An in-depth analysis of the history of Agnostic Front, interview with Spoiler (Stigmatism, Omegas, Justice, United Stance). This interview originally published in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 6 (2018). Pics by Randall Underwood, BJ Papas, Chris Gorman.
CTM – In September 1984, the widely read punk zine Maximum Rocknroll published a review of “Victim In Pain”. MRR started talking shit about them and calling them a bunch of fascist skinheads. “Unfortunately, much of the narrow-mindedness, fanatical nationalism, and violence that has destroyed the New York punk scene seems to have revolved around AGNOSTIC FRONT.” Has the writer of the review deliberately misinterpreting their message?
Spoiler – The Punks in San Francisco were dealing with legitimate Nazis infiltrating their scene. It was a huge problem, and I understand that they were freaked out to hear about this Skinhead band from New York wearing American flags and being against communism. Unfortunately, instead of speaking to the band to see what they were about, they believed the rumours from the so-called scene reports sent in by people who had personal issues with the band. Agnostic Front reached out to MRR to clear their name and no one listened. Tim Yohannon interviewed the band, but they were defensive, and it seemed to bruise his ego that they were unapologetic and unwilling to bow down to him as the leader of the Punks. Instead of having a real conversation with the band and trying to understand their viewpoints, their experiences in a world that was nothing like his, Yohannon added his own commentary after the fact and sent it off to print like a coward. He had the monopoly on the Punk scene and continued to call the band Nazis, no matter what they did. Roger was Latino, wrote lyrics against fascism, had a child with a Jewish Punk who sang in the most left wing band in New York, but Yohannon didn’t care. He made up his mind and didn’t want tolisten. I think that’s ultimately what made Agnostic Front react so strongly against MRR and their scene.
CTM – In 2014, Radio Raheem Records did an awesome job with “No One Rules” LP. The LP includes 34 tracks across two different recording sessions, the first predating the United Blood 7″ and the second recorded just before the “Victim In Pain” LP. The “Don Fury 1983” lineup was Raybeez, Adam Mucci, Roger Miret, Vinnie Stigma, and the “Don Fury 1984” lineup was Dave Jones, Rob Kabula, Roger Miret, Vinnie Stigma. We can hear essential and basic differences between these sessions. Which session do you prefer?
Spoiler – I was already very familiar with these recordings as the Raw Unleashed CD which a friend taped for me back in 1998, way before I ever heard the Victim In Pain album. At that time I couldn’t tell the difference, we just listened to the whole thing on repeat on our way to shows. Listening to it now, it’s hard to choose. The raw insanity of the earlier line-up is of course fantastic, but hearing the Victim In Pain songs on a recording that sounds more like United Blood is also a real treat. This session has the added bonus of hearing the VIP line-up playing the United Blood material, so I think I’m going with the 1984 session. Sorry Mucci!
CTM – (“When Slayer came to New York City in December of ’86, touring in support of Reign In Blood, they selected Agnostic Front to open for them at The Ritz. If you were in attendance that night, you heard “Hiding Inside” and “Victim In Pain” then “Angel of Death” and “Chemical Warfare” on the same night from bands who shared the same stage.” Joe Songco – NYC Hardcore, Thrash, and Hip Hop)
In 1986 AF started to incorporate more metal into their sound, and people didn’t know what was going on. The “Cause For Alarm” record was chock full of double bass and guitar solos, Carnivore really helped them out a lot with the recording as well as a rehearsal space. Was it a natural progression for the band? What do you think about the 2nd album musically?
Spoiler – I don’t think it was really a natural progression for the band, but it was a natural progression within the Hardcore scene. Metalheads were coming to Hardcore shows, Metal bands were heavily influenced by Hardcore bands, and of course soon it worked both ways. In the case of AF, Vinnie and Roger had run out of ideas for songwriting and they let the newer members of the band write the music with the help of Peter Steele. I don’t think they would have written a crossover album themselves, but it’s a solid album and a huge influence on both Hardcore and Metal. I think Roger and Vinnie kind of hate it, but it’s got some classic tracks.
CTM – “The Eliminator” is probably my favourite track on the whole album, which is a simply rip-off of Exodus’ “A Lesson in Violence” haha! What are your feelings about this song?
Spoiler – My personal favourite track from that album has always been Toxic Shock, which is a Celtic Frost ripoff, but The Eliminator is an amazing track and I love the title’s homage to Vinnie’s first Punk band, The Eliminators. It’s definitely a hard ripoff, but they did improve the song so they at least put some work into it. Listening to this song now always reminds me of the time Hoagie from Omegas was having a party at his old apartment where he got so drunk he decided that The Eliminator was the best song of all time and wrote the lyrics on his bathroom wall in a huge marker. Normally people do graffiti in public bathrooms, but not Hoagie! I was impressed he knew the lyrics perfectly without listening to the song.
CTM – When asked Steve Martin about “Liberty & Justice For…” in 1988, he said: “we are getting back to the roots, and if you can hear some metal influences on “Liberty & Justice For…”, that’s great, but it is basically a back-to-roots hardcore record.” What do you think about this LP? Is it much more like the first album in terms of music and vocals?
Spoiler – I overlooked this record for a long time. I saw it as a lesser version of Cause For Alarm and just generally considered it the weaker album in between CFA and One Voice, which I love. In recent years I’ve come to realize there’s some great music on L&JF. The title track, Strength and Anthem are amazing, classic AF songs. I don’t really agree with Steve Martin though, there is a good amount of metal on that record. It’s less metal than Cause For Alarm, but it’s still a lot closer in sound to CFA than it is to Victim In Pain. Lyrically speaking, it’s even further away from Victim In Pain. The chorus lyrics to Anthem are by far their most questionable, and I was disappointed that Roger didn’t address this in his biography because he did discussother lyrics and stories that fans had questions about. Obviously he was no Nazi, nor was anyone else in the band, but I have a hard time believing it was a coincidence they practically name-checked a well-known Nazi organization in the song. I don’t know why they did it and I hate that they did. Maybe they went too far lashing back against MRR politics, maybe they aligned with the anti-communist leanings of B&H and looked the other way about the rest. Who knows, but I have hard time with the song. The music is good, but I’ll just listen to Victim In Pain instead.
CTM – “Live at CBGB” recorded during a jam-packed August 21, 1988 Sunday matinee. What are the coolest moments for you on “Live at CBGB” LP?
Spoiler – Of course the classic introduction by Roger is my favourite. It’s just so perfect. I’ve been quoting that for half my life.
CTM – AF was a devastating live band. Roger Miret has always said Agnostic Front has never been a studio band, they have always been a live band. What’s your opinion about this? Do you agree with this statement?
Spoiler – I never got to see them in their glory days, so I can’t really answer that question but I believe it. Seeing them in the eighties must have been absolutely insane. I first saw them in 1997 and I’ll never forget the experience, but for someone like me the records will always mean more. I grew up on them.
CTM – Agnostic Front went through a lot of singers. (John Watson, Keith Burkhardt, James Kontra (and Carl Griffin))Which would you have rather seen: the Agnostic Front show with John Watson, or Agnostic Front gig with Carl The Mosher? Why?
Spoiler – Both are absolute legends in their own right, but I’d have to pick John Watson. He was the original, and seeing that first line-up of the band would blow my mind, no matter how bad they were at the time. That’s the stuff I live for. I have a special place in my heart for Carl The Mosher, and seeing him front the band would be completely insane as well, but Watson does not get enough credit as a NYHC pioneer. He had already been part of the Max’s Kansas City scene before Hardcore existed, he was there from day one and was part of the original Skinhead crew in New York. He’s the one who created moshing as we know it, and also one of the first to move on from the Skinhead scene when it became more right-wing and rebelled by growing his hair, charging it up and dressing in the Discharge style, which was later followed by AF members like Adam Mucci and Roger, along with many in the Peace Punk scene. After his stint in Riker’s Island, Watson came back to the scene and continued to support the new bands for years after. He was one of the purest originators of everything good about NYHC.
CTM – I read Roger Miret’s book a few months ago, and I couldn’t put it down. I am sure you read his book, what effect did the book have on you?
Spoiler – I anticipated Roger’s book more than any other Punk or Hardcore book because Roger was always a mystery to me. Everyone knows what Vinnie Stigma is like, he wears his heart on his sleeve. Much less was known about Roger’s personal life and off-stage personality, besides a few classic AF stories. I knew stuff about him, little bits and pieces of his life story that I’d read in interviews or was told by old time NYHC guys here and there throughout the years I’ve been a fan, but it was great that he finally told his story. It’s a pretty crazy one. I think I was most surprised by how violent he was throughout the eighties. I assumed he was a bit crazy in his early Skinhead days but mellowed out by the time he started preaching unity and peace, but that wasn’t the case. I always wondered why Dave Jones left the band right after VIP came out, and I was surprised it was because he didn’t want to deal with the violence surrounding the band. But I’m glad that Roger was honest about thatpart of his life, and didn’t try to paint a picture of himself as a harmless guy when he was really a maniac. It takes guts to admit the bad shit you did in the past and I respect him for it. If you read the story, you’ll understand that he grew up surrounded by violence and it was all he knew in his youth.
CTM – The Entire New York Hardcore Scene Vs. New York Magazine on The Phil Donahue Show is one of the greatest videos I have ever seen. The most shocking music video I have ever seen is the Agnostic Front’s performance on The Uncle Floyd Show! Do you know the story of this show where they do playback and lip-sync?
Spoiler – I always loved that video and someone once told me the story of what happened but I can’t remember the details now. I’m pretty sure they had agreed to play, but when Vinnie realized they had to lip-sync instead of playing live he refused to do it. Roger pretended to play instead, I’m not sure if he thought it was funny or maybe he still wanted to get paid for the gig, but it’s a classic and it wouldn’t be half as funny if Vinnie agreed to play!
CTM – What do you think about the early AF flyers, United Blood/VIP era drawings, like the Blitz tee skinhead, skinhead figure with NYHC flag, skinhead covering one eye with his hand etc.?How have these artworks and flyers influenced your style and process?
Spoiler – Of course, these drawings have all been a huge influence on my art and everything that goes on in my brain. The crazier and busier stuff like the Womp’m flyers and Chuy flyers were influences on my early drawings, but more recently I did some nice art for my book poster and the Playboy Celebration album and realized the drawing style looks a lot like the classic design of the skinhead covering his eye, which I had no intention of referencing. This stuff is just fried into my brain forever, and I like it that way!
CTM – As far as I know, when you first started out, you were heavily into Sean Taggart. What are your favourite parts of the “Cause For Alarm” artwork? What are your favorite details/little things on it?
Spoiler – Sean Taggart and Kevin Crowley were definitely my biggest inspirations, and the CFA cover is number one. I don’t need to tell you that the Demon-Skin (Taggart calls him Horny) and the Punker’s teeth are the biggest influence of them all, but smaller details I always loved were the Shok band pin, the big gun the other Skinhead is holding, and those weird screaming Easter Island statues in the background, I still don’t really know what the hell they are!
CTM – Thanks for the interview and thanks for your time! Last question: if you had to pick one Agnostic Front song to play someone who has never heard them before, what would it be and why did you choose this song?
Spoiler – You’re welcome, I can talk about Agnostic Front for days and thank you for your dedication to Hardcore, fanzines and Vinnie Stigma! Your question is too hard on my brain… my first thought was Victim In Pain. If you hear Victim In Pain and you don’t like it you can go to hell. But if you’ve never heard AF, maybe you should start with Discriminate Me? But then what about Blind Justice, or Your Mistake? Hell, maybe I would play them Power! Fuck it! If you can’t handle Agnostic Front at Power you don’t deserve them at Victim In Pain!!!