For New Zealand’s Katchafire, Santa Cruz is Like Home

Reggae islanders love the NorCal mainland

Katchafire plays the Catalyst on Saturday, July 7.

Despite the fact that they hail from New Zealand, Katchafire is no stranger to Santa Cruz; the band has played here more than 15 times in their two decades of existence.

Vocalist Logan Bell says there are “great vibes” here. After a recent tour of the southern U.S., the band is appreciating its Santa Cruz stop more than ever.

“Miami was too hot for me. Arizona was too hot for me. Texas was way too hot for me,” explains Bell. “California feels more like home.”

Formed by Bell and his drummer brother, Jordan, in the city of Hamilton, Katchafire originally started as a Bob Marley cover band. They quickly expanded to include a repertoire of other roots reggae artists, boasting an impressive 80-song catalog into which they would dig deep at every show.

“We used to play four-hour sets back in the day,” he remembers. “So that was our training ground.”

As they continued to play covers of their favorite music, the band began writing original tunes. By 2000, they were playing all originals, which Bell says was a “natural transition.” That year they also dropped their debut album, the critic and fan hit Revival.

Over the years, Katchafire has featured a number of lineups, with the Bell brothers as the two consistent members. Family is an integral element of the band’s music and message; their father, Grenville Bell, also played in the band for a dozen years before returning to his original role as manager—or “the big bossman,” as the singer jokingly calls him. It was an experience Logan loved, but admits he took for granted before realizing how precious that time was.

“It was a pretty special thing I got to do for many years,” he says. “I got to go around the world with my Pop and make people feel good through music for a living.”

Today, Katchafire operates as a quartet featuring Leon Davey on percussion, Wiremu Barriball on lead guitar, and bassist Tere Ngarua (also a founding member, who took a hiatus for a number of years).

While it’s firmly secure in the roots rock reggae sound they’ve perfected, their newly released fifth album, Legacy, is spiced with flavors of jazz, soul and hip-hop. The uplifting lyrics glide over a river of the chilled-out reggae dance beats guided by the flow of talk boxes, horns and backing vocals. There’s even a saxophone solo on the third track, ”I Can Feel it a Lot.” It’s as smooth as it is dirty, reminiscent of your favorite ’80s tracks.

“We’re being a lot more unapologetic about bringing other styles,” he says. “We’re fans of all styles of music, why not show it?”

To capture those styles, a number of extra musicians were brought in to record, which was complicated by the fact that they recorded Legacy while in the middle of a six-month tour.

“We just had to get it done,” Bell explains. “So a lot of it was done on the road, in different studios around the world whenever we had a day off.”

It’s the band’s first original album since On the Road Again, released in 2010. They have released singles in the subsequent years, and dropped a compilation in 2014 called Best So Far, but Bell thinks it was still too long of a stretch between albums. In fact, they’re already talking about their next project; Bell has a few songs written, and they’re looking at different studios throughout the country while completing this tour.

“We’ve got a good momentum for being creative,” he says. “So we want to keep it going.”

Katchafire performs at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 7, at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $30adv/$35door. 429-4135.

Contributor at Good Times |

Mat Weir originally hails from Southern California but don't hold that against him. For the past decade he has reported on the Santa Cruz music scene and has kept the reading public informed on important community issues such as homelessness, rent hikes, addiction and social injustices. He is a graduate from UCSC, is friends with a little dog name Ruckus and one day will update his personal page, WeirdJournalism.com.

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