AFI get bloody
WHILE AFI’S 10TH ALBUM, AFI (THE BLOOD ALBUM), IS THE LATEST STAGE IN A 25-YEAR EVOLUTION, DAVEY HAVOK TELLS JAMES HICKIE IT’S GOVERNED BY THE SAME PRINCIPLES THAT HAVE FLOWED THROUGH THE BAND’S VEINS SINCE DAY ONE…
Punk bands continue to write in the creative blood shed by AFI. Some took inspiration from their image (My Chemical Romance), others their lyrical preoccupation with the dark and gothic (Alkaline Trio) – and then there are those sampling a little of both (Creeper). ask Davey Havok which of their qualities he thinks this new generation is trying to emulate, however, and he’ll start by telling you his band haven’t been ‘punk’ for the majority of their 25-year career.
“When I think of punk, I think of the Germs and Black Flag, and we don’t sound like that,” the 41-yearold suggests, while pinpointing fourth album Black Sails In The Sunset as the moment AFI’S bloodletting overflowed the “small box” of the genre’s sound.
Considering Davey finds it hard to define AFI’S early output – “I’m not even sure what it was” – you can imagine how perplexing it was for those discovering them in San Francisco’s East Bay area in the early ’90s. Even then the band was exhibiting a characteristic that still courses through their black veins to this day: a passion for going against the grain.
Back then the ‘scene’ was made up of two main camps: the “melodic, fuzzed-out” sound of Crimp shrine and Jawbreaker, and the intense, artistic hardcore – “unfairly termed ‘emo’”– coming from San Diego, courtesy of Heroin, angel Hair and John Henry west.
AFI chose neither; having been raised on a strict diet of “artists that created for themselves and didn’t care what other people thought”, they opted for something approaching “fast, DC, California-influenced hardcore”.
“[The scene] did influence us in a way, in that we were unified in our separation from it,” chuckles Davey. “staying true to your beliefs was such a facet of the community that we grew up in that we certainly weren’t going to allow that same community to push us in a direction that wasn’t what we believed in.” “We did whatever the fuck we wanted – with vigour!” That stubbornness eventually paid off. while tours in support of their first albums, 1995’s Answer That And Stay Fashionable and the following year’s very Proud Of Ya, often found the band playing to just their merch guy, by third album Shut your Mouth And Open your Eyes they were playing to upwards of 300 people a night.
“We had no idea what had happened, but to us we’d made it,” recalls Davey.
There was an equally sizeable “jump” in 2003 with the release of major-label debut, Sing The Sorrow, and its follow-up, 2006’s December underground. Davey’s hope that “people would eventually gravitate towards us” had slowly but surely come true, and laid the template for the even loftier ambitions showcased by their latest.
Davey spent a year writing the 60 or so songs in the running for AFI’S self-titled 10th album, which takes the moniker of The Blood Album. This perfectionist’s streak is reflected in the forensic attention he treats lines of questioning.ask him to lift the veil on exactly what the 14 songs that made the cut are about, and out pops another of the band’s careerlong traits: a sense of romanticism and mystery.
He’ll tell you that three of the tracks involve blood, hence the album’s subtitle, and that after the bleakness of predecessor Burials, “this record has a real sense of wonder in being present in a decimated environment and awaking to an unsavoury position and existence.”
He’ll give similarly succinct explanations of new tracks Pink Eyes (“It speaks of an overwhelming attraction to, and a misinterpretation of, beauty”) and Feed From The Floor (“I wasn’t eating food from the floor, but it was something that wasn’t good for me,” the straight-edge vegan teases). Probe him about the lyrics to Above The Bridge (‘It’s too much to take’; ‘i saw you step upon that bridge’) and their relationship to suicide, and the flow of the conversation stems somewhat.
“To use a trite metaphor, it’s about inviting a wolf into your house and the wolf is going to eat you,” he says in a considered tone. “and I’ll stop there.”
While its true meaning may never be fully revealed, Davey suggest it’s one of the tracks reflecting the “more pronounced” nods to long-time heroes The Cure. this passion for post-punk is one of several key similarities with their soon-to-be tourmates in Deftones. Both arty California bands have spent their careers being lazily lumped into genres they’re too musically sophisticated for, while being led by an oblique lyricist; they make obvious spiritual, if not musical, bedfellows.
“I’m thrilled to be playing with Deftones. we’ve been fans of them for years. Speaking to Chino [Moreno, Deftones’ vocalist] over the years, we’ve connected over having very similar musical influences.”
Both bands also take chances that work within the context of their respective sounds, because they arrive wearing a trademark sonic sheen. Davey identifies The Blood Album’s closing track, the Wind That Carries Me Away, as a key example.
“It does represent a side of us that people don’t often hear,” he says excitedly, praising bandmate Jade Puget both for his riff-writing and his work as producer this time around. “the elevation of those songs from demos to final record is all him. He gets in there and layers it all and adds details, which allows a song like The Wind… to sit seamlessly on the new record.”
And so knowing your band inside and out in order to expand the boundaries of what you’re capable of appears to be the last of the key ingredients of what makes AFI the band they are today. Given that Davey recently told K! he was unaware of their influence, we wonder what lessons he hopes other bands have learned from them?
“The most important thing is being true to yourself, and only make and release music that you love,” he imparts. “don’t create something for someone else – create it for yourself, and hope that people enjoy it.”
That sounds pretty punk to us.
THE BLOOD ALBUM IS OUT NOW VIA CONCORD MUSIC.AFITOURTHE UK WITH DEFTONES IN MAY – SEETHE GIG GUIDE