Katchafire is hot topic for Tahoe Reggae Festival | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Katchafire is hot topic for Tahoe Reggae Festival

Tim Parsons
New Zealand's Katchafire has been burning on the road for a decade.

The New Zealand band Katchafire is the buzz of the Lake Tahoe Reggae Festival.

Members of each of the festival’s bands who spoke with Lake Tahoe Action singled out Katchafire.

“I definitely am looking forward to seeing Katchafire,” Reno band leader Mark Sexton said. “I checked them out online and have become a big fan of theirs. I really like their style. It’s very true and honest sounding reggae.”

Kaleo Wassman of the day’s headliner, Pepper, which has Hawaiian roots, said, “Katchafire in Hawaii is massive. They are a huge band which I have not had the pleasure of seeing yet, so I am really looking forward to that. I always make it a point to watch all of the music that I possibly can. I am a music fan as well as being employed by it.”

UpRising is a new band from Reno but the core of its members are from the South Pacific island Tonga, a 21⁄2-hour flight to New Zealand.

“We would all have to agree that it is definitely Katchafire,” UpRising keyboardist Tony Mokofisi said. “We’ve been listening to their albums the last couple of years. We, as a band, like their sound, we like their message.”

Katchafire’s message is a positive one and the style is authentic roots-reggae, both characteristics of the genre’s classic era of the late 1970s.

“In the early days we were a cover band,” said lead singer-guitarist Logan Bell. “We used to play a lot of Bob Marley but we also played Peter Tosh. We played Steel Pulse. We played UB40, and we played a lot of other reggae as well.

“Reggae is widely loved. It’s one of the bigger genres at home. Right off the bat we had a lot of success. The natural progression was to write our own music.”

Katchafire remained hot with original songs. In 2011, it released its fourth album, “On the Road Again,” which has three singles.

The band members are Maori. Its founder, Grenville Bell, is the lead guitarist. His sons are Logan and Jordan Bell, a drummer.

“There are three blood family members in the band and the rest, we’re pretty much brothers anyway,” Logan Bell said. “We’re tight as hell. Three family members and four other brothers from another mother.”

Bell spoke with Lake Tahoe Action last week after the band had arrived in Los Angeles, where it began what Bell estimated is its 10th United States tour.

“It’s definitely exciting times for the boys,” Bell said. “For the last 10 years, we’ve been working really hard on the road and we’re seeing it on the West Coast in particular, and the Midwest of the U.S. is really picking up on our music. We really can’t be humbled enough. It’s absolutely awesome that the fans are getting behind it, supporting us doing our thing.”

Saturday, June 30, will mark Katchafire’s Lake Tahoe debut.

“The boys are excited to be coming to Tahoe for the first time,” Bell said. “We’re stoked. It sounds beautiful, mate. I can’t wait.”

Q Before Pepper blew up, I understand you played at some smaller Tahoe venues.

A We used to play at Tahoe Taps in Truckee, where the beer was unforgiving, and at Hoss Hoggs in South Lake. We drove around in a 1976 Dodge Sportsman. Some fans would get on the hill (Heavenly Mountain Resort).

Q So persistence paid off.

A When we left the rock (Hawaii) in 1999, it was all or nothing. Luckily, it’s been more all than nothing.

Q Was Sublime your greatest influence?

A Sublime … No Doubt. In Hawaii, it’s inevitable that you will run into feel-good music, especially on the radio. Radio is really dominated by reggae acts like Gregory Issacs and Beres Hammond and, of course, Bob (Marley). It’s lifestyle. Crossing musical boundaries you have to look at the Clash, who just spanned the globe. Really mixing reggae and punk and everything in between. All of that, we’ve taken with us. As musicians you find music at certain points of your life and then you take it somewhere else.

Q You are a unique band with you and Bret Bollinger both being front men. (Yesod Williams plays drums.)

A I like to say there are three front men. The thing about a Pepper show is we’re there to have a very, very good time. We really don’t beat around the bush about that. We feel blessed for having that opportunity for having a good time. Bret and Yesod knew each other since fourth grade. I met Bret in high school. … Kona’s a very small town. It only takes a small amount of time before you run into everybody.

Q Then you decided to leave Hawaii for San Diego and go at music 100 percent.

A We wanted to put ourselves in the position of sink or swim: Let’s concentrate, motivate and do this. Putting those parameters on your life sometimes really is the ultimate motivator.

Q Pepper just toured South America. How were you received?

A It was like seeing an entirely new world. The reception was incredible. It really opened up the eyes to a lot of promoters. We’re going to be heading back in August.

Q You have shared the stage with a lot of reggae’s greatest artists. Did any ever give you advice or feedback?

A One of the greatest compliments came from Sly and Robbie in 2008. They took Pepper and explained to us how we are spicing up the music. We’re taking it where we found it and really taking it somewhere else. For me it’s like John Lennon says, “Everything’s been done.”

Q (Impersonating Howard Cosell) Since you mentioned John Lennon, I gotta ask: Is Pepper ever going to get back together with Salt?

A Only if she’ll have us.

Q Do you have a new record on the way?

A Yes. Tonight (a June 15 Las Vegas concert) is only the third show of year for us. Matt Wallace is our producer. He did Faith No More. Me and the boys really talked about what we wanted to say and I think we’re saying it. The album is coming out shortly. I am looking forward to making it absolutely correct.

Q Are you working out the songs live?

A We won’t play anything live until the album drops. We usually play it live first, but we’re really taking our time and crafting it correctly. When we first play the new stuff, it’s definitely going to be an event for us and hopefully for the fans as well.

Q We will enjoy seeing you at the Lake Tahoe Reggae Festival.

A For me and the boys it’s going to be great. I’m really looking forward to bringing positivity to Tahoe and seeing our old stomping grounds.

Reggae is not the first description most would use for the Mark Sexton Band; nevertheless, the band’s leader said he’s excited to be on the bill for the Lake Tahoe Reggae Festival, the first event at the MontBleu Outdoor Events Center, a venue with a capacity of 4,200.

“We’re probably about the least straight-ahead reggae of everyone on the reggaefest lineup,” Sexton said. “We’re an R&B-soul band. It’s like soul-rock-reggae. That’s the nutshell. It’s a culmination of a bunch of different influences.”

While Stevie Wonder and Tower of Power are greater influences for the Reno band, early Bob Marley and the Wailers sounds also come into play. The Wailers, which included Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, were influenced by American doo-wop in the 1960s, when they made popular rock steady reggae.

“We’re going to stay ourselves but going to definitely going to bring the reggae,” said Sexton, whose band has made several appearances at the Crystal Bay Casino’s Red Room.

It released an album, “Listen Out,” in 2010, and has opened for Ozomatli and Steel Pulse. And with Sexton’s graduation this spring from the University of Nevada, Reno, the band will pursue music full time.

“There is no backup plan,” Sexton said.

Bassist Alex Korostinsky and drummer Dan Weiss have known each other since they were together in middle school and have played in the same band since high school.

“They read each other’s minds pretty well,” Sexton said. “Everything fell together with this band. Nothing was really forced. It just happened all of a sudden, we just had a band and we just stayed that way. We’re definitely really close.”

Jay Cowell, who played with Sol’ Jibe, often plays keyboards with the Mark Sexton Band and he will join the band at MontBleu Saturday.

One good thing about a reggae festival, when it hits, there are a lot of benefits.

Wintertime concerts for many bands consist of “one-offs,” where a concert is performed, and then the band goes home or onto another town to headline a show. At summer festivals, bands get to watch, meet and learn from other groups.

Eight groups will perform at the Lake Tahoe Reggae Festival, which includes a pair of internationally acclaimed bands and three locally popular ones from Reno, including the septet UpRising.

“This is a chance to share the stage with all of these big guys,” UpRising keyboardist Tony Mokofisi said. “Being that we’re very new in the industry, we’re always learning, watching what they do as far as stage presence, everything.”

UpRising formed two years ago, but there have been recent personnel changes. The core is from the South Pacific island Tonga, which closest major island is New Zealand, the home of Katchafire.

Logan Bell of Katchafire said his band’s first international festival was with Morgan Heritage and Andrew Tosh in New Caladonia, a small island in the South Pacific.

“It was a real eye-opening experience,” Bell said. “So we got to see how Morgan Heritage done it. That still kind of stays with me. It says something about first impressions. It was our first time going away out of our country. I think we brought them home with us and we always strive to be on that level and knew what it was to be an international reggae act.”

“Catch a Fire” and “Uprising” were Bob Marley and the Wailers album titles, but that isn’t necessarily the reason singer Tevita “Juice” Halo gave the name to the Reno band.

“The whole vibe we were feeling is just to uplift,” said Bozt, who began as the band’s percussionist but is now the manager. “Uprising became the battle call for all things. Work, family revolution. We try to change the normal stereotype that is brought upon our culture and our people, be revolutionaries in trying to break though and be positive and uplifting in every aspect of life.”

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