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The Amalgamated: ska, stability, sobriety

“We recorded during a monsoon and a freak tornado that hit Ramona”

The Amalgamated: weathering the storm, dialing in the sound.
The Amalgamated: weathering the storm, dialing in the sound.

Some bands can count their lineup shifts on one finger, like ZZ Top or R.E.M. (one each). Then there’s San Diego skamaniacs The Amalgamated. “About ten years ago,” explains guitarist/singer Reggie Costa, “I made a list of every horn player, bass player, drummer, etc., that has played in our band, and it was over 100 players. I am the only original member left. I must be difficult to be in a band with.”

But, he adds, “in the last five years, we have had very few lineup changes. The band now is more stable and better than ever.” This stabilized roster is also fully integrated, both racially and gender-wise. Costa is a San Diego native who grew up in Ramona before moving near UCSD, then to La Mesa, and settling finally in Lemon Grove. He names his formative musical influences as “Chuck Berry’s album The Great Twenty-Eight, Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell, Sublime’s Sublime, No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, and The Aggrolites’ The Aggrolites. [Also] MTV when they played music videos. Green Day had the best videos.”

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The band was founded in 2007, after five members of the Hi-Lites — an eight-piece ska band — left that group due to a falling out with bassist James Trent, who also wrote the band’s original tunes. As Costa recalls, “We formed when the Hi-Lites broke up. There was a big parking lot fight, and half of the band quit. We got some players to fill out the new group from other bands that we knew. We thought of this as an Amalgamation. There was also a record label in Jamaica called Amalgamated Records. We ultimately decided on ‘The Amalgamated,’ because we figured it would be hard to spell and impossible to remember.”

Costa says he always wanted to play ska, but the band stayed instrumental for its first two years. According to Costa, the group was trying ”to be as much like The Skatalites as we could.” Then, circa 2009, fate brought singer Raphael “Rip” Peña a-calling. “I was in a band called The Scotch Bonnets,” says Peña, “which went on to become The Night Doctors. The band was just getting started and had a bunch of shows booked. Right afterward, I went on a bender that ended up with me checking myself into rehab. I felt really bad that I let down the guys, but it was the best decision I could have made. I have remained friends with The Night Doctors and we have played lots of shows with them over the years. I’ve been sober for fourteen years now, playing with The Amalgamated for the last thirteen years. Lots of the songs I write are about overcoming adversity and going through heartaches.”

The Amalgamated cut their new album, True Tone, at Ramona’s After Hours Studios — owned and operated by Jon Hasz — in the back of the Ramona Music Center shop. Hasz, who also recorded the band’s first two releases, was assisted on this one by Brian “Dub Robot” Wallace. “We recorded the album in August 2021,” says Peña, “during a monsoon and a freak tornado that hit Ramona. It was a tiny one, but it still counts.”

According to Peña, “For this album, we really wanted to push ourselves. We wanted to add some elements of reggae and dial in our sound. Reggie [Costa] and I admire Brian Wallace’s work with See Spot — The Robbery is one of the best ska albums ever produced — and the Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra. Brian was also the saxophone player on Sublime’s 40oz. to Freedom. Jon and Brian are actually friends, and Jon stayed to help us get all the equipment ready.”

Peña says his favorite selection from the new set is called “Can’t Hold You Down.” It’s “about a boxer; it’s a groovy reggae tune. One of the major themes in rocksteady and reggae during the 1960s was boxing, so this tune pays homage to that.” Another new tune, “You Don’t Have To Do It,” isn’t quite so cheerful. Peña set that one down “after my friend that I got sober with killed himself. It was tragic. The dude just couldn’t stay stopped. He was Native American and a really gifted artist. It hit me hard, so I wrote a song about being there for your friends and choosing to ask for help instead of suffering alone.”

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The Amalgamated: weathering the storm, dialing in the sound.
The Amalgamated: weathering the storm, dialing in the sound.

Some bands can count their lineup shifts on one finger, like ZZ Top or R.E.M. (one each). Then there’s San Diego skamaniacs The Amalgamated. “About ten years ago,” explains guitarist/singer Reggie Costa, “I made a list of every horn player, bass player, drummer, etc., that has played in our band, and it was over 100 players. I am the only original member left. I must be difficult to be in a band with.”

But, he adds, “in the last five years, we have had very few lineup changes. The band now is more stable and better than ever.” This stabilized roster is also fully integrated, both racially and gender-wise. Costa is a San Diego native who grew up in Ramona before moving near UCSD, then to La Mesa, and settling finally in Lemon Grove. He names his formative musical influences as “Chuck Berry’s album The Great Twenty-Eight, Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell, Sublime’s Sublime, No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, and The Aggrolites’ The Aggrolites. [Also] MTV when they played music videos. Green Day had the best videos.”

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The band was founded in 2007, after five members of the Hi-Lites — an eight-piece ska band — left that group due to a falling out with bassist James Trent, who also wrote the band’s original tunes. As Costa recalls, “We formed when the Hi-Lites broke up. There was a big parking lot fight, and half of the band quit. We got some players to fill out the new group from other bands that we knew. We thought of this as an Amalgamation. There was also a record label in Jamaica called Amalgamated Records. We ultimately decided on ‘The Amalgamated,’ because we figured it would be hard to spell and impossible to remember.”

Costa says he always wanted to play ska, but the band stayed instrumental for its first two years. According to Costa, the group was trying ”to be as much like The Skatalites as we could.” Then, circa 2009, fate brought singer Raphael “Rip” Peña a-calling. “I was in a band called The Scotch Bonnets,” says Peña, “which went on to become The Night Doctors. The band was just getting started and had a bunch of shows booked. Right afterward, I went on a bender that ended up with me checking myself into rehab. I felt really bad that I let down the guys, but it was the best decision I could have made. I have remained friends with The Night Doctors and we have played lots of shows with them over the years. I’ve been sober for fourteen years now, playing with The Amalgamated for the last thirteen years. Lots of the songs I write are about overcoming adversity and going through heartaches.”

The Amalgamated cut their new album, True Tone, at Ramona’s After Hours Studios — owned and operated by Jon Hasz — in the back of the Ramona Music Center shop. Hasz, who also recorded the band’s first two releases, was assisted on this one by Brian “Dub Robot” Wallace. “We recorded the album in August 2021,” says Peña, “during a monsoon and a freak tornado that hit Ramona. It was a tiny one, but it still counts.”

According to Peña, “For this album, we really wanted to push ourselves. We wanted to add some elements of reggae and dial in our sound. Reggie [Costa] and I admire Brian Wallace’s work with See Spot — The Robbery is one of the best ska albums ever produced — and the Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra. Brian was also the saxophone player on Sublime’s 40oz. to Freedom. Jon and Brian are actually friends, and Jon stayed to help us get all the equipment ready.”

Peña says his favorite selection from the new set is called “Can’t Hold You Down.” It’s “about a boxer; it’s a groovy reggae tune. One of the major themes in rocksteady and reggae during the 1960s was boxing, so this tune pays homage to that.” Another new tune, “You Don’t Have To Do It,” isn’t quite so cheerful. Peña set that one down “after my friend that I got sober with killed himself. It was tragic. The dude just couldn’t stay stopped. He was Native American and a really gifted artist. It hit me hard, so I wrote a song about being there for your friends and choosing to ask for help instead of suffering alone.”

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