Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Interview: Agnostic Front

The New York Hardcore institution known as Agnostic Front has been around in consistent form since 1983, making it one of the longest-running hardcore bands that hasn’t splintered into some unrecognizable faction or faux-legacy of reunions and hostile takeovers (see “Dead Kennedys,” “Misfits,” “Gang Green,” etc). Nearly thirty years after their formation, I (GlassPipeMurder) had the chance to sit down with founding guitarist Vinnie Stigma, Joseph James, Mike Gallo, and drummer Pokey Mo, who had just joined Agnostic Front last month. I don’t feel like I pulled any punches in this interview, and the band was very forthcoming, sincere, and appreciative of the interest in Agnostic Front.

The band released Warriors in 2007 and talked about the past, present, and future of Agnostic Front backstage before their show at Minneapolis’ Triple Rock Social Club.

You can click Read More for the details.

How are you guys doing? How does it feel to be alive and on tour in 2009?

Vinnie Stigma: Feels great. I’ll be doing it until I’m dead.

Are you still enjoying touring after all these years?

Vinnie: I do, we do, yeah. Me and Mikey always tour, we love it.

I read that 2009 is the ten-year anniversary of your tattoo shop [NYHC Tattoos] on the Lower East Side. Ballpark it: how many tattoos would you estimate Agnostic Front has collectively as a band?

Vinnie: Right now, as in the current members of the band? Definitely over a hundred.

Mike Gallo: Oh yeah.

Vinnie: Well over a hundred.

All done in your shop or around the world?

Vinnie: From all over, a whole lot in the shop, though.

After devoting the better part of the decade to Agnostic Front, Steve [Gallo] is no longer in the band and I know a lot of people are curious why. Can you give any indication or comment?

Mike: He was just…I think he was tired of touring. He’s teaching music now in New York.

So now Pokey Mo has taken over behind the kit. Pokey, what do you bring to the band?

Pokey: I guess I bring about 20 years of hardcore experience. I’ve been in the band Both Worlds with John Joseph and played in a couple of Cro-Mag shows and Murphys Law as well, Marauder, so I bring the old-school flavor to the band.

Agnostic Front and Madball are heading to South America this fall, though it’s not the first time either bands have toured there, as you kind of paved the way for future bands before it was really considered a viable touring option. With the fanbase you’ve built up down there and your connection with the Latino community having released the Puro Des Madre record, do you have big expectations for the tour?

Mike: I know all the major cities are already sold out, and I think Freddy’s gonna come out and do “For My Family” with us.

Vinnie, are you gonna jump on stage and perform with Madball at all?

Vinnie: Yeah, I’ll go on, we’ll make it a show, featuring me. We’ll have fun. The Vinnie and Freddy show [laughs].

I understand there’s an all-Spanish split CD in the works?

Mike: Yeah, we’re gonna do “For My Family” in Spanish, maybe another song and Madball’s gonna do something else also, a couple songs in Spanish. We’re gonna release it [in South America] first and then maybe we’ll release here, I’m not sure.

Vinnie, I wanted to offer my condolences that your presidential bid didn’t end up in your favor, but it seemed like the youtube videos were a big hit, where did the idea for that come from?

Vinnie: This great guy came to my house and puts a green screen up. And…jeez I don’t even know! [laughs and shrugs]

Are you okay though with the way the election turned out though? I mean, it could have been worse right?

Vinnie: It is what it is, ya know. He’s my President, I stand behind him.

Now talk a little bit about your new solo album New York Blood. Who’s been playing on the recording and for the shows?

Mike: Me, Vinnie, Josh, Luke, the whole band. Rob Lopez on guitar, and that’s our current, steady lineup. [We did] shows with Dropkick Murphys, H2O, couple of different shows.

Vinnie: We just had our record release party about 30 days ago, so it’s a brand-new record so we’re bringing new music to the table. And we already have the next record half-written!

Is New York Blood something you’ve been working on for awhile now?

Vinnie: When you do a solo record, it’s a different thing. Agnostic Front is my band, and then we went solo, Me and Mikey, and now we’re starting to put out records. If we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it right.

I heard you’re doing some acting too?

Vinnie: I got a new movie out called “New York Blood.” Mikey is in it, a bunch of my friends are in it. It’s like a Sopranos horror movie. It won the New York Film Festival award. It’s an hour long, it’s a feature film, it’s a movie, not a documentary. And if you like gangster movies, you’re gonna like my movie.

Is it out yet?

Vinnie: Yeah, it’s out. It’s on

What do you remember about your appearance on Phil Donahue’s show in 1986?

Vinnie: I remember that he liked to insinuate things for ratings. That’s what I remember. And I remember it was ahead of the curve [in that respect].

Yeah, Donahue was upset about [the song] “Public Assistance” even though Agnostic Front had already released songs like “Fascist Attitudes,” “United and Strong”…

Vinnie: “United Blood” too!

Yeah! Really anti-racist, anti-fascist songs…So were they just trying to construct their own controversy there?

Mike: That’s what the media does. That’s their job, of course they do. They blow everything out of proportion, even the weather. They say you’ll get twenty inches of snow and you get two.

Given the diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds of Agnostic Front’s members, do you have any idea why there are still neo-nazis and White Pride racists that seem to be into Agnostic Front? [Question was spurred by a MySpace comment to “keep it WP”, which seems illogical since Pokey is Asian]

Pokey: I have no idea. You’d have to ask them. It’s nothing that we’ve ever been a part of, and our message as a band is unity. I think what you have is people latching on to something from the earlier records they misunderstood in the first place and twisted it to fit their ideas. Growing up in the ‘80s in New York City, it was a different place, and there were people who wanted to speak out against discrimination of any kind. Everybody was against Reagan, but there were some [of us] who didn’t care for the anti-Americanism and wanted to make the country better and some people twisted that into nationalism on like the extreme, far right side. All the hardcore bands in New York know each other and play together so unity is something that is obviously very important to us.

Agnostic Front has always been very versatile with different sounds. With Epitaph and Lars Frederiksen there was more of a hardcore oi! sound, and with Freddy Cricien and Jamey Jasta producing the least two records they’ve been a bit more of a metallic hardcore style. What influences Agnostic Front in a certain direction and how do you decide which direction to take a certain album?

Mike: Basically it’s what we’re listening to at the moment or whatever we’re in the mood for.

Vinnie: Different members, times change, we change it up

Mike: We just put out what we love, whether it’s punk, metal, hardcore, oi!, whatever, you know? That’s basically what we do these days. Whatever we’re feeling, whatever feels right, that’s pretty much where we’re at right now.

Warriors was your last album, are you guys fans of “The Warriors” the movie?

Mike: Oh yeah, of course!

Was that kind of the theme for the last album?

Joseph James: Not really, actually what happened was we went to Japan on tour, and while we were there we experienced a lot of the culture, and the overall sentiment that we got from people was honor, pride, and respect for what they do and it kind of hit us in a way that made us think about the Warrior’s Code which is like, pride, faith, respect, and that really influenced the Warriors album and it just was a coincidence with the movie.

I was just curious because I saw they are remaking “The Warriors” movie and having it take place in L.A. and was wondering if you take offense to that being from New York?

Joseph: Absolutely! [laughs]

Vinnie: They don’t have as grimey of train stations in L.A.!

Mike: There’s no new ideas anymore, everything’s a remake. It’s disturbing to me because these are classic movies that don’t need to be touched, don’t need to be redone. It’s like taking classic albums and re-recording them. It loses some of the magic in the remake.

Vinnie: Like “The Honeymooners” remake!

Mike: How many movies can you name that are better than the original? “Cape Fear” was good but….don’t mess with the originals for the most part.

Have you started working on a follow-up to Warriors?

Mike: We’re doing that right now. We’re just in the writing process right now. We had to step back a bit, because we have a new drummer now but now we’re gonna start when we get back home, start writing more stuff.

Anything else any of you would like to add?

Joseph: Thank you for your continued support of Agnostic Front. Our heart is still in it and we’re very proud to do it and travel and hope to see you at the next show.

Vinnie: Come out to the Stigma show with me and Mikey, we’ll have a good time. We’ll be back here with Anti-Nowhere League and 999 in July, and you too can be in my movie [laughs].

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