“If you smash up the Antidote and the Abused 7″es and glue them together, you’ll have a Dead Stop record.” This DS interview was originally published in Push The Limit fanzine, please click images to view full size.
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!!!
Stigmatism, pic by Ben Pepin
“HERE IT IS: the best hardcore band I’ve ever been in! The idea for this band has existed in various forms over the last fifteen years as I’ve attempted to find musicians who could compliment my love for the greatest guitar player in the world. I could never get it quite right until one day something clicked when Marc Grillo and I swapped stories about our terrifying experiences in the nineties hardcore scene. After years of friendship and making half-assed late night promises that one day we’d do a band together, it suddenly hit me that this real deal New York Italian was the only person who could turn this dream hardcore band into reality. The Sicilian blood pumping through his Jewish heart was the fuel I needed to write the riffs. After many more late nights talking about our fantasy band we finally made it into a practice room when he came up for Varning last September. Instinctively knowing exactly what I wanted to do, his drumming and input turned my ideas into the perfectly idiotic hardcore songs I’ve always wanted to make. We finished writing and recorded the demo all within the span of maybe five hours and were so excited about it that we talked about this new band to everyone we knew at Varning. By the end of the night we had a line-up together to play shows, and did just that in January. We got another big gig coming up at A COOL MOVE 2018 in May where we will have tapes and shirts! See you in the pit! A big thanks to Paul Hey, Steve Dee and Henz Patrick Ruckus for playing with us and making this a real band + a very special thanks to Max Gosselin for recording us and Benjamin Greenberg for the mix! Hardcore Lives!” Spoiler
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 Crucial Times fanzine, Randall Underwood, Amy Keim, Krissy Bedell, Jessica Bard, Harley Flanagan.
CTM – Yo Spoiler! Could you please introduce yourself to the readers? And who is the greatest guitar player of all time?
Spoiler – What’s up everybody it’s me, the Spoiler! The greatest guitar player of all time is VINNIE STIGMA!!! If you like Hardcore you might know me as the bassist in Justice, Omegas ormy new band Stigmatism, our E.P. comes out this summer on Beach Impediment, what’s up Big Shub!!!
CTM – What was your introduction to Agnostic Front? Was it love at first sight?
Spoiler – In the early nineties I was the youngest in a family of metalheads growing up in Northern Belgium. My dad and older brother always bought copies of a Dutch metal magazine called Aardschok and they had a Skinhead on staff who reviewed and interviewed Hardcore bands. His name was Onno Cro-Mag. I was into Death Metal, but I had just missed the golden era and now all the bands were putting out their progressive bullshit albums. So I was bored with Metal and starting to learn about Hardcore. It sounded a lot more fun, but I hadn’t actually heard much of it. I had a Sheer Terror tape since I was 12 but thought it was Metal. Then a high school buddy made me a tape with Citizens Arrest and Slapshot and I got more interested in Hardcore. In 1996 I switched schools and at my new school there were a few Skinheads and Punks who I befriended right away. One of the Skinhead girls named Lies sold me her Agnostic Front Last Warning CD for cheap andI loved it right away. At first I was more into the live recordings because they had crossover appeal to me as a metal head, but soon I fell in love with the bonus tracks: the United Blood EP. There was something so raw, so insane about the music. I had heard Punk bands like the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys and Chaos UK who I liked, but thought were silly. To a metal head, Punk music sounded like a contest to be the most obnoxious. The United Blood EP was different. It sounded like Punk, but there was nothing silly about it. It was intense, it was tough, it was a real mess. I fell in love with it and I still love it to death.
CTM – Agnostic Front took the sound of the streets to the masses. Abandoned tenements, drug raids and overdoses, the homeless on the Bowery, social change without social media, decadence and general full-scale mayhem. The early Agnostic Front records really capture the vibe of New York and all its boroughs in the ’80s. What do you think made the band so unique in that timeframe?
Spoiler – It’s like Vinnie says in the Flipside interview: Agnostic Front are from the ghetto. Those guys came from poor families and hard lives. It shows in the music, not only because they were expressing their reality, but also in the more literal way – these guys didn’t have money for good equipment, practice time at nice studios or music lessons. A lot of people from the early NYHC scene came from more artistic backgrounds. They weren’t rich, but they came from arts communities, parents who played music. There was nothing artistic about Agnostic Front in that sense, but of course that allowed for a really raw and pure expression of their lives.Agnostic Front didn’t want to be artistic. They didn’t event want to be musicians. They were angry street kids who wanted to mosh. That’s the one thing that truly set Agnostic Front apart from their contemporaries: Vinnie Stigma picked his band members exclusively on their capabilities as moshers, with absolutely no regard for for their musicianship. Vinnie was a visionary who could see that moshing, the interaction between band and audience was the biggest difference between Hardcore and Punk. There were already bands playing Hardcore music, there were already mosh parts, but Vinnie was the first to pay attention to the moshers themselves. He realized they were as important to the scene as the bands, and they understood the music better than some of the musicians.
CTM – They recorded the final version of “United Blood” on June 3 1983, and the EP came out in November 1983. When the band released “United Blood”, they started using the term “hardcore” because they wanted to separate AF from the druggy and artsy punk scene. Content, lyrics and message wise why do you think this record is exponentially important?
Spoiler – The United Blood EP has to be the most powerful music ever recorded by people who couldn’t play their instruments. At that point in time, all Punk and Hardcore bands said they couldn’t play because it was still the era of arena rock, when the standard of playing music was Led Zeppelin or The Eagles. In comparison, of course Hardcore bands couldn’t play. But looking back at it now, a lot of early Hardcore bands like the Adolescents, the Bad Brains or Die Kreuzen for instance were phenomenal musicians. Compared to those bands, Agnostic Front could actually not play. But somehow, they were able to create an incredibly powerful, menacing, insane sound. They were inspired by DC bands like Iron Cross and SOA who also couldn’t play, but those bands seemed to know what their limits were. Agnostic Front did not. They played like they were in a fist fight with their own limitations. Raybeez couldn’t keep a beat to save his life, but instead of sticking to simple beats he tried to overcome himself by playing really chaotic, busydrum beats with a bunch of crazy drum fills all over them. Agnostic Front didn’t want to admit they couldn’t play, not to themselves and not to you. Other early New York Hardcore bands who couldn’t play were goofy kids who sang funny lyrics about how they couldn’t play. Agnostic Front were Skinheads who sang about how they were going to beat you up. Their message was simple: people had been fucking with them their entire lives and they weren’t gonna take it anymore. The intense atmosphere around this record changed NYHC forever. It showed people that you didn’t need to make fun of yourself for not being good at something that you cared about. It showed that you could make a statement even if you had nothing.
CTM – If we are talking about Agnostic Front, then we must talk about the Psychos too. Before the “United Blood” EP, the Psychos were a better and more popular band than Agnostic Front. “Discriminate Me” and “Fight” originally were the Psychos songs, finally both songs ended up on AF’s classic debut 7 inch. The Psychos are the true representation of what NYHC sounded like back in early 80s, but they are really underrated. What’s the reason for this?
Spoiler – The Psychos could never keep a line-up together. Every time they gained some momentum, someone would quit the band and they would have to start over again with a new member. The core member of the band, Billy Psycho, was an actual psycho and I imagine it wasn’t easy being in a band with him. They were like NYHC bootcamp, you started out playing in the Psychos and then you would start your own band.
The Psychos at A7 (Roger on bass)
CTM – “The socially relevant message of Agnostic Front: we were all underdogs and it was us against the world.”Agnostic Front against society’s system (“Remind Them”), Agnostic Front against the NYPD (“Blind justice”), Agnostic Front against anyone else (“Your Mistake”). These early AF songs took the us-versus-them mentality, they hate society and they are here to fight. What’s your opinion on this?
Spoiler – Agnostic Front’s message can be summed up in one quote from their hero band, Iron Cross: Unite Against the Enemy. Roger always told his crowd we’re all in this together, and I’ve always, to some extent, believed in the message of unity that Agnostic Front spread throughout their lifespan. I have always interpreted it as an all-inclusive invitation to anyone who genuinely doesn’t feel at home in greater society and wants to create something better for those who feel the same. As I get older, and live through the terrifying political climate of 2018, I can’t help but see mistakes in the way that Agnostic Front applied their idea of unity. Whether you’re talking about the NYHC or the society you live in, you can’t tolerate extreme right wing ideologies. In the eighties, AF allowed that to an extent, because those people said they’re also underdogs, and they deserved to be part of that underdog scene. But these kinds of people don’t have good intentions towards everyone else in thecommunity. They’re there to spread hate. They’re against the unity, or the inclusiveness that’s allowing them to be there in the first place. When it comes to Hardcore, these people’s politics are directly against the people of colour that created the original NYHC scene and music in the first place. So in that sense, I think the us-versus-them mentality can be dangerous if you aren’t careful with who you allow to be on your side. But I understand that the eighties were a confusing time and I’m glad we can learn from their mistakes. It’s important to talk about, but it shouldn’t be the focus. Agnostic Front did so many positive things for Hardcore and Punk and I’ll always be grateful. We still have to unite against the enemy, but remember who’s the enemy.
CTM – Stigma still lives at the same address printed inside the gatefold sleeve of Victim In Pain. A few years ago I visited NYC, I knew that I wouldn’t have much free time so I decided to use in a way that would fit my tastes in the best way possible. My first thing was to go to Little Italy, and ate some meatballs at Cafetal on Mott Street. Vinnie Stigma lives upstairs of this building, but he wasn’t home.
Spoiler – He was probably cooking some meatballs!
CTM – Stigma was sometimes criticized for not being able to play well. What do you think about the United Blood 7″ and Victim In Pain album musically? Critics deride Vinnie Stigma’s guitar talents, or lack thereof but Stigma is the only guitarist on those classic first two Agnostic Front records.
Spoiler – United Blood and Victim In Pain are easily their best records. People who make fun of a guitarist like Vinnie Stigma are the kind of people who will never write a good song in their entire lives. These are the people who spend all their time worrying about technique, guitar tone, pedals and gear. They can flawlessly imitate every guitarist they worship, but no one will ever know their name. None of that bullshit matters if you can’t write a good song. Vinnie Stigma didn’t need anything to create the sound that changed music forever. It was just him and his visionary mind, sitting at his mother’s kitchen table in Little Italy in 1977, writing Power. The people that make fun of bad guitarplaying will never understand the absolute genius of a song like Power.
CTM – What do you think about the infamous cover of “Victim In Pain”? The cover was taken out of a World War Two book, and lot of people misunderstand that. (The original picture of “Victim In Pain” was a completely different cover, it was a picture of Miret on top of the crowd at CBGB’s.)
Spoiler – I have never understood the controversy. It’s an image of victimization on an album called Victim In Pain. It’s an image showing the horrors of fascism on an album with anti-fascist lyrics written by a person of colour. What is the controversy? In 2018, we could say that the victim in the photo is Jewish, and none of the band members in that line-up are (their former bassplayer Adam Mucci is), so you could say it’s cultural appropriation – but in 1984 no one cared about that, so what was the controversy then? You could say it exploits war imagery, but what classic Punk album doesn’t? Would they say the same about Crass or Crucifix records? I think it was really a matter of people wanting to believe that they were Nazis using a photo of a Nazi, and they didn’t want to listen to what Roger and the band had to say about it. They believed the gossip mill in the pages of MRR, written by a guy who performed in a Hitler moustache!
CTM – “Victim In Pain” has just come out at the time when Roger Miret was asked to join the Cro-Mags and sing for them. (He played bass for the Cro-Mags first show when Eric Casanova was the singer, Paris was on guitar and Harley played drums.) What would have happened if Roger had joined the Cro-Mags?
Spoiler – The Cro-Mags would not have been as good with Roger singing, and Agnostic Front would not have been as good with someone else singing. Everyone made the right choice. The Cro-Mags sound was much more developed, with much more going on rhythmically than AF’s music. Roger’s singing style is straight forward and simplistic, and it would not have matched the Cro-Mags music that well. But it works perfectly for Victim In Pain. Even as frontmen, the Cro-Mags needed John Joseph’s wide range of high energy moves to go with the rhythms. Miret has a more laid back, straight forward style that doesn’t rely as much on moves but on pure charisma, exactly like AF’s music.
To be continued soon!