PASSAFIRE: Different Story

Passafire: Interview with Mike DeGuzman

And now for something a bit different… Passafire is a quartet from Savannah, GA who very successfully blend Reggae with Progressive Rock and plenty of other different influences. Their new album is titled ‘Longshot‘ and is out on May 12th via Easy Star Records

Longshot‘ is a testimony to following dreams, inspired by people, places, and experiences Passafire has shared since forming as a band. The group’s four members continue chasing their passion despite being told many times that “Making it as a musician is a long-shot,” a piece of advice that inspired this album and its title. ‘Longshot‘ takes its listeners through a full spectrum of emotions, telling stories of heartbreak, new beginnings, overcoming personal struggles, finding truths, discovering new places, and getting older, all weaved into Passafire’s genre-defying mix of reggae, hard rock, hip hop, and anything else that turns the group on musically.

Keyboardist/guitarist Mike DeGuzman speaks for Prog Sphere about ‘Longshot,’ themes, influences, and more.

Describe the creative process informing your new, sixth album Longshot.

Compared to previous albums, this was the first that we wrote with all band members living in different states. This challenge forced us to schedule writing sessions in between tours over a 1.5 year span. We’re always writing on our own time, but these group-writing sessions became critical in molding and shaping the final product of Longshot. Some song ideas were brought to the writing sessions with complete arrangements, some were brought as chord progressions, some were just melodies, and some songs were influenced through our improvisational jams. There’s never a systematic approach to writing our songs.

How did you avoid repeating yourself when composing Longshot?

I don’t think we’re ever consciously thinking “let’s not do what we’ve already done in the past.” Each album we release is a natural progression for us. Our musical influences change year by year. Our personal lives and experiences change a bit year by year. Our knowledge on the recording process is constantly growing. All of these things will always have an affect on the product we release at any given point in time.

Passafire - Longshot

Longshot combines stylistically different elements ranging from reggae and progressive rock to electronica and hip-hop, and there is also a wild energy of punk. What were the biggest challenges you faced when working on the album?

The idea of writing songs that cover these wide range of genres come from our respect and appreciation for all kinds of music. We ultimately write songs that we like, whether they’re considered reggae or not. One challenge we came across was picking songs that would “make the cut” on the final album, since we still felt very strongly about the songs that were left off. This was a good problem to have, as we were that confident in all the songs we recorded. In the end, we understood that some songs fit together better than others.

Making it as a musician is a long-shot” is a line that inspired the album title. What can you tell me about the topics you explore on this record? Is Longshot a concept album?

I wouldn’t classify this as a concept album, but there are definitely some recurring themes throughout the record. One of the main themes is best summed up on the first track, “Growing Up.” Any topic associated with “becoming an adult” can be related to on this album, whether it involves relationships, love, family, life, death, etc. We as full-time touring musicians have a bit of a unique path to growing up and becoming adults. Our constant travels have a direct affect on our lives on and off the road. We’ll always face our challenges, but we’ll always make the best of it and continue to strive towards having a successful career just like everyone else.

How did writing the album at different locations shape the final outcome?

Between our friend’s home studio in Northern California, The Garage studio in Savannah, GA, and Ted’s home studio in St. Pete, FL, we felt very comfortable in our surroundings. We had our 32 channel rack unit with us every time, so our tracking capabilities were always consistent. While location may not have had the biggest affect on the final product, I think the time we had in between sessions was more critical than anything. For example, ideas that we thought were cool in the first session ended up getting scrapped by the second session. The time in between sessions allowed us to absorb our ideas while continuing to write newer & better ones.

Tell me about your approach to recording Longshot.

This is now our 5th release that has been tracked/recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX. In the past, we’d track drums first, then bass, then continue to add layers. This time around, we set up all of our gear in the room and tracked live. This required us to really practice and perform all of the songs before we arrived at the studio. We found this to be most efficient in recording multiple tracks at once, while also capturing the live feel.

What evolution do you see with Longshot and your previous albums?

We look at Longshot to be our most mature album, both musically and lyrically. In the past, we’ve shown that we can play reggae, we’ve shown that we can play rock, we’ve shown that we can get weird & proggy with our arrangements… at the end of the day, we just want to write good, timeless songs. Our songwriting has evolved throughout the decade, and Longshot is a good representation of where we stand today.

Do you feel it’s important for listeners to extract their own meaning from your music?

Everyone has a different path in life, so it’s natural for anyone to interpret their own meanings behind our songs. That’s the best thing about what we do. Each story is different, but we love hearing our fan’s unique connections to our music.

Passafire

You are a band that is considered as a pioneering progressive reggae rock act. What influenced you in the first place to fuse reggae with progressive rock?

John Brown’s Body was a big influence in the birth of Passafire. While they may not be considered a progressive rock band, they proved that reggae isn’t just a one-dimensional style of music. You can use intricate bass lines and multiple chord progressions. We’ve always embraced that about their unique approach to playing reggae. Other than that, most of us grew up listening to progressive rock and jambands, such as Umphrey’s McGee, Phish, Rush, Yes, etc. So, we always have a natural tendency to just want to “rock out” and showcase our musicianship.

Which artists or bands influenced your work on the new album? Have you listened to a lot of other artists’ music while working on Longshot?

I don’t think there are any specific artists that directly influenced this album. If you take a look at the Passafire Spotify account, you can find each of our personal playlists that we like to play while we’re driving the van. All of us in the band have similar, yet different tastes in music. Ted [Bowne, lead vocals/guitar] has the biggest reggae and hip hop influences, Will [Kubley, bass/vocals] has the biggest indie and folk influences, Nick [Kubley, drums] has the most metal & folk influences, and I have the most jamband and prog influences in the band. Fusing all of these influences has ultimately created that “Passafire” sound that remains consistent on each album.

You will be embarking on a North American tour, which kicks off later this month. What do you aim for when performing your music live?

This will be our first tour after the release of Longshot, so we’re looking to play as many songs from the album as possible. In general, we always strive to put on a high-energy show. We also try to include extended improvisational sections to our songs along with adding new arrangements whenever possible. This makes it fun for us, while creating unique moments for the fans that you can’t get from just listening to the album.

Passafire

What do you consider to be the most impactful albums of your career?

Seeing John Brown’s Body live ultimately made Nick and Ted want to start a reggae band. The two albums out at that time were Spirits All Around Us and Pressure Points.

What’s your assessment of music industry’s current condition?

The music industry is always evolving as technology continues to expand. A big change in the last several years has been the emergence of subscription based streaming services. As a consumer, it’s awesome that we have access to listen to just about anything that has ever been recorded. However, as an artist that relies on sales of albums, it’s difficult to balance the value of these online streaming services and the monetary return on those plays. At the end of the day, we’ve learned to embrace this service that potentially allows people to listen to us that normally wouldn’t go out and buy the album. All we can hope as year-round touring musicians is that these plays turn into ticket sales.

Do you have any unrealized ambitions as musicians at this point in your career?

We’ve successfully sustained our careers as full time musicians up to this point. That’s quite an accomplishment in itself. However, we’ll always want to continue to expand and better position ourselves to be heard by bigger audiences. Of course, it would be pretty cool to have a hit song on mainstream radio, or to headline a high-profile music festival like Bonnaroo. One might say it’s a “Longshot,” but we’ll keep on truckin’ while hoping for the best.

Passafire’s new album Longshot is out on May 12th; order it here.

All photos by Cedric Smith

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