Agnostic Front

author PP date 23/07/11

As I step down to the murky realm of The Rock a few hours before doors opening, I find the iconic Agnostic Front leader and vocalist Roger Miret sitting casually by the bar with a laptop, interacting with fans on their official Facebook page, posting an update of what's happening on tour. He is joined by an equally legendary New York Hardcore figure, Vinnie Stigma, who is sipping his drink slowly while taking the lead in the interview while Roger finishes up. So we spend the next 20 minutes or so talking about Agnostic Front, interrupted occasionally by an all-too-loud sound check, and by the time we finish I have a much better idea of why these guys are considered to be living legends. Straight after the interview, the guys start convincing me to take a look at their merch and maybe pick up a shirt, a hoodie or something later on when the show begins, underlining the sort of trouble even medium-sized bands like AF are in financially these days. Keep that in mind next time you download a record and won't buy merch or attend a show. What's new in Agnostic Front?
(Vinnie) Stigma: Well, we just released our tenth studio album "My Life My Way". Now we're just here, supporting the record. The shows have been really great, and people seem to be responding really good to the new stuff. It's just been great, the whole tour has been awesome. We've been out for two weeks, we've got three more weeks left. Just looking forward to just keep going and doing it, you know? Like you mentioned, you have a new album out, "My Life My Way", what do you think about it?
Roger: It's been about four months. I think it's our best record. I feel like it's our best record. We actually play a good six, maybe seven songs off it live now. So we're pushing it, and people seem to be enjoying. It feels good, it feels refreshing to us. We put out a new record, and after you tour, a past record starts to get stale, so it feels current and good again. You guys are pioneers and creators of the New York Hardcore scene. If we go all the way back to when it all started. How would you say that the New York Hardcore scene itself began?
Roger: It began with me [laughs]. No I mean, it's some kind of a little outbreak of the original New York punk scene, of course, the direct roots from the punk scene. It was just a youth cry for something different, a change, you know what I mean? We needed something different. Back then the motto was, it was very punk rock and very artsy, "this world sucks, kill yourself, fuck this, fuck that", we wanted to bring something a little bit more positive like "yeah the world sucks, but there are things that we can make a difference that maybe will create a change", kind of bringing a little bit more of a positive attitude to the act that time, the self-destructive scene. So we as young kids gathered, just came naturally together and created something, not knowing that we were doing it, a subculture of a punk culture, and birthed New York Hardcore. How much influence do you think that the venues like CBGB's...
Roger: CBs definitely had an influence on New York Hardcore, but CBs was the Sunday matinée, where more the bridge and tunnel, more the people from all over that suburbs of New York were coming for a show. But the most the most direct club that had a lot of involvement with this thing was the A7 Club, where every night there was something. But CBs takes most of the credit because it outlived these clubs, you know? AF has been very influential to a lot of bands and the hardcore scene in general. But from your own standpoint, what kind of influence do you feel you guys have had, not just on hardcore but the music scene as a whole?
Roger: I think we are definitely major players as for influences. We brought New York Hardcore to the map, our album "Victim In Pain" was the first album to set New York Hardcore. So we've gotten a lot of respect for us. People do acknowledge us and give us full credit for that, which is really cool. We pioneered this genre of music, not knowing what we were doing, we were just kids. And like you we saying before, about how the music changes...Agnostic Front have always been leaders not followers. We've always pioneered a certain type, from hardcore to the thrashier stuff, to the new school. We've always been on top of the edge and everything, pioneering it. And then other bands have been following. We always recycle ourselves, so our sound is basically our own influence on us by ourselves, pretty much. We've been one of those bands that...we're really not followers. We like to step it up, and when something starts to be dull or everybody starts to sound alike, we like to change it up. We'll throw a curveball. You know how many records three years in a row are going to be very similar from all the different bands doing the same thing, so we'll throw a curveball, we'll throw maybe a throwback to our earliest style, just to change it up, just for the listeners to clear the mind and feel something fresh again, even though it's not brand new, but it's refreshing after the same chugga-chugga-chugga. I mean how many chugga-chugga's can you deal with? Then all of a sudden now here's a really cool melodic anthemic song, you know? Like you mentioned you guys have played a number of different styles over the years. Sometimes hardcore punk, sometimes pure New York Hardcore, sometimes even like tough guy hardcore similar to Hatebreed and stuff. Then you've done crossover and a bit of metal. What would you say is your favorite style of these to play, perform and write?
Roger: Truly whatever we're in the mood for. Like I said, we get tired of certain things. A lot of the stuff is what the engineers do behind the studio, because if you listen to our set as a whole, it kind of sounds similar, but if you listen to a record, and it sounds so different, and that's because the engineering and the production is really different. But we've always live band, so Agnostic Front is a band you have to come and see live. Even our live records show it, any of our two or three live records, they're all from CBGB's. They'll show you that we're definitely a live band, and all the songs just kind of join each other. But as for record-wise, they could start different because of the production and the time, you know? Last year I walked by your show at the Groezrock Festival in Belgium, and it looked really insane. How was that show?
Roger: It was great, and rumour has it that we're gonna be there next year. Which one, in your opinion, is the best Agnostic Front album, if we exclude the new one?
Roger: Well, I don't want you to exclude the new one, because in my opinion, the new one is the best one. The new one is a very mature record for Agnostic Front, it takes all nine of our previous albums, this is our tenth album it is a very special album, puts it together. It's very mature in a way, it just takes hints of almost every single record, and it composes into one album, which is really cool. Like I said, a total recycle of ourselves and our sounds. To me, it's my favorite.

Stigma: It takes you through a whole journey of our career.

Roger: Yeah, it really does. Of course I love "Victim In Pain", our first album, I just about love them all. But the new one is very special for me because it is a journey of our career. Right. So would you say then that's the album that some random guy who wanted to check out Agnostic Front records, would you say that's he should check out that one first?

Roger: I would say so, because it has a little bit of everything. It is a true representation of Agnostic Front current today, and what we really do. It has a little bit of variety for everyone. Then I would also suggest to visit our website, our main page, our Facebook page, and look at all our videos and get an idea, and come out and sing, you know? Back in the old days, you took Freddie from Madball on stage for the first time with Agnostic Front, and that's how Madball got started. What was the idea in the first place to bring a little kid into a hardcore to sing?
Roger: It was just family. It's always been family. We didn't have an idea to make a band or anything like that. It was just like he was my little brother, and he was one of the only three single digit hardcore kids. It was him, it was little Chris, and pretty much Harley, those were the single digits, under the age of ten. These were kids that were very young involved with the scene that are still kind of major players in the scene. And it was just my little brother, and he would come with me, stay with me, and of course this is my life, and this is what I was doing, so I'm not gonna leave him alone in the basement of a New York City apartment. So he had to come with me, so at all hours he was just excited, seven years old. We used to sneak him into CBGBs in a drum case, the kick drum case, because he wasn't allowed, and then we'd just burst him out to do his songs, and then lady Karen(?) will be yelling at us [imitates angry old lady voice] "where is he? I know he's in here!", and we'd be hiding him you know? He was really underage and not allowed, and even with the A7 club, those shows didn't start til 2 or 3 in the morning, and my Freddie was there. This is how we lived, there wasn't any other way. How do you think that the music industry has changed over the years? You've obviously watched the change from the 80s to today.
Vinnie: From 8-tracks to iPods [laughs]

Roger: Just technology in the last 30 years, wow. It has shot out. Thirty years ago we had no cellphones. I mean, twenty years ago we had no cellphones. Do I need to go any further? Once the digital wave and all that came in, it just brought it to a whole different level. I remember us signing our contract and it was set for the universe, and I was like "what the fuck, this is ridiculous, the universe?" and I was laughing about it. What, are Martians gonna hear our shit? But the record industry was ahead of the game. They knew there was eventually gonna be something going on with satellites, so you sign off all your rights to the universe and the world. Anything over any satellite level belongs to them. The industry itself has taken a hit, we all know this. It's great to have labels stand behind bands. Nuclear Blast have been a wonderful label, they stand behind us, they do their job in helping promotion and getting the record out. We do our job as a band to come out and represent ourselves. It's a clear understanding, we don't expect too much from them. We know what to expect from each other. We have a good working relationship, we're not asking for miracles, and that's why it works. When you're in a band and you think everything's gonna get thrown at you right off the bat, then it's not gonna work. Do you think that the internet has helped Agnostic Front?

Roger: I'm sure it has. Come on, it has helped just about every band. Look, I'm on Agnostic Front Facebook right now [points at his laptop], we have 168,000 friends. So yeah it helps. It really does help spreading the word. It has its pros and it has its cons. I like to look at the pros more than the cons. The cons, everybody's just downloading the music and they don't realize how much damage they are doing on the backend of ours. We know this, so we're very mature about it overall. We know that the only way we're gonna get from this city to the next city and the next city after that is gonna be with our t-shirt sales and our performance. We put our heart into it, and we try to perform our best, and we try to bring out really great merch to the kids who love it, and to help us get from A to B. Other than that, we know what's going on. I've always said that our music is a music that everyone should have by all means necessary. If you're gonna buy it, we'd prefer it of course, it's cool you get the package and everything. If you're gonna steal it, that's cool too. As long as you get it. It's a message.

Stigma: As long as they come to the show and be involved, and give back. You gotta give back.

Roger: It's not all just take take take, it's about giving back. That relationship is very important. What's the difference between the kids today compared to the ones in the 80s or even early 90s?

Roger: There's a huge difference. FIrst of all, today's awesome, today is great. We don't live on our past. Our past is our past. A great show in 1981-82 was 20 people, 30 people, our friends, you know? So we're very appreciative that people do come out and we're very appreciative that our music has become a world-wide thing. And we can come here. If you would've told me 25-30 years ago that I was gonna be here in Copenhagen, I probably would've laughed in your face. "Our music is horrible, who the hell is going to listen to this shit", you know, but here I am. So we're very see, this is the type of people we are. We're very genuine people, we I said, give and take. We're very generous and very respectful of people who have given for our dreams to come true, to come alive, this is awesome. As for that, today's crowd is awesome. They're just as eager as when we were kids. There's one big element that's very different, and it's kind of missed, it's the element of danger. It's that element of danger that gave that mystique to our music and a lot of music, even the punk movement in the beginning. That is now a little bit safer. But in a way, I'm kind of excited, I've seen a lot of people get hurt, a lot of people die, a lot of people pass. There are some people I look at sometimes and I'm like "these people would have never survived in the 80s", but I'm glad. I'm also a father, I don't like to see people get hurt. So I'm glad that people come out and have a good time, honestly, that's what it comes down to. How many more albums do you think Agnostic Front has in them?
Roger: Well, according to our record label, an email we got from Marcus, the owner of Nuclear Blast, he's gonna do every one of our records until we die. Those were his words. 'Till we die, every goddamn record. I'll show you the email if you wanna see it, it's pretty incredible to have a label and a guy that runs a label to say something like that, saying I love you guys, I wanna do every one until we die. So I guess we have ways to go! So you guys haven't even thought about maybe stopping, given that you have families now and you tour so much?

Roger: Of course that's always a thought, and we tour kind of with that thought. This is the first time in five years that I'm doing five weeks. I have two little kids at home, but I stuck it out this time. I have my wife and two kids at home, it's kind of hard. But the internet has helped so much. I see them every day, so I feel like I could do this a little bit more. We tour differently, we don't tour like we used to, nine months in a row. We tour a little bit scattered, because we need to go back to our families. But going back to your question, I'm a little off track, the truth that matters is that as long as there's a demand for Agnostic Front, Agnostic Front will be there in your city, in your state, in your town, in your country. Even when we're gone, our legacy, our music will live for many many years. Somebody, in a hundred years from now, in a bottle will find the lyrics to "Victim In Pain" or the record itself plays, and feel the same way as I felt a hundred years ago, you know? We speak about true stuff, oppression, overcoming oppression. We speak about things that matter in this world and mean something. And as long as people have feelings and have a heart, and have some kind of a struggle or a pain to overcome, Agnostic Front will be there forever and ever. Now and forever.

[to Stigma] You like my interview? See I'm showing him how to do really good interviews. Vinnie Stigma will be here trying to tell you about his tattoo shop, New York Hardcore tattoos, 127 Stanton Street, then he'll wanna tell you about his band, Stigma, and then because he did that, and he'll feel bad he did that, he'll throw my band, Roger Miret & The Disasters. What am I missing? Oh, his movie, Stigma movie. I got them all for you Stigma, you happy? Okay, now go ahead! [laughs] Thank you very much, I was gonna ask if you have anything more to add but I suppose...

Roger: I did it all! That's what you're missing, that's gonna be in every interview he does.

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