have a superpower, what would you want? why?
- TB: I have always said I’d like to be reincarnated as a bird. I’d love to be able to see what it’s like to take flight on a whim and soar through the air at top speed. In the words of Sugar Ray… “I just want to fly.” That would be my choice. Flying. I’d like to be able to fly.
A huge congratulations to Passafire and an even bigger thank you to the guys for 20 years of incredible music! Be sure to show your support by snagging a ticket to an upcoming show, buying merch, streaming the new album (or all their albums), joining their fanbase, Passafire Army, and blasting festivals with requests of Passafire on the lineup!