For the past decade, SoCal Dirty Reggae outfit, The Aggrolites, have been channeling the sounds of 1960’s & early 1970’s Jamaican ska and rocksteady music. The band originally formed as back-up group for reggae icon Derrick Morgan. After touring with Morgan, plans were made to record an album, but, unfortunately those plans never came to fruition. The band however, inspired by their preliminary recording & rehearsal sessions, decided to venture on as the Aggrolites.
The band’s latest release, Rugged Road, is an exceptional homage to the signature sounds of the legendary Studio One with a few shots here and there of British skinhead and SoCal swagger thrown in the mix for good currency. Organist Roger Rivas was kind enough to get in touch with The Pier & answer a few of our burning questions about Rugged Road and the band that’s making traditional ska music sound as fresh and current (& fun!) as any garage band of teenagers learning strike their first power chords.
The Pier: What is it about 1960’s Jamaican Ska music that you find so inspiring?
Roger:Before we were even in the band we all listened to it individually. Everyone’s got their own little story on how they got into Jamaician music, but I think that’s one of the reasons we’re in the band together – we share that common ground. It’s like anything. You find a group of people that are into one thing and you kind of bond in that aspect. We’re not trying to play something that we don’t listen to outside of the band.
There’s no definite answer on why we choose to make music or listen to it outside of the band. It’s just really dope music. It’s like a bug. It gets you and slowly you turn into it.
The Pier: From what I understand you recorded in this album using very technologically limited means – recording direct to reel-to-reel tape as a full band. How do you find this compared to modern studio techniques?
Roger: It helps especially for the kind of music we’re doing. If we were doing really modern stuff, it makes sense to overdub a thousand times in pro tools or whatever so you can get it super perfect. But the kind of roots music we’re doing, that’s how they recorded it. All together, limited overdubs. It helps out, especially when you’re trying to groove with each other. It’s easier to groove with everybody in a room, as opposed to trying to groove to just a pair of headphones that people might have recorded a week ago and you’re trying to capture that same magic. You can really vibe over each other.
The Pier: On most of your music, everything sounds very tight, almost like the music is a jigsaw puzzle into which all the various instruments fit together. How do you guys approach the writing process?
Roger: It’s a collective effort. There really isn’t one person. It’s really everyone in the group will come together, one person will have an idea and when we all get together ideas will start getting tweaked and changed. We all vamp off it and I think that reaches its full potential when you have everybody putting in their two cents. Everyone kind of pulls their weight and shares in the writing process.
The Pier: Has your sound changed along with your relationship with each other as bandmates changed over the years?
Roger: For sure. I think with any band, any genre, over time people as friends will change. Musical tastes will change. It’s inevitable just based on time. With us, looking back from the first album to where we’re at now there’s a definite change. People have grown in certain directions and what not and that’s affected the music – for better or for worse is up to preference.
As far as our sound, we try to stay true to what we’ve always been doing, what we call “dirty reggae.” We try to stick to that equation. It might have been tweaked or changed a little bit over the years, but we like to think that there is still that “dirty reggae” feel to most of our albums.
The Pier: Would you mind cluing us to the meaning behind the album title – ‘Rugged Road”
Roger: The studio we recorded in was on a street called Rug Road. We were kind of just kicking in around ideas and it just became ‘Rugged.” It’s a pretty simple answer, not anything that’s deep or super thought out. It’s just a cool name that rolls off the tongue.
The Pier: Would you please elaborate on Craig Fader’s role in all this?
Roger: We’ve always done our albums with the idea that we want produce it ourselves. It’s very rare to meet people that understand what you’re going for, especially what we’re going for. He did an outstanding job. We had worked with him before. He does sound for Slightly Stoopid and we met him on the Slightly Stoopid tour.
That guy, he knows his music, he knows his reggae. He helped out the music a lot I would say. More than I would ever assume that any guy could come in and have valuable words for it. The input he had on certain tracks, just the ‘try this, try that” was definitely for the better. We want to work with him in the future as well.
Interview by: Chris Castro
Here is the official music video to the song Complicated Girl from the new album Rugged Road.
The album is now available for digital purchase on iTunes!