President Obama is re-elected to serve his second term and that raises a little hope. Even considering the fact that we’re talking politics and promises in politics are bound to be downsized when executed. Sadly, it took hurricane Sandy’s destructive course to bring climate change back on the political agenda.
After a day of considerable confusion, we meet up with Roger Miret, lead singer of hardcore punkrock band Agnostic Front, backstage at the Area 4 Festival in Germany on the hottest day of the year. It’s late in the evening and Roger is tired. Nevertheless the vibe’s good as Roger talks about children in need, animal cruelty, Agnostic Front’s latest album ‘My Life, My Way’ and how he felt Obama let him down during his first term, but deserves a second chance.
November 2012 might give us some reason to celebrate, but it would take a miracle to cure my insomnia….
Sanderz: Congratulations, your celebrating your 30th anniversary with a world tour. Having just played the main stage at the Area 4 Festival. How is it to be back in Germany?
Roger: We love Germany. We’ve always loved Germany. It’s an honor to be here. It’s great man. It really is!
Sanderz: Are there any particular countries you like best beside Germany?
Roger: We’ve been coming to Germany for over 20 years, so we’ve made a lot of friends here. It’s great to be able to travel and see them each year. Our whole road crew is from Germany too. There are a lot of great places all over the world there, but Germany is our second home.
Sanderz: Global warming is in comparison not very profitable, politicians are humoring their voters by ‘considering’ the environment. Every UN climate talk has been a big overture resulting in big disappointments. What are your thoughts on these issues?
Roger: There has been a lot of neglect towards very critical and important issues. A lot of people take life for granted and don’t think the inevitable will happen. But we’re talking facts. We see weird temperature changes, tornados happening all over the world. I live in Arizona, where there are these enormous dust storms. There have been about six storms this year. It’s increasing. So you have all these clear messages.
If I remember correctly, there are supposed to be all kind of changes made next year, in America and Europe, concerning renewable electricity, converting to solar and all that stuff. Things take time, but in Europe they control their vehicles and emissions much better. There’s a lot more effort here than in America. Sadly, people are abusive. They don’t care because of the greed that comes with the petroleum industry. They don’t want to cut that down.
There is a really cool documentary called ‘Who Killed the Eclectic Car’ (directed by Chris Pain in 2006) based in California . They had all these electric cars, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was still governor, and a year later they suddenly all got recalled. There’s a junkyard with all these electric cars just sitting there. GM recalled the cars (EV1) because, the government under president Bush, the automobile and oil industry didn’t want them to be successful. They didn’t consider the need, to care about the human race.
Sanderz: The attitude considering global warming, ignoring climate deniers, varies from let it run its course and we will drop off eventually due to our own actions to we have to change our mentality to be able to live on a habitable planet for as long as it takes. Where do you stand on these points of view?
Roger: I’ve never believed that we can change the world, but I believe that we can make a difference. And, doing what I have been doing the last for 30 years, I’ve seen a difference in awareness and how people are educated. When we first started as a band, there was nothing behind the punk scene. It was fuck, chaos, destroy and kill yourself. When we entered the scene, we thought that the world was not a very great place to be in, but at the same time we believed we could make a difference . And thats the mentality people have to have. Eventually when you’re doing shit, the earth will spit you out. It happened before in the dinosaur era, but people just don’t care. They take this place for granted. But I don’t take anything for granted and I do believe we can make a difference, when small steps eventually become huge steps.
Sanderz: For those who aren’t familiar with the punk scene: Can you explain the difference between hardcore punk, New York hardcore and Street punk?
Roger: (laughs) It’s all the same to me, man. They are just titles. People want to separate things. They classified our first album as a ‘New York hardcore’ album, the first one ever. To me it was always a punk record. Streetpunk, NY hardcore punk, it all comes from the streets. People want to separate things for fashion, for audiences or whatever. But it’s all the same shit, man.
Sanderz: Can you describe what New York means to you?
Roger: (laughs) Uhhhh, New York right now? (the interview took place before hurricane Sandy hit NY city and the Northeast coast) Right now NY is a giant yuppie college town. It’s not the New York I grew up in. The New York I love, is the New York from the movie ‘Taxidriver’ (Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic starring Robert the Niro and Jodie Foster). That’s the New York I love. That’s the New York I know. Just chaos and the danger to walk down the street. It felt good, like I’m alive.
Sanderz: You were talking about expensive fashion…… How is your own clothing line coming along?
Roger: Well, (laughs) it’s not expensive. And right now it’s very slow and underground. ‘Dirty Devil’ is doing much better than ‘American Made Kustom’ (clothing company by Roger Miret (www.americanmadekustom.com ). I don’t have to tell you about the economy. It’s not good. I like being creative. That’s why I have three different bands: Agnostic Front, Roger Miret and the Disasters and the Alligators. I want to express myself and don’t like to write something that I can’t use. What I create is based on my life: bikes, cars, rock ‘n roll and punkrock. I want to share that with people. And when they like it , that’s cool.
Sanderz: Agnostic Front’s latest album ‘My Life, My Way’(2011) is about respecting your roots and find the path you want to walk. What has changed after 30 years, starting out as teenagers fighting against society and oppression? How do you fight oppression and how do you rise above it?
Roger: Well, here’s a funny story that I might as well share with you: Thirty years ago, when I was just a rebellious, crazy, teenager punk-kid, I was against big corporations and stuff. There was a McDonald’s on second avenue and sixth street -I’m going to incriminate myself now- that I felt was bullshit. It didn’t belong in the neighborhood. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon I took a garbage can and threw it through the window. Psssshh…. I broke it and walked. No problem, you know. You can’t do that anymore in New York. Back then I used to think ‘strike’ and then deal with it. ‘If I have to go to prison, then I ‘ll go to prison.’
I’ve been to prison. That doesn’t matter to me. But now I’m older, a father and matured a little bit, I do things in a different way. Now, I’ll take a toothpick with some glue on it, late at night, so ‘they’ can’t get in the next morning. And that is just as good to me.
Agnostic Front has always been about overcoming oppression, confronting that oppression and figuring out how to rise above it by all means necessary, and not in a violent way. Violence, especially ignorant violence, hatred, is the last resort. To minimalize it is the best way, but sometimes you have to stand up for your rights. What happened in Russia, with Pussy Riot that’s horrible. (two members of the feminist punk rock collective were charged with hooliganism and sentenced to two years imprisonment (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/pussy-riot-russian-court-orders-conditional-release-one-other-two-jailed-2012-10-10) It’s taking us thirty years back. Everything I believe in, the little difference I’ve made, I’ve felt so good about that. But reading the verdict, made me feel like I am wasting my time. How can this happen in the world? Today I started to think about it: whether they’ll be incarcerated for two years or not, it’s going to make a big difference later on. I don’t blame the Russian people, but their government. It sucks.
Sanderz: What does the ability to come up with inventive solutions mean to a difficult situation? Meaning that many kids from tough neighborhoods can’t find their way out. How did you?
Roger: I found music, something I love. I was five years old when I came from Cuba to America. My mom was twenty and lived in the ghetto with three kids. She was young when she had me. I grew up in the ghetto’s my whole life. But when you’re a kid you don’t realize you’re living in a ghetto or that you don’t have any money. You think you’re just as normal as everyone else. Later on, I realized that I lived in bad neighborhoods. As a kid it didn’t affect me and if anything it made me a little bit streetwise. I picked up things that other people don’t know. It has made me a smarter person in a different way.
The important thing is, you should always find a way out. If you don’t focus on something good, find your way out by being creative, you’re going to end up in a bad situation. I believe I’ve done that with my music. I saved a lot of people’s lives. I travel all over the world and people say: ‘If it wasn’t for you I would have killed myself.’ It’s incredible that I have made that difference. Sometimes I think about ‘my retirement’. I’m 48 years old playing, writing music and creating other stuff. What is going to happen? Did I waste my time? And then you meet people saying: ‘You help me through difficult times.’ Then I know I didn’t waste my time. My purpose on this earth is to educate and somehow I’m doing that with my lyrics.
Sanderz: Quote from ‘That’s life’ ‘I’m too old to give a damn..’ Are you ever?
Roger: ‘That’s life’ is a funny song. Yeah, I give a damn. With a family I have to. But it’s kind of interesting to be the way I am – sometimes I have to restrain myself- and to be a father at the same times. I talk to my children, I educate them and I have a very smart wife too. Luckily my wife and I think alike. We talk about a lot of stuff and it’s great fun, about conspiracies and spaceships for instance. Maybe we are not the only fuckin’ people in this universe or maybe all the fuckin’ terrorist shit is done by the government. Most people don’t want to learn. Why won’t they at least think about other possibilities? ‘Isn’t your mind curious? Why do you have to accept everything the way it was told to you?’ And talking about it is fun, you know.
Skye: Question everything….
Roger: That’s what Agnostic Front means, question everything. The question of the absolute truth. Don’t simply believe what you can see with your eyes. I can sing and talk a lot about conspiracies, spaceships and other stuff, but sometimes I have to restrain myself, because I have had a lot of problems with the law. So I shut my mouth and my wife and I just have fun. Being a Native American herself, she put up a picture of a Native American on her Facebook page, which is really incredible. It says something like: ‘You don’t believe that a country can incarcerate its own people. Look what they did. They threw all the Native Americans in reservation camps. And you still don’t believe a country can do that? Here we are.’
Sanderz: To whom is the song ‘The Sacrifice’ dedicated?
Roger: Let me think about the lyrics. ‘The Sacrifice’ is a song in general about people who’ve sacrificed their lives for the good of another, like Martin Luther King for instance, generous people. Even people fighting a war. I don’t believe in war, but there are people out there who have to do what they have to do, or are forced to do. They are making a sacrifice for what we consider freedom. I also wrote a song called ‘Peace’: ‘Our freedom fighters are their terrorists.’ There are two sides. And to remember that is important.
When I was touring in Ireland, we played in Belfast during the marching season, the orange walks. On that day the Catholics and Protestants fought, threw rocks at each other. It was crazy. Everybody was fighting. As I was travelling around, I saw these huge writings on the wall that said: Our freedom fighters are their terrorists, and I thought that was an incredible statement. It’s true from both sides.
Sanderz: Expressing your ideologies is a part of the punk subculture. How do you walk the thin line between inspiring and preaching?
Roger: I always try to inspire and not to preach at all. I’ve seen a lot of preaching backfiring. If you need to preach that badly, you’re not talking to the right people. You’ve got to live and lead by example and when people meet me or see my band, they know that we’re genuine. We’re real. When you feel that, you automatically relate. So I don’t need to preach. I just need people to look, judge, see and feel.
Sanderz: You’re a great supporter of PETA, fighting for animal rights & against cruelty to animals. What of PETA’s work lies closest to your heart?
Roger: PETA is a good thing doing positive stuff. I’m not a vegetarian anymore, but I raised my daughter for 18 years as a vegetarian, till she decided whether to eat meat. I support PETA in their fight against animal cruelty. The people who work there are good hearted. I’ve always said: ‘Why do we test on animals when there are pieces of shit in prison that have raped women and have molested children. Test it on them. What the fuck did the rabbit do to you?’
Sanderz: Are there other (non-profit) organizations that you support?
Roger: I support a lot of charities, but I can’t think of any from the top of my head. I work locally with a lot of different projects. I’m very involved with my children, their school and all their programs. I like kids a lot. I always wanted to be a big brother. Are you familiar with the big brother program? (Big Brother Big Sister is a non-profit mentoring network for children age 6-18 in the US. Find out more @www.bbbs.org) I always thought the program was fantastic, but I never had a chance to do it. Because of the travel I wasn’t allowed to participate. ‘What are you going to do with a kid when you’re touring?’ It makes sense. But I believe in helping people that are in need, especially children.
When we were back home in New York Agnostic Front was playing CBGB’s every thanksgiving and every Christmas, cheap shows. We asked our fans to bring a can of food and I would go to a shelter, that I used to go to when I was living on the streets myself. With these shows we filled a van full of food. It was great and I felt great. We played a show , and with the money we went to Toys ‘r Us and bought for $2000 to $3000 toys to bring it to kids, who were terminally ill. I like to work more with children, children and animals.
I recently rescued a dog from the shelter. The thing I hate most, is how all these animals end up in shelters. It’s not their choice. People can fence for themselves, but animals cannot. Stray animals bother me a lot. Somebody threw that dog out. Somebody just didn’t care. And that bothers me. Why would you do that? It saddens me. The same goes for neglected children.
Sanderz: The question we ask all interviewees: What do you do in your daily life to reduce your carbon footprint?
Roger: We recycle at the house in Arizona, absolutely. We have solar panels and water-filtration. I remodeled the whole house myself and made sure that everything I put in there was more energy efficient. I used real quality German products that will last for a long time. I like to DIY so I can make everything the way I want it.
Arizona in itself is an incredible state and if they would build solar panels, there would be enough power to power the whole US from just one state. The reason they haven’t done that, is because there is a lot of Native American reservations here that have to be considered. But if it was up to me I would say: Just build it.
I was backing president Obama first term. I thought change was going to happen. And it didn’t. He disappointed me, but you know what: I’m going to vote for him again. Because maybe four years wasn’t long enough, but he needs to start doing instead of talking. So we’ll see. (President Obama was just re-elected for his second term promising harsher energy regulations).
Sanderz: Thanks for the interview…..
Roger: It’s was a very interesting interview. I liked it. I thought it was going to be a regular, boring interview. (Sanderz laughing) But you know, this guy is talking real good shit!
Sanderz: So where is the tour taking you?
Roger: We come back in January with on the EMP PERSISTANCE-tour with Hatebreed, H2O, AF and Ignite. Have you talked to Zoli? (Find our conversation with Zoli Teglas of Ignite @ our conversations archives: Saving Pelicans for Karma)
Sanderz: Yeah. We did last year.
Roger: He does a lot of work for Sea Shepherd, saving whales and all that stuff. Very cool. A good person to talk to. This is what I mean with good people. Maybe I see you at the Persistence tour……
More information about the upcoming EMPPersistence tour 2013 with Agnostic Front Hatebreed, The Acacia Strain, H2O, Stick To Your Guns and NEAERA (no Ignite), you can find on www.persistencetour.de.
If you want to know more about The Godfathers of New York hardcore, Agnostic Front, go to www.agnosticfront.com