There’s nothing like smooth reggae vibes to expel worry from tired bones, and generally, the simpler the rhythm the better. For L.A. reggae-rockers The Aggrolites, the addition of a little American soul was all they needed to get their signature groove just right.
“When it comes to playing reggae it’s more about that groove, it may be a two-chord progression song, but as long as that rhythm is tight and the band’s locking in, it’ll sound like a big machine, a unit,” said singer/guitarist Jesse Wagner.
That reggae machine has been churning out only the tastiest grooves for the last nine years. Their old-school ska and rocksteady influences blend with soul and blues, creating what the band lovingly refers to as “dirty reggae.”
“Reggae is rebel music, singing about social issues going on at the time, and that’s obviously why the working class got into punk rock in the late ‘70s and ‘80s,” said Wagner. “Hardcore bands were influenced by reggae because it meant something to them, socially.”
The Aggrolites go right to the source of the groove; they’re more than just an homage to lost island rhythms. Bands the world over still pull from these sounds, The Aggrolites serving as an influencer and guide to a whole new generation.
“Reggae changed my life, it changed everyone in the band’s life,” said Wagner. “[Having kids] walk away with that interest and wanting to listen to more, digging deep into old ska and rocksteady, that’s really cool.”
Partying and positivity remain central to the band’s message, one that’s come down to them from their most sacred influences. It’s not quite the politically charged subject matter of Jamaican groups, but rather that of reggae’s forefather, soul.
“Early reggae music was influenced by soul; if you listen to ’69-era or early ‘70s, a lot of that was just ‘I love you’ songs,” said Wagner. “You listen to American soul music, the words are just about feelin’ good, James Brown and so on.”
The Aggrolites see themselves as a gateway band into a proud but under-the-radar canon of Jamaican ska pioneers.
“There’s a lot out there man, there are a lot of old school artists, album after album of great performers and singers that never did it,” said Wagner. “In Kingston, guys were basically working for free in those days, not getting any publishing rights or anything. Probably not even realizing back then they’d get all the way over the world.”
And for the ones who did break through, The Aggrolites have only the utmost respect.
“One thing I love about the old stuff, The Skatalites especially, is that you can think about them as a ska band, but there’s jazz to it,” said Wagner.
“If you go to a jazz club and watch a jazz band of guys in their 60s and 70s, you’re going to see older people watching. But with the Skatalites, there’s some magic thing about their music, they’ve been around playing since 1964 and their crowd always stays young. I mean, how can you beat that?”