Rags Music: How you doing today?
Jesse Wagner: Pretty good, we’re travelling from San Fransisco so my phone reception might keep cutting out.
RM: How was the show last night?
JW: It was pretty good. It wasn’t like a regular gig, it was some Budweiser event we got hired to do.
RM: I gotta start with asking about the name. I’ve read different accounts in the internet as to where the band name came from…
JW: Just 60s bands, a lot of them had the tail end, the Skatalites, the Crystallites, it just sounded right.
RM: What would you say if someone asked you for a mission statement for the Aggrolites?
JW: To play feel good music, to make people happy and enjoy themselves and reggae music. Making reggae more on the map than it is. We want to be that gateway band, like if people like what we sound like we can be the gateway for people to explore more into the music that we’re influenced by.
RM: You guys recorded Rugged Road on reel-to-reel. What was the reasoning for that?
JW: Analogue, you just can’t beat that sound, it’s got that warmth. The music that we listen to was recorded, vintage, back in the day, on analogue. Whenever we get the opportunity, we would do it again.
RM: I really love Rugged Road. It’s such a great sounding record. Did you guys set out to make such a rootsy sounding album?
JW: The whole thing about Rugged Road was that it wasn’t really intended to be an album. It’s a series of 45s and we always wanted to put 45s and we never had the opportunity. First we had the option to record analogue then the option to make records, put it out on vinyl and we wanted to do that for the hard reggae fans out there. A lot of people collect vinyl that listen to old-school reggae. Each 45 was intended to be inspirational of, like one 45 was inspired by the Upsetters and one was inspired by Lee Perry, BlackArc. It was like that, one 45 was inspired by the Pioneers, you know and that’s how that went. But 45s are not the easiest thing to sell on the road, CDs are a lot easier so we decided to put all the 45s as a collection and that’s what Rugged Road is.
RM: I need check those songs out on vinyl. They sound great digitally. I couldn’t imagine hearing them on vinyl. Do you guys play festivals often?
JW: Every summer we usually do. We’ve done Warped Tour twice. We’ve done all the European festivals. We’ve done Coachella. We’ve done Bumbershoot in Seattle. We’ve done a lot of festivals.
RM: Is there something you enjoy specifically about festivals or is just another place to play?
JW: I like playing them because it gives you the opportunity to play for people that have never heard of you. The cool thing about going to festivals is you’re going to see all kinds of music that you like and all kinds of music that you’ve never heard. And if you have an open mind it’s a great thing to go explore around and check out bands that you don’t know. That’s our opportunity to get more fans, expand the fanbase.
RM: Discovering new bands is always the best part of festivals, for sure. Is there any festival or city that you’ve played where you’ve been really surprised with the response you’ve received from the crowd?
JW: A lot of places. We just recently played Des Moines (Iowa). It was really cool because I’d never been there and didn’t know what to expect and it was one of the best shows on the whole tour.
RM: I guess Des Moines isn’t considered a hotbed of reggae bloodflow, but I guess it goes everywhere. What is it about reggae music that fuels that? What about reggae drives you guys along?
JW: It’s definitely the coolest music I’ve ever heard. The soul, the groove to it, it’s just really interesting, the history behind it, how it began on this little tiny island and tiny city, Kingston, and how the music just spread over the world. It’s fascinating to me.
RM: What can people expect at an Aggrolites show? What should people be prepared for?
JW: Pure awesomeness. A good time, definitely a good time. Bring your dancing shoes.
RM: Punk and reggae seem so different sonically but there’s definitely an underlying aesthetic to both music, how do you define that common union?
JW: I think it goes back to England. When Reggae made it there in ’69 it was the working class music. I think it had a lot to do with the Jamaicans’ factory jobs and things like that. They brought it over and it just became popular from there on out. It stayed that way. In the 70s, the punk rock era, reggae music was their background music. I forget which documentary I was watching but an old punk rocker from back in the 70s said that reggae was like the soundtrack music to their lives. I think it had to do with culture, social commentary, things that Jamaicans were singing about had a lot to do with punk rock and a lot of the rebel music was just something they could relate to.
RM: What are some of your touchstone records, the records you find yourself coming back to?
JW: I’ve always been a big fan of the Dynamites. That was one of the first early reggae bands that I heard. I’ve always gone back to listening to that. The Upsetters of course. There’s just so many albums it’s hard to say one. Studio One labels, Treasure Island.
RM: I heard that when you guys formed to back Derrick Morgan that he was shocked you were a bunch of guys from California. Do you still find people who are really shocked?
JW: Yeah, a lot. Just last night when we played this old woman, she was in her 70s and she used to manage somebody from Sly & The Family Stone, she was really amazed hearing us from backstage and walking out and seeing what we look like. We hear it a lot. It’s cool. It’s a real honour when we hear people say stuff like that.
RM: You guys were all in different bands when you started…what is it about this band that keeps you guys together?
JW: Everybody just really wanted to go for it and this was the team.
RM: What are some of your most memorable openings gigs when you guys first started?
JW: I’ll never forget, we got to do an arena tour with Madness in 2006. There was one gig in Manchester, whatever arena, it held 18,000 people. And just hanging with those guys, this is the band I grew up on and they’re backstage drinking a beer with me.
RM: Do you have life advice for our readers?
JW: Listen to reggae!