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"Reggae-rockers Passafire manage success on their own terms"

November 16, 2005

The tried and true formula
for building a successful indie rock band starts with concentrating on your own backyard. Even with the equalizing aspect of the internet, more often than not, most of the artists who are getting attention in the national press, or licensing their material to the film and television industry are close to – or have already – maxed out their potential fanbase in their hometown.

However, if your group is more interested in making a name for themselves on a larger scale, then perhaps it’s not worth wasting too much time playing king of the mountain. There are some groups who are literally superstars of a sort in foreign countries, but can’t reliably fill a 200 seat club 15 minutes from their practice space. One young local band that seems to be doing an impressive job of juggling the desire to earn fans (and money) in the Savannah music scene with the far greater demands of winning over complete strangers miles from home is Passafire – a dedicated group of musicians whose coalesced in the shadow of the Savannah College of Art & Design.

You’ve never heard of Passafire? Well, don’t feel bad. They’ve kept a surprisingly low profile, despite enjoying a large following of fellow SCAD students. By and large, they only gig at one venue in Savannah, Locos. But quietly, on their own, the band has formed a corporation, partnered with an energetic young manager, built their own project studio (which they use to record polished, radio-friendly tracks that are – at least sonically – heads and tails above most home recordings). They’ve also forged lucrative working relationships with more established bands of their ilk up and down the East Coast, shot three High Definition music videos, and managed to get several original songs featured prominently in both network television commercials and extreme sports DVDs.

These would be impressive feats for any unsigned band, but the fact that the group has achieved so much on their own while attracting so little mainstream attention in their own town makes their situation all the more unique.They know it takes more than hometown fans to become successful, noting that they’ve been asked back to every town they’ve played. Keyboardist Adam Willis, says that’s due to hard work.

“We use to only send flyers and posters to our shows and we now promote through live radio interviews, local newspapers, college papers, multiple internet sites and street teams. We’re even working on commercials to air in each city.” Drummer Nick Kubley says that without that sort of teamwork, none of this would have ever been possible.“We all decided a long time ago: if you want to be a part of this, it’s for the long haul. We all love playing in the group, and we are a family, including Jonathan (their manager). This allows us to be as professional as possible, and pursue this as a career.”

The group also seems to be in agreement on the general direction of their music – which is to say, they’re excited at the prospect of rejecting the types of confining parameters that can help sell CDs, but can stifle creativity. “I think it is suicide for a band to stick themselves in one category and say all of their music will sound like that,” explains lead vocalist and guitarist Ted Bowne. “Sure, reggae is a massive influence, but our fans wouldn’t recognize us if we didn’t throw in some rock, funk, hip-hop, and soul into the mix. We are following in the footsteps of bands like The Police, The Clash, 311, Sublime, and any others who have had the courage to step out of ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ clichés, and pay tribute to the music of an array of cultures.” The camaraderie the group espouses carries on through to their future goals. Says Kubley, “I can already tell you we will be touring heavily for the next 2 years whether we get signed or not.” “And we want to continue doing that for years to come, writing albums and then touring to promote them,” adds Bowne. “This is what we want to do with our lives, so anything otherwise would be a disappointment for me.”

“I think it would be a disappointment for all of us,” echoes Willis. “We all have the mentality that we are gonna make it happen, not that it should.” “We are all really hard workers, and we believe in what we are doing, so therefore we know that we will be successful.”

- Savannah Connect-Jim Reed

"Passafire brings a fresh, innovative sound"

By: Aubrey Koscelski
issue date: 4/21/06

Riveting vocalists, roots and reggae, versatile style and a blend of contemporary rock and hip-hop are all of the components that create the fresh original songs played by Passafire, a unique band from Savannah, Ga.

Passafire has played in Milledgeville before and this Friday, April 21, they will be present again, playing live at Amici. The four reggae rockers of Passafire combine guitar, keyboard, bass, drums and vocals to create a fresh, innovative sound that you don't typically hear everyday.

Taylor Becker, senior performance theatre major and manager at Amici, is a definite fan of this group after only seeing them play one time.

"The first time I saw these guys, they blew me away," said Becker. "By the third song, people were approaching me to buy CDs; nobody could believe these kids from South Ga. had written these songs. The crowd's response was great and we're fortunate to have these guys back at Amici."

The band has been together for about three years, but has been officially touring for only a year and a half. Coming from diverse geographic locations, all group members ended up meeting at Savannah College of Art & Design. Adam Willis is the keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist for the band; Ted Bowne is a guitarist and the lead vocalist;Tom Heet plays the bass, and Nick Kubley plays on drums.

Not only has Passafire been a huge hit among Georgia crowds, they have also reached fans outside the country. Willis said that fans write and send them e-mails from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany and many other places, all wanting to know when Passafire will come and perform in their country.

Their music is available to purchase or just listen to online as well. Right now, they have one album out to the public consisting of seven songs, but hope to release a full album by the end of June. Passafire also recently created their first music video for their next single, "The Workingman's Song." The video is still in the editing process of adding motion graphics, but will be completed within the next two to three weeks.

Passafire plans to continue touring and releasing more albums in the future, and on June 9th will start their full east coast tour in Charleston, SC. They will be performing four to five nights a week, alongside "The Movement," another band who has made quite an impact on college students in downtown Milledgeville. By the end of the summer, Passafire will have traveled to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and many other influential cities, spreading their music nationwide.

For more information on Passafire, visit and attend the concert Friday, April 21 at Amici.

Tyler Ransom, a sophomore pre-mass communication major, will be amongst the many supporting the band this Friday night.

"Their show is a lot of fun," said Ransom. " They have a good, funky reggae sound and I'd say they are probably one of the best bands to come through Milledgeville this year."

- The Colonnade, Georgia College & State University

"Sounds Worth Seeing"

Savannah's perennial reggae-rock band Passafire is back from a month long Spring tour where they packed venues at almost every stop. It's strange that a band which can put nearly 1000 asses is seats at music venues up and down the East Coast is relegated to playing restaurants in their hometown. That being said, their next Savannah show is at Wild Wing, which is definitely not my favorite place to see live music (mainly because of the venue's band selection- which in the past has been of questionable rocknroll credibility at best). That place obviously caters to a more dude-bro Polo-clad crowd than I usually roll with. Conversely, the PA and set up at Wild Wing isn't bad at all. It sounds pretty f'ing good in there, and is flatly better than a few other places is town that call themselves music venues. Which speaks to a number of music scene problems that don't bear discussing in this little preview.
Back on topic-I can't really comment on the band's purist roots in reggae and dub, but to me (a layman on the subject), Passafire is about as good of a reggae rock band as you'll find, and frankly make some of their competitors look like amateurs. Straight up- I usually hate these kinds of groups because of the frat guy/Sublime/stoner dude stigmata. But I like Passafire. Their music is deep and while it draws you in, it remains easy to listen to. They regularly go to the well of simplistic roots-reggae, stripping songs down to only a few standard elements and then diving into tracks that have a sound that seems slightly unique in the world of reggae-infused rock music. They mix it up with plenty of modern rock sounds and techniques, while keeping a consistant vibe all the way through their records and shows. Passafire is fun, chilled out, completely without pretense, and comes highly recommended.

By: Tadd Trueb - Murmur (July 07')

"5 after 5 Concerts"

w/ 5th Generation, Sun Brewed Soul
September 14, 2006 / 6:30pm

Since their formation in 2003, Passafire has been rocking crowds with their unique mix of roots reggae, contemporary rock and hip hop. Their sound is an exciting, fresh mix of their talent, creativity, formal training and influences which include early reggae, R&B, folk, modern urban and electronic music. A veteran of both large and small crowds, Passafire just finished The Right Coast Reggae Tour with The Movement. With their one of a kind sound the group has gained a reputation nation wide for stirring live shows and promises to offer a mesmerizing performance to the Five After Five crowd.
- 5 Points Columbia

"Reggae-Rockers Passafire Play Rare Hometown Show"

Although it’s been around for just under 5 years, reggae/rock hybrid Passafire has distinguished itself as one of the most promising and dedicated original acts to ever emerge from Savannah.
Initially pegged as yet another in a long line of alterna-rock acts to co-opt reggae and ska riddims, the band quickly moved beyond that rather simplistic approach, and has continued to grow and evolve at roughly the same rate as their fanbase.
Proving once more that truly promising Savannah bands of virtually any genre must hit the road in search of fame and fortune (rather than being able to grow a truly massive following in their own hometown), the group has achieved no small amount of success as a completely independent touring attraction. In fact, virtually every aspect of their business is handled in-house.
The quartet is self-managed, and to date all of their booking and recording has been handled by the bandmembers themselves and a few close friends. Of late they’ve begun to headline some of the more prestigious rooms in the Southeast (such as Jacksonville, Fla.’s 700-seat Freebird Live and Myrtle Beach’s 2,000-plus House of Blues) and up the East Coast.
In a testament to the serious manner in which they handle their affairs, the band recently wrapped their longest outing to date (35 shows), playing to some of the biggest crowds they’ve yet seen for their increasingly diverse style of groove-oriented soul music. I caught up with keyboardist Adam Willis by phone the night after their final show for a candid chat about the future of the band, and the difficulties of trying to grow a following in Savannah.

Tell me about the tour you just finished.

Adam Willis: It started April 6. Last night was the final show in Salisbury, Md. It was mad, man! Completely packed. It stretched from Central Fla. up to Northern Vt. and pretty much everywhere in between.

How many people were there last night?

Adam Willis: Just under 700. We all agree this tour’s been an excellent experience. Turnouts were good everywhere, and we’ve got a lot more stuff lined up. We’re gonna be featured on a Warped Tour CD sampler put out by Law Records. That’s one label that’s looking at us right now.

How did that come about?

Adam Willis: One of the bigger acts in our genre of reggae-rock is a band called Pepper, and that label was started by them. We played a big gig with them for 99X radio in Atlanta at the Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheatre, and we all got along really well. That’s great because those guys just got off a major tour with 311. Ideally, after we make our next CD, we’ll get on some sort of national tour with a more established group. Nothing’s cast in stone yet, but we finally have some serious people that are definitely interested.

What are the band’s immediate goals?

Adam Willis: Keep on doing what we’ve been doing: gigging our asses off! Promoting these shows and our band, selling records as best we can by ourselves online. We’ve been approached by some booking agencies, but we wanna do the right thing, and not just go with whomever. We’ve done really well with just me doing the booking, but things have picked up a lot, and fairly soon I know I’ll have to step down. We’ll need to hire some real professionals to manage us and book tours. It’s an awful lot of work! (Laughs)

How many actual CDs have you sold?

Adam Willis: As far as hard copies, we’ve probably sold 800, but this record’s been out for less than a year. I think most of our sales come from iTunes.

So you sell more downloads than discs?

Adam Willis: I think we all expected downloads would be the majority of our sales. I love and appreciate people who want the whole, physical album. We put a lot of pride in our packaging and I think it’s really classy looking. But realistically, I don’t buy albums anymore either. I know that sounds terrible because I am a musician, but I haven’t bought a CD in years. I get most everything via downloads. Most of us in the band do. At the end of the day, we’re just pleased our music is in the listener’s hands through whatever route they wanna take. If they like it, buy it and come to the shows, that’s all that matters.

Did Passafire go on the road as soon as you felt ready to compete with the big guys?

Adam Willis: Absolutely. We consider ourselves a business as much as a band. We’re incorporated and work very hard to keep this a career. We all agreed any band that plays the same basic style of music as we do can’t be successful without heavy touring. Our goal is to be signed to William Morris or The Agency Group — companies who represent serious live music acts. The only way to do that is to get 600 or 700 people to come out constantly in your region. But you’ve gotta suck it up and pay your dues. When we first started playing these markets, there were like 10 people there! Does that feel good? No. But you do it anyway. We’re finally seeing fans we had no idea existed, and in large numbers.

It seems the band is trying to shift into a more eclectic and progressive rock bag.

Adam Willis: Yes. It takes a while for a band to really click. You realize what you’re playing isn’t a typical reggae sound. It’s a Passafire sound! We feel we have to make something that will leave a mark, so when people hear it, they’ll know it’s us. People initially compared us to Sublime or Slightly Stoopid. We don’t wanna sound like them. We wanna be Passafire.

What will this Savannah show be like?

Adam Willis: A combination of both older stuff and material that’ll be on the next album. We’re always writing new stuff and take a lot of pride in perfecting it before we play it in public. We don’t come out there with a half-assed product. (Laughs)

I’ve heard you mention in other interviews that the lack of a serious, legit all-ages venue in Savannah has hindered the growth of our music scene and in some ways, your band.

Adam Willis: I worry a bit when I’ve read some interviews I’ve given, because I felt maybe it came off like we were in some way dissing Savannah a bit, which is not the case! We came up in that town and we represent it hard on the road. But at the same time, I’m being honest. 75% of the places we play are at least 18 and up, and many are all-ages. These aren’t theatres, and they’re not really bars. But they do serve alcohol. We play all the time with bands that came up in other cities that had a solid venue that’s at least 18 and up. It’s such a different experience for them! First of all, a real venue like that draws big regional or national bands. And the best local bands get to support them. That’s how you learn what it’s like to be on a real stage with a real monitor guy and a real soundman. You learn how clubs deal with the money. It’s not just about putting a lot of people in the room. It’s about helping artists understand what the real world of touring is like. The average person would have no way of learning that. There’s no place like that in Savannah, and I feel when we started out, we were way behind the other acts out there because we never had that experience. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Young people don’t have much to do that really appeals to them. It would be better to have them in a club than just out on the streets. Some places we play, we talk to kids who are 16 or 17, and they’re already so hip to what’s going on. They’re not out getting drunk or doing drugs. They’re hanging with other fans and going to shows. They’re getting into music.

There don’t seem to be that many reggae bands in this part of the country. Why not?

Adam Willis: Before we started touring we all thought there weren’t that many reggae bands around here either. It turns out there are, just not a lot of really good ones! (Laughs) But it seems that most of the good ones don’t tour as much as they probably could. They’re like hometown heroes.

When you’re out on the road, what’s the one thing you miss most about home?

Adam Willis: Spending time with my girlfriend. But I’d also say the relaxed pace of Savannah. Touring is like a series of victories mixed with a series of upsets. I love doing this and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but after 6 weeks out, I don’t wanna think about it for a few days! (Laughs) I don’t wanna maneuver a trailer full of gear in Manhattan, or make sure the band’s name got spelled right in the local paper. Those things add up and you just get tired of it all. The funniest part is after you’re home for a week, you can’t wait to get back on the road! It’s a weird life. (Laughs)

By: Jim Reed - Connect Savannah


This indie reggae/rock quartet has quietly become one of Savannah’s best bands, through intense woodshedding, frequent touring, and a no-bullshit, business-minded approach that other local groups could learn a thing or two from. Tight as a drum, their dreamy, patois-drenched dance grooves (think Matisyahu) can —at times— seem like a shtick, but their sheer drive and their obvious and sincere love of this genre keeps such negative vibes at bay. Sat., 10 pm, Wild Wing Cafe - Connect Savannah

"Georgia outfit creatively threads roots reggae with modern rock"

January 19th, 2007
While the reggae genre endures occasional criticism for its repetitive formulas and lack of diversity from song to song, Savannah GA.-based band Passafire is setting out to change the way people view the style of music.
As fans of roots reggae as well as modern rock such as Ween, Mars Volta and Wilco, the quartet fuses the two personalities together to make reggae a progressive genre.
In a way, Passafire wins over its non-reggae fans by surprise. With the group’s hooky-intros, first time listeners might not realize what they are getting into until the verse takes shape. From there, the song shifts back and forth from rock-based interludes and diverse bridges that show the group’s range and creativity.
“The name Passafire implies passing the torch, you know, because we embody a good bit of the classic roots/dub reggae vibe, and we are combining it with contemporary music and passing it onto future generations,” drummer Nick Kubley says.
“Our music has evolved over the years into something that we are told is pretty unique and new, the classic roots and dub-reggae with soul, rock and some modern urban music as well,” adds vocalist/guitarist Ted Bowne. “We used to hear that we sounded like Sublime, so we decided we didn’t want that and moved towards the unknown and what we are today.”
The band also veers off the traditional dub/reggae route with expansive subject matter. Leaving issues of drug use and rioting to its predecessors, Passafire has lyrics that cover a variety of topics usually stemming from the band’s travels.
“The subject matter of the lyrics varies from women, the state of the world today, music itself, violence, wanderlust, without sounding too broad,” says Bowne. “We are all in our early 20s -aside from Will, who is a bit younger-and have traveled quite extensively, so that comes into the lyrics.”
It is the band’s love of traveling that keeps it perpetually touring. As Passafire takes pride in its live offerings, the band is more eager to tour and perform than it is to record, thought the group does have one album to date, a self-titled 2006 release.
“Our biggest accomplishment in my eyes has been the amount of touring we have done and some of our bigger live shows,” says keys player Adam Willis. “We have music floating around globally and have been featured on sports DVDs. These are all great things, but to me the biggest thing we have done is built a solid grass roots following on the East coast and played some awesome shows.”
“We are always writing new songs and testing them on the road. We won’t officially start cutting another album until March when the tour is done. We do everything ourselves. Ted and I are both graduates in sound design, we have a studio built in Ted’s house with all the proper gear, and we have a method that works. The songs have grown by leaps and bounds into what we consider a recognizable Passafire sound.”
While the city of Athens, GA is well known for giving birth to many an innovative rock act, the band says Savannah has its ups and downs. While Passafire has obtained a steady following, the city’s lack of all-ages venues makes it difficult for fledgling acts to achieve the same success.
“None of us were born in Savannah,” says Willis. “Ted, Nick, and myself came here to go to the Savannah College of Art and Design, and Will (Kubley) to play with Passafire. I have been here the longest, six years, and have mixed feelings about the city. It is a beautiful and romantic city with an underbelly of poverty and racism, which is not usually seen by tourists and visitors. The college has brought an amazing art scene to the city, which helped breathe life into Savannah and makes for an interesting mix of people. We have a good and vibrant music scene but no real all-ages venue in the city to help grow that scene. Without taking too much credit, Passafire has definitely played a major part in building the Savannah music scene.”
Tonight, Passafire brings its show to Market Square’s World Grotto. The show is scheduled to begin at ten and tickets are available in advance through The cost is $5.

By Jer Cole
- News Sentinel, Knoxville, TN


Passafire (self-titled, 06)
Submersible (LAW Records, 07)

Their songs "Laquigi" and "Hypocrite" were featured in the 2005 Professional Windsurfing Association Hawaii Pro DVD

"One of the local scene’s best chances for breakout success, this young, original rock group has quietly formed their own corporation, partnered with a manager, built their own recording studio, shot Hi-Def music videos, and seen their tunes used in network TV commercials and on the soundtracks of extreme sports DVDs. With a reggae-influenced sound that incorporates funk, hip-hop and soul. They say they’re “following in the footsteps of bands like The Police, The Clash, 311 and Sublime.” Though increasingly on the road, they still draw well when they play Savannah shows at this, their local venue of choice"
-connect savannah



Four years and multiple tours since their inception in the Spring of 2003, the Savannah, Georgia based reggae-rock outfit Passafire has enjoyed national recognition. Their 2006 self-titled debut and energetic live performances have created a noteworthy buzz across the country and beyond. Combining roots reggae, progressive rock, and experimental dub, Passafire has crafted a recognizable sound all their own. Nick Kubley's tight and versatile drumming paired with his brother Will's innovative, effects-heavy bass work creates a textured rhythmic backdrop. Ted Bowne's soulful, dubbed-out vocals and solid guitar riffs mesh seamlessly with Adam Willis' vintage keys and colorful synths.They attribute their success to a truly independent business model and a strong grassroots connection to their fanbase. Ted Bowne, lead singer and guitarist, comments, "We are thankful to have fans who love the music and have supported us wholeheartedly from the beginning." Passafire is also the newest addition to California's LAW Records, the independent label run by nationally acclaimed act Pepper. Combining forces with an established team is bringing the group to new heights. LAW released Passafire's breakthrough sophomore album "Submersible" in October of 2007. The record has pushed boundaries within the reggae world and has received an overwhelmingly positive response. "We were looking to create something wholly fresh and unconstrained by the genre-- and we ended up with an album that is progressive, but still accessible." The band is no stranger to touring, now averaging over 150 shows a year. Maintaining a strong presence on the road and reaching new fans is their main priority. The band is confident about their direction: "Passafire has a momentum that has been with us since day one. Slowing down is not in our scope."