Thursday, April 23, 2015

FEATURE - Beyond the Beasts: Bill Ward Moves On



Photo by Joel Gausten

If you're a fan of Black Sabbath, there is a very strong chance you've been paying close attention to the Internet over the last few days.

In postings found elsewhere on the Web, drummer Bill Ward and singer Ozzy Osbourne engaged in a very public war of words over events that transpired during and after the ill-fated reunion of the original members of Sabbath in 2011/2012. Unfortunately, the dark clouds generated by the situation have obscured some of the very positive news surrounding not only Ward's health, but his long-awaited return to music.

We're talking two bands and two albums here, folks. But before getting into all of that, let's back things up a couple of weeks.

As many diehard Bill Ward fans already know, Ward made other headlines late last month when he made a special guest appearance at the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp “Masters of Metal” event at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Boasting the involvement of other heavyweights like Michael Schenker (UFO/MSG/Scorpions) and Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), “Masters of Metal” allowed “fantasy campers” to jam with and learn from some of their musical heroes. Instead of showing up and immediately rocking out in Metal glory, Ward decided to give the campers an intriguing history lesson.

I didn't want to do any Sabbath music,” he says. “Normally, when an artist shows up, they play things that they're most famous for or things like that... Instead, I wanted to do things that were influential to me before Black Sabbath. That's an important part of music as well, obviously. We decided to do some regular standard things, some Blues things. We did some Hendrix, Cream... For the drummers there, I wanted to do simple Bo Diddley rhythms, “Not Fade Away” probably being the most famous of them all. I wanted to focus on what things would be nice for drummers to play. We included a Blues song called 'Im Going Down,' which is basically four-on-the-floor... I had two youngsters playing with me; one of them was 10. He played unbelievably good. He was absolutely brilliant!”

Ward was especially blown away by the high level of enthusiasm and skill evident among the various campers who took part in the festivities.

I think the youngest guys were like six, maybe seven years old, and then we had guys about the same age as me!” he adds. “Everybody could rock; everybody was really nice and just so ambitious and so happy to be there. [My time there] was a very high-energy, well-meaning four/five-hour ecstasy of fun. For me, it was very enjoyable.”

Of course, Ward's participation in Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp signified his long-awaited public return to the drums. Mere days after having a shoulder operation in early October 2013, he suffered a perforated diverticulitis and underwent emergency surgery. The illness stopped Ward in his tracks for months.

When I got sick, that took center stage, so my shoulder was almost abandoned by everybody; they said, 'We're going to have to go back to the shoulder,'” he recalls. “Normally, after you have an operation on your rotator cuff – which is not uncommon for drummers who slam – it's usually two or three days of rest, and then you start to work and exercise it and you get back into shape. I've done this before; it's happened before and I worked throught it. As long as you do all the exercises, that's that. But I arrived back in the land of the living back in February of 2014 with a frozen shoulder.”

Fortunately, this setback didn’t derail the timekeeper for very long.

My [current] activity levels are very high; they have to be,” offers Ward, who says that he's now drumming four to six hours a day. “Because I did have something of a busted-up wing, if you like, I've really worked hard on that. But I'm playing at full capacity. By May of last year, I was definitely in shape to be able to play for sustaining amounts of time.”

Ward's time behind the kit these days is divided between his long-running Bill Ward Band (BWB) and a second, yet-to-be announced project (currently a trio) with guitarist Joe Amodea (who is the six-stringer featured in the much-discussed Instagram video made public last week). BWB is the group behind the soon-to-be-released Accountable Beasts, Ward's first solo album in 18 years. In addition to longtime BWB members Keith Lynch (guitar, keyboards), Paul Ill (bass) and Ronnie Ciago (drums), the album will feature contributions by drummer Walter Earl and an array of session singers including Ward's daughter, Emily. Ward's drumming will be heard on seven of the album's nine tracks.

Those familiar with Ward's 1990 solo debut Ward One: Along The Way and 1997's When The Bough Breaks know that the music released under his own steam (and often featuring his lead vocals) is usually a reflection of his softer, more soulful side. How does Accountable Beasts compare to these two previous releases?

It's much tougher; it kicks harder,” he reveals. “Most of the stuff is pretty heavy on it. It's very current lyrically. I don't intend to be current with anything; I just write the music and allow it to just be whatever it is. But when I listened to it in hindsight - we did the final mastering on January 6 of this year - I thought, 'Oh my God! A lot of the stuff we're writing about is on TV every day. Most of [the album] is about religion; most of it's about war. It's the stuff that makes the world turn 'round every day. It's about people's souls being ripped to pieces. I guess it could be called morbid, but at the same time I'm also hoping it can be called energizing and respectful lyrically. I've worked really hard on trying to produce something that would mean something to the listener who's drawn in by the music.

We got pretty crazy on this one,” he adds. “We just played; it was like, 'Fuck everything.' I wanted to go back to a place that I really know well, and that's playing hard.”

Accountable Beasts' life began around 2008, when Ward sought a creative way to take a breather from Beyond Aston, the solo album he has worked on in bits and pieces since the late '90s.

I tried to do something really stupid,” he recalls. “I tried to go, 'You know what? Let's keep [Beyond Aston] on hold and let's just put out something quick now.' It had been a while, and I thought, 'This is taking a long time; let's just do a quick album.'

Songs were written, plans were set...and then the realities of life took over.

I don't always have a huge budget to do these things, so we do it piecemeal,” Ward explains. “What I thought was going to be a relatively quick album [to] just get it out there to the public turned out to be nothing like that... I spent a year with Black Sabbath in 2011; I spent half of 2012 waiting to see what Black Sabbath might want to do in case they changed their minds. I re-kickstarted the finalization of Accountable Beasts in May of 2013. It took another while to get the final mixes – and of course it didn't help with me getting sick. I lost about five months.”

Heath and issues within Sabbath weren't the only roadblocks, as Ward also had to confront the challenges of ever-evolving technology.

While we're going through this process of trying to make music, times change - but so do electronics, hard drives [and] digital inputs,” he observes. “We [were] looking around and going, 'Oh my God! A lot of the things we started out with are all obsolete!' One of the biggest things I realized is that most people listen to music on earbuds. I was still laboring under the impression that people were going to be listening to this thing on speakers! It dawned on me that we would have to change all the mixes to an earbud mix. In the fall of 2014, I earbud-mixed every single track on Accountable Beasts; we went through everything again until we go it working in the earbud so it will hopefully sound good to the listener from an earbud point of view. I picked up some earbuds for about $25, and we did the entire album on $25 earbuds... That 'quick album' turned out to be an excursion for, what, six years?”

The self-released Accountable Beasts is expected to arrive on iTunes (complete with an extensive digital booklet) within the next couple of months.* Physical copies will also be made available.

Once Accountable Beasts is in the world, Ward will devote time to concluding Beyond Aston. He plans to be in final mixing mode by this September to finish things off. (One confirmed track, “Poppies,” is an emotional anti-war number inspired by the tradition of wearing a poppy on November 11 in honor of those who perished in battle.) Not surprisingly, Ward couldn't be more excited to reach this point with Beyond Aston after so many years.

It's fucking great; it's beautiful, man,” he says of the album. “I hope other people will like it. I think it's one of the best things I've participated in since Master Of Reality.”

The impending arrival of Accountable Beasts and Beyond Aston not only represents the final step in a years-long journey for Ward, but also serves as a reminder of the talents and contributions of his longtime cohorts. Keith Lynch has been a major part of Ward's solo endeavors since before Ward One: Along The Way, while Ill and Ciago have been part of the team for nearly two decades. Clearly, Ward has found a special combination of musicians that works.

The biggest and most important thing is they let me be who I am,” he explains. “I'm all over the place; every time I get up in the morning, I don't know if I'm going to be writing a song or not writing a song. Usually, I'll write something every day or come up with ideas all the time - 24/7 - and they let me be who I am. They let me go to wherever I've gotta go. They know that I'll come to them when I've got something in a rough working format, and then I'll ask them to see what they can do and explode on or where they want to go with [it]. They're very patient, which I think is the most important thing in the Bill Ward Band. They're all good musicians; there's a lot of ebb and flow. They allow me to be me. I need to have that; I need to be able to have the room to say, 'No, let's go here' and try different things all the time.”

Music isn't the only way that Ward has expressed himself in recent times. As previously discussed on this site, Ward unveiled his special fine art series, Absence of Corners, in the summer of 2013. Boasting 15 fine art pieces and billed as “a collection of rhythm on canvas,” Absence of Corners was created by Ward in collaboration with the Los Angeles-based visual art team SceneFour. As described on the project’s extensive (and aesthetically amazing) website (www.billwarddrumart.com), Ward “utilized a sophisticated formula to create the collection’s visuals, using an array of drumsticks and rhythmic accessories that produce light, much like a painter utilizing brushes and oils. The movements featured within the captured rhythms are then studied and developed into abstract artwork that showcases a dimension not normally seen by the human eye.” Each numbered piece in the collection comes signed by the man himself.

In May 2014, Ward appeared at the Annapolis Collection Gallery in Annapolis, MD for a special two-day event that included public discussions of his art, private VIP receptions for buyers and (on the first night) a celebration of his 66th birthday complete with a vegan cake. In addition to providing an opportunity for Ward to showcase and discuss his various art pieces, the Maryland events offered the drummer a chance to connect with several fans and admirers in an intimate setting.

Meeting everybody, sitting down with everybody, holding hands, hugging each other and doing all of that communication was such an honorable thing to do and be a part of,” he says. “For me, it was just like man... I was on fucking fire, you know? It don't get no better than that, when you're meeting everybody that you love, and you know that they love you.”

Although the Maryland jaunt was ultimately a joyous occasion for Ward, he admits that the experience did come with some ups and downs.

When we did Absence of Corners [and] when we were in Annapolis, I was still in a lot of grief,” he shares. “First of all, I was grieving the loss of one of my best friends; that was Ozzy Osbourne. I missed him so much; it was just devastating to me. When I did the presentations of the paintings, there were some things that I was describing about some of [them]... and I know I was crying. I was still very much attached to all of the things that had held me tightly in Black Sabbath. There was my loyalty [and] love for the band. To create the things that we created together for years and years and years... I was in the grief of recognizing the new reality that I was [no longer] part of that. I don't want to bring up the issue because I've already very clearly stated it publicly, but there were some things that were going on that were really not okay for me. It was really painful to read some of the things I had read. I'm not saying that I've been a victim, as I've been told just recently, or [say this] out of self-pity, because I wasn't in any self-pity, either. I don't live there; I always get up and get going again.”

Despite recent turmoil within the Sabbath camp, nothing can take away how much the band's music has meant to people. Two months ago, the first Black Sabbath album – and the true start of what we all know as Heavy Metal – turned 45. Why does Ward feel this album continues to resonate so strongly for so many?

I believe that the first album has always been current,” he replies. “We were able to put something together that was completely current then and is just as current today. When you've got something that makes sense every day for 45 years, then you've really got something. Unfortunately, some of the things we were talking about, singing about and playing about are never-ending topics. War, hardship, addiction, losing one's self, losing one's soul, looking at things that we have to confront and overcome... it's exactly the same story today. I can put that record on right now – in fact, I probably will – [and] it's still one of my favorite records. The song 'Black Sabbath' is still the rallying point... Black Sabbath is a band you can hold onto and say 'Yeah!' and have something to bring comfort and whatever it brought to the individual listener... I think all of that is still in that album, and it continues to provide nourishment for everyone who can receive the nourishment from it. I think it's just generational. Unfortunately, we have exactly the same hardships - even worse in some cases - now than we did when we did [the album]. Things were really bad when we did that; the world was fucking on fire. And it's on fire now. Put the TV on today; the fucking world's on fire.”

With two new albums ready to go and and two bands to keep him busy, Bill Ward is not about to let his critics have the final word. Looking back at his tumultuous recent past, Ward says he found his greatest inner peace the same way he has since childhood – through music.

Where I've had to find solace is in moving ahead, embracing myself as a drummer and knowing full well that I'm utterly capable of playing,” he says. “In fact, in my trio where I only play drums, I've made it hard on myself, and I did that in Black Sabbath as well. I'm the hardest person on me – harder than my fellow band members could ever be. I find solace in being able to work past my difficulties, put myself in a position where I deliberately or unconsciously deliberately play in a trio where I have to play much harder than I would in Black Sabbath. I'm doing things now with bass, drums and control of cymbals at high speed that we never, ever even came close to doing in Black Sabbath. I'm always striving for the betterment of myself, and I find solace in that.”




Bill Ward and Joel Gausten (photo by Cory Danziger)

*Author's Note 4/26/15: Accountable Beasts was quietly and unexpectedly released on iTunes last night. Go here or more info. 





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Friday, April 17, 2015

INTERVIEW - From Strangers to Stars: The Continuing Saga of UFO


left to right: Vinnie Moore, Paul Raymond, Phil Mogg, Rob De Luca, Andy Parker (Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions)


There are very few guarantees in life, but you can always count on UFO to deliver the real thing.

For nearly 50 years, UFO have consistently earned an international cult following by being one of the world's most durable and dependably strong Hard Rock acts. Fueled by original members Phil Mogg (vocals) and Andy Parker (drums), the current version of UFO (which also features former Spread Eagle bassist Rob De Luca taking the place of ailing original member Pete Way, guitar hero Vinnie Moore and longtime keyboardist/guitarist Paul Raymond) recently released the excellent A Conspiracy Of Stars, an album that easily lives up to the band's reputation. Perhaps best known for their legendary (and utterly bulletproof) 1979 live album Strangers in the Night, UFO is currently on the road in support of the new album (see dates below). Earlier this week, Vinnie Moore took a break from his touring activities for this quick, fun interview.  


You wrote the majority of the material on the new album. As a key songwriter for the band, what, in your opinion, makes a great UFO song? How would you describe the definitive UFO sound?

I think a big part of it is Phil’s voice. Once he sings over the music, it’s like the final stamp of authenticity. Musically, it just has to rock. The band has touched on different musical influences over the years - such as Blues, Melodic Rock and Metal - so there is no one formula for a song. It can be many different things.

What was [producer] Chris Tsangarides' greatest influence on A Conspiracy Of Stars? How did he most help the band accomplish what it set out to do this time around?

He stayed out of the way and just recorded us. That was probably the best thing that could have happened. He sat back and let the band be who we are without trying to influence the process or direction.

This is Rob De Luca's first appearance on a UFO album. What makes him the best choice to carry on the bass position in the band?

Rob has played with us live for many years now. He just seems to fit in stylistically and personally.

What is the current status of Pete's health? 

Actually, I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything recently, but hope to run into him on the upcoming UK tour.

Despite some breaks along the way, the core trio of Phil, Paul and Andy has stayed together for decades now. As someone who works so closely with them, what would say is the magic formula that makes the three of them work so well together?

The amount of alcohol that they consume collectively binds them together (laughs). They get along on a personal level and have been together for so many years that I think it just feels right for them.





The guitar position in this band was a rocky spot for many years, but you're 12 years into it at this point. For you, what has been the key to longevity in UFO? 

We all like what we are doing and have worked hard to keep things moving consistently over the years. We have never really taken too much of a break. We are having a lot of fun and the formula has been simple: new record...tour...new record...tour.

What is status of your solo work at this point in time? What can fans of your personal discography expect from you down the road?

I have a new solo instrumental album that is finished and will be coming out in the next few months.  

What are the greatest challenges of being a Classic Rock act touring and recording in their 46th year?

Making sure no one dies onstage or chokes on their own - or anyone else’s - vomit.

Why do you feel UFO hasn't achieved more success in the US despite producing such consistently strong material?

I really don’t know. I certainly knew who they were and was a fan as a kid. Maybe they didn’t get the promotion and push that they should have gotten. One example...I think they missed the whole early MTV video era that could have taken them to a higher level.

Eddie Trunk is definitely someone who has done a lot to promote UFO here in America. What impact has his support had on the band?

It is hard to measure and quantify these type of things, but it definitely hasn’t hurt.

Strangers in the Night is considered by many – this writer included – to be one of the greatest live albums of all time. Why do you feel this particular release still holds up so well after all these years?

It’s an exciting record, and so it has stood the test of time. Just like many records of that time period, it takes you back to wherever you were in your life at that point. People love to be brought back to their past - the good ol' days.

What does the future hold for UFO?

We just want to keep things going for as long as we are enjoying it. 




Current UFO tour dates:

APRIL
Fri 17 England, Cambridge – Junction
Sat 18 England, Wolverhampton – Wulfrun Hall
Sun 19 England, Manchester – Ritz
Tue 21 Ireland, Dublin – The Academy
Wed 22 N. Ireland, Belfast – The Limelight
Fri 24 England, Glasgow – O2 ABC
Sat 25 England, Newcastle – O2 Academy
Sun 26 England, Leeds – O2 Academy
Tue 28 England, Nottingham – Rock City
Thu 30 England, Bristol – O2 Academy



MAY
Fri 01 England, Falmouth – Pavilion
Sat 02 England, Exeter – Phoenix
Sun 03 England, Salisbury – City Hall
Tue 05 England, Brighton – Concorde 2
Wed 06 England, Oxford – O2 Academy
Thu 07 England, London – HMV Forum

Official UFO Website

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Misfits Memories: How 'Earth A.D.' Changed My Life




Last week, the official lineup for the 2015 This Is Hardcore Fest in Philadelphia was announced. In addition to long-running scene stalwarts like the Cro-Mags, Slapshot, Biohazard and Killing Time, this year's event (held July 23 at Union Transfer and July 24-26 at the Electric Factory) boasts a July 25 headlining set by The Misfits, who are being billed as performing their 1983 album, Earth A.D., in its entirety.

Of course, today's version of The Misfits is vastly different than the band that recorded that album more than 30 years ago. If you venture out to This Is Hardcore to check out this special set, you will see bassist Jerry Only handling lead vocals (a role he's had for nearly 15 years now). On guitar, you'll see Only's son, Jerry Jr., who joined the band last year. On second guitar, you'll likely see either former Black Flag/DC3 member Dez Cadena (who has been playing with The Misfits since 2001 but recently announced an indeterminate break from the band to tend to health issues) or Soulfly/Il Nino/Cavalera Conspiracy player Marc Rizzo. On drums, you'll get a bona fide Hardcore guy in the form of Eric “Chupacabra” Arce a.k.a Goat on Murphy's Law, Skarhead, Harley's War and Crown of Thornz, who has played in The Misfits on a full-time basis since 2010 after filling in on several occasions in the prior decade.

Of course, the Earth A.D. announcement prompted a strong – and, in some cases, incredibly negative – response from fans. Personally, I'm thrilled by the news. And here's why...

When I was growing up and first discovering Punk and Hardcore, The Misfits were a huge deal to me. Being a North Jersey kid, I'd spot the poster for the Doyle Fan Club around – or see that amazing cover art for the full-length album version of Evilive – and marvel that a band that cool came from the area.

Although I was (and remain) a massive fan of Walk Among Us, it was Earth A.D. that knocked me over with its sheer power when I first heard it. I was already well into bands like Slayer and Metallica by then, but there was nothing that sounded that raw and menacing to my ears at the time. (I had a similar experience years later when I heard Hellhammer for the first time, but that's a story for another blog.) Later, my Earth A.D. cassette (yes, I said cassette) was a constant for me throughout my senior year of high school, when I'd often leave at the end of the day and immediately head over to Jerry's and make noise with him (and sometimes Doyle) for a couple of hours.

When I started hanging out and jamming with The Misfits in early '95 (the history of all that can be read here), I knew about 30-35 songs from their back catalog, but very little from Earth A.D. The reason for that was simple: There is a massive difference between the basic 4/4 I-can-play-this-in-my-sleep drumming on most of Walk Among Us and the frightening, breakneck precision of ROBO's performance on Earth A.D. Sure, the band live circa '82/'83 was an adrenaline-fueled train wreck, but Jerry, Doyle and ROBO are as tight as the Bad Brains on Earth A.D. (Just listen to “Green Hell” if you don't believe me.) In my mind, there was no way a 17-year-old version of me was going to be able to pull off that kind of speed and skill behind the drums– let alone on ROBO's old kit, which was what Jerry and Doyle had in the rehearsal room in their family's machine shop at the time. But I gave it a try, once bashing out “Green Hell” with Jerry and Doyle in a roomful of hopeful vocalists waiting for their moment to audition. I got through about three quarters of the song with flying colors before I missed one of those fast-as-fuck cymbal hits and it completely fell apart. Oops!



Left to right: Doyle, a 17-year-old/green-haired me and Jerry Only in 1995, probably moments away from attempting "Green Hell" (Collection of the author)


(A few weeks later, I went up to the machine shop and got the chance to see Doyle, Jerry and Chud bang out a good chunk of the Earth A.D. material the way it should have been played. I still remember literally feeling the power of Doyle's guitar hit my chest, and how well Chud handled those songs. When I saw that, I had no doubt that he would definitely be the drummer in the new Misfits.)

Looking back over The Misfits' vast and sometimes-turbulent discography, it's clear that Earth A.D. contains some of the heaviest and most brutally innovative work the band ever created. Have a listen to “Bloodfeast.” What other Misfits song (besides maybe “All Hell Breaks Loose” off Walk Among Us) demands such a varied drum performance? Without a doubt, ROBO was the strongest drummer the original Misfits ever had. As a songwriter, Glenn Danzig was beginning to greatly expand his musical vocabulary with Earth A.D., a trend he continued with his work in Samhain. If Walk Among Us represents The Misfits on Mars, then Earth A.D. represents the band's reign in Hell.

Naturally, the album's cover matched the brutal sounds within. According to legend, infamous Punk artist Mad Marc Rude spent more than 300 hours creating that piece. Not only did it perfectly represent the record's musical and lyrical content, but it also created the template for the years' worth of gore-infused Death Metal album covers to come. I was fortunate enough to meet Mad Marc in the summer of 1996, when he turned up at the Vernon, NJ stop of the Warped Tour with my buddies Sal and Dan Canzonieri of Electric Frankenstein. Although our conversation was brief, I'll never forget the guy. He was fucking intense – loaded with tattoos (including, if I remember correctly, one of Woody Woodpecker on his neck) and looking like he had lived very hard. Sadly, Mad Marc passed away in 2002. Those interested in checking out more of his incomparable art should definitely check out this Facebook page, Electric Frankenstein's Monster EP and his work in Dwarves frontman Blag Dahlia's brilliantly batshit 1998 novel, Armed to the Teeth with Lipstick. Additionally, a documentary on Rude's art and life, Mad Marc Rude: Blood, Ink & Needles, has been in production for years now and is said to be ready for wide release at some point later this year. Here's the trailer:




In addition to being my favorite album art of all time, Rude's Earth A.D. piece grew in personal significance when I accompanied Jerry and Doyle in the spring of '95 to the home of a fellow they called “King Resin,” who was making wall plaques of the album art out of a mold. The guys were nice enough to present me with the eighth Earth A.D. wall plaque ever made:








Painted versions of the plaque (along with a Jerry Only model and a “Pusshead” [sic] plaque), were later made available to the public, as seen in this rare order form from 1995:



Listening to Earth A.D. in 2015 brings back some strong memories for me. I can still see Jerry Jr., then just a little kid, asking his dad how much longer he was going to be doing band stuff at the shop that day because he was bored and wanted to leave. Another time, I redeemed myself in the Earth A.D. realm when I was jamming with Jerry and Doyle and we kicked into “Death Comes Ripping.” I hit the tune with as much energy as I could muster, and I absolutely slayed that fucker. When it was over, Jerry said I played the song too fast and needed to slow it down next time! Yeah...there I was, playing “Death Comes Ripping” on ROBO's drum kit and being told I played a song from Earth A.D. too fast. I consider that a major achievement to this day! (Unfortunately, I don't think that particular moment was recorded. Damn...) Above all, I remember Jerry putting in a lot of very long and hard days to get The Misfits going again. One minute, he was picking up boxes of t-shirts; the next minute, he was off to visit with Basil Gogos or Ed Repka to pick up artwork. After that, he'd head back to the shop, unload the stuff he picked up, handle a bunch of phone calls and then hit the practice/weight room to bang out a few songs before planning out more band-related stuff in the shop's large conference room. I spent a lot of time at the shop in that era, and it wasn't uncommon to see a typical Misfits-related workday for the guy start at 7:30am and end around 11pm. Jerry Only is the hardest-working, most professional musician I've ever known, and he's earned every penny he's made.

Earth A.D. was the soundtrack to a special time in my life. The album is irreplaceable to me.

With all that said, let's go back to the complaints concerning The Misfits' performance of Earth A.D. at This Is Hardcore. I find it amusing that some people will decry the idea of the Jerry-led Misfits playing an album without certain key members, but nobody seems to mind that the current Cro-Mags are selling a t-shirt with the words Best Wishes on it when nobody from today's lineup played a note on the album of the same name. I see no problem with either example, as I'd rather see these two bands honor their pasts instead of denying that there was a history before their current incarnations. It's also worth noting that before his medical problems recently took him out of the game, Dez served as the guitarist for The Misfits longer than any other six-stringer they've ever had (and that includes Doyle). Something else to consider: Jerry's stint as the band's singer has outlived the Danzig era (six years) and the Graves era (five years) combined. Simply put, there isn't a band on this planet - including a Jerry-fronted one - that can survive as a international touring act for nearly 15 years by sucking – regardless of whatever notoriety or success they achieved in the past. The reputation of the Danzig years might have allowed Only to get his foot in the door when he brought the band back in '95, but it is his talent, determination and drive that has kept him in the room for two decades and counting. If people from all over the world didn't come out in droves to see the Only-fronted Misfits play all these years – and the band didn't still put on a decent show - there wouldn't be a Misfits in the present tense. The band is obviously doing something right.

Yes, Jerry's voice cracks under the pressure of the material at times, but Danzig's been out of breath every time I've seen him perform in the last 10 years. That doesn't mean that these guys fail to deliver plenty of power from the stage; it's just that we're talking about guys who are in their mid- to- late 50s playing high-energy music they developed when they were in their 20s and 30s. You're not going to see or hear an exact replica of what they gave us in the '80s or '90s. Get over it and just enjoy the fact that these guys are still at it in 2015. In the case of today's Misfits, go on YouTube, watch videos of the current four-piece band and seriously ask yourself if you could bring the onstage energy that Jerry does at 56 years of age. I know I can't do it today at 38.

Twenty years ago, people said there couldn't be a Misfits without Glenn Danzig. Well, Jerry Only has proven everyone wrong ever since. Now he's taking on the heaviest and most challenging album in the band's discography from beginning to end while most people his age are enjoying AARP discounts. That is fucking Hardcore, and I'm going to make every effort to be there when The Misfits hit the stage in Philly.

Go here for more information on the This Is Hardcore Fest.



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Friday, April 3, 2015

FEATURE - Heavy Soul: Jim Wilson on Rollins, Alice and Rising Above





As mentioned in my feature on his current band, Motor Sister, guitarist Jim Wilson has enjoyed one of the music industry's most esoteric careers. From touring the world playing bass for Emmylou Harris to writing tunes with the great Alice Cooper, this exceptional – and refreshingly humble – player has seen more of the industry than most of us can ever begin to comprehend.

I've been just trying to follow each road as it comes and be truthful,” he says. “I try to not do anything that I'm not really into. Say Katy Perry's management calls and says, 'We need a guitar player.' Even though the paycheck might be nice, I don't know if I would do it. I don't know if I could go on stage every night and do those kinds of things. I've been lucky enough to know people like Scott [Ian] and Daniel Lanois and Henry Rollins who have kept me on a nice path of playing respectful music that I not only sometimes write, but music that I actually respect as a fan as well.”

Although he was already making waves in the Los Angeles club scene by 1998 with Mother Superior, Wilson's life took a dramatic leap forward that year when Henry Rollins (who served as producer for the band's 1998 album, Deep) enlisted him and the rest of Mother Superior to be the new incarnation of the Rollins Band.

I was working at a record store until I met Henry,” Wilson recalls. “He was the first person who put our music out in front, like, 'How come nobody's listening to this?' Henry saved us...He made music my full-time job. He's been nothing but supportive of everything I've ever done.”

After hitting it off during the Deep sessions, Rollins initially approached Wilson, bassist Marcus Blake and drummer Jason Mackenroth about working on songs with him for a solo album. The guitarist says that this initial plan changed pretty quickly once the project got rolling.

We ended up writing so many songs together that Henry's management said, 'If you guys want to go on the road, you can go right now if you call it 'Rollins Band.' We can book a tour right now,” he remembers. “So that's kind of what happened.”



While recording the Rollins Band's 2000 album Get Some Go Again, Wilson made the acquaintance of producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin, who was friendly with Rollins and would often visit the studio. Impressed with Wilson's playing, Ezrin asked him if he'd be interested in writing some material with Alice Cooper for his next album. It also turned out that Cooper's wife, Sheryl, was a big Mother Superior fan. Unsurprisingly, Wilson jumped at the offer, spending two days in the studio with Cooper and producer Bob Marlette and writing a handful of songs.

I was brought in to come up with some riffs that would be like classic Alice,” he remembers. “It was super exciting, but the record company decided to go with a 'Limp Bizkit' approach or whatever was happening at the time.”

(To date, only one Wilson co-written song, the Kinks-y “Can't Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me,” has made it to the album phase. The track was released on the European edition of 2000's Brutal Planet and later on the special edition of 2001's Dragontown. Guitar on the recording is handled by longtime Cooper cohort Ryan Roxie.

Recently, Wilson reconnected with Cooper when Motor Sister appeared as special guest on his radio show, Nights with Alice Cooper.

Now that I'm back in touch with Alice, I hope we get to do more stuff down the line,” he says. “We came up with some really cool songs at that time.”



One undeniable highlight of Wilson's time in the Rollins Band was his participation in the 2002 Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three  CD and tour. The project saw the guitarist record with the likes of Iggy Pop, Slayer's Tom Araya and Lemmy.

Just the fact that I got to do it is mind-blowing enough,” he says. “I had a buddy in high school who was completely into Black Flag, Henry Rollins, [artist] Raymond Pettibon and Greg Ginn. It was one of those music listening buddies that you get together with, and you had the new Def Leppard and your other friend the new whatever, but the one guy was the Black Flag pusher. Because of him, I knew all those songs and all those albums. That's why it was such a trip to not only get to work with Henry even in the Rollins Band situation, but when Henry said, 'I want to do the West Memphis Three thing, and it's going to be Black Flag songs,' I thought, 'Wow! I'm going to get to play these songs!' I got to tour and not only play with Henry, but Keith Morris did the first half. We got to play with the original [Black Flag] singer.”

Wilson later had an opportunity to cross paths with Ginn when one of the Blag Flag founder's many projects, Ten East, opened for Mother Superior at a show in Germany. Unfortunately, the pairing didn't go particularly well at first.

As he recalls, “At first, I thought, 'Ah, I'm going to meet Greg Ginn! [Original Rollins Band guitarist] Chris Haskett was cool [when I met him]; I hope Greg Ginn's cool.' He wasn't very cool. We were taking our gear out of the tour van, and Greg walks up to me and says, 'Hey, uh, are you the guitar player in Black Flag? I love Black Flag. I've loved you forever. I can't believe I'm meeting you.' He was totally being a dick to me; he was totally saying how dare I think I was the guitar player for Black Flag. At the end of the night, after we played the gig, he was actually pretty cool. We got to talk and I got to say, 'I was offered a gig from Henry Rollins saying, 'Do you want to go around the world and play these songs?' The one thing I will say about it is that Henry paid Greg Ginn a nice publishing royalty check for the Rise Above record, so he has no real reason to complain about it at all. He got paid and he wasn't misrepresented. Anybody who buys that album knows it's not Black Flag; they know it's Rollins Band playing Black Flag songs.”

Personality quirks aside, one thing is abundantly clear to Wilson and anyone else who's put on a record featuring Greg Ginn: The guy created music from another planet.

I have nothing but the biggest respect for Greg Ginn,” he says. “Those guitar riffs are just as brutal and crazy as Sabbath...I would have such an easier time playing Iron Maiden than playing the Black Flag stuff. With the time changes...It's just so not conventional guitar playing. [Ginn] invented his own style, you know? I'm not trying to take away anything from Iron Maiden; I'm just trying to say I understand where Iron Maiden is coming from as Hard Rock/ Blues guitar players, but sometimes I have no idea where Greg Ginn is coming from.”

Although Rise Above was a rewarding experience for all involved, it also marked the end of the Mother Superior-infused incarnation of the Rollins Band.

Unfortunately, at the end of the tour at the very last show we played in Japan, Henry had started to feel like he had done all that he could in music,” Wilson says. “The last show with the [original] Rollins Band was in Japan before that. Henry just said [to us], 'I want to take a break because I don't know if I want to keep screaming for the next three years.'”

More than a decade after calling it a day with this lineup, Rollins maintains a great respect for the members of Mother Superior, as evident in an interview he gave this writer last year.

It was great working with people who were into it, ready to go, were happy to travel, didn’t whine and didn’t talk about money all the time,” he said. “Playing with the Mother Superior guys is probably the only time I was in a positive environment making music. It was great to be in a band without drama or cliche adult rockstar problems and just play really hard every night.”

With Motor Sister already proving to be another successful chapter in Wilson's life, he is quick to express his appreciation to Rollins for kickstarting things in the first place all those years ago.

Like six months ago in an email, I told [Henry], 'I can't say 'thank you' to you enough because you're the one who got me out of my day job,'” he shares. “He wrote back and said, 'Oh man, you were ready. I just kicked the door open a little' - something super cool, you know what I mean? He's the best.”


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FEATURE - Ride, Motor Sister, Ride.



Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions


It all started at a birthday party.

When Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian turned 50 in 2013, his wife, Pearl Aday, held a series of parties to mark the momentous occasion. One event found Ian, Aday, Armored Saint/Fates Warning bassist Joey Vera and former White Zombie/current Cult drummer John Tempesta joining their good friend Jim Wilson to playing a special set in front of an intimate audience at Ian's home. The dozen songs performed were originally written and recorded by Wilson's previous outfit (and one Ian's favorite bands), the Los Angeles-based Mother Superior. Now, the vibe felt on that special night has been captured on Ride, the debut studio album recorded by the quintet under the name Motor Sister.

Released last month on Metal Blade Records, Ride features the same 12 Mother Superior songs performed at Ian's birthday party. For longtime fans of Mother Superior, Ride serves as a greatest hits compilation performed by an all-star cast that obviously cherishes every note they play and sing. For those who are unfamiliar with Mother Superior, the record is a gateway to one of the best Classic Rock-fueled trios to ever grace a stage. For a brief taste of what you get with Ride, check out the featurette below:





The release of Ride (and the long-overdue focus on Mother Superior that it has generated) is the latest chapter in Wilson's vast and varied career, a journey that has seen the singer/guitarist/bassist work with the likes of Sparks, Daniel Lanois, Alice Cooper and Emmylou Harris (among many others) in addition to a 2013 solo album and his lengthy (but sadly concluded) run with Mother Superior. (A separate feature detailing a few of Wilson's many musical adventurous can be found here.) Of course, he is also known as the guitarist for the Rollins Band from 1998 to 2003, part of a lineup that also included then-Mother Superior drummer Jason Mackenroth and bassist Marcus Blake backing legendary frontman Henry Rollins. Nearly eight years after Mother Superior played its (as of this writing) final show, Wilson is amazed to see the band's music have such an exciting new life via Motor Sister. 

It's been a great little surprise for me,” he says. “A year ago, I had no idea [Motor Sister] would be my main project, but I have to say the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It's really affected all of us in the band; we just all want to play together as much as we can because it's nothing more than the five of us getting on stage together. There's nothing phony about it; what's captured on the record is what we sound like.”




While the world at large certainly views Motor Sister as a major supergroup, the band is really just the result of good friends playing songs they enjoy. Although Ian was a regular attendee of Mother Superior performances, Wilson didn't formally meet him until Anthrax shared the stage with the Rollins Band at a KNAC Birthday Show at the Hollywood Palladium in 1999. The two became friends, while Wilson later wrote and performed music in Aday's solo band. (Aday's father, music legend Meat Loaf, even covered the Mother Superior song “Whore” in 2006.) Joey Vera was also a major Mother Superior fan, going as far as mixing some of the songs on (and subsequently mastering) Mother Superior's 2004 Moanin' album and mastered its two followups, Three Headed Dog (2007) and Grande (2008). Considering the relaxed, comfortable nature of the Ride project, it is hardly a surprise that the album showcases some of the finest performances all five of these musicians have ever committed to disc.

Not only do we all agree that we love bands like Humble Pie, Van Halen, AC/DC and Thin Lizzy, but our musical tastes are broad, too,” Wilson says. “Joey is a Jazz fanatic, and Pearl loves all kinds of music. Pearl and I write songs together that are more kind of Eagles-like or [like] Gram Parsons – a little more Country. We listen to everything, but we all kind of grew up just loving those bands that made us want to pick up our guitars and learn how to play to begin with.”

Best of all, Ride offers listeners a fresh opportunity to experience the great Mother Superior, easily one of the finest Rock outfits of the last 25 years. While some artists drowned themselves in the trends of the day, the trio built an extensive body of work by following their own path.

I was always a big fan of people like Todd Rundgren who were very smart and artistic-driven, but at the same time, I think that kept Todd Rundgren away from being a household name,” Wilson says. “It's a strange in-between [thing]. Never would Mother Superior have ever thought about putting on Warrant clothes or looking like Ratt or going that far to try to get some attention. I think [our reputation] was a lot by word of mouth, and the people who understood and listened to good music knew where we were coming from.”

Circa 2000 when this writer first started covering the music scene, it was very common to hear the words “Mother Superior” spoken when conversations with my fellow scribes drifted to the subject of real Rock. The band was regular to-go music for people who wanted the legit thing, but it seemed frustratingly clear with each passing year that they weren't going to move beyond their place as a revered cult band. Despite attracting fans from the highest echelons of the music industry, Mother Superior struggled to expand beyond being a club act and hasn't performed live since 2008. Mother Superior's inability to cross into the mainstream remains one of music history's most perplexing realities.

I definitely knew there were people who were paying attention to what we were doing and were listening, even if it wasn't on a larger level,” Wilson reflects. “We had some good opportunities, and then sometimes it just seemed like it was dead-end street...I have nothing but love and respect for what we did in Mother Superior; it was just that after 10 years of playing with the same guys, it was frustrating. Everybody wanted to do different things, and everybody had families and everybody else had kids. They started thinking, 'How am I going to pay my rent if we're going to play [the LA club] Spaceland again on Saturday night for $70?' It was kind of hard to keep a group of people together when we were kind of living out of each other's pockets. As the leader of the band and the main songwriter, I always felt a little bit responsible for that. It was kind of heartbreaking when one of the drummers would come to me and say, 'I don't know how much longer I can do this because I have a wife and kids' and that kind of thing. You start to almost feel like a dad or something, like, 'Well, I'll give you more allowance next week.' Then I found myself working with Daniel Lanois and his band, and it enabled me to kind of step back a little bit and look at the situation..It had run its course at that point.

I feel like maybe the time away [from having the band] has made people miss good Rock 'n' Roll, where at the time it was very frustrating to have to go to faraway places just to find people who were into what you were doing,” he adds. “There was a magazine in Spain that wrote about Mother Superior and really took our music seriously. We had an audience in Spain, of all places. Even though I'm very grateful for that and those experiences, it's nice to know that it's kind of getting around to other people and places [now].”

After making an impressive live debut in February at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn (an event followed in March by a west coast one-two punch at the Whisky A Go Go in LA and the DNA Lounge in San Francisco), the band is slowly and surely lining up live dates for the coming year including an appearance on Motorhead's Motorboat cruise later this fall.

As Wilson says, “Everybody wants to do as much as we can. Everybody has crazy schedules, but we're always home at the same time at times...The booking agent has all of our [available] times, so they're trying to put together major US cities through the summer, plus whatever festivals come around.”

No matter where the Ride experience ultimately takes Motor Sister (there's even talk of doing some original music down the line), Wilson is excited to see his music with Mother Superior thrive in the here and now.

When Mother Superior started, we were three guys as friends trying to make something happen,” he says. “The reason why we pushed it is because we knew we had a sound together. Motor Sister has been a great reminder to me that there's nothing better than being in a band with your friends.”

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions





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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

INTERVIEW - Hardcore Forever: Inside Agnostic Front's America


Photo Credit: Todd Huber


When Agnostic Front say that Hardcore is a way of life, they really mean it.

After nearly 35 years in the New York Hardcore (NYHC) scene, Agnostic Front show absolutely no signs of slowing down. On April 7, the band will release The American Dream Died, easily their strongest album since 1992's One Voice.

A bulletproof collection of songs, The American Dream Died was produced by singer Roger Miret's half-brother (and Madball frontman), Freddy Cricien. Whether taking on corrupt and immoral cops (“Police Violence”) or lamenting the loss of the grittiness that once defined their home and music scene (“Old New York”), there isn't a single second on this album that holds anything back. The older this bands gets, the more incendiary they become. To call them an inspiration would be an understatement.

After numerous lineup changes, Agnostic Front is currently comprised of founding guitarist Vinnie Stigma, longtime singer Miret, veteran bassist Mike Gallo, former Leeway/Both Worlds drummer Pokey Mo and new guitarist Craig Silverman (Slapshot/Blood For Blood/Only Living Witness). 

I recently caught up with Mike Gallo for his thoughts on the new album, the state of underground music in the Internet age and what it takes to keep the world's longest-running Hardcore band moving forward.   

The American Dream Died is the third album that Freddy's produced for you guys. What does he bring to the process of creating an Agnostic Front album that wouldn’t be there if you went with a different producer?

Freddy has been on the road with AF since he was a little kid, so no one knows the band better than him. It makes perfect sense to have his input as a producer on our records. Another guy who is so talented, especially when it comes to lyrical placement and melodies. That's what he really brings to the table when helping produce, so there's no one better to have as an outside ear and producer.

Making “Police Violence” the first video off the album is a hell of a statement. Police brutality isn't a new phenomenon, but why do you think it's captured the public's attention in such a huge way in recent times?

We're living in such crazy times right now. There seems to be a lot of ignorance going on as far as police brutality and on the other side with people shooting cops. I can't honestly say I hate cops. I have a lot of family who are police officers, and it's not an easy job. But when they start acting like criminals and think they are above the law...this is what needs to stop. Their job is to protect and serve. I believe we need cops and I don't believe in anarchy. We just need to all start respecting each other.






I saw your new guitarist, Craig Silverman, play up here in New England with Slapshot a few months back. The guy's incredible! How has having him in Agnostic Front affected the music – not only in the direction of the new songs, but how you're approaching the old material you still play?

Craig is a veteran in the scene and a phenomenal guitar player. I believe adding him to the lineup brought us to another level. He has more of a Hardcore sound and feel to his playing than [former guitarist] Joe [James] had. It actually worked well with a lot of the material we wrote for this record. Most of it was written before he joined, but Craig added a lot of great guitar work as well as some riffs that pieced everything together so well. He's very easygoing on the road and is a real team player. Could not have found a better guy for the band.

“Test Of Time” and “Social Justice” have a real Cause For Alarm vibe, while “No War Fuck You” sounds like it came straight from United Blood. Was it a conscious decision to tap into the vibe of some of the past records, or were the songs on The American Dream Died more the result of just plugging in and seeing what happens?

At first, we really don't sit there and say we want to write a record that sounds a certain way. We pretty much just write as much material as possible and weed out what we're not feeling song-wise. We wrote a few that were really old-school sounding that just seemed to be great songs, so we went with what was feeling right. I believe this record does have that sound that the band has originally sounded like on United Blood and Victim In Pain, but it's still a diverse album. The band has progressed throughout the years and touched on all bases of underground music we are influenced [by]. We're leaders, not followers and are not afraid to create something different at times. This is why we made it this far and have no intentions on stopping any time soon.





I couldn't agree more with “Old New York.” On a personal level, what do you miss most about the way NYC was when you first started going to shows and getting into the scene?

There's a lot of things about New York that has changed for the worse; at the same time, some things [have changed] for the better. One thing is that it is a cleaner and safer place to visit, but the problem is they made the city too expensive for artists and musicians to live here. It's losing its culture and being overrun by money and yuppies. Too many music venues closed down, so that means less shows. The city used to have this gritty feel to it, but now everything is overpriced. Not as many families - and just too many people from everywhere else living there. They're not true New Yorkers. I don't even know my neighbors anymore.  

Agnostic Front has had several lineup changes over the years, but you've been a constant in the group for nearly 15 years now. What is the key to longevity in this band?

There's a few things. One thing is I'm a really easygoing person. Not much bothers me, so I can deal with most situations most people can't. It's not easy being on the road as much as we are, so it can get to a lot of people. Another thing is I love what I do and I have a good work ethic. I'm a team player and willing to do whatever it takes to keep this machine running. I also have a great job as a barber back at home. My hours are flexible and allow me to take off whenever I have to hit the road.

Going back in time a little bit, when and how was your first introduction to Agnostic Front? What was your first impression of Roger and Vinnie when you first met them?

I've been a fan since I've been into the Hardcore scene. They were one of the first bands I was introduced when getting into the music. Victim In Pain was the first album I heard from them. Never heard anything that sounded like that; it gave me the goosebumps. I met Vinnie outside of the club Tramps in NYC. I gave him my first demo tape; the band name was Rise Above at the time. The cover had Robert De Niro from the movie Taxi Driver. He always remembered us, and we became friends. I had met the band along with Roger a few years later at a recording studio called Big Blue Meanie in Jersey City. I guess I was a little nervous meeting Roger at first 'cause he comes off a little more serious than Vinnie. It took a little time for me to be in and get to know him better, and then we became friends. Vinnie is more of a people person; he talks to everyone!

Obviously, social media has changed the way the Hardcore scene communicates about albums, shows, tours and everything else. How has this technology most impacted and influenced Agnostic Front? What are some of the greatest advantages and disadvantages to using it to keep the scene going versus the old days of putting out demo tapes, handing out flyers, etc.?

There's obviously pluses and minuses. I think with the Internet, you can reach out to more people through social media. It's what it was built for, so I believe all around it helps to get your message and music advertised worldwide. What I don't like about the Internet is the fact that it makes people lazy and antisocial. Most shows today, you can see live on the computer, and that's what most people do instead of attending shows. I miss the old flyers for shows, and all the time and effort that went into making them. The artwork was so awesome and I used to collect them at every show. I still have most of them saved in a safe place.


Photo Credit: Todd Huber


It's truly impressive how much Agnostic Front tours, especially after so many years. What is the trick to staying healthy and focused on the road after doing it for so long?

I believe we have a strong work ethic and really believe in what we do. I have to say Roger is the driving force of the band and has managed to keep the band together with hard work and dedication. He always likes to say it's like a bad marriage - we're in it for the kids! We're all team players and everyone has a role in the band. We all do this for the love of the music and the kids who still come out to see us.

What is the best scene for Agnostic Front outside of America?

That's hard to say because there are so many places we've been to that have incredible passion for Hardcore. The European scene is strong all over, especially in Germany, but I think South America has the most intense shows, maybe because not as many bands come through there like they do in Europe. When we do come through there, we're always ready for an energetic show. Those kids have a lot of heart.

The Cause For Alarm album turns 30 next year. What impact did that album have on you growing up? What do you think was the record's greatest impact on the NYHC scene as a whole?

When we were kids hanging out in my garage, we would put on this record and try to play each blistering riff 'til my mom would come down and tell us to turn off this shit. She said it was making her ears bleed! (laughs). It had a huge impact on my life and made me want to play this music. This record fused Thrash Metal and Hardcore together [and] created a sound that so many bands started doing after this release. Agnostic Front have always changed the game with every release. They have been so influential to the underground scene and still continue [to be]. 

The new No One Rules compilation LP and the booklet that comes with it do a great job of providing insight into that era. As a member of the band today, what are you thoughts on that release? What does it mean to you to be a part of a band with such an important history?

I'm still waiting on my copy! I'm sure I will get one once we hit the road, but I'm excited to get this release. It's a collector's item for our older fans and will allow the younger kids to hear some of the rare tracks that are not released. It's a dream come true to be in this band. It has its ups and downs as everything does, but I'm blessed to be with these guys and continuing their legacy.

The American Dream might be dead, but how does music - specifically NYHC - offer hope during challenging times like these?

As bad as things are, thank God we have music in our lives to express what we're feeling. Especially with Hardcore, because there's no better way to release your anger in a positive way than at a Hardcore show. Through Hardcore music, we can vent in a way you can not at other shows. The interaction with the band and the fans is what really makes the show. I believe this music is much more personal than any another kind of music because it's not just about the band, but all of us together. Stigma always says on stage and it is so true: "Without you, we ain't shit."

Agnostic Front is almost 35 years into this. What has enabled the band to last as long as it has?

Hard work, dedication, teamwork and the absolute love for the music. It's shaped us and made us who we are. This is not a passing trend, but a lifestyle. We're in this for life!


Add Photo Credit: Todd Huber


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Official Agnostic Front Website

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Agnostic Front Discography


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