|We wanted to bring Skinhead Reggae to our local dance floors.
Dirty Reggae is that organic real sound. Live and direct in your face with no cover ups or redo's. Raw and upfront with nothing to hide.
Hot Shot Wear: Do You remember when and how You Get Reggae Fever? What do You think is so special in this kind of music that You love it so much?
Jesse Wagner: I was about 13 years old when I first heard of Ska music. My older sisters boyfriend at the time turned me on to it. He was a pretty big music fan. Mostly for the Manchester sound throughout the late 70's and early 80's. I would go to him for musical knowledge. I grew up falling in love with my mom and dads old vinyl. A lot Motown records and a lot of soul music like groups called Tower Of Power, Cold Blood and WAR. At 13 years old I thought in order to make a soul band, the band had to have horns. In the early 90's most popular music at the time was grunge and alternative, no horns at all. So I asked my sisters old boyfriend what modern bands had horns. He said Ska bands. He took me record shopping and showed me a few albums. From The Skeletones to The Toasters to The Specials and Madness. It wasn't till a few months later when I heard Hepcat. That was the band that ultimately gave me the "Reggae Fever" and changed my life forever. Like they say, "Reggae Got Soul" it's true, and thats mainly why I fell in love with the music so much.
Hot Shot Wear: It's true that the Aggrolites is a combination of two bands: The Vessels and The Rhytm Doctors? If yes, who from you played there and what kind of music was that?
Jesse Wagner: Yes it is true. I came from the band The Rhythm Doctors. We formed somewhere between 1996 and 1997 and were heavily influenced by Jamaica's studio house bands from the late 60's and early 70's. Bands like The Upsetters, The Dynamites, The Rhythm Rulers and The Music Doctors. Hence the name "Rhythm Doctors". While most local bands in the 90's were following the footsteps of Hepcat and The Slackers, we wanted to be different and bring Skinhead Reggae to our local dance floors. Though everyone in the scene was listening to Skinhead Reggae and DJ'ing it, no one was really playing it. There was one other band that we looked up to based out of Santa Barbara called Dynamic Pressure, they were doing it before we were. After a few years, more and more Skinhead Reggae bands started developing in the Los Angeles area. The Vessels being one of them. I always loved that band.
Hot Shot Wear: How did these bands turn in the Aggrolites. Who was the founder/initiator of the idea: the Aggrolites? It was just for fun or maybe from the beginning you had some ambitious goals to be achieved?
Jesse Wagner: The band was formed in 2002 by myself and our old guitar player. It started out just for fun and was more like a dream band we put together as we chose our favorite musicians from the Los Angeles area to be in it. Roger Rivas being one of those guys. I don't know exactly who came up with the name The Aggrolites. I know the meaning behind the name and think it's a brilliant fit for our sound, but I for sure didn't come up with the name. I've heard multiple sources take that credit in the past. I'd hate to be wrong as I have been in the past giving credit to the wrong person.
Hot Shot Wear: Is that true that Aggro debut album was recorded in just one day? Today it isn't very popular way of record. The band repeat and repeat to obtain the best result...
Jesse Wagner: Yes. To be honest, we really didn't even know we were making an album at the time. Our old guitarist Brian Dixon is a sound engineer and back then had access to a studio. We'd do sessions as often as possible. Usually when the studio would be closed. These would be sessions at strange hours like 11pm to 6am or on random holidays. We recorded in the style the Jamaicans did back in the day. Punching out as much as we can in the little time we had. Pretty much recording rhythms live in 1 take with very few overdubs. We felt that kept the music organic. One of the things I always loved about old 60's reggae was the flaws in it. Strange to say right? But sometimes that guitar being slightly out of tune or the snare being compressed and over in the red too far would give the song its soul and character. It wasn't over produced and too clean like a lot of other sounds coming out in the late 60's and early 70's especially. This is one of the many reasons we called our sound "Dirty Reggae". That organic real sound. Live and direct in your face with no cover ups or redo's. Raw and upfront with nothing to hide.
Hot Shot Wear: Did You ever thought that All over the World people will make bands inspired or even copying yours style?
Jesse Wagner: The Aggrolites have always had a mindset on the term. We knew we could never be Jamaican, nor play exactly like they did back in the day. That was a different time. It took to be from that time and from that place to play like that exactly. We weren't from that school. We were however a group of guys from L.A. who loved that sound, but knew we could never claim it. Dirty Reggae was our genre. Something we were doing. And whatever came out in our music would be just that...DIRTY REGGAE. We could claim that, cause we named it. Our goal was for that term to spread and to influence other bands out there to play Dirty Reggae as well. I am more than amazed and honored at the fact that Dirty Reggae has spread all over the world.
Hot Shot Wear: Who in the band is responsible for composing music and lyrics?
Jesse Wagner: It's alway different. I've written a lot of songs on my own, Roger has written a lot of songs on his own and there has been a lot of times the entire band would just make up rhythms on the spot, record them and later I would write over that. Since we've had many changes in the lineup over the years, we've also had more people collaborate with us. Jeff Roffredo (bassist) being one of them, he's brought a lot to the table as well.
Hot Shot Wear: As a banking band you had a pleasure to play with pioneers of jamaican music as Prince Buster or Phillis Dillon. It must be a great felling to meet and work with such great artists. How is it like?
Jesse Wagner: Yes it has been a dream come true. If I were to go back in a time machine and tell 16 year old Rhythm Doctor Jesse the people he is going to get to perform with in the near future, I don't think I'd believe Jesse from the future. Haha. I'd think Future Jess would be a lying asshole. hahahah.
Hot Shot Wear: With Aggrolites you recorded 5 albums, last one Rugged Road was recorded 3 years ago, don't You think that fans are waiting long enough for a new one? Do You work with the band on the new album or maybe you decided to devote this time for new projects, making some break from 'dirty reggae'?
Jesse Wagner: I am ready for a new Aggroiltes record. It's been long enough for the break. Maybe 2015 will be the year? I hope so.
Hot Shot Wear: Last Aggro album was also release on 45's, for me as a selector and records collector it was great think. I suppose many from reggae lovers agree that vinyl is the best 'sound storage medium'. Do you plane same think in the future? Or maybe 45' with 'Reggae Hit La' on A side and 'Free Time' on B?
Jesse Wagner: 45's are always a top choice for The Aggrolites. When we get the opportunity to press 45's we take it. I'm hoping we can release more vinyl in the future.
Hot Shot Wear: For me You are a great example that hard work and consequence bring good results. The Aggrolites was formed in 2002. It was so long time ago. Did you have, over the years of playing as The Aggrolites, some time that You thought that You have enough and you need a rest?
Jesse Wagner: After every tour we feel like we need a rest, but then a few weeks go by at home and we are ready for the road again. That's how it was for a good portion of the Aggrolites lifespan. The last couple years have been a lot more mellow. Though I don't think we will ever go back to doing 250 + on the road again, I don't see us stopping any time soon either.
Hot Shot Wear: Few months ago you played in UK, France, Germany..how was it. Why so often you come back with band to Europe. What is here so amazing what attracts you and make You want always come back?
Jesse Wagner: We've been doing European tours longer than we've been doing US tours. Reggae was hip in Europe much early than it was in the US. I feel the Europeans understand the culture of Skinhead Reggae much more than the US. There is a lot of Skinhead Reggae fans in the US of course, but it isn't a popular as it is in Europe. With that said, we've always had a bigger following playing our music in Europe. What can I say, we love you guys!!!!
Hot Shot Wear: Do You remember, how many times have you played in Europe? What was your favorite show here?
Jesse Wagner: Countless amount of times. We've been jumping across the pond 1 to 2 times a year since 2003. My wild guess would be close to 20 times. It's really hard to say what our favorite show has been. A lot of it has been a blissful blur! Reggae festivals in Europe are no joke, that for sure. We always have a blast playing them.
Hot Shot Wear: Are there some places on the map that You want especially come back or maybe some place where Aggro didnt have an opportunity to play yet and You want to go.
Jesse Wagner: We've been to a lot of places. One place we haven't been to yet is Ireland. I'd like to see what that is all about. Also I'd like to go back to Poland. We haven't spent much time over there, but the times we have been there have been awesome.
Hot Shot Wear: As I can see You are a very busy man. How do you find time for all this music projects you are involved?
Jesse Wagner: I've just made it one of the most important things in my life. When you put something at the top, it's hard to not find time for it.
Hot Shot Wear: So what is your latest project Jukebox 101. Who is involved in this band?
Jesse Wagner: Jeff Roffredo and myself formed Jukebox 101. We've been writing music together over last 7 years or so. With some time off from touring with The Aggrolites last year, we decided it would be a good time to record these tunes. We used some of our favorite players for the album. Ray Jacildo (JD McPhersons band, The English Beat), Oliver Charles (Ocean 11, Gogol Bordello, Ben Harper) and Mr. T Bone (The Bluebeaters) just to name a few. We are currently in the process of getting the album released. There are many different genres on the album just like a jukebox would provide. Hopefully a European tour of the project will hit Europe shortly after. Check out the website for more information: www.jukebox101.net
Hot Shot Wear: I think that expression 'feel good music' very accurately describes this project.
Jesse Wagner: It's really a collection of styles that Jeff and I really enjoy listening to. From Reggae to Soul to Bossa Nova. We even dabble into a 50's style rock and roll song inspired by groups such as The Coasters. Jeff get's to show off his upright Bass talent on this record. But yes. For sure Feel Good Music to the maximum.
Hot Shot Wear: Why did You decide to record the album for children? I mean here 'Happy Wags' album. It is so that the banana song succeed and You decided to go with the flow or maybe you have different reason for that?
Jesse Wagner: Yes, for years Aggrolite fans have been asking me for us to put out a childrens album. They always say how much their kid enjoys the Banana song. I don't think I can imagine The Aggrolites ever releasing a full on children record, so I decided to do so myself. My sister has 3 boys who I see when I am at home from touring so they influenced me a lot while recording this album. I also got together with my sister a lot while writing songs. That was fun because I remember as a kid the first song I ever wrote was with my sister helping me rhyme words. One of the song's titled "Baby Dean" is actually named after my second nephew who is now 3 years old. You can purchase the album on CD or Vinyl at www.funfunrecords.co
Hot Shot Wear: I didn't have opportunity to 'test' this album on any child but I have seen how kids react when they hear 'Banana' song. Always it's a madness. So I think it's the same when their hear 'Happy Wags' album. Isn't it? Is it a success?
Jesse Wagner: So far I've gotten a lot of good feed back on the record. People particularly like the songs "Use Your Words" and "PeePee In The Potty" haha.
Hot Shot Wear: Not so long ago You spend some time in Europe with Vic Ruggiero. You worked on some records. How did you get money for this album. It could be interesting for many good musicians, who face difficulties in this metter. And why you choose Europe? I think it's quite important, where you record the album and I mean atmosphere, environment, people. What was the reason for this choice? and of course Disclose us, when will be possible to buy this record?
Jesse Wagner: This is a project that all became developed through the great mind of Vic Ruggiero. He may be a better person to ask, but I will fill you in on what I know. Vic chose to record in Belgium because it is the home base of a great friend/ drummer/engineer and studio owner of Pum Pum Hotel Studios. Nico Leonard. Vic wanted to collaborate with Nico and myself for a while now and came up with the name RWW (reggae workers of the world). I've been honored to be a part of it and had one of the best experiences in my life writing and developing songs with Vic. In order to fund for the project we used a crowd funding source called Rocket Hub. We managed to go past our goal thanks to all the wonderful fans out there and I am hoping the album will be in their hands within the next few months.
Hot Shot Wear: I read somewhere that as a teenager You have dreamed about acting career.
Jesse Wagner: Yes, as a child growing up near Los Angeles I dabbled in the entertainment industry. When I was 12 I got lucky and nailed getting an agent by showing up at a cattle call (thats when a line of 500 kids wait outside of an agency and go in groups of 10 at a time saying their name and age to the agent. Strictly by only that to judge, the agent will call back just a handful of kids and sign a contract. I was one of the 10 kids that got called back). I had the agent for about 4 years. Never really got any big breaks, but got a few commercials here and there. I am still a member of the Screen Actors Guild to this day. And would love to do acting again if the opportunity ever came up.
Hot Shot Wear: I think reggae fans are glad that You choose music but could You tell us something about that period in Your life? Why Jessy Wagner decided to make music instead to be well-known actor. Did You play some role in the movie or tv series? How did it end up?
Jesse Wagner: There were a lot of let downs. I'd get the part to a show and they would cancel the program before shooting the pilot. I'd go on multiple call backs for a big role and then find out they change up the script and the character would either be written out of the script or changed to a different age range. The main thing I didn't like was I had to look a certain way. There was a popular child actor at the time named Jonathan Taylor Thomas. The kid had longer hair and dressed like a total preppy. The agency modeled all their kids to look like this kid at the time cause kids that looked like that were the ones getting all the parts. Leonardo DiCaprio was one of those kids at the time too. He was a few years older, but had that look. I hated that look. I was just getting into ska music and the whole rude boy thing. It bothered me that I had to have long hair parted in the middle and had to wear goofy preppy clothes. I was a typical teenager trying to find myself and that preppy kid thing wasn't my vibe at all. It was also a financial burden on my parents having to get out of work early, pull me out of school and drive me back and forth to Hollywood on a weekly basis. I became more interested in my guitar as I got older and started writing songs. It all came down to me just being in love with entertainment. Music was a way of entertaining where I could be myself. I liked that idea.
Hot Shot Wear: Tell me something about Your work with THE Freecoasters
Jesse Wagner: The Freecoasters is a Reggae/ Soul band based out of Fort Myers, Florida. They asked me to produce their first full length album.
Hot Shot Wear: How You feel as a producer?
Jesse Wagner: Producing is something I feel I've been doing for the last 15 + years. It's something I feel natural about and I feel confident in doing. I'm good with people and I know how to get sounds I want to hear. I've spent a lot of time in studios and know how the recording process works. This was a great opportunity and I'd love to have a future producing more bands.
Hot Shot Wear: Maybe Your own record studio?
Jesse Wagner: I'd love to do that, but that involves a lot of time and Money. I really wouldn't mind just getting hired by bands and producing their music. I like working with bands. I like getting their sound down in their live performance. After the band has their tightness down, the rest is a piece of cake.
Hot Shot Wear: Do You have your favourite reggae producer?
Jesse Wagner: I have a lot of favorite reggae producers. Joe Gibbs and Leslie Kong come to mind very fast. Of course so does Coxone Dodd and Duke Reid.
Hot Shot Wear: Thanks for Your time, at the end could You recomend some less known reggae bands from LA?
Jesse Wagner: The Expanders are an amazing Los Angeles reggae band with a rootsy feel. They've been getting more and more popular over the last couple years. Don't know if they are known in Poland, but I believe they should be known world wide. If you like groups like The Mighty Diamonds or The Abyssinians you will love The Expanders. You can check them out at www.theexpanders.net
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