Agnostic Front has been celebrating a lot of anniversaries the last few years. 2009 marked the 25th anniversary of the release of their classic first album, Victim In Pain, which was re-released on Bridge Nine Records. This year, they are celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band with a world tour. They play the opening night of the CBGB Festival on July 5 at Webster Hall. If you haven’t seen them perform before (full disclosure: they headlined the first hardcore show I went to in 1986!) it would be well worth your while to see one of the originators of hardcore.
I recently talked with singer Roger Miret about the band’s illustrious history, the CBGB Festival, and what the future holds for Agnostic Front. The transcription is below.
With this being your 30th anniversary tour, did you guys ever think that Agnostic Front was going last this long?
No, I never saw that. We were just young kids, teenagers rebelling against society. That’s probably the best way to put it. I had no idea that it would become what it became. We never knew our oppression was a worldwide thing, that a lot of people around the world felt the same way
How does it feel when you go to places like Indonesia, Wisconsin, or South America and see local bands mimicking or sounding like a New York hardcore style band?
I feel honored of course that our music, genre/sound has become what it’s become. Some of the countries that you are talking about—[outside] of the U.S., third world countries—it’s pretty cool that they are doing what we were doing. Those are dangerous countries to just be expressing yourself. I give them a lot of credit for doing what they are doing whether they are mimicking a style or not. I think they took something they feel passionate about, like we have, and just want to take it from there. They’ve discovered something that means a lot to them lyrically and musically.
I didn’t mean mimic in a bad way, more as something that pays homage to…
I know exactly what you meant. What is similar to some of those countries is that element of danger we had when we were first doing this music and saying what we were saying. Nowadays, I think if a band like the Sex Pistols were a band today, I don’t [think] they would make a third of the impact they made in ’76. Things have changed have a lot, that element of danger that’s missing. But that still exists in some other countries—that chaos.
Talking about chaos, the antithesis of chaos is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. What do think of your city right now?
To me, the best way to explain that is that if you look at the lyrics I wrote back in 1980 about New York City and you go to New York City today—you’d be like, “What is this guy talking about?!” It changed completely, it’s not what it was. Because of that, I found it simple enough to pick up and move. I don’t live in New York anymore. Why am I gonna pay the high cost of living when I can live better elsewhere with my wife and children and get the same thing? The New York I sing about and the New York I love is the Taxi Driver [Martin Scorsese film starring Robert DeNiro] New York. You know what I’m talking about? That’s the New York that I like.
I know that some of the press originally ignored Victim In Pain when it first came out in 1984. Did you guys feel that you were complete outsiders and that no one else outside of the hardcore scene cared about or noticed what you were doing?
Absolutely, no one was really saying anything [about us]. Then we have the re-release of VIP [in 2009] and all of a sudden we have a full-page thing in the Village Voice and they are saying it’s a monumental record. I was like, “Wow!” I was honored and flattered that after all these years they are saying something so good about that record but it’s been a struggle the whole time. But now, all of a sudden people are finally seeing it. For many years you go unnoticed. It’s pretty cool that finally there’s that love.
So how do you feel about the upcoming CBGB Festival and that the club might be coming back?
Well you know, my feelings are this—we played many CB’s benefits, we did all we could to keep CB’s open. [CBGB founder] Hilly Kristal asked me to put together the last hardcore matinee at CB’s with AF, Madball and Murphy’s Law, and it was a cool show. And Hilly passed away three months later and we thought that was the end of all ends. So now, Louise [Parnassa-Staley] and Brendan [Rafferty]—who used to book the shows there—contacted me and they knew we were doing our anniversary tour and doing Live At CBGB’s, an important record for us. Every big AF fan has that record or loves that record, and it was one of the biggest live records recorded at the CBGB’s. So it seemed like the right thing to do this festival. It’s opening night—we closed it with hardcore and we’ll open it with hardcore.
I don’t know what’s going on [with the club reopening]. At least it’s a start to something, maybe it’ll lead to another venue. Hopefully they’ll continue in the same spirit that Hilly had—he really had passion for music. I give them the benefit of the doubt, let’s see where it goes. As for now, were headlining the opening night of the festival: Agnostic Front with Madball and Murphy’s Law.
So I’ve always heard that AF has played CBGB’s more times than any other band. Is that true?
I think so. I don’t think any band has played CBGB’s more than Agnostic Front. I can’t think of a band that played CB’s more than us. We also recorded three live albums at CBGB.
You did the first one in ’88. When was the second one?
The second one was [recorded] in ‘92, came out in ’93, and that’s called Last Warning: Recorded Live At CBGB’s. And the third one was Live At CBGB’s, recorded [in] ’05 or ’06.
So when was the first time that you played CBGB’s with Agnostic Front?
I can’t remember the date but it has to 1983. ’82 is when I joined the band, in the end of ’82, so it has to be in ‘83…
So what was the first show you saw there? I remember mine, it was AF…
Oh, Christ… I wanna say my first was to see The Police? Either The Police, Ramones or Blondie. One of those three. But I think it was The Police before they broke [up]. I’m going back to the late ‘70s. That was my first.
Going forward, you are doing your 30th anniversary tour. What are your plans?
We are traveling the world for this. We just got back from Europe and Australia and New Zealand. We are getting ready to do some American dates then go to Europe again. Then follow that with some South American dates. Then some Canadian dates. There are some other dates being booked on the West Coast and Florida as well.
Wow, sounds like you have busy year ahead. Where are you favorite places to play outside the States?
We love Europe. I feel Germany is like our second home, we’ve made a lot of friends over there. It has a really cool scene. South America has an incredible scene as well. It’s thriving—probably the craziest place to play in the whole world. The kids there are just absolutely nuts all over the world. What’s cool about South America is that I speak Spanish and I do some songs in Spanish. It’s that extra love. It’s a little more personal, it’s like, “He’s one of us.”
I saw a YouTube video of you guys doing a song in Spanish…
We shot a new video off our new album call “A Mi Manera.” We shot it here in New York with my brother Freddy from Madball [who is also on the track].
Well I feel we’ve covered a lot here. Thank you so much for you time, I’ll see you at the show on July 5.
Agnostic Front will play at the CBGB Festival on July 5 at Webster Hall. For more information, go to agnosticfront.com.