From the East Coast to the West Coast
CoC chats to Roger Miret from Agnostic Front
by: Jackie Smit
While the quality of their music over the last ten years can almost certainly never be called into question, it could be argued that those who would claim that New York's finest purveyors of hardcore have mellowed with age may well have the grounds to do so. After all, while recent records like _Something's Gotta Give_ and _Dead Yuppies_ definitely did have their merits, they were hardly the product of unfettered rage delivered by the band on the edge. Of course, those who would forge that claim haven't yet heard the band's latest effort, the suitably titled _Another Voice_. Picking up where the band's previous cross-over masterpiece _One Voice_ left off, it's a surprisingly harsh record that shows up many of the newer generation for the imitators that they are, and leaves absolutely no doubt that Agnostic Front are as relevant today as they were in the early '80s. I recently shared a telephone conversation with frontman Roger Miret, who was eager to discuss the reasons for the change in creative gears.

Roger Miret: Well, I think that most importantly we just felt like we wanted to revisit the _One Voice_ era. We had started to play a lot of those songs live and we felt like we were starting to miss them. And when we played them, we started to feel really good about doing stuff like that, so the album came naturally from there. This album is really all based around things we had done before; it's nothing new to us. But we do feel like it could be new to people that maybe weren't familiar with what we were doing with _One Voice_.

CoC: If you had to trace back to the birthing process of this record, could you cite something in particular that sparked off the added aggression that's prevalent on the album? I remember _One Voice_, as an example, came off the back of your legal troubles.

RM: I just felt like I needed the change -- this is what I really needed to do. I really needed to go back to that time period, because there was something different about it, just like there's something different about going back to it now. Even though it does have a heavier, meaner and more metallic sound, it still doesn't sound like a lot of bands that do this stuff today. It's still very New York hardcore. I just felt like I wanted to go back to that period of what we used to call new school hardcore for a while. I just feel like I'm accomplishing everything that I want to accomplish musically. I mean, I have my other band -- The Disasters -- who are going pretty strong, and that's the punkier, "oi" stuff, and with the new Agnostic material, it's like I have two outlets now.

CoC: For this album, you had Jamie Jasta [Hatebreed] on board to produce the record, and Agnostic Front has also shared several tours with the band before. Do you think that perhaps Agnostic Front has been drawn in a way to Hatebreed because from a generic point of view, they could potentially be the band to pick up the torch from Agnostic Front when you guys call it a day?

RM: Hatebreed is a fantastic band. They've been around for ten years and they're going really strong. But Hatebreed -- when you compare them to Agnostic Front, we're two completely different bands. There are a few similarities, but Hatebreed is a lot heavier. Jamie was a fantastic producer, and really the idea for this record came from a tour we did with them where we were listening to _One Voice_ and he came in and said that we should do _Another Voice_. So the name of the record came up before we'd even written one song. We agreed to do it, and then Jamie said that he'd book the studio in January, and we played our last show with Hatebreed on January 2nd and the next day we were in the studio doing this record. We didn't want this record to stagnate. We knew we had to do something different for it and we wanted to revisit that time in our lives, so to come off the tour and start working on it immediately helped, I think. And that's where Matt Henderson [guitars on _Another Voice_] comes in, because he also wanted to add his contribution to this.

CoC: Aside from Matt Henderson joining Agnostic Front on guitars for the new record, you also drafted Steve Gallo in on the drums. What brought this on?

RM: Well, in a way that's one of the main reasons why the band changed. We got him in and he took us back to that era. Steve Gallo is Mikey's [Gallo, Bass] little brother and he used to be our backup drummer. He played with us prior to officially joining Agnostic Front, in South America, and he toured with us in Canada, and during those shows we did a lot of the _One Voice_ material, because he played them so much better and they just felt right and it felt like he was doing them so well. I'm not saying that Jimmy Colletti isn't a good drummer -- he's just a drummer from a different era with a different style. The music we came up with for _Something's Gotta Give_, _Riot, Riot, Upstart_ and _Dead Yuppies_ -- that all came from playing with him, because that's what we had played when we were a band with him in the Eighties and that's what we naturally knew how to do best when we were together. When we started playing around with the stuff for _One Voice_, Jimmy was really into it and he was all for the idea for doing _Another Voice_. And it was just natural that we would use someone like Steve Gallo to do the album with us in the same way that it was natural for us to use Jimmy when we were doing material like we did for _Something's Gotta Give_.

CoC: In terms of lyrics and what you're talking about on this album, I think it's very in keeping with the tone of the music that you refer to the current state of affairs in the world today. Do you want to expand on that more specifically and tell me what inspired you to come up with these lyrical ideas?

RM: Well, the lyrical themes are definitely the big difference between _Another Voice_ and _One Voice_, because when we did that album I was going through a rough period and dealing with my incarceration and all that. _Another Voice_ is more focused around social politics, like you said. It's about what I see when I open my eyes in the morning and what I read about in the paper. It's pretty much my views. There are some world political issues, like the song "Peace", for instance, that touches on terrorism itself and how it's so beyond control. But again, lyrically we bring everything into the context of our own hardcore community.

CoC: That feeling of community is something you guys have certainly fostered for many years now. Do you feel that the sense of unity in hardcore is still as strong as it was a decade ago?

RM: Yes, I do. When we first came out, it was a lot smaller and it had different values and different morals, which I miss. All those values were really extreme, but at the same time they were really great. They were anti-establishment, anti-government and all those other stuff that's really good, you know? Some of those values got watered down and disappeared later on when a lot of bands started doing hardcore. But we're still more roots-orientated, because for us it's more of a lifestyle; it's a way of life that we've lived for over twenty years. We really believe in this and we really believe in what we do. We believe in the hardcore scene and we believe that it can still be used to effectively address growing concerns. As long as there are people that are being oppressed, we'll be around.

CoC: So, if you had to point to specifics, in what ways would you say that the hardcore scene's morals and values have deteriorated?

RM: Well, it's in that roots kind of way that I was talking about. A lot of the lyrics aren't really as political or how they used to be. Back in the early days, bands were really original. You had bands like Dead Kennedys, Agnostic Front, Minor Threat, Black Flag...

CoC: All very socially conscious bands.

RM: Exactly. We were all anti-Reagan, we were all politically-aware, we were all anti-war and things like that. These days a lot of the newer bands don't even really talk about that sort of stuff anymore. They just want to do hardcore for the music and make some really heavy stuff and scream over it. And it's so easy to be a hardcore band and get instant popularity, or say that you play hardcore or a similar kind of music and instantly get a following. But the question is: where are you going to be in ten years time? Will you still be around, or did you just use it as a springboard to get to what you really are?

CoC: And obviously Agnostic Front is definitely able to answer yes to the former.

RM: For sure. I mean, we've almost outlived The Ramones and they've been a band for twenty something years. I mean with me in the band for twenty three years -- they had two singers before I joined the band. But it's something that we love and adore and it's something we chose to believe in. We love our hardcore community. We love the shows, we love the people and we love what it all stands for. We're a bunch of outcasts and misfits that like to upset the system, you know what I mean?

CoC: But after twenty three years doing this, are you still able to get to the level of excitement that you might have had two decades ago?

RM: Yeah, I do, believe it or not. Sometimes I think I get -more- excited, because when we got started it was all good, but at the same time you have to realise that when we started out we had like fifteen or twenty people at a show. Today it's in the hundreds and it feels good. It feels rewarding, and I get really psyched because I know that the people that are there came to see what we had to offer and what we had to say, and I know that they're there to vibe with us and to become. So it's very exciting, because I know that the people that are there are there to experience what we're experiencing, and they get that through our music and through our lyrics.

CoC: So, considering that Agnostic Front have been around for such a long time now and clearly there are differences in the way that you perceive and live the scene, if you will, and the way that the new generation does, who would you regard as your soul mates in music?

RM: Well, I would always say that Madball are our brothers. I mean, we were Madball and then they gradually became something else. My little brother, Freddy, is in that band. Off and on, we've always been together, so they're definitely a brother band to us. Then we have Hatebreed, which we feel are soul mates with us. They represent the East Coast hardcore community; even though it's Connecticut, they're very "New York" to us. And then of course, we cherish bands like Terror a lot too. Even though they're on the West Coast, it's very easy to hear that they're influenced a lot by the East Coast.

CoC: And then of course there’s your friends in Rancid as well.

RM: Oh yeah. There's bands like Rancid and Dropkick Murphys, who are close personal friends of ours, and even though they don't play the same kind of music that we do, the feeling that I get from those bands, the philosophy is the same.

CoC: Going back to the political outlook of hardcore bands and the content on _Another Voice_, if you don't mind me asking: what was your stance in the November elections in the States?

RM: Well, I'm against Bush. I'm definitely not pro-Bush. I think he's a maniac and a mad man, and I think he needs to go. As far as Kerry -- you know, I think that it really came down to a choice of the lesser of two evils, and unfortunately Bush won.

CoC: On to your label situation: I think it came as quite a surprise for fans when Agnostic Front moved from Epitaph to Nuclear Blast, and considering where you guys are coming from, it was quite a strange choice to move from a punk/hardcore orientated label to a label that doesn't really cover that style of music. What prompted the decision to move?

RM: Well, when we finished with Epitaph two years ago, there were a lot of labels that had an interest in us, and we were looking for a worldwide deal. Then Marcus [Staiger, Nuclear Blast owner] wanted to hear the demo for the new stuff and I played it for him, and he's just a fantastic guy and a great person. He is a hardcore fan, and he's also an Agnostic Front record collector. Not only did he come along to listen to the demo, but he brought his entire staff with him, and so we knew what each and every person in the Nuclear Blast office did. I felt that to be very comforting, because it's like meeting a family. He wasn't like some guy that just comes by to hear your band because he wants to sign you. He brought along his entire family, so that we would know who the people are that would be working on the record for us. And that made us feel right at home and it made us feel really comfortable. It felt like it was the right thing to do.

CoC: Now, you guys are about to go on tour with Skinless, and I know that in the past Hate Eternal and Hatebreed have done some tours together. I was wondering what your take is on the recent increase in collaboration -- on a touring level at least -- between hardcore and death metal bands; given that they come from completely different departure points.

RM: When we started out, we were one of the first bands to pioneer what they called cross-over at the time, which is pretty much joining hardcore punk and the metal scene. So musically, that's nothing new -- we did that along with bands like DRI and Corrosion of Conformity and bands like that. But what a person needs to understand is that it's fairly easy to cross over, because musically both genres very hard and it's very aggressive. Lyrically is where I never could relate to some of the metal bands. I mean, I love Slayer -- I think they're a fantastic sounding band, but lyrically I have nothing in common with them. They don't really do anything for me. I always feel like it's good to play with different types of bands though, so that you get exposed to a lot of different audiences, because you never know who might hear you for the first time and actually decide to come over to your side of the water, you know?

CoC: Agnostic Front, along with some of the other bands that we've mentioned so far, really push working class values and are very much champions of the working class. From a personal point of view, where does that come from?

RM: Well, it's really in how we were raised. I come from the streets of New York City and we always had to work for ours and you knew what the rewards would be. And just general things like working and trying to raise my family; you have to have some general work and family values to begin with. We are probably one of the hardest working bands and we are for the people who want to make the world better and who want to do something with their life.

CoC: Are you still as pissed off at life as you were in 1982?

RM: Here's the difference between 1982 and 2005. I don't know whether you've ever heard of my other band, The Disasters? Well, I really tap into more personal things with that band. I mean, some of the stuff is based around fictitious events and I use fictitious names, but it's really all about me. But what I'm trying to get to is that back in 1982 -- and there's a song about this on the Disasters record called "Run Johnny Run" -- I once picked up a garbage can and threw it through a McDonald's window, because I wanted to make my own statement. I couldn't stand the company and I couldn't stand big corporations. So I did it and I just walked away. I wouldn't do that today. I mean, what I'm trying to say is that back then I struck and then I continued. Now I think before I strike. I would still break that window, but I'd wait until 3am when nobody's watching, you know? <laughs> I feel like I'm a little wiser now. I mean, when I was young I was a little crazy and I've been there and done that, you know -- I was locked up, I was beaten, I was stabbed and I don't want to go back to all that stuff.

CoC: So, after more than two decades spent making hardcore, what do you feel is still left for Agnostic Front to achieve?

RM: We never tried to achieve anything. I mean, we tried to take things one step at a time from the start and whatever happens, happens, you know. A lot of bands, I think, try too hard, end up getting a little jaded and then it's over. When we got back together in the Nineties, we were planning on doing a single, and we ended up making an album and now we've done four albums. In this business, you know never know what's going to happen. We make small plans like set up tours, but we like to be surprised along the way, and as long as there's a demand for us, we'll be playing.

CoC: Who do you cite as the biggest inspiration in your life right now?

RM: Well, my biggest inspiration has and always will be Joe Strummer from The Clash. You don't hear so much of that influence in Agnostic Front, but in Disasters definitely. I mean, he did a lot for me. He's my mentor and he's the man who made me what I am. Along with Roger Daltry from The Who, of course.

CoC: Roger, thank you very much for your time. Do you have anything you want to add?

RM: No man, just thanks a lot for your time and we really appreciate everything that you and our fans have done for us. Check out our website www.agnosticfront.com and we'll see everyone on tour real soon.

(article submitted 20/1/2005)


ALBUMS
3/6/2011 A McKay 9.5 Agnostic Front - My Life My Way
12/9/2007 J Smit 9 Agnostic Front - Warriors
11/29/2004 J Smit 9 Agnostic Front - Another Voice
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