Not only does Mike Gallo play in iconic New York Hardcore band, Agnostic Front, he is also a visual artist. Combining elements of graffiti, street art and pop culture he creates bright, bold works that you can’t help but smile when you look at them. I recently caught up with Mike to chat about his art and the new Agnostic Front record in the works.
MIKE GALLO: Honestly, I just put so much into my stuff. I love it. I enjoy it. It’s my outlet. I put everything I have into every piece, I think it shows through.
I love that you have fun with your art too.
MG: Absolutely. I think that art is an outlet, it’s something that comes from within you. It’s funny ‘cause I stopped doing art for so many years and I had just found it again, I started doing art again around 3-4 years ago. My life changed, I had a baby, I moved to New Jersey and I became a suburban dad. At the time I was staying home with the baby when I wasn’t on the road and I started doing art again. I can’t believe that I stopped doing it for so long and how much I just love and enjoy it again. It came back into my life at a perfect time, it’s really funny how it happened like that.
You come from a musical family?
MG: my dad was a musician, my mum played a little piano; my brother is a great musician too, he actually played in Agnostic Front with us for 6-7 years.
So there was a lot of creativity in your household growing up?
MG: My parents were always supportive of us doing what we love to do. They never forced anything on us, you know how some parents are like, oh, you have to be a doctor or a lawyer or this or that. My parents were very open-minded, we listened to everything from Motown to classic rock to RnB, soul, rock n roll; I introduced heavy metal at some point [laughs].
When did you start playing music yourself?
MG: I started at a young age, I guess I was a young teen. I wanted to play guitar but my dad actually said that guitar players are a dime a dozen, every band needs a good bass player, why don’t you play the bass. I was like, sure yeah, why not. That was definitely some of the best advice that anyone has ever given me [laughs], it worked out great.
When I first started playing music, I was going for music lessons and to tell you the truth, I quit. My teacher was a nice guy but I was into things like Metallica and [Iron] Maiden stuff like that; I wanted to play that and he told me I had to learn stuff like scales and this and that and blah blah blah. It was boring to me. He wouldn’t even show me a riff! I just wanted to play the music I love, so eventually I quit and it wasn’t until I got a little older and started going to shows… a friend of mine introduced me to hardcore and punk rock and I went to hardcore shows and it made me want to start playing the bass again. I picked it up and learnt to play it on my own. I just started playing all kinds of stuff from hardcore punk bands. I’m self-taught.
I think being self-taught really helps you to develop your own style. You don’t have rules and existing structure so anything is possible.
MG: Absolutely. To tell you the truth, this is how I do things, it’s totally crazy but it’s worked for me in my life. I am self-taught playing music, I’ve had a few friends show me a few things here or there but nothing like lessons… I concentrated more on writing songs then trying to be a great bass player. I think that’s helped me out so much more because I think I put heart and soul into writing music. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but I was writing decent songs, that worked out. It’s the same with my art… I feel that some of the greatest musicians can’t write a song worth anything but then there’s some musicians that aren’t the greatest musicians that have written some of the greatest songs. I’m the same way with my art, I don’t think I’m the greatest artist but I feel like I have a good eye… you don’t have to be a great artist to write a good song or to create a good piece, you just have to find your way—it’s got to come from inside, from your heart, from your soul. It’s hard to explain. Do you know what I’m trying to say?
I sure do. I’ve been doing that my whole life myself, like you… using your intuition, tapping into those gut feelings, expressing how you see the world. You don’t necessarily know how to do it or why you do it, but you feel this urge deep down to create stuff. The process of making something is the best thing in the world, you learn so much about yourself too.
MG: It totally is. For instance, I had my first art show, I put on a little event, we called it Boots and Brushes; a few artists, a few bands, a few DJs. It was the first time for me showing my artwork and it was coming up in three weeks, I had a couple of paintings to show which was cool but I thought, here’s my chance to really show everybody what I could do, but I couldn’t create anything! I was like, why?! Everything I made didn’t come out good and I was like, man I just need to reset and chill, and then out of nowhere I banged out four pieces! It’s funny how it comes, at weird times… it’s a weird thing. You know how it is.
MG: Sometimes you’ll write a lot and then other times you won’t be able to write a stitch no matter how much you try. It’s so strange… it’s like, I don’t get it! [laughs]. Sometimes I’ll be inspired at two in the morning… a melody will come out and it’ll be, I got it, I got it! I’ll be lying in bed and it’ll be, oh here it is! It’s so strange and cool how things just connect at certain times.
It’s exciting! I love to find inspiration in the everyday and when you least expect it.
MG: Absolutely, that’s why I always need to be creative. I don’t understand people who aren’t.
Totally, I’m right there with you. I know that you went to college to do advertising art and I understand that you really hated it?
MG: Yeah, you know, when I was in high school, it was a vocational school that I went to, they had all kinds of things you could do and I thought I’d try ‘Advertising in Art’ and I thought it might be cool to do. I wish I would have followed through back then but at the time I just wasn’t a school person, I didn’t like it and felt like it was very competitive and it just wasn’t fun. I was just like, I don’t want to do this, I wasn’t into it. To me it wasn’t art, to me it felt like doing geometry. It wasn’t fun and at that time I realised that all I wanted to do was play music, I didn’t care about anything else. My head wasn’t in it and I just hated being in school, so I dropped out. After playing music for so many years I guess I feel I needed to get into something else and so I got back into art at an older age. Now I’m having loads of fun with it. I built a business basically in one year and I can barely keep up with it all now [laughs], it’s crazy!
Your art is mixed media, you use stencils, spray paint and paint pens…
MG: Yes, I make all my own stencils.
Do you hand cut them?
MG: Yeah, it takes hours and hours and hours of cutting… and going insane cutting this shit out! [laughs]. Sometimes it’s just like, oh. my. god! It’s pretty much the only part that drives me nuts, I know that the outcome though is so worth it. It’s how things look the way they do, I do things a different way to everybody else. Some of my friends will come over and be like, ‘how did you do it? I don’t get it’. It’s why things come out the way they do, I have my own ways… like when I play bass. My wife’s always like, ‘why don’t you give lessons?’ It’s like, no I can’t teach any kid to play bass the way I play bass. It’s so not right, but it’s my way of doing it. It’s so funny, Roger [Miret] will watch me play bass sometimes and be like, ‘I don’t understand how you play like that, it’s insane to me’. I’m like, well you don’t complain the way it sounds [laughs]. He’s like, ‘I don’t understand how you do things’. I’m like, I don’t either! [laughs] But it works!
Your art style is also draws from graffiti…
MG: Oh god yeah, absolutely!
How did you first come to graffiti?
MG: My neighbour who lived directly across the street from me was into graffiti, he was a couple of years older than me. I looked up to him. I’d go over his house and we’d always be doing graffiti in his backyard behind his shed. It was all so fascinating to me. He’d show me these old graffiti documentaries like, Style Wars. That was it! There was this one artist, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this guy called SEEN?
Sure have, the “godfather of graffiti”.
MG: On the documentary I saw that he had his whole piece on the Hollywood sign! To me that was insane! The crazy thing I’d ever seen. It was so exciting to me. In high school we’d go to all these paint stores and steal spray paint and just go bombing on the parkways. It was so much fun. It’s such an artistic expression, you’d get such a rush—I was all about it. [Laughs] I’m still doing it in my forties! It’s kind of ridiculous [laughs] but I just can’t help myself. We would get long coats and just stuff our pants with as many as we could and walk out. I can’t believe we used to do that and I can’t believe we never got caught! It’s amazing. That’s why they’re all locked up now! [laughs].
MG: I can’t remember who I was with but I went shopping one day and someone was like, ‘why are all the spray paint locked up?’ I was like, you don’t get it? We used to steal this shit all the time [laughs].
In regards to your art, what are the things that challenge you?
MG: Survival! [laughs]. Just getting by. I do all of this because I love it but also because it’s survival in life. I never want to work a day in my life anymore. I did that, I owned my own landscaping business, I’ve done construction, I’ve done all that shit and I never want to do it again. I want to work for myself and I want to do my own thing. I never ever wanna work for the man ever. I just want to live my life the way I want to live it, that’s my goal in life. It scares the shit out of me and every day I’m like, I hope I sell enough stuff to pay the rent. I do my thing and it always seems to work out.
What have you been making lately?
MG: I actually just started doing something… after a while I’ve noticed that I kind of only do a one figure thing, so I’m trying to work on doing different scenes, maybe a scene in a movie with a couple of different people. I feel I need to change my things up a bit, that’s my next challenge to expand my horizons and to do different things.
My favourite artists are the ones that keep evolving and pushing themselves and just doing interesting things.
MG: Absolutely! You can’t keep doing them same thing… I understand that you get your thing going on, there’s so many artists that have their own style, which is great, it’s what every artist strives to do… sometimes you get stuck in the rut of doing the same thing over and over… I get bored too quick and need to keep things moving. I love doing things bigger and better. There’s so many things in my mind that I want to do, I wish I had the time to do them all.
I love that your themes or subjects for your art draws from pop culture! Is it from the stuff – music and film – that you loved growing up?
MG: Absolutely. I try to keep my stuff as simple as possible, but poppy. It’s everything I loved growing up, old school cartoons, [Quentin] Tarantino movies… the next thing that I’m working on that I’m super excited about is a Godfather theme!
Amazing! The Godfather films are some of my all-time favourite!
MG: Yeah, me too! I was like, how have I not done that?! There’s so many things I want to do, I want to do a series, and I’m working on that right now. It’s funny ‘cause there’s a few things I tried to do for this art show, sometimes things come out amazing but sometimes they just don’t and it’s like, dammit! I try so hard to create as many hardcore tributes, for a lot of guys that passed away; I did Todd Youth, Pete Steele and I wanted to do Raybeez from Warzone, I tried to do two and they came out good but not god enough, I’m working on another one as well… I’m excited about this one but twice I’ve failed… I’m scared to go for the third time, but I’m excited! I just know myself and I’ll have to do it!
Don’t they say, third times a charm?
MG: [Laughs] Yeah that’s right! Hopefully! That’s why I’m scared to try, if it’s not, I’m going to go crazy! [laughs].
Agnostic Front has been working on new music too!
MG: Yeah, I’d say we’re about halfway there. I’m not sure when we’re going to record but hopefully by the end of the year. We have a lot of great stuff. We just need five or six more songs, we’re almost there though. We should have something out by next year. We just want to make sure we put out a killer record. We have a pretty great buzz going now with the movie, The Godfathers of Hardcore, it’s an exciting thing. We want to make sure that everything we do is top notch—that’s how we roll! [laughs]. We need to feel 100% about it. Then we can go play lots of cool places again, Australia, Japan and everywhere else.
With all the travelling that you’ve done with the band, is there a really amazing art piece that you’ve seen anywhere that has stuck with you?
MG: That’s a really good question! There’s this one writer, he’s a graffiti writer, I love his style because I like simple, not that his is simple but… his name is GESER. He’s one of my favourite writers, I love that his stuff is so bold, he really knows how to use his colours, and he’s an incredible artist. You see his work on trains all over the world. I have to give props to him. He’s definitely one of those guys that… there’s nothing wrong with being influenced by someone as long as you don’t completely bite them, I can definitely say I’m heavily influenced by him, his colour schemes, stuff like that is perfect.
Are there colours that you’re drawn to for your art?
MG: Yes! There’s this one colour that I just can’t stop using, it’s a bluish-green [Montana Black] Atlantis. I’m so drawn to it, it’s one of my favourite colours. My daughter always asks me, ‘daddy, what’s your favourite colour?’ To simplify, I just tell her green.
It looks so nice against black too, like in the piece you made for me.
MG: Oh god yeah! Totally.
Anything else you’d like to tell me?
MG: Everybody should look out for the movie The Godfathers of Hardcore if they haven’t seen it yet. Definitely look out for our record. If anyone is interested in checking out my art you can see me on Instagram at: @gallo_originals. Thank you so much for interviewing me.
It’s my pleasure, I really resonate with your art. I guess we grew up being into the same stuff. You combine all my favourite things onto a canvas, you got the punk and hardcore elements, graffiti, hip hop, cartoons, movies I love and the piece you made for me was on a record, another thing I love. I have it beside my bed and every day when I wake up and see it, it makes me smile.
MG: Awwww… that really means so much to me. I can’t tell you how much I put into this. To hear that you’re appreciating it means so much. I really do put so much heart and soul into what I do. I have my man cave in my basement where I work and I feel like I’m almost like a mad scientist at times [laughs]… I have to hang my paintings up and I’m obsessively looking at them going, what does this mean? [laughs]. Your words really hit home to me! You’re the best.
For more MIKE GALLO check out: gallo-originals.com
For more AGNOSTIC FRONT: @agnosticfrontnyc
Check out THE GODFATHER’S OF HARDCORE: thegodfathersofhardcore.com
*All photos courtesy of Mike’s IG: @mikegallo1975 / mixed media collage by B.