Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Matt Henderson - Agnostic Front part III

Agnostic Front promo photo outtake, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

DCXX contributor Nick Gregoire-Racicot hits us hard with the third installment in his interview with Matt Henderson. Get ready for heavy NYHC/AF information, and throw on One Voice while you read along. Big thanks again to Nick and Matt. -Gordo DCXX

Tell us more about the transition between Blind Approach and AF - How you got into the band: What year it was, how it happened, who was the link, how was it to relocate, etc.

I had just started my second year in school in 1990 in Boston and I was working part-time at a video store. One night my girlfriend at the time called me at the store and said "Roger from Agnostic Front called and he wants you to go on tour with them to Europe." I was pretty surprised by this because I wasn’t sure how Roger knew to get in touch with me and I didn’t even realize that he had been out of prison. He had left his number.

I went home that night and gave him a call. He told me that he had been home for a few months, wanted to get the band going again (Steve Martin – the previous guitarist - decided to stay working with Relativity, the record label) and they had this offer to play in Europe. At that time the singer for Nausea along with Amy was Al Long, who was the singer from the Mpls band Misery, and he was living in the house in Staten Island with Roger and Amy. Al and I knew each other real well and he was the one that suggested Roger reach out to me. Also, another good friend from St. Paul, and main Blind Approach roadie, Lester, had lived at that house for a while and got real tight with Will Shepler, the AF drummer who ALSO lived at the house in Staten Island, so I had some connections already in place that made me feel comfortable when I met up with everyone.

Vinny and Matt with Agnostic Front in Europe, 1990, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

I remember my first rehearsal/audition – I took a train from Boston to NYC and had talked to Vinny beforehand who gave me directions to meet him at the subway stop by his apartment. Waiting at the Broadway/Lafayette train stop and seeing Vinny and Craig roll up with their guitars to meet me was kind of a trip. You have to remember what a huge fan I was, and now I was about to ride the subway in NYC with these guys and going to rehearse with them. We shook hands and headed to the Staten Island Ferry and then got picked up by Willy to drive to the rehearsal studio. We get in and get set up on this stage and all agree to try “Victim In Pain/Public Assistance” (just like the Live At CB’s record). After the first couple chords I watched Craig look over at Willy kind of surprised and he nodded his head like “Ok – I guess this kid can play." I’m not saying that I felt cocky but I knew I could nail that shit because my playing was on point back then and I knew those songs inside/out.

So, musically there was never a question. From there I would go back and forth from Boston and New York on the weekends to rehearse until school was out, and we were set to go on tour.

Agnostic Front in Europe, 1990, Craig, Mike and Matt, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

What was that first tour like?

That first tour in Europe was what you call a “life altering event” and the European scene was pretty raw back then. It was that tour, my first tour with the band, that made us real tight as friends, and I don’t think anyone of us will forget it.

It started with Roger getting held in Switzerland while we were crossing the border heading to Italy during the first week of the tour and they sent him back to the states because of his non-US/Cuban citizenship. Our roadie Mike Shost had to sing for the rest of the tour and we actually told everybody he was Roger’s little brother Freddy Madball. Some people bought it. Others thought he looked just like some Nazi leader in Germany (Mike was an ex-Marine with a flat-top haircut and a mustache) and they hated him.

We got booked at all of these shitty punk rock squats, where a lot of political people suspected we were white power skinheads so it would get tense, especially when most people did not speak English. We would get into fights with random punk rock assholes. We got arrested and spent a day in jail in Germany because the police had issues with the shitty Italian anarchist tour managers we had. That’s a fucked up feeling when nobody is speaking your language and they lock you up and you have no idea why or when you will get out. When we finally got out we collected our shit and realized that they had kept some of our cash from our tour briefcase but we couldn’t do anything about it because they were like “do you want to leave or do you want to stay?” (now they speak English). So all we could do was try to get to the next show. Of course we were hours late for that show and the club didn’t want to pay us. We told them that we had spent the whole day in jail but they didn’t believe us, and we needed that money for food and gas. This type of shit went on and on for the whole tour.

Later, those same Italian tour manager morons mouthed off to the club management in this Italian town that had shut the show down before we got there because we were 4 ½ hours late (because the moron Italian tour managers were always lost and wouldn’t get directions). Again, we needed that money to eat and get gas to get to the next show so we were stressed out. I remember sitting in the club, the punk rock tour manager clowns mouthing off while this old guy in a really nice suit just looked at them (obviously Mob related). They were all speaking Italian so we didn’t know what anybody was saying but we could feel the tension and we watched this guy with black leather gloves and a handle bar mustache walk up. All of a sudden one of the Italians with us slams down this cup of yogurt he had in his hand and it splattered all over the dude in the suit. Next, the guy with the black leather gloves walks a few steps and shuts the garage door/gate that was the opening to the outside and then the lights got shut off.

The lights came back on and the whole club crew had bats, mace and chains. We were like “Fuck this! Go ahead and kill them – we don’t like them either” pointing to our tour managers. We all shuffled out of the club and one of the Italian tour managers got hit with a pipe and it was over. The tour managers were pissed at us because “we didn’t take their backs” and we were like “you motherfuckers brought this whole thing on yourselves and you have been fucking us the whole tour so fuck you."

We still had like two weeks left in the tour with no money, and plane tickets that had us leaving from England. We wound up making it to England eventually and it was cool just to be around people that spoke English! Luckily we met this really cool dude that agreed to put us up in his house for like six days until our flight back to the US (Petey Greens!). Through all of this, Craig, Vinny, Willy and I got really tight. Being in AF back then was a little like being in jail or going to war. You had to stay strong and not let shit break you down, or let others see you weaken, and you really had to stick together.

I learned a lot from those days. Trust me, we had various roadies over the years that would really freak out and either leave mid-tour or just wind up spending the rest of the tour curled up in a ball in the back of the van and try to stay asleep until the whole thing was over, so I am not exaggerating. You had to be strong mentally...or just stupid and crazy.

Vinny, Mike, Matt and Craig in Europe with AF, 1990, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Where does the nickname Wild Card comes from?

Vinny and the rest of the guys always tried to make me out to be this super clean-cut kid from Minnesota, and every once in a while I would “get down” a little more than they expected me to and they would say “whoa, this kid is a wild card!" They eventually started to introduce me to people like that and the name just kinda stuck. And when you are as big of an AF fan as I was and Vinny Stigma gives you a nick name at 20 years old it means something to you. I’m 39 now, but at 20 I thought it was pretty damn cool. For the record, I never referred to myself as Wild Card but I still run into people that call me that today because that was how I was introduced to them.

What was your favorite release from them before you got into the band?

Victim In Pain. That record was, and still is amazing. The car I drive to/from work today can only play cassette tapes and I have an original tape that was released on Rat Cage Records so I listen to it all the time still. The songs are classic and the style is hard as hell.

AF catching some rest in Europe, 1990, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

What was the role they were asking you to play (write all the music, bring a metal aspect, solos…)?

My role was to be the lead guitar player and to work with them to write a new record. Craig, Willy, and I worked really well together. I learned a lot from both of them and they brought my playing and writing to the next level. When I was in Blind Approach I was the better musician by far (not a diss on those guys, that’s just the way it was) so I was the one always pushing everyone else, but when I joined AF I was working with guys who were really good players and song writers and it pushed me. Roger and I worked together real well too to get the lyrics with the music.

Tell us about shows that stick out in your mind, stand out memories or stories that are a sign of the times.

There are so many good and bad shows to remember, so I’ll just throw out ones that come off the top of my head:
One of our last shows in NYC at the Palladium. It was a long night and by the time we got on stage people were kinda tired. Something got started between the bouncers and a couple of our friends and all of a sudden I hear Roger say “Yo, let’s FUCK this place up,” and I see a monitor get thrown off of the stage (not mentioning names here) and a full scale riot broke out between the crowd and the club. Roger figured the show was kinda lame so maybe a riot would make it more exciting. I had just paid $1000 for my new Jackson guitar which was all the money I had in the world and I was more concerned about getting it back in the case and getting it out of there in one piece more than anything else.
Our last show at CBGB's where we had a lot of friends there to see us, and play with us. It was a great way to go out.
Allentown, PA with Sheer Terror, Wrecking Crew, Life Of Agony and Vision. The whole crowd was Nazi skinheads, about 800 or so. They would all do their Seig Heil arm movements and chant either “Fuck-New-York” or “Fuck-DMS” and try to rush the stage which had a barricade. When one band was on stage every member from every other band would stand behind them waiting for the shit to go down. AF didn’t even get to play because a riot broke out and the cops shut the show down.

AF 1990 practice set list

Who were your favorite/least favorite bands to tour with then? Any good stories from the tour with Obituary?

I don’t remember having any issues with bands we toured with to be honest, and I can tell you that the tour with Obituary, Cannibal Corpse and Malevolent Creation was one of the best times I ever had. The shows were great, and we all really got along. Obituary are seriously a great bunch of guys – they would insist on sharing the empty bunks on their bus with us because we were in a van, especially for the long rides, and they really looked out for us. And they killed it on stage every night. Even when the crowds that would come to see us (a lot of skinheads back then) would try to start trouble during the shows, when Obituary got on stage they would be too busy dancing to start any fights. We did a lot of shows with Biohazard and Wrecking Crew as well which was always a good time.

One Voice. People seem to have strong opinions about it. It’s either they think it’s an underrated record or they think it’s the embodiment of everything that was wrong with NYHC at that time. Can you give us your take on the place One Voice has in the AF catalog?

I think that One Voice was a pretty natural progression for Agnostic Front from what they had done in the past, and based on what the New York scene was going through at the time, for better or for worse.

Agnostic Front at Dachau on the 1990 European tour, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Can you give us your take on that era of NYHC (the violence, the shows, the division around the topic of major labels, crossover shows, bigger venues…)

Hardcore was definitely going through a down period when I joined the band, and when One Voice came out. As far as violence at shows, it had actually peaked just before I got there so people were laying pretty low (it picked up again just fine later on though).

Major labels, yeah...they suck, and bands did get caught up in the music biz a little too much, but at the same time if there was a chance to make a little money and play shows in front of thousands of people that may not normally be at a hardcore show I don’t think anyone can be blamed for taking advantage of that to some degree. As for AF, I don’t think we ever did anything that we wouldn’t do normally just to earn a buck or to suck up to a label. We just did what we did and if labels or booking agents were interested in working with us we worked with them. But trust me, even when we played big shows it wasn’t like we cashed in and we were these rock stars in limos, etc..

Regardless of people’s take on One Voice, there is no denying the quality of the line-up on. Tell us more about the writing process.

Thanks for the compliment. When we wrote One Voice people didn’t seem that interested in hardcore to me. Sick of it All and Sheer Terror were the only other bands doing it that I can think of and they did it well. Everybody else was into “post hardcore” like Quicksand and the rest. Suicidal Tendencies with their metal style was real big too. We didn’t really pay attention to what was going around us and we just locked ourselves up in Staten Island at Roger’s house or our rehearsal studio and jammed out. We were pretty isolated from the rest of the world for like 6 months and what came out in the end is what came out. I know one regret I have is that we didn’t get to play those songs live before we recorded them because after the record came out and we started touring I think we played the songs a lot better and they sort of evolved. I think that is a pretty typical scenario though.

Matt with AF in 1992, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Did you write some of the songs before you came into AF?

“New Jack” was influenced by the Blind Approach song S.M.A.S.H (St. Paul/Minneapolis Area Skin Heads), but only slightly. Other than that it was all written during my time in New York.

How did the songs come together? Who wrote the majority of the riffs?

It was really pretty equal. We all sweated it out to get those songs together.

Who would you say is responsible for One Voice’s more new school style? Was it a conscious decision to make it a lot more polished and bouncier or did it kind of just come together naturally?

I know I had an influence on that, but Craig was right there with me so again, it was pretty equal. There was no real conscious decision on the style. We just set out to write a good record worthy of the AF name in 1990 based on the band's roots and the other influences from NYHC.

Craig, Vinny and Matt in Europe, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Where did the slower heavier style (New Jack’s intro, Infiltrate, Undertow, Crime Without Sin) come from?

There were a few influences for that. Negative Approach had “Evacuate." The Cro-Mags brought that slower, mean metal style with their intro, Malfunction, Seekers Of The Truth and Life Of My Own, and that always had a huge impact on me. Judge had “Bringin' it Down” with that tough intro on the record. Killing Time had “Brightside." Also AF’s “With Time” – that came out before everything I just mentioned. 

Were there songs that didn’t make it on the record?

We actually came up short in the studio and the label complained that we didn’t have enough for the record so we wrote on the fly. That’s how Bastard was written, and it is one of my favorite songs on the record.

On the credits it says that Roger wrote Bastard and Crime Without Sin alone. That was a little surprising to me.

Roger wrote those songs. The ideas and meat of the riffs came from him, as did the lyrics. I am a much better guitar player than him so I cleaned up some of the riffs but the ideas came from him.

Infiltrate: who’s the first band you remember writing that type of instrumental moshy song?

Blind Approach used to do intros like that and they would really come off live, actually better than I thought Infiltrate did UNTIL I saw Terror in Los Angeles opening for Madball a few months ago and they covered it. They killed it.

What are your favorite songs on the record?

New Jack, One Voice, Over The Edge, Undertow and Bastard.

Do you feel like One Voice was too ahead of its time to be fully appreciated?

I’m not really sure. I know that it wasn’t that well received when it first came out (in the US anyway) but people seem to dig it now. I just write what I like to hear and people either get it or they don’t.

What do you like the most/least about that record?

I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about that record, but in the end I think it is a good reflection of hardcore in 1990-1992 in New York – for better or for worse.

The production: I think even though the mastering is not loud, I still think the balance of the instruments is great.

Agnostic Front, 1992, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Since I know you later on became more involved with production in Madball, how was it recording at Normandy with Locke and Don Fury? Did you learn anything from those guys?

Making that record was the first time that I had been in a pro studio and I also was a big fan of the records that Normandy had done in the past so I was convinced everything sounded amazing when we first stared recording. But we had some “issues” when we did that record. Our concept was to get the huge Normandy sound, but to mix it up with the “mad scientist” Don Fury and bring in some of the rawness that bands would get from his studio in New York. The problem was the two camps did not work together at all. Tom Soares, who was Normandy’s head engineer started the record with us but after two days he left and said it was because he had to go finish some mix with Scatterbrain. We later found out he really left because he hated working with Don.

So now we had Jamie Locke, who was really only an assistant engineer at the time, and I think he is an amazing engineer, and he and Don butted heads a lot and the record suffered because of it. Jamie was used to working in that studio and doing things the way a pro studio did things and they had their routine down. Don did some wild shit like insisting on getting his studio monitors shipped and set up there which fucked up the whole sound of the mix room, and on and on and on.

In the end I think the record would have been much better if we just used the Normandy staff, or if we did the whole thing at Don’s studio. The mix of the two just did not work. I always remember one of our last mix days at the end of the night at the bar across the street and Jamie Locke drowning his sorrows with a whiskey telling me he was going to call the label and tell them he didn’t want his name on the record because he didn’t like the way it sounded. I got pissed and convinced him not to do it because then the label would start to think there were real problems with it. He agreed, and in the end I think he realized it was a good move because it gave him some “street cred” and got him working with some other hardcore bands.

What did I learn? That recording a full length record is a big pain in the fucking ass.

Freddy and Matt with Madball in Argentina, 1994, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson


Anonymous said...

that was great!!!!!!!!!!

inti said...

I was at the italian show in Bologna right after Roger got deported by the swiss authorities.
People where so psyched about getting to see AF that they did not care much that Roger wasn't there.
That ex-marine guy stood his ground pretty much...

When they came back on the One Voice tour, they where such a tight machine, and Roger was off the hook. Growing Concern from Rome played with them for all their italian shows and a bunch or Roma Crew kids tagged along - some of the best HC shows I have ever experienced...

Somehow AF always seemed to attract a crowd of freaks, rejects of society and psychopaths. Some of those shows where craaaaazy...

I sold merch for AF in 1999 on the brasilian and argentinian leg of their South American tour - when they got back together with the Victim In Pain line-up, Kabula and all that.
They where amazing, and I got to hang out with Ju-Jitsu gangsters in Rio and gigantic punks in Sao Paulo, all characters out of Mad Max and The Thunderdome...

That's when Stigma almost died and had to be a drug free vegetarian for a few weeks...

Pedro Carvalho said...

Nice guy, Matt Henderson.
When Madball first came to Brazil we all sneaked inside the club during the soundchecks (everybody pretended to be in the opening band) and all of a sudden there were like 20 kids hanging out backstage,drinking their soda and eating their fruit.
Despite that, the whole band, specially Matt, was really nice and didn't mind us pestering them for hours about all sorts of silly NYHC minutia. Then the aforementioned opening band took the bus with them to a nearby town and the perstering went on and on, and Matt kept talking to us like we were old pals. I wish I had this kind of patience.
By the way, it's about time you get back here, Inti.

Russ said...

I don't think i've ever read an interview with Matt before. Fucking amazing! I'd love to hear about his tenure in Madball too.....

the mosher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the mosher said...

it always bums me out when ppl say they hate one voice era AF. thats one of the coolest eras of NYHC. those guys were seriously dominating the heavy music scene. if there was a band that was unfuckithable at this time, it was definitely them! one voice is a serious accomplishment for AF & for NYHC. haters deserve to get hated upon.

p.s. does anybody have a picture of this german guy they had singing on the first tour to replace roge?

Benj said...

Being in AF back then was a little like being in jail or going to war.

Anonymous said...

i'm on the edge of my seat reading this...........MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jason Powel said...

I loved this interview, I dont think I have ever read an interview with Matt, and it focused on a less popular era of the band, but it was fresh and raw all the way through. Awesome!


Russ - Lot's of Matt Madball era talk coming.

The Mosher - 3rd pic down, Matt, Mike and Craig... that's Mike the roadie who took Rogers place on the tour.

I was reading this as I posted it last night and knew people would dig it. Matt delivers some great stories for sure. -Tim DCXX

speak mongolian or die said...

punk rock anarchist tour managers? hahahaha this is incredible!, how a manager can be anarchist?. those people sure they were assholes, dirty bussines men and managers, but anarchists?, c'mon. fake anarchists for sure.

Anonymous said...

that's mike in the middle of the third photo.

Burai Core Distro said...

Classy OG Cold As Life shirt in the last pic.

Zach Silvia said...

awesome interview. i love One Voice, you have to be a fool not to like it...

I am not one to be into remasters, but I agree with Matt that its mixed low. Its hard to get it to blast in your car stereo. I'd be into a rerelease with it a little louder...but with all the levels the same, it sounds perfect otherwise. I consider it the last great AF record. But who am I...

Can't wait to read the Madball era stuff

Anonymous said...

super psyched to read the madball stuff. the detail in this interview is sick.

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