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

Pre-order The American Dream Died

Official Agnostic Front Website

Agnostic Front on Facebook

Agnostic Front Discography

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

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