When The Aggrolites slowed down, didn’t record new albums and toured less often, their vocalist, Jesse Wagner, wasn’t bored at all. He traveled with Reggae Workers Of The World, performed occasionaly with Hepcat and participated in local projects. As if that wasn’t enough, in April he presented the Freedom Sounds Festival audience with his new, this time soul (!) side. I have been a fan of his vocals for a long time and I think Jesse is getting better and better with each of his projects. When I found out that Jesse Wagner & The Badasonics were a soul band, I expected nothing but the best. And I wasn’t dissapointed at all!
After the gig I talked a bit with Jesse, Nico (drummer of R.W.W. and The Badasonics and co-founder of Badasonic Records) and Brieuc (also co-founder of Badasonic Records). They told me about their label’s plans, mixing reggae with soul and about the new Aggrolites’ album, Reggae Now!, which was then about to be released.
Magdalena Miszewska: Since you played at Freedom Sounds Festival as Jesse Wagner & The Badasonics, I think we should start with The Badasonics, which is a band connected with Badasonic Records. Do you plan to work like they did in Jamaica back in the days that the studio had its own band?
Nico Leonard: Yeah, that’s totally the plan. We already did an album with a singer from Washington D.C., Caz Gardiner. And the next one is going to be with Jesse.
MM: And the album by Caz was the reason why Badasonic Records happend, right?
NL: Almost. We were looking for a label and we didn’t find one. So at the end we decided to found our own.
Brieuc Labiouse: Nico asked me: Are you interested in making a record label? And I said: Yeah, let’s do it! And that’s how it started. It’s that simple.
MM: What kind of bands would you like to put out?
NL: We want to have the label band Badasonics, recording with different singers, but we are open to other bands too. We already released Reggae Workers Of The World, The Slackers, Rocksteady Seven.
MM: OK, so coming back to Jesse singing with The Badasonics. Jesse, how did it happen that you started to sing with a soul band? Did you always want to try it?
Jesse Wagner: Yeah, my dad used to play in a Motown cover band. My uncle was in a soul band back in the 60s. They were all from Cleveland Ohio. A lot of the stuff that’s considered northern soul or what is called northern soul, a lot of those groups were not the Motown bands. So my uncle’s band back in the day is considered a northern soul group. I grew up around that stuff. Soul music is what got me into reggae and ska. I was listening to Motown and groups like that or labels like that, Motown, Stax, TSOP and so on. I kind of always grew up with the soul thing and having a band was always a dream. So I’m really happy that Brieuc and Nico put this whole idea together, because I’ve been talking to Nico for a long time about doing some kind of a solo record. We were always talking about doing more of a reggae thing. But when they started Badasonics, it was just perfect because it was a soul group. When I heard the Caz Gardiner record I thought it was amazing. So it was a jump right through when they invited me. I was like: I can’t say no to this [laughs].
MM: And you guys, are you going to keep some kind of a profile of Badasonic Records? Because I’ve read that the problem with Caz Gardiner’s album was that the soul labels didn’t want it because it was too reggae and the reggae labels didn’t want it because it was too soul. Is this soul and reggae mix a profile of Badasonic?
NL: Yeah, kind of, but we can do proper soul or proper reggae. But the idea is to mix.. [Jesse laughs]
JW: I always mess with him because he pronounces idea like ID [laughs]. That was correct Nico, very good [all laugh]. I need to learn French. That’s what I need to do.
MM: Then you could sing in French. But didn’t you sing in French already?
JW: Yeah, oui, oui. I did sing in French. How do you know, you saw it?
MM: I think I’ve heard it. It was with Reggae Workers Of The World.
JW: Yeah, we sang on the the Reggae Workers Of The World record. I learned “J’attendrai” [sings].
MM: Was it Nico’s idea?
JW: No, it was actually mine, believe it or not. I saw it on YouTube, years ago. It was a group out of New Orleans performing that song and I came to find out that it wasn’t just an old French song. Originally I think it was an Italian song and then Germany covered it. It’s just an old classic tune that all these different countries have done. The idea was to do our version. We go to Germany a lot, Italy a lot and France a lot. I said: Vic you do that Italian because you’re more Italian than I am. And I’ll do it in French, why not? [laughs] So that was that.
MM: Jesse Wagner & The Badasonics is another project of yours. You’ve got the Reggae Workers Of The World thing going on, The Aggrolites with the new album this year. How do you find time for all that?
JW: I don’t know. I just moved recently. Reggae Workers Of The World just did a whole tour, three weeks or so in March. And then I came home April for about three weeks, packed and moved and then came straight out here again. I haven’t even been in my new place really yet, to enjoy it. But I love it. It’s what I do. It’s with good people and everything. You find the time when you have good company.
MM: I have to ask of course about the new Aggrolites’ album. It’s really good to hear that you guys are finally putting it out.
JW: Yeah, it’s been eight years. Long time. We’re pretty excited ourselves. We’re pretty shocked that we were doing it. We were like: Woah, we’re actually making a record. We’ve talked so long about making one [laughs]. But we never did. It comes out on May 24th. The album’s called “Reggae now!” and we have a single out right now, “Pound For Pound”, that you can hear on the Internet.
MM: And that was the time that I was supposed to ask a question consisting of the words of the new song but I obviously forgot them. Do they go: “It has to be strong when you wait so long for the new Aggro..”?
MM: Is it going to be as strong as you say it is?
JW: I hope so. I believe in it. I think it’ll be that strong. If you wait that long it’s got to be strong [laugh]. Yeah it’s that strong.
MM: The new song sounds like oldschool Aggrolites, back to the roots. Is the whole album in that kind of vibe?
JW: Over the years bands kind of experiment and go a little bit out of the box sometimes. And I believe that on our last record which was called “IV”, we were really experimenting. We were trying to write in a different style, all reggae of course, but we were experimenting with different sounds and stuff like that. This time around, since it’s been so long, we were just like: You know what? We still play. We never broke up. And we know what the audience likes. Let’s make a record like this stuff that everybody already likes. “Dirty reggae” was, is probably our most popular album other than the self-titled, so it was like: Let’s take it back to those days. So me and Roger got together and wrote a bunch of songs. We’re the only two original members of the band that did “Dirty reggae” and the self-titled. And we got Jeff involved, who’s been a longtime Aggrolite and he’s been in the band longer than any other bass player we’ve ever had. It just worked. I think it’s taking that long break and relaxing for a little while and getting back to our normal lives. It was like: OK, now is the time. Everything just kind of came naturally. We recorded the record in a couple of days. It wasn’t like some big, long, drawn out thing. Took us longer to get it released than to record it. I think that’s funny because in “Pound For Pound” there is a lyric when I say: In 2002 we know what to do, in 2018 we’re still on the scene and it’s 2019 now [laughs]. We were done with the record in 2018, but I don’t think that’s too important.
MM: In Jamaican music the older the record is, the more money you have to pay for it. So your album is old enough to pay you more now.
JW: Exactly, yeah [laughs]. I don’t think we’re going to just jump back in the studio and change one word from 18 to 19. I don’t think it matters [laughs].
MM: And you plan to tour Europe with the new album.
JW: Yes, The Aggrolites will be out here in November. We’re just getting dates confirmed right now. I hope to go to Poland again. We were just discussing that together before the recording.
MM: You still remember the Warsaw show.
JW: I remember that being one of the one of the best shows. I was amazed that people knew who we were. Just to see how wild people in Poland could get for the reggae – it’s cool. That was a great experience.