SAM GEORGE-ALLEN speaks to Jamey Ferguson of NZ reggae heroes Katchafire — who are due in the country soon.
Considering that Katchafire are probably the hardest-working reggae band on the circuit, growing up in their homeland, New Zealand, guarantees you at least a working knowledge of their music. It also significantly ups the chances for them to be the second concert you ever attend: on the most perfect day of summer in 2003, at the Auckland Domain, while a hillside of people on blankets pass joints and your shoulders turn livid pink.
These are the memories that come flooding back during my conversation with Jamey Ferguson, lead vocalist and keys & sax player for the seven-piece. It’s not just Jamey’s familiar accent and friendly manner: the tunes from their new album, On The Road Again, have been doing laps in my head all day. Even if you’d never had your shoulders burnt at Groove in the Park as a 14 year old, after listening to Katchafire I think you’d know exactly what feeling I’m talking about.
Ferguson calls me from sunny Santa Cruz, California, where they’ve just played the Sierra Nevada Festival. “That was so awesome — all of the bands are awesome,” he says. “It’s the best reggae festival I’ve been to. Right up there with the one they have in Spain — just all really great acts.”
Spain, the Pacific, Australasia, Brazil, North and South America — they’ve been touring hard-out for six years, but Ferguson’s speech still ambles along on island time: a holdover from his twelve years in Hawaii, where he lived after studying music at Brigham Young University. He’s firmly on the pro-study side of the eternal self-taught vs. studied-it muso debate: “I’m so glad I carried on from high school with my music.”
Back in 2003, when I was transported through time and space by their smash hit Giddy Up, Katchafire were at the centre of another, slightly more controversial debate. “That was the very first video we made, and that one line caused some controversy.” Ferguson’s talking about the spoken intro to Giddy Up, in the first YouTube video that pops up when you search it. Footage from a live show prefaces the video, frontman Logan Bell telling the crowd, “We come here preaching messages of peace and love and purity — we’ve got no DJs and no samplers, just pure musicians . . .”
“That was who we were,” Ferguson sighs. “Since then, we’ve developed. It got us in a bit of trouble with some other bands — they thought we were taking the piss out of them. But we love all musical tools. I believe in using every tool you can get.”
Their tune might have changed on the need for musical purity, but they are still preaching their messages of peace and love and acceptance as much as they were in the park, 10 years ago: “We try to be ourselves as much as possible, and we try to let each band member have their say in each song. So hopefully it comes out as us being who we are, you know — a bunch of Maori boys from New Zealand — and we love our reggae music.”
KATCHAFIRE’s Irie Australian Tour brings them to Brisbane’s The Hi-Fi on Friday Aug 31, Kings Beach Tavern on Thursday Sep 6, and Southport RSL on Friday Sep 7. Watch the video for Irie here. www.katchafire.co.nz
SAM GEORGE-ALLEN is a Brisbane writer, postgrad student, and musician who can be found being disappointing @samga