photo by Matthew Welch
In every generation, there are bands that generate either much adoration from fans or much hatred, but rarely is there any middle ground. AFI is just such a band. Love them or hate them, their sound is ever-evolving and fans are heatedly debating whether their latest offering, CRASH LOVE, is their best or worst album to date.
Beginning in Ukiah, California eighteen years ago, the band gained a following with their hardcore punk sound. After some personnel changes that were finalized with the release of BLACK SAILS IN THE SUNSET in 1999, the band, Davey Havok, vocals, Jade Puget, guitar and vocals, Hunter Burgan, bass and vocals and Adam Carson, drums and vocals, geared up to release their what would become their life-changing record. With the release of 2003’s SING THE SORROW, AFI enjoyed their first mainstream success, winning an MTV2 award for the single Girl’s Not Grey and selling over one million copies. They took three years to deliver 2006’s DECEMBERUNDERGROUND, which featured the rousing anthem, Miss Murder, and in September of this year, CRASH LOVE hit store shelves, seemingly cementing AFI’s mainstream following. The first single from CRASH LOVE, Medicate, is currently enjoying heavy rotation on many national FM stations and the video is garnering them attention on MTV.
AFI guitarist, Jade Puget, took time out of the band’s hectic touring schedule, which is on a momentary hiatus due to Havok’s bout of swine flu, to talk about CRASH LOVE, his dream of being a novelist and what he can’t live without.
MAXIMUM INK: You’ve said that CRASH LOVE isn’t a concept album, but it does seem to be thematically cohesive. What are the themes that are holding it together?
Jade Puget: Several of the songs have the theme of a culture crash, which the title refers to, which is happening in art, music and literature and really everything. It’s just a sort of de-valuing of our culture, especially our pop culture, and people revering these icons that became icons not based on talent or achievement but just by being famous. So in that way, I guess there is a theme that runs through several of the songs.
MI: What was the songwriting process like for CRASH LOVE?
JP: Sort of like it usually is. Davey and I sitting in a room together, this time in Hollywood on Sunset Strip, whereas usually it was in northern California. We sit in a room together and come up with the songs on the spot, bang them out together and then take them to the whole band and work them out from there.
MI: How does it work? Does Davey come up with the words first and you fit the music around them, or a melody, or do you come up with music and then go from there?
JP: I come up with the music and then we work out the melodies together. Then he does the words later.
MI: The reviews are saying the album is about unhealthy relationships. Do you feel that that is somewhat of an over-simplification?
JP: That probably is somewhat of a simplification, but there are songs that are about unhealthy relationships or unhealthy dynamics between people. I wouldn’t say the album is about that though.
MI: They’re also saying that CRASH LOVE is a lot like SING THE SORROW musically. Was that intentional?
JP: I don’t see that at all but you know anyone’s opinion of what you do is rarely what you intended. Every record that we put out, people say stuff about it that just totally flabbergasts me.
MI: So, it’s all subjective?
JP: It’s very subjective. Our last record, everyone said it sounded 80’s to them and so many people said it that I realized that it must sound 80’s. But to me, it doesn’t sound 80’s at all. Maybe it’s me, or the rest of the band that don’t have any objectivity because we’re so close to the music.
MI: How do you feel about the fans that want AFI to return to their older, more punk sound?
JP: (laughing) Well that’s been going on for years. That happens with all kinds of bands, not just us. That’s been going on for so many years, even before I was in the band and I’ve been in the band 11 years. Everyone wants something different from you. I know that there are bands that I like that I want to do things that they probably don’t want to do. When you are in a band, there are always going to be people that want you to do this or that and really, you can’t please everyone or even most of the people, so you just have to do what you think is right.
MI: How involved is the band with the various website, like myspace and twitter?
JP: We’re very involved. We don’t actually do the nuts and bolts of the sites but we provide all the content. We don’t have people who are writing stuff under our names or anything like that.
MI: Have things gotten easier or harder for the band with more fame?
JP: I guess that depends on what you are talking about. Touring has gotten easier because we started out touring with a bunch of people stuffed in a van and sleeping on floors, so in that way it’s easier. The more records you sell and the further along you get in your career, the more pressure there is on you. When you’re putting out punk records that no one knows or relatively few people listen to, then there’s no pressure. It doesn’t really matter. It starts to matter at some point.
MI: You went to college and got a degree in social theory. What were you thinking your future held at that time?
JP: I was actually planning on being a novelist, which is what I planned on doing for most of my life. I guess being a musician and being successful is difficult but I think being a novelist is even more difficult.
MI: I remember you telling me that last time we talked.
JP: I wasn’t lying!
MI: How long will this tour last?
JP: We are booked through April of next year, so at least that long.
MI: You’ve been doing remixes for other bands. How different is that from working with AFI and Blaqk Audio?
JP: It’s similar to Blaqk Audio because it’s programming. It’s very different from AFI, although I do some programming on AFI. Remixing is really weird because you take someone else’s creation and kind of twist it and make it your own. It’s really fun and I love to do it. I pretty much love to remix anything so that’s just another side of my musical expression.
MI: What’s your favorite song to play live and why is it your favorite?
JP: There’s no real certain favorite because we have ballad-y songs and up-tempo songs. Unless you’re playing a bunch of the same kind of songs, it’s really hard to have a favorite. I enjoy playing DEATH OF SEASONS a lot because it has so many different layers and things happening that it’s a fun song to play.
MI: Who’s your favorite guitar player?
JP: I would say probably Robert Johnson.
MI: How would you describe the state of rock music today?
JP: I guess it’s like any era really. There’s stuff going on and there’s stuff that I don’t personally think is good. It seems like everybody is saying, ‘Man it seems like music today is so terrible and it was so great in this era or that era’ but I think it’s always sort of the same. Although when you think back, we’re at the end of this entire decade and I don’t think it was a great decade for music in general and especially rock music. You can’t really look to any real big watershed moments.
MI: So what bands do you think are doing great things right now?
JP: I like Tool, they’re really solid. A Perfect Circle as well. VNV Nation, I’m a fan of and Nine Inch Nails is consistently awesome. There’s good stuff if you look for it and it’s also subjective. I’m sure there are people out there who think this is a great era for music and all their favorite bands are putting out records so really it’s subjective.
MI: Who would you want to work with that you haven’t?
JP: We always have this fantasy when we’re writing a new record that we’re going to get some sort of legendary person to do a vocal part but then we never do try. We had this idea on our last record that we were going to get David Bowie or maybe David Gahan or Bjork to maybe do a part. It would be cool to do something like that, get some kind of legendary person. I am a Beatles fanatic so if I ever got to even meet Paul McCartney I would be pretty psyched.
MI: If you could’ve written any song that’s already been written, which song would you choose and why?
JP: That’s pretty difficult. I would probably choose Happy Birthday because it’s the probably one of the most widely performed songs ever. (laughing)
MI: There’d be great royalties on that one!
JP: Very good royalties!
MI: What’s the best thing about your job?
JP: There’s a lot of good things. I mean, touring and playing in front of people is amazing. Being able to write music is extremely fulfilling and being able to make a living writing music and performing it is sort of like a dream come true that I’ve gotten to live for the past 10 years of my life. It’s pretty amazing.
MI: What’s the worst part?
JP: Being away from home if you have a girlfriend or loved ones that you have to be away from. There’s a lot of pressure. You may not be out there working construction but there’s a lot more pressure I think, being in a band a lot of times. Those things can wear on you.
MI: What three items could you not live without and why are they important to you?
JP: Just in general life? My phone obviously. My laptop. It’s such a technological word that it’s all technological devices. And probably my flat iron. I don’t want to have an afro, you know?
MI: What wouldn’t you do for this band?
JP: I wouldn’t compromise my musical ideals. I think once you do that, you can’t take it back.
MI: What’s the next step for AFI? Where are we going from here?
JP: In the near future, we’re just going to continue working on this record, touring on it, supporting it, promoting it, like we always do. Then at some point next year, start thinking about writing a new one.
MI: A lot of the bands that I’ve interviewed recently tend to mention AFI or Blaqk Audio, including VNV Nation.
JP: Oh, well that’s good. Hopefully in a good way. Ronan (Harris from VNV Nation) just wrote me last week asking me to remix a new VNV Nation song so I’m pretty excited. I loved VNV for a long time and they influenced me electronically, so this is the first VNV song that I’ve gotten to remix and I’m really excited about it.
MI: When the remixes of STIFF KITTENS came out, I was very surprised to see that Ronan didn’t do one of them.
JP: We had actually talked about it but he was right in the middle of doing the new VNV record so he wasn’t able to do it. But he did remix an AFI song, MISS MURDER. He’s great, so I’m glad to be able to remix him finally.
MI: On that note, is the Blaqk Audio video for STIFF KITTENS ever going to see the light of day?
JP: It was never finished. We have all the footage that we shot but I keep forgetting that it exists. I think I need to get my hands on the footage and maybe make a short of it or something, release that footage. There was some cool stuff in there, we just never finished it and it fell apart. It would be cool to release some of the footage at least.
MI: Well, there are photographs of the two of you (Blaqk Audio frontman Davey Havok) in what appears to be very small underwear floating around the internet.
JP: Yes, very small pairs of underwear. (laughing) I don’t think you were supposed to see the underwear part. I think it was some sort of robotic thing, where we were wearing that so they could put the effects in later. I can’t remember what the deal was with that, but it was very complex.
MI: Maybe you can include in on a DVD in the special features someday.
JP: Yeah, that would actually be cool to put out. You know, Blaqk Audio actually has a new record completely finished called BRIGHT BLACK HEAVEN and we’re just waiting to put it out as soon as we’re done with this AFI record.
MI: And will the Blaqk Audio tour be real limited like it was last time or maybe a little bigger now that the band is better known?
JP: I don’t know. It depends on how many people come see us. If a hundred people want to come see, then we’ll do it small and if it’s a thousand or ten thousand, it just kind of depends on where we’re at.
MI: Thank you, Jade, for taking time out to talk to us.
Jade: Thank you!
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