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the AU interview: Jesse Wagner of The Aggrolites (LA)

Ahead of their set at the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival, Jesse Wagner of LA reggae band, The Aggrolites chats to the AU Review about their new record, island parties with Parliament Funkadelic and why Bob Marley has enough kids.

First things first, it’s just after six in the morning here – Rugged Road, awesome wake-up record.

Hahaha, thank you man.

For those who haven’t heard it yet, what can they expect this time around on The Aggrolites’ fifth studio album?

The whole reason for Rugged Road came from out last album; we really stepped out of the box with that one and tried different things, I mean it was 21 tracks. With Rugged Road we were going for an old school sound, influenced by early skinhead reggae from late 60’s to the early 70’s. To be honest we wanted to make this one for record fans – it was meant to be five 45’s, but then we said “Fuck it” and went for the album. We still feel that we’re giving it back to the old school fans though, vinyl collectors and such.

So if you had to choose a few distinct influences on this album

For sure it would be The Upsetters,The Dynamites and Lee Perry. A lot of the songs really take from that era. From Perry’s Black Art thing to the Upsetters thing, and Junior Murvin in the 70’s.

And this album seems to have a real grit to it, you hear so many over polished records these days. How did you achieve that?

Listen to lots of reggae. Heaps of reggae. I mean, that helps the sound. Now, the music you’re inspired by, you’ve gotta know that you can never do it quite like they did. So what you do is what you do. You can take from the old reggae cats but if you’re trying to be them, it’s just not going to happen. No one can ever be Robert Johnson but they can be influenced by him, you know.

Also we did it all on analogue – there’s a very warm sound that’s come from recording live in one room, jamming out together. That vibe doesn’t come from recording separately – there’s an energy in the room that you can hear. Instruments bleeding into mics, all that kinda stuff. But that’s just taste, hey. There’s a lot of good music multitracked these days, we just find this works for us.

So you’re hitting Australia very shortly for Bluesfest. You do realise we have more dangerous creatures here than anywhere in the world?

Really? Well I’ve heard that kangaroos will kick my arse if I try to fight them…

Kangaroos? Kangaroos are the least of your worries…

What? What do you mean, man?

Well… Snakes, spiders, sharks, you name it. If it can kill you, we have it. There’s one spider called the Red Back; If it bites you, you have a couple of hours to get to hospital or you’re in trouble..

Oh fuck, man. They don’t put this in the brochure huh?

Yeah look they talk up the beaches, the weather and the lifestyle but they always conveniently leave these details out. Just looking out for a brother…

Thank you man I appreciate that. I’ll make sure I keep an eye out.

And Byron Bay’s pretty leafy…

Oh you gotta stop dude.

I noticed you guys are on the Warped tour; ska & reggae have a history of intertwining with the punk scene. How much does this influence what you do? Do your sets get heavier when you’re playing to punk crowds?

Not really, we’ve always wanted to do our own thing and not jump on any bandwagon. We thought what we were playing would actually suit people from every genre. I mean no one dislikes reggae, right? I guess the punk influence all started in the 70’s, when you look at The Clash. And a lot of the time punk and reggae bands have the same social agenda in the themes they sing about – I think reggae music was a big eye opener for punk. But our band is more about feel-good music. Forget about all the bullshit in your life and come to an Aggrolites show.

Like I said – it’s the best wake up music…

Or music to shoo spiders away…

Well I’m camping at Bluesfest, I’ll have to try that out. Speaking of which, have you guys had a chance to checkout the line-up?

Oh yeah man, it’s insane. Really looking forward to Elvis Costello and Ernest Langman. Actually I can’t wait for Ernest Langman, seen him a bunch of times. And Parliament Funkadelic – they’re amazing. We played a show with them on a French island off Madagascar a few years ago, I’ll never forget it. It’s like one song that never ends, but you just want more.

That sounds pretty incredible, how did that show go down?

Well it was actually on Reunion Island. So when we were first flying there, we flew from LA to Paris, then Paris to Madagascar. Anyway we’re hanging in the airport and we can see this rainbow coloured hair wig chilling in the distance – sure enough it’s George Clinton . He brings 19 band members to his shows and like 27 crew, so our whole plane is P-Funk, and you’ve got everyone from a young 22 year old girl to the old guy from the original band who’s now in diapers.

Anyway we felt kinda dorky but we really wanted to grab a photo, and his wife was really sweet so she arranged it for us – and George ends up having the photo with a toothbrush in his mouth – kinda awesome.

But you have to see the show – you’d think having 19 muso’s on stage would be a big clusterfuck, but they are so tight. And George just kinda walks to the front every so often to hype everyone up. It’s an epic party.

And there’s a benefit show for the recent natural disasters happening on April 20 at the Great Northern with Michael Franti. You guys are going to be jamming together?

Yeah we like doing that kinda thing – the whole jam thing. We were just approached about a week ago and I thought it was a really good cause. But there are a few acts playing (Luciano, Warrior King, Nicky Bomba, Bonnie Casey, Kim Churchill) and Michael Franti is a really great musician – it ain’t gonna be sloppy.

Any chance of hearing The Banana Song from Yo Gabba Gabba?
Hahaha really? The Banana Song? Maybe man…

For me?

Haha, OK we will. For you, man...for you. And a bunch of three year old kids and their mums, huh.

We often hear about bands having a ‘tour’ mixtape – what will be playing in the Aggrolites tour bus this time around?

Well we used to listen to music together but now we kinda just zone out and sit in our corners. We see enough of each other, huh. Let me think…yeah I’ll be listening to heaps of reggae and soul. Actually… (puts on an Australian accent) I might throw on a bit of
Rose Tattoo, mate!

OK work with me here…This is a little hypothetical.
The Upsetters, The Specials, Julian Marley and Eva Longoria are strapped to a train track… There’s a train coming at 100 mph, you can only save one of the above. Shoot.

Wait… Eva Longoria? Like that chick from Desperate Housewives?

I said work with me, man…

Haha, ok.. Umm, wow this is hard.
Let’s work through this…

Well look, beautiful woman, strapped to a track, inevitable benefits for saving her life…

Well first one off the list is The Specials – without The Upsetters there’d be no Specials. And you know what? There are plenty of chicks in the world, so let’s leave Eva Longoria. And...Bob Marley has enough kids, no one’s gonna miss one, so Julian’s gone.

It’s The Upsetters.

Nicely played. Well, Jesse, a huge thanks from everyone here at The Au Review for taking the time out to have a chat, I’ll catch you guys Bluesfest.

Pleasure, man. I’ll keep an eye out for the guy in the banana suit.

The Aggrolites play Friday 22nd April at The East Coast Blues & Roots Festival. For more tour dates check the band's myspace page