Interview: Davey Havok of AFI
“Culture” is the simple response from AFI vocalist Davey Havok when asked to explain the reason for their dramatic surge in popularity, starting with fifth album The Art of Drowning in 2000. “It was interesting,” he continues. “I think on the one hand, we amassed such a great, strong, loyal, passionate, vocal and vibrant fanbase that we started getting the attention of people in the music industry – people who would never have paid attention to us before. They were people focused on the tune of culture and the tone of music, and I think they recognised something in us that might have appealed to more people than we were already exposed to. They turned out to be right. We think that was very much a matter of the times, and the people surrounding us.”
If The Art of Drowning introduced AFI to commercial success, it was their next album, Sing the Sorrow that broke them into the mainstream. Since then, their flame has continued to burn brightly.
“We didn’t really get commercial or mainstream success until our sixth record,” Havok muses, “but as far as we were concerned, we were very successful before then. In 1997, we went on tour and the rooms we were playing in had 300 people in them every night – to us, that was success. Being able to pack venues for the first time was a success, and then shockingly, in our mid period and the middle stages of our career, we had this commercial success – this big record – but it wasn’t anything that we ever expected, and it was not our sole purpose in being the band. But that being said, it was something we hoped for. We thought it would be great if we were presented the opportunity to expose possibly millions of people to our music. That was something we absolutely wanted to do, but it was never our expectation by any means.”
Recently, prior to the announcement of their upcoming album AFI (The Blood Album), the band heightened anticipation by blacking out their Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as completely wiping their Instagram page and posting a series of suspenseful teaser videos. While designed to generate publicity and heighten expectation, Havok says the unusual way of promoting the album was yet another example of the band trying to think outside of conventional means.
“As we write, the songs move in one direction or the other, and we amass a large group of songs. From that group, we choose what we feel makes the strongest record.”
“We like to create continuity with our music,” he explains. “One of the great things about changes in technology is having the ability to create content like that, and to share it with the fans that care. We have also released two songs, ‘Snow Cats’ and ‘White Offerings’ that have gone to radio, so hopefully they will get played [laughs]. They already are in California – it’s great to have that support in our hometown.”
While the title of the album – particularly the Blood element – has been the subject of much consternation, Havok remains tight-lipped about the meaning behind it.
“Well, I don’t really go into the direct meaning of album titles or the meaning of song lyrics,” he quips, “because we like to allow people to take what they need from our music and from our imagery and lyrics. I think that ‘blood’ was a word that I recognised was recurring in the writing process, lyrically speaking, and when I recognised it, I mentioned to Jade [Puget, guitar] that this word keeps coming up, and it might be a cool aesthetic to expand upon for the record, and he agreed. By the time it reached a point where we had gone from thirty to sixty songs, that thematic seemed appropriate.”
One aspect of AFI’s music that has been the backbone of their success is their ability to blend different styles and sounds through each record, while still maintaining a core signature sound. That’s something which Havok explains is not intentional so much as it is a reflection of where the band is musically at the time of writing.
“We never have a very pointed plan,” he says. “As we write, the songs move in one direction or the other, and we amass a large group of songs. From that group, we choose what we feel makes the strongest record – in this case, there’s great diversity to the songs, although at the same time, I feel there is a continuity in thematic moments that bind them together to make the Blood record. I think that’s something that does strengthen our music, and that gives it variation from song to song.”
“We’re very, very lucky to have the support we have had, both from the fans and from the industry, for as long as we have.”
“We don’t create in the studio as bands often do,” he continues. “By the time we reach the studio, we know exactly what we’re going to record. We know how many songs are going to be recorded, what those songs are and what we want them to sound like, and that was the case on this record. When we’re writing, we sit down and write whichever way the music and inspiration directs us. Our main desire is to create something that we feel is fresh and exciting – something that we’re happy with and that represents who we are at that time.”
Again bucking current trends, The Blood Album provides listeners with fourteen new songs and a playback time pushing the hour mark. With many bands favouring the short, sharp impact of a reduced album length and less than a dozen songs, Havok believes it is important to give fans value for money.
“I think it’s important to offer a full body of work, and I think it’s very relevant to a certain amount of people,” he stresses. “I don’t think it’s relevant to the majority – I’m not going to say that. I think the majority of people find relevance in very little, artistically speaking [laughs], but I think it is important to a very impactful and very important minority – specifically the AFI fans – that we cater for.”
Because of – or perhaps in spite of – the amount of time it took AFI to reach their musical summit, Havok says the band isn’t about to let the industry recycle them just yet. And, despite the difficulties faced in clinging to the top, he’s dead set on that being an achievable goal.
“It depends on your expectation and intentions,” he offers. “I suppose when speaking in terms of the music industry, it’s very difficult because the music industry is very much a business. If you’re trying to stay in the industry, then it’s business that you’re up against. Most artists are not business people, so that’s something that’s very confrontational. We’re very, very lucky to have the support we have had, both from the fans and from the industry, for as long as we have. It’s something that we’re extremely grateful for.”