The Aggrolites: tight 'dirty reggae' Thursday night; frontman talks time with Hellcat Records – Times-Standard Online

The Aggrolites: tight ‘dirty reggae’ Thursday night; frontman talks time with Hellcat Records

Myles Cochrane/Tri-City Weekly

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It’s hard to forget the first time one watches a band live after hearing, embracing and memorizing the lyrics to the group’s studio tracks. There’s a sense of personal connection, of raw power and of intrigue — new life is given to the music. Sometimes this first can be invigorating when a band sounds even better live than they do recorded! But often this experience can be slightly disappointing: Why are there pitch issues? What happened to that solo? The tempo is different on the album!

On Thursday night at HumBrews, the experience will represent the former — it’ll be invigorating. Mixing reggae, ska and soul with pure and utter power, The Aggrolites out of LA will have the crowd dancing and singing along to their “dirty reggae” while showcasing their proven-to-be-excellent live show.

”We always have a great time up north,” said Jesse Wagner, the four-piece’s vocalist and lead guitarist. “Humboldt is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to — I always like driving through the Avenue of the Giants. HumBrews is a good time, also.”

Their self-described “dirty reggae” dates back to 2000 when Wagner was playing in a ska band called SeeSpot. He and his bandmate, Brian Dixon, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to Las Vegas.

”This was literally last-minute,” he said. “Like leave at 10 p.m. and get to Vegas at 2 a.m., hang out ’till the sun comes up and drive back home last-minute. It was funny because I wasn’t 21 yet and Brian didn’t drink at the time — but we still had the time of our lives remaining sober in Sin City. Most of the fun we had was just the drive. Being wired on Redbull and coffee, we would go back and forth playing DJ all night while driving through the desert.”

The song “Banana” by The E.K. Bunch — a track The Aggrolites cover — was their song of choice at the time.

”We couldn’t get over the sound of it,” he said. “From the days we were in The Rhythm Doctors together we always shared a passion for skinhead reggae (a term used to describe old-school reggae, with no Nazi-esque connotations). At the time we touched on The Upsetters instrumental sound, but never really went full force with the anthem-like sing along Symarip sound — the boss sound. We were screaming along to the song all the way up the 15 freeway: ‘Banana, Banana!’ We were so excited about it.”

They were sold. They were inspired to start their own skinhead-reggae band with a unique twist — something they called “dirty banana reggae.”

”Partly joking at the time about calling it that, the ‘dirty’ part stuck,” Wagner said. “It’s just how people say Stax records sounded gritty. We thought that old UK skinhead reggae stuff sounded dirty.”

After getting The Aggrolites together, their approach was focused on recording songs in one take, and their anthem “dirty reggae” was no different.

”I just went in there and did the vocals on the spot,” Wagner said. “I started hooting and hollering random things. To this day I have no idea what I am singing other than the chanting of ‘dirty reggae.’ And that was going to become our anthem. Like how Symarip had ‘skinhead moonstomp,’ The Aggrolites were going to have ‘dirty reggae’.”

What started as a few local gigs turned into weekend show-stretches and finally international tours. After releasing their debut LP, 2003’s “Dirty Reggae,” the band eve
ntually caught the attention of Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong — who co-owns Hellcat Records. That relationship spawned a three-record deal and the beginning of a great friendship.

”Tim is one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with,” Wagner said. “He’s a fan of reggae and it’s hard not to vibe with a guy as cool as Tim. Good taste in music, very talented and most importantly he is extremely humble. We always felt Hellcat was the perfect fit for our band and Tim got us through that door. He is definitely a major person to thank for exposing the Aggro sound to the world.”

The band’s relationship with Armstrong also lead to them working as the band for his debut solo LP, 2007’s “A Poet’s Life.”

”Every moment was a blast and I mostly loved the freedom Tim gave us,” Wagner said. “I remember I asked him when we first set up what he wanted us to do — and he said ‘make it dirty reggae.’ He had our back and trusted us from the get-go. I’ve been involved in backing band stuff in the past and sometimes it’s just do what you’re told and stay in the box, which is fine cause that’s usually the name of the game. He made us all feel like we were equal. I believe Tim is an extremely talented producer and recommend any musician to work with him if they get the opportunity.”

After their deal with Hellcat ended, The Aggrolites embraced a new opportunity to press vinyl 45s, something they’ve been able to do with Young Cub Records. Young Cub also gave them the opportunity to work in an all-analog studio in Boston with Craig “Dub Fader” Welsch on their vinyl/CD/digital EP “Rugged Road.”

”Hellcat was awesome — we still love the Hellcat family and always will,” Wagner said. “They were very good to us. (But) we always knew how crucial it was for us to release 45s, especially being an early reggae-soul-influenced band. Young Cub offered that to us and it was a great experience working with them.”

The Aggrolites have been touring the world strong this past year, working hard and meeting great people along the way. Wagner was thrilled to meet Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin (who’s played with Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Prince Buster and more) in Australia.

”He’s been my favorite guitarist along with Lynn Taitt since I got into Jamaican music,” he said.

Looking forward to getting back into the studio, The Aggrolites should be putting out a new full-length album this summer or fall.

”We’ve been demoing a lot the last few months,” Wagner said. “We had a break from December to March so there has been time to put a lot of material together and get creative. So far we have a good selection of songs, rhythms and ideas to work with and throw on the next album. We did a lot of touring in 2011, so the band definitely has its chops up.”

Folks interested in hearing the band prove themselves live before they go to the show in Arcata can check out some great live tunes for free at and As mentioned before, the stuff is powerful and invigorating — be sure to check ’em out.

Advance tickets to the HumBrews show can be found online at An incredible reggae-rock trio out of San Diego, the Mike Pinto Band, will warm up the crowd.

”We’ve gig’ed with them before — nice guys,” Wagner said. “Looking forward to hanging with them.”

Music lovers should plan for an all-out reggae-tinged party on Thursday night at HumBrews. The doors will open at about 9 p.m.

”Put on your dancing shoes people!” Wagner said.

If you go

What: The Aggrolites, Mike Pinto Band

When: 9 p.m. Thursday

Where: Humboldt Brews, 856 10th St., Arcata

Admission: $15, 21+