Rock! Shock! Pop! Sits Down With Agnostic Front's Mike Gallo!
It's pretty safe to say that NYC's Mike Gallo lives and breathes hardcore. As a member of premier NYHC group Agnostic Front for well over ten years, Mike has laid down the heavy bass groove found on all of their albums since 2001's "Dead Yuppies". With the band's newly-released album, "The American Dream Died" receiving solid reviews worldwide, it seemed like a good time for Rock! Shock! Pop! to have a chat with Mike and get his take on the band, the album, the tours, and the state of hardcore.
Rock! Shock! Pop! : What drew you to playing music, specifically hardcore? Was bass your first choice, or were there other instruments you were interested in playing?
Mike Gallo : My whole family were musicians, everyone from my father, my mother and my brother. Dad played keyboards, accordion, and sang. Mother played piano and my brother played drums. My dad has been playing in bands since he's 16 years old. So you could say he was my major influence. I was actually interested in playing the guitar. I had brought this up to my dad and he gave me the advice to pick up the bass guitar. He told me that guitar players were dime a dozen and every band needed a good bass player. This is the best advice anybody has ever given me. I got into Hardcore when I was around 17, 18 years old. A good friend of mine that had moved from Staten Island introduced me to Hardcore by taking me to go see Murphy's Law at the Wetlands in NYC. Changed my life forever!
RSP : You've been playing with Agnostic Front for almost 15 years and seen a few drummers come and go. As the "senior rhythm section guy", are there any struggles you have adapting to playing with new band members?
MG : I don't think I had any problems adapting to playing with other guys. I grew up playing with my brother and he was always a solid drummer. Most of the guys that I have played with have been really good. Especially our newest drummer Pokey Mo. I do remember at one point when we were auditioning drummers for Agnostic Front. There's a few guys we tried out and knew right away that they were not fit for the gig.
RSP : Freddy (Cricien)from Madball is again involved with producing your new album. What does he bring to the table, sound-wise? Is part of the "AF Sound" down to his involvement?
MG : We work very well with Freddy. He's family and nobody knows this band better than him. He's been on the road with them since he's nine years old. So there's no one better to have as an outside ear because he knows what we should sound like. Freddy is a very talented guy and has a lot of great ideas. Especially when it comes to lyrical placement, melodies, and sometimes helps with song arrangements.
RSP : Hardcore shows can get wild, and you've played all over the world. What's the craziest thing you've ever seen at a show?
MG : Besides all the fights that I've seen at shows that have been pretty crazy, there's one show I definitely have such a vivid memory of. We were playing in Bulgaria to a sold-out crowd of at least 1000 people. Energy was insane from the dance floor all the way up to the balcony. I say around midway through the set as we were playing the intro to the song Gotta Go "From The East Coast To The West Coast Gotta Gotta Gotta Go" from the back of the crowd marching through the pit were two giant flaming tiki torches. I remember looking over at Roger and him saying “I think this place is going to go up on fire.” It was just a really intense show and I remember thinking to my self and saying, “Could you imagine if this is the way I'm gonna die. On stage at a show.” I guess I have a fear of fire.
RSP : In regards to the song, "Old New York", how hard is it to sing about loyalty to the city when it's been so heavily gentrified? It sounds like a real love/hate relationship.
MG : Nowadays it's definitely a love-hate relationship. We still love it for what it is and do believe it's still the greatest city in the world. It's just really hard to see the place we grew up in change so much and turn into a lot of things we hate. That's exactly what the song is about. Today we just have to branch out to go to the places we do enjoy here in the city, it's just on a smaller scale. But this is happening to every major city all over the world, New York is not the only place.
RSP : (Vocalist) Roger Miret and (Guitarist) Vinnie Stigma both have side projects outside of the band. Have you got anything going on solo project-wise, or any plans to in the future?
MG : Not sure if you know but I was a very big part in Vinnie’s project "Stigma" the band. Especially with the last record. I wrote most of the material. So you could say this was both me and Vinnie’s side project. I will probably do another band sometime in the future.
RSP : “Warriors” and “My Life My Way” have a sound that sets them apart from earlier albums. “The American Dream Died” has some songs that sound like they fit into that vein, but also has quite a few tracks that throw a nod back to the early days of the band. Was there a conscious effort to break out of the style you've put down on your last two albums?
MG : Recently we rereleased our older EP "United Blood” & first LP "Victim In Pain" on Bridge 9 Records. So we been adding a lot of them songs to our set. I believe this is what influenced us a lot while writing this time around. It was fun to play these songs, go back to our roots and add that flavor to our new record. We never try to write a album and say it needs to sound like this. We just do what comes naturally to us.
RSP : The first Agnostic Front album I heard was the first “Live At CBGB”, and I was an instant fan. With CBGB gone, and live music venues closing their doors left and right, is it harder for punk/hardcore bands to get their message out there?
MG : It really sucks that all these venues closed down and of course it makes it harder to keep the scene alive. Also for us to spread our message. But there is still many venues that have shows on the regular. Most of these shows are happening in Brooklyn. There's still a few good solid clubs today that hold shows weekly like St. Vitus, The Acheron, Grand Victory and a few more. I guess the Internet now plays a big part in getting your music out there. It’s the sign of the times and everything is changing so much now. The way I look at it is, this music is way too powerful and the message is way too strong for this to ever die.
RSP : I’ve seen Agnostic Front play for anywhere from 10-200 people in club shows. You guys have also played for massive festival crowds. Do you prefer the energy of 50,000 people going off for your band, or the more intimate setting of a club where the audience is in your face?
MG : Festivals definitely have a different vibe from club shows. To me I enjoy a smaller venue show because it is way more intimate and Hardcore shows are all about crowd anticipation together with the band. So the closer the crowd is to us the more intense of a show we will most likely have. That doesn't mean that I don't enjoy playing big festivals. Over the past 14 years that I've been in this band I have played some pretty incredible festivals. Where there were crowds from 30 to 40,000 people in front of us jumping up-and-down to our music. And mosh pits bigger than you could imagine. That's a high in itself just watching all those people enjoy what you're bringing to them. So I have to say I do enjoy small club shows better but I'd be crazy to say that I did not enjoy playing festivals.
RSP : You've recorded the last few albums in warmer climates. Is heading into the studio to put down tracks like a vacation?
MG : I think it's better for us to be in a comfortable environment around the time we are recording. It's nice to leave where you're from and put everything behind you so we can concentrate and put our everything into the record. This seems to work best for us especially this time around. I believe nice weather can put you in a better mood and that affects everything you do.
RSP : For all of the changes, is New York City still the greatest city in the world?
MG : To me New York City is pretty much the capital of the world. So many people and such diverse culture that makes this city the most interesting place of ‘em all. For the most part you can get anything here in the city that you would normally have to travel all over the world to find. Everything from food to clothing and everything else you can think of. It's still the city that never sleeps. This place is a melting pot and the Mecca of the world.
RSP : Any bands that we should know about, but don't?
MG : If you don't already know about this band, "Wisdom In Chains" is one of my favorite. They’re a perfect blend of hard-core punk metal And OI. There's a few other bands I like. Backtrack from NY, Heavy Chains and Suburban Scum from Jersey. Good hard-working bands that deserves to be recognized. Another one of my favorite bands is The Old Firm Casuals. They are an OI band that was started by Lars from Rancid. Their new record titled "This Means War" is incredible.
RSP : What's your best Vinnie Stigma story? And while we're at it, your second best Vinnie Stigma story too.
MG : I remember about 10 to 12 years back on tour a friend of his brought him a bull horn. (Ed. Note: This is an actual bull’s horn Mike is speaking of.) He also received a bottle of mead that is very powerful in alcohol. Then he kept saying “This is what Vikings drink”, over and over again. So he decided to pour the mead into the bull horn and began drinking out of it all night after the show. He was having the time of his life marching around the club drinking out of his bullhorn. Making friends with everyone like he always does. Then it kind of got a little quiet and I didn't hear him until I found him around the corner puking his brains out. What Vinnie didn't seem to realize was the bullhorn was not cured. He was drinking the mead and all of the reminisce from inside the horn. He was puking and pulling all of the crap out of his mouth cause he was almost choking on it. I never felt so bad but could not help but find this the funniest thing I ever seen in my life. He thought he was so cool drinking out of this horn meanwhile he didn't realize what a stupid thing it was to do.
This is another story that always cracks me up for that Vinnie. Many years back him and a friend of his, I believe went in half on a house somewhere in New Jersey. Now Vinnie was in charge of the landscaping of the house. Like cutting the grass, picking up all the leaves and stuff like that. Well then he decided he did not want to be bothered and was too lazy to keep up with all the yard work. So he decided to chop the tree down in front of his house and have the front and backyard black topped. The tree in front of his house was almost 100 years old. When his friend came home from vacation and saw what Vinnie had did to the yard, he almost lost his mind. He got so pissed that they wind up selling the house that was the end of that story. These are just some of the crazy things that Vinnie has done in the past. But he’s such a lovable guy that you can’t hate on him.
RSP : How do you feel the modern NYHC scene has changed over the years, do you feel this is for the better or for the worse?
MG : I think the hard-core scene has changed for the better. Nowadays it is a worldwide thing to me and I think that's absolutely amazing. There's always going to be some good and bad things that happen in any scene. For instance, the one thing I don't like is that there's too many scenes within the scene. That always bothered me. It's close-minded and that's not what it's all about. But overall, I think that with the hard-core scene being united worldwide is pretty amazing to me. We travel all over to play shows for kids from Europe, Japan and to South America and they have such a strong striving scene.
RSP : So with the new album out, what are AF's tour plans?
MG : We have a strong work ethic as well as other New York hard-core bands like Madball, Sick of it All, H2O that continuously keep putting out good music and give back to the fans. We are all hard-working and dedicated when it comes to doing what we do. This is our lives and we put everything we have into it.
RSP : Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us, Mike. Anything else you want to add?
MG : We will be releasing five new music videos for the songs, “The American Dream Died”, “Police Violence”, “Never Walk Alone”, “Old New York”, and “A Wise Man”. So look out for these to be released soon.
Many thanks to Mike for his time. For more information onr the new Agnostic Front album, "The American Dream Died," check out their home page here.