Agnostic Front's Vinnie Stigma Talks New Album, Biggest Inspirations and a Lifetime in NYC

He’s the founding guitarist of seminal New York hardcore band Agnostic Front, loves the Pittsburgh Steelers and has lived in the same Lower East Side apartment for 60 years. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…

I heard you have a new signature guitar coming out with Artist Series Guitar. What can you tell us about it? — Tommy

On the front of it is the map of hardcore, with the boots, which is a logo of ours, and the awning of CBGB. I spray painted “Agnostic Front” on the original awning in like 1982. That’s not a Photoshop thing. I made a stencil and spray-painted it on the actual awning. I’ve got EMG 81 pickups in it and I use it as my main guitar now.

I’m so stoked for the new Agnostic Front album The American Dream Died. What’s it like writing now that [founding singer] Roger [Miret] lives out of state? Are you guys trading demos online? — Antony

We do a lot over the internet. You know how that works today. We lay out a cushion for Roger to lay his words on. We take care of the music and basic structure, and then he’ll put in his two cents. And then I’ll put in my two cents and go back and forth like that.

My drummer Pokey [Mo], who used to be in Leeway, works at a studio, and we go rehearse there. My guitar player is Craig Silverman, and he’s from Boston. They got snowed on really bad this year! He just had a baby, so he got to spend the winter with the baby. So that was good. Our last shows were right before Christmas, and we’re leaving to go to Florida and Puerto Rico then we’ll lay low and we’re off to Europe. All winter I’ve been hibernating. All I do is eat, practice and wait to go on tour.

Your new CD is called The American Dream Died. Do you think the transformation of New York City from the Eighties to now, with all the luxury condos and banks replacing music venues and bars, is a representation of that? — Craig

Definitely yes. Then again, the world changed too, not just New York. Now with the internet, everything’s so high-speed. But we didn't change. I don’t change! [laughs] For 60 years I’ve lived in the same place in New York with my family. I have a friend of mine, Tommy Lombardi, on Spring Street. The only way I get in touch with him is walk up to the building and yell, “Tommy!” And he yells back, “Hey Vinnie!” and throws down the keys. The real New York.

Anyway his landlords are trying to get him out because his rent is stabilized. He’s a disabled person, number one. Number two, they go into his house and they wreck it trying to “fix a leak.” They shut the water off and the gas off. Criminal acts! They’re doing it to another guy in the building too. Get this: he’s a retired soldier, an elder person and he’s gay. They wanna fight that? They’re gonna lose!

It doesn’t matter to me if you’re gay, old or in the service or not. I champion things like that, and I’m always fighting for people. That’s what hardcore and punk is about. We used to do canned food drives for the homeless, and I used to volunteer at the homeless shelter next to CBGB. I use the platform that I have to speak out for people that can’t speak for themselves.

When it comes to rhythm picking technique are you all downstrokes or a mixture of up/down fast picking. — Pauly

A lot of time the attack is down, but I also do alternate picking. I’ll do that old-school shuffling rhythmic thing. Today the picking is a little more sterile—especially with the metal thing—instead of natural and rhythmic. All the guys in the band yell at me like I should do that. [laughs] But I’m like listen, “This is the feel, the rhythm and the flavor!”

Who first inspired you to pick up a guitar? — Hollis

Jimi Hendrix. He was the most craziest muthafucka. I think he liberated the guitar. I come from that era of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Eric Clapton, right into punk rock. There was no hair or heavy metal for me. I went straight to punk when I heard it, like, This shit is the fuckin shit! [laughs]

Here’s where a kid can reach a goal, instead of like seeing some guitarist high on a hill that you’ve gotta praise. Punk taught me that you can be that guy. Like, “Hey, you! Get up there! You can do it even better!” That’s how I felt when I used to see bands. I’d watch them and think I can do it faster, louder and better. That’s the attitude the kids gotta bring.

I’ve seen you perform with Agnostic Front many times since the Eighties. Which country or city has the craziest hardcore fans? — Antony

Oh my god. It’s been 33 years with this band. I’ve seen a lot. We were in the Carolinas and these paratrooper guys came out and were jumping off the balcony! I played the Wacken [Open Air] festival, which was one of the largest pits in the Guinness World Book of Records. I’m not an internet guy, but somebody showed me a video and I was like, My god I can’t believe it! But I’ve seen so many things. I don’t even know where to start.

I know you trained in martial arts. Did you find it helped keep you focused in life and even in playing music? — Jeffery

Definitely yes. All of the above. Anything positive like that is good for you. I’m no guru or karate expert, but it’s just common sense. If one of my friends gets drunk, I say, “Hey, everybody’s got their night.” Then the next day you come out of the matrix and you do 10 push-ups. Martial arts did help me.

I just celebrated Chinese New Year’s the other day, and it’s my year, the Year of the Ram. It’s every 12 years and I’m 60 years old. [sings] Hells Kitchen, West Side, December 3, 1965. The world will never be the same, city’s got a new claim to fame! That’s how I write songs! Just about life and real things, not like those bands that write about blowjobs and the highway and girls. I mean that’s fine, okay, I’m down. But there’s just so many things going wrong with the world you gotta stand up and say something.

I know that Roger got into the custom car scene with the Rumblers. Do you have any hobbies like that? — Tim

I got a cigar club. Anybody can join that one, you know? [laughs] You don’t need much to join a cigar club, just a cigar and a book of matches. You go to your local cigar store, ask a few questions, try a few cigars, sit down, have a glass of wine, and boom. There ya go! Who’s betta than you, right? [laughs]

I’ve always loved Todd Youth’s playing no matter what band he’s with: War Zone, Murphy’s Law, Danzig, etc. You’ve got a history with Todd, right? — Dylan Fagan

Todd Youth is a very great player. He played for Glen Campbell, Ace Frehley and a bunch of others. When he was 12 years old he’d run away to come hang out with me at my house. I used to have to call his mother, like, “Hey he’s here now. You don’t have to call the cops. You want me to send him home?” I actually taught him how to play the guitar. That’s one of my great accomplishments. I also taught Sindi [Benezra] from the Lunachicks.

I always say one day when I retire I wanna teach guitar to children and old people. For the old people I wanna do it for the coffee and cake, and for children I wanna do it for a very selfish reason. When they grow up and someone asks them, “Hey, where’d you learn to play the guitar?” I want them to say, “Vinnie Stigma taught me!”

You’re one of the founders of New York Hardcore Tattoo shop in New York. But did you ever get into tattooing yourself? — Pauly

I tattoo every now and again myself, yeah. Actually I just had my new guitar shipped there because I get ground shipping at the shop. But yeah come on by. Every now and again I’ll do a guest spot, or we’ll have Lars [Frederiksen] from Rancid come by and tattoo. It’s fun.

I have been a fan of Agnostic Front for the past 20 years and I love your guitar sound. What is your current amp setup like these days? — Jay Perry

Mesa/Boogie, and to be honest with ya, I go direct. You get enough power out of that. Plus we have another guitar player with us. I just cushion him so he can do whatever he does. And that Mesa, god you just look at it and it gets loud. I’m practically afraid of my amp it’s so fucking loud. [laughs]

I had my friend hot-rod it, it’s got a thousand buttons on it and I’ve got a kid to take care of it. I don’t know what button to turn! [laughs] I turn ’em all to the right, that’s what I do.

Photo by Jimmy Hubbard

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Brad Angle

Brad is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and video producer. He is the former content director of Revolver magazine and executive editor of Guitar World. His work has appeared in Vice, Guitar Aficionado, Inked and more. He’s also a die-hard Les Paul player who wishes he never sold his 1987 Marshall Silver Jubilee half stack.