Posted June 26, 2006
THE AGGROLITES: BRINGING SHANTYTOWN'S GROOVES TO THE REST OF THE WORLD
The Aggrolites came together purely by accident -- just five guys having fun in the studio, backing Jamaica ska singer Derrick Morgan. Enjoying the music they created together, they decided to book some shows. They've since opened sets for the likes of Madness, Rancid, Floggin' Molly, The Selecter and Ozomatli. T he band took its name from the 1960s British slang "aggro" which was a term used to describe the tough Reggae sound that was becoming more and more popular in the UK. "The Aggrolites’ collective goal," vocalist Jesse Wagner explains, "is to increase awareness of Reggae music- - to show American's especially that there's a whole lot more to Jamaican music than Bob Marley, ganja and growing dreadlocks. We'd love to put it more on the map." With an old-school raw under-produced sound, The Aggrolites reflect their deep love for Rocksteady, Ska and Reggae through their music. The self titled album is dynamic - no songs sound the same, from tunes ranging from pure fun, to serious tones on poverty.
I-94 Bar punk and hardcore correspondent ROYA BUTLER tracked down Brian Dixon, rhythm guitarist of The Aggrolites, for this interview.
Brian Dixon (right) with The Aggrolites. (David Jiro photo)
How long have you been doing Aggro Reggae?
We've been together for about 4 years. We're from Los Angeles, where there is a small army of SKA/Reggae musicians; so outside of the Aggrolites, we've been playing together in various bands for much longer.
What got you into that British style of reggae?
To be fair, we are into Reggae (Jamaican music); we also like SOME of the British Reggae that came out of the late 60's. And actually, you could say that we appreciate the British record labels more. Not for putting out British Reggae, but Labels like TROJAN and PAMA Records re-released a lot of the great Jamaican stuff.
You did a lot at the show tonight, to hit your goal of increasing awareness of reggae music. How do you feel your fan base is growing due to your tour?
Our fanbase is definitely growing from this tour. It's cool; we have a small worldwide fanbase of hardcore 60's Reggae fans. Now we're reaching people that never considered Reggae anything more than some wimpy, hippy music and we're on a mission to show that the REAL reggae music is tough as nails!
How do you see your music metamorphasising within the next few years?
Better songwriting. I think we will also get more comfortable in the studio, which I'm really looking forward to.
What was it like to have Chris LaSalle and Tim Armstrong of Rancid put "Dirty Reggae" on the fourth volume of Give 'Em the Boot compilation?
That was GREAT!!! Tim is a BIG reggae fan. He wanted to introduce a lot of people that might not have heard late '60s Reggae, to our sound; really cool.
How is it like opening for and backing legendary bands? Is this enough to make you realize how much people appreciate your music?
Yeah, it's funny because our biggest fans are musicians. This music is much more difficult to play than it looks. Musicians always seem to appreciate that the most.
I know you were saying something about opening for Rancid again... Is that coming up later on this tour?
Hopefully in the Fall. We're just waiting to see what dates we get.
One of your fans in the audience compared you to The Clash... Who would you compare yourselves to?
Brian: The thing I liked most about the Clash, was that they did their own thing. There was no band like them before they came out and no band after. I like to think of ourselves in that light. Late ‘60s reggae has really not been played in 35 years and it didn't have quite the edge that I feel we give it.
Tell me about the organ fiasco you had last night.
On the last song, one of the tubes on the vintage organ we tour with went out, which knocks some of the notes out of tune. Most people think we're crazy for hauling a full size console organ around, but NOTHING else sounds like it.
How is it touring with the Aquabats? Their fanbase is pretty diehard. Do you find their fans to be fans of yours as well, as your music is really progressive?
We can play in front of pretty much any crowd. Everyone can appreciate quality reggae, in my opinion. Our stuff is edgy, but it's not abrasive. People young AND old can like it and for different reasons-- Reggae is really deep music. It has longevity. It will outlast most bands music.
If you had a choice to tour with any band in the world, which would it be?
We're less excited about touring WITH another band. We are more excited about being the backing band for some old school reggae singers. We've backed Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan and others. We'd like to back singers like U-Roy or maybe Leonard Dillon (The Ethiopians).
On your album, I noticed every song is different. Some are really fun and melodic and others take a more serious tone. Can you explain this further?
Great question! We play specifically Jamaican music from 1969 to 1972. Some people have asked if that limits our sound and creativity, but I think it helps us stretch out musically. The unique thing about this era of Jamaican music is that the musicians were experimenting heavily with trying to find a new sound. Tempos, "feel" and groove change from song to song.
Historically, Jamaican lyrics usually deal with what's going on in the lyricist lives at that moment in their lives. THAT is our biggest influence. NOT trying to sound like and session band or specific song, but taking the approach of experimenting with different sounds from song to song.
On stage, the band had so much energy that you could feel it rush into the audience and everyone was moving along to the beats. It was a pretty playful vibe in your songs and presentation and the audience appreciated it--do you intentionally bring that into your set, or is it just a flow from the music itself? Is it perhaps a little of both?
Both. It's tough, groovy music. At rehearsals or in the studio, you'll see us grooving to the music, too.
Tell me a little about how you formed the Aggrolites?
A promoter in Los Angeles called me in October 2001 to see if I knew of any bands that could back legendary Jamaican SKA/Reggae singer Derrick Morgan for a show. I wasn't really playing with anyone at the time, so I said, "Let me put an all-star band together!" I called some of my favorite musicians in the L.A. scene to play. It was amazing! Derrick couldn't believe how great the band sounded. 4 months later, Derrick called me to have the band write and record an album for him. I called the guys up and we did a whole album.
The recording sessions went so great and were so much fun for everybody; I asked if the guys would want to do a show, just for fun. We did the show and it was amazing. The next day, another promoter who heard about the show called me up and asked us to do another show. We did and then word got out about the band, that wasn't really a band, yet! After about six months of doing shows, we decided to officially become a band.
Tell me a bit more about working with Derrick Morgan.
Derrick is really cool. He's in his mid 70's now and he's completely blind, but he's sharp as a knife. He told us all kinds of stories about the old days of recording and living in Jamaica and about all the old musicians that we love.
Compare your previous record release "dirty reggae" with your new self titled album.
The first album was written, recorded and mixed in about 10 hours!!! It was recorded live and mostly improved in the studio. Our singer Jesse adlibbed many of the vocals! The new album was done in a similar fashion, but the songs were mostly written before we went in the studio.
How's this tour been for you in general and what's your favorite city you hit up on this tour and why?
The tour has been amazing! No favorite town to play in. Seriously, we've gotten a great response at every single show this tour. I did really enjoy Chicago, though. Not just for the show, but hanging out in the city afterwards with our friends from Deals Gone Bad. Also, every show has been great, just hanging out with the guys in The Aquabats and Whole Wheat Bread.
Tell me about playing on Tim Armstrong’s solo album.
Six months ago, Tim Armstrong hired us to be his backing band on his new solo record, due out at the end of the year. It's us playing our brand of "Dirty Reggae" over his songs, with him singing. It's really good.
Thanks for the interview!!!
ROYA'S QUICK-FIRE REVIEW:
THE AGGROLITES – The Aggrolites (Hellcat Records)
The Aggrolites came together purely by accident—just five guys having fun in the studio, backing Jamaica ska singer Derrick Morgan. Enjoying the music they created together, they decided to book some shows. They've since opened sets for the likes of Madness, Rancid, Floggin' Molly, The Selecter and Ozomatli. The band took its name from the 1960s British slang "aggro" which was a term used to describe the tough raggae sound getting more and more popular in the UK. "The Aggrolites collective goal," vocalist Jesse Waggner explains, "is to increase awareness of raggae music - to show American's especially that there's a whole lot more to Jamaican music than Bob Marley, ganja and growing dreadlocks. We'd love to put it more on the map."
With an old-school raw, underproduced sound, The Aggrolites reflect their deep love for roccksteady, ska and reggae through their music. The self titled album is dynamic--no songs sound the same, from songs ranging from pure fun, to serious tones on poverty.
"The Aggrolites" is a 19-track mix of sing-a-longs and instrumentals that sounds straight out of 1967 Kingston. Their music can be compared to The Ethopians, Toots and The Maytals, Mittoo and the early Wailers. Prince Buster provided a powerful testament to the Aggrolites' authenticity, saying: "It reminded me of the old days, I can't believe that this young band from America could play my music just as good as the day it was recoded." These are guys who are genuinely interested in reviving the sounds of classic raggae. – Roya Butler