Posted: January 1st, 2012 | Author: admin | Filed under: Feature story | Tags: afi, davey havok, jade puget | No Comments »
Over The Wall
Background note: This feature first appeared in Guitar One as afi were making their transition from the indie world to the majors. Extremely nice people. Not sure if he ever followed through on the idea, but I remember singer Davey Havok was excited when I suggested the band launch their own line of make-up for dudes.
AFI are mere days away from launching a headlining tour in support their major-label debut, Sing The Sorrow. The Bay Area goth-core quartet have faithfully toured behind each of their five previous albums, gradually accruing a large loyal following in the process. But this stint will be different.
It’s a tour of many firsts for the band. Their first tour bus. Their first real production budget. Their first use of sampling technology to supplement their live sound. Their first heavy promotional schedule. Davey Havok, AFI’s glamour-conscious lead singer, jokingly bemoans the increased responsibilities, saying they’ll cut into on-the-road shopping sprees, but that’s the closest anyone has to a complaint about the new situation.
Thanks to the band’s fanbase, dubbed The Despair Faction, Sing The Sorrow has debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Album Charts. The anime-inspired video for the propulsive first single, “Girl’s Not Grey,” has been receiving steady airplay on MTV. Reviews of the genre-defying album have been mostly glowing. In response, many of tour’s theater dates have sold out in advance.
As AFI prepare to step into a promising future–one that includes a headlining return to this summer’s Vans Warped Tour–Havok and guitarist Jade Puget can’t help but reflect on the early days. Two-month van tours with overnight drives. “Stinky stage clothes that haven’t been washed in two decades.” Gas-station meals of “crappy granola bars and stupid crackers,” for the band’s vegan (Havok and bassist Hunter) and vegetarian (Puget and drummer Adam Carson) members. Tough to say goodbye to those days?
“I always think about gigs I played when I was in smaller bands and tours I went on that were insanely grueling, and it makes me appreciate what I have now,” says Puget. “It’s important to pay your dues because it gives you a good perspective on success.”
“I remember playing these clubs and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s 100 kids here to see us,’” says Havok. “I remember thinking that if we could tour the U.S. and have 100 people show up every night, it would be the best thing ever. And then with [1997's] Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes, we thought, ‘If we could get 500 people every night, we’d be the biggest band ever.’”
By those standards, AFI are now the “biggest band ever” many times over. But success for the group involves much more than ticket sales. Sing The Sorrow is AFI’s most realized work to date–a huge leap beyond the breakneck-tempo gallows punk on previous albums like Black Sails In The Sunset. On this album, AFI had the musical command as well as the budget to realize their vision.
“We always wanted to make this very rich, multi-layered soundscape, but we never had the opportunity before,” says the singer. “We finally had all the resources at our disposal, and we were able to realize the songs in ways we had dreamt them.”
It didn’t hurt that the band had not one but two star producers to help translate that vision. With Jerry Finn (Rancid, Green Day) and Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins) at the console, the band experimented with a variety of textures including sawing cellos, haunting choirs, pulsing techno beats and shredding guitar solos. Their wide range of influences (Joy Division, The Smiths, Guns N’ Roses, Slayer, Refused etc.) is now audible in their sound.
“Both Butch and Jerry really understood where we were coming from,” says Havok. “We all had the goal of making this grand rock album; it was just a matter of trying to get there. I’d say, ‘I want my voice to sound like a distorted outerspace ethereal thing.’ And they’d say, ‘Okay… let’s see how we can accomplish that.’”
Translating Sing The Sorrow‘s dynamic sound to stage has been relatively easy, according to Puget. Vig, who also drums for the cybernetic rock act Garbage, helped drummer Adam Carson program his new samplers. And Puget added a “hotrodded” Marshall Plexi plus a Vox AC30 to his live set-up to round out his tones onstage. Imagination was the limit in the studio, but the guitarist also kept live performance in mind as he arranged his parts.
“I don’t have 50 overdubs going at once on the songs,” he says. “There are some things from the album I won’t be able to do, but the vast majority I can recreate.”
Then, of course, there’s the X-factor of live performance–a constant that links the band’s early struggles on the road with their current situation. Even with an increased touring budget, unforeseen technical difficulties will always arise. As Puget puts it, “you get used to having your rig go out in the middle of a song and scrambling to fix it.” If nothing else, it makes for a good war story you can laugh about later–even when the pain is self-inflicted.
“We were playing Boise, Idaho. I ran across the stage and was going to run up the wall and push off of it, but I put my foot on the wall and it went straight through up to my hip,” he says shaking his head. “So one of my leg was completely embedded in the wall, but I kept playing and fired myself out of the hole and did a backwards roll up onto my feet. I thought I played it off pretty well, but the bartender apparently saw me do it, and the club made us pay for the damage.”