Agnostic Front interview with vocalist Roger Miret | Written by Derek Scancarelli
Over 30 years ago, Agnostic Front began to write songs about aspects of life that really pissed them off. Their dismay with oppression helped lay the foundation for the legendary New York hardcore scene.
The band’s newest record, The American Dream Died, highlights vocalist Roger Miret’s current beefs with all the injustice the United States has to offer in 2015.
If you ask Miret, it’s all about accountability in the face of obvious offenses. For him, those in powerful positions should be held to the same standards as the common man, whether cop, politician, or CEO.
The album also features nostalgia for old school New York City, before Elmo and billboards replaced sex workers and pornographic movie theaters. Miret remembers it like it was yesterday.
The title of the new record is The American Dream Died. What are you talking about? Society? Economy?
It’s a little bit of everything, you know? Basically, what it really comes down to is the fact that we’re losing, little by little, those three big things that the “American Dream” stood for: liberty, justice, and freedom. Little by little, they’re stripping us as we sleep. Just the other day, I was watching the news and, for instance, Al Sharpton: he owes a couple of million dollars to the IRS and meanwhile he’s been to the White House 70 times. If I owed $10,000 to the IRS, I might be in prison. I’m just pinpointing the fact that for a certain elite group of people they’re very careful how they handle those situations, but a person like you and me, the only invitation we’re getting is to Rikers Island. They don’t give a fuck about us.
Why was it the right time to make this social commentary?
Because it’s so current, it’s so real. Ever since the economy crashed big time, especially since the housing market, and I watched all the corruption, who’s behind it. You watch all the bullshit going on with the police violence on innocent civilians. When they abuse their badge. Where was it? Fullerton, Calif.? Where they beat that homeless man, [Kelly Thomas]? Now it’s a world where you can see everything! How do you let them get away with it? That’s the kinda stuff that really pisses me the fuck off.
The track “Police Violence” is pretty straightforward, but are you referencing any specific cases?
The Staten Island one, Eric Garner; that pissed me off. The guy couldn’t breathe; the illegal chokehold. If I would’a done that, I would be in prison, they wouldn’t give a shit. Or the guy in California, [Miret may mean Oscar Grant]. Those two really tick me off more than anything, because it’s so blatant and you physically see it. Somebody recorded the whole thing. When I actually see injustice like that, it really pisses me off.
There was also Akai Gurley, who was shot in a stairwell in the Brooklyn projects…
Something like that, you know, it could go either way for me, because you don’t really know what’s right or wrong, you’re taking someone’s word or another. But, if it was videotaped, then you can make your own decision. I’ve always been into that, I believe in something when it’s the absolute truth. That’s what Agnostic means. You see it with your own eyes; some of the cases I’m referring to, especially in the album, are stuff that you see with your own eyes, and it’s unjust.
Being a New York guy, what do you think about the tension between the people and police? Two police officers were just murdered…
I don’t agree with that. That’s taking shit too far. Two wrongs don’t make one right. And the tension obviously was created by something like that incident where you see a man in a chokehold, and it’s unnecessary roughness.
And another one: a woman [Cassandra Feuerstein] is in a jail cell and they threw her so hard, it cracked her head open and they left her there to bleed. There were puddles of blood. You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, we can make a judgment right there. How can a panel of judges or people not see it? Police officers: we pay them for their services, they’re supposed to protect and serve. If they’re gonna behave like criminals, they need to be prosecuted as criminals.
How do we fix this without it becoming back and forth violence?
Well, that’s the whole thing. If you got a demonstration going on and you’re throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, what do you think they’re gonna do to you? Of course they’re gonna charge at you, because you’re provoking it. Some stuff is provoking, some isn’t, but the [police brutality] I’m talking about is obvious. What are you gonna do? I don’t know. But they can’t keep getting away with this stuff.
They’re always protected, and when something does go wrong, they have the best lawyers, and you know why? Because the city doesn’t want to get sued.
Over the past 30 years, has Agnostic Front always called for social change?
Absolutely. We’ve always spoken of overcoming oppression, from day one, our first single. You’ll find those lyrics. We talk about uniting the people together to fight this unjust world. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst each other; we should be fighting against people who don’t want us to exist and think our own individual thoughts. It’s always been about social politics.
How have the things you’ve fought against changed over the years? Have you always been pushing back against the powers that be?
To me it’s always been us vs. them. I mean, I grew up in “The Reagan Years,” the [Ed] Koch years, the fucking years that really made a difference. They were violent, dangerous years. That element of danger is what created our scene and our movement. I grew up in this rebellious life and, yes, I’ve matured and I’ve gone through some hardship, but I learned how to channel my anger in different ways. Maybe in a little bit more of a productive way.
You sing, “This is our lives/This is our scene.” Is it still there, the comradery of the hardcore community?
We built this thing. New York hardcore is probably the only movement that made a world impact, period. It gapped that bridge between America and the world. If it wasn’t for NYHC, a lot of this hardcore thing really wouldn’t have been as big. I mean, you had your Black Flags and Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks, but a lot of that stuff faded away quick, especially when the bands got inactive. For some reason, the world really took an understanding and related to NYHC. I guess oppression, there was a lot of that going on worldwide. And that’s what that song is about; how it’s something we did together. We’ve never changed. It’s a pride song for us, for New York and our scene.
There’s a track on the album called “Old New York.” Specifically, what do you miss?
Times Square right now, that reminds me of fucking Disneyland of some sorts. They went in there and took all those fucking really cool XXX movie theaters and all the fucking hookers out of the street. Was I into it? No, I never went to them, the streetwalkers. Actually, I went to one of those fucking theaters once! I actually did to meet a girl there once; it was crazy!
But it just had this element of danger that was fantastic. I miss it, that element was what created these great bands and great artists, this great community. People learning how to live with each other and protect each other.
New York is safe now, it’s great they took all that and threw it out, but at the same time, they created this monster that you can’t even afford to live in anymore. How do you raise a family in New York? They created this tourist monster and they got away with it. And people go there and say, “I don’t know what Roger is talking about. This Lower East Side, this is nice!” Well it wasn’t. That’s the beauty with my mind, I still have those memories, you know? “Old New York” is about how I miss all that.