This interview took place in February 2003, just after ‘Sing The Sorrow’ had been released. Davey Havok discusses comic books, AFI’s history, their artwork, and what the future looked like two years ago. Interview from Rancid News issue 1. Interview by Edd.
RN: How come you didn’t get Alan Forbes to do the artwork on this record?
DH: We did!
RN: Right…well that knocked that one into the water!
DH: (laughs) Yeah it did!
RN: OK then well have you ever considered doing something with Derek Hess?
DH: Yes, I love Derek Hess. I mean it’s never been a consideration more than just a thought. I mean, like we don’t know Derek, but I have my friend, one of my really good friends Jimmy, does know Derek, and by way of Jimmy we have heard that Derek is interested in doing something with us. But I’ve never really had contact with him but I really love his work and if we ever had the oppurtunity to anything – a shirt, a poster, an album, or something with Derek it’d be really cool cause I really like his work.
RN: Jade said in an interview recently that the new album is trying to be ‘a new voice and a new sound’…are you trying to do what Refused did and try and push punk as far as that can go, or do you not want to be limited even by those boundaries?
DH: I think we’ve really become detached from punk rock. I mean for me it’s interesting that Refused called their album ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ because they were to. I mean there were punk rock elements involved in that band and I mean there are elements in punk rock in AFI, it can be seen, but that’s just because that’s where we came from, we started life as a hardcore punk band. But we really no longer fit that description. To me punk rock is punk rock is the Germs, Black Flag, Seven Seconds, Negative Approach and Sick of It All, bands like that and we don’t sound like that anymore, and I think once you become so far from that it’s no longer accurate to say that we’re pushing punk, we’re just no longer punk. And we haven’t been for a few years now, and especially with this new release – we’re something else – what we are I don’t know but it’s not punk rock.
RN: Talking about Refused on a complete tangent have you heard of a band called Cult of Luna?
RN: Cause they came out of the same scene as Refused but they’ve just gone completly beyond the bounds of punk, but you can still hear it in their music…
DH: Interesting I think I’ve heard of that band, but I’m not sure! But Refused were a great band. I mean when ‘Songs to fan the Flames’ came out that was… I mean ‘Shut Your Mouth Open Your Eyes’ wouldn’t have been the same if it hadn’t been for Refused (laughs) they were hugely inspirational. It was very cool being able to play with them!
RN: Was the time gap between ‘Art of Drowning’ and ‘Sing the Sorrow’ simply down to changing labels or did you deliberatly want to take more time out?
DH: It wasn’t deliberate, we really didn’t plan to take that much time between the records, we normally like to get them out a little sooner than that. It was the logistics of switching labels, that took longer than we thought it would and procuring producers also took longer than we thought, but it the end it turned out to be a very beneficial thing because in taking that much time to be with the songs before we actually went into the studio we managed to get the songs into a place where they wouldn’t have been otherwise, and the songs didn’t actually got written wouldn’t have got written if we hadn’t had so much time. Alot of the songs that appear on the album were written…were some of the last songs that were written. So that was really cool, and then in taking all that time in recording the record we were able to take the songs and take them to a place, sonically, that we’d never been able to do before. We had all the oppurtunities and resources which were never there before – so it was a really great experience.
RN: Was it deliberate chosing Butch Vig and Jerry Finn who have done completly different bands?… I mean you’ve got Rancid on one side and Nirvana on the other. Did you deliberatly try and get those influences in?
DH: I mean definetly it was, but it wasn’t something that we had really planned or forseen. We wanted…we had a list of our favourite producers and they said ‘what’s your choice of producers’, and we’re like ‘well here they are’. They managed to get two of them for us, and it just worked out very well that they’re coming from different places and worked wonderfully together and the six of us really got along wonderfully. It was such a great experience.
RN: Are you worried that with the change of direction in terms of sound, and songs getting heavy rotation on KROQ that you’re integrity is going to get questioned?
DH: People can question our integrity but they have nothing to base it on. Umm you know we always do what we wanna do and we always will do what we wanna do. To question the integrity of the band just because a song is being played on the radio is ridiculous. I mean the song is going to be the same song regardless of whether or not the radio plays it. We would have written the same album whether or not we were releasing it ourselves or whether Dreamworks was releasing it. I mean that’s just the way that we work, we write songs that we enjoy – period. To do anything wouldn’t make any sense – there’s no reason to be in a band if you’re not expressing yourself artistically, at least for us, I mean I guess other people have different motivations. But we do it because we love it so you know there is no reason for people to question us, and if they do then that’s fine because there’s obviously something wrong with their minds! (laughs)
RN: With Dreamworks have you had enough money to make a concept video instead of just a high end performance one?
DH: I don’t think…we haven’t decided really in what direction we’re going in in terms of video…I suppose we could make a concept video but I don’t know if we will. I just want to make something that’s really beautiful, really striking and just captures the band. I don’t know whether it will have a direct concept line or if it will be more symbolic, but I’m really excited to have the oppurtunity to visually complement what we do cause with the budgets that we’ve had we haven’t really had that oppurtunity in the past. It also makes me nervous though because now that we have the oppurtunity I just hope that it’s done correctly. You know we’re going to work really hard to get something that we like. I just really hope that in the end it turns out the way that we want to. Cause in the end we know how to make music but we don’t know how to make videos! (laughs)
RN: OK in the Total Immortal video you’re wearing a Johnny (the Homicidal Maniac) t-shirt…
DH: Oh yes!
RN: I’m assuming that you like that kind of comic…
DH: I do, I do…
RN: But what other comics are you into?
DH: Well I grew up reading comics and I stopped reading comics for a long time because there was nothing that appealed to me for a while, and then Jhonen started doing his comics, and I love everything that he does!
RN: What about Roman Dirge?
DH: I love everything that Roman does, and there’s a comic called Gloom Cookie…
RN: That rules – I really love that comic, but I really don’t like the new art in that comic…
DH: Yes I really like Ted [Naieth](the original artist on Gloom Cookie) as well….
RN: But have you read…
DH: Courtney Cumrin – yes! I like Courtney Cumrin as well…and then Serina is doing…
RN: Nightmare and Fairytales…
DH: …which I really like.
RN: Ah but we’re still stuck on issue two of that over here.
DH: Oh are you?!? And then there’s one more that she’s doing.
RN: Oh is there?!?
DH: Yes…..there’s…..or maybe I’m making it up! No that’s it! That’s basically what I read.
RN: So you’re not into the Marvel, DC superhero thing?
DH: No not really.
RN: Not even Vertigo?
DH: You know, yeah, I never read Sandman, everyone in the world has been going for years has been going ‘you need to read this’ and I’m always like yeah ‘I really need to read this’ but I’ve never read Sandman, but I should. Growing up I read more stuff growing up, everything from the Crow – which people don’t know was a comic book until it was a horrible horrible movie, it was a wonderful comic. That was my favourite. And then there was the really gory stuff like Faust, and then like the funny stuff like the Tick, which I really liked.
RN: On an aside have you seen the movie for Faust – it is abysmal!?!
DH: Oh I bet, oh I bet it’s horrible…
RN: And yeah they just have one song throughout the whole film, just this one Sepultura song!
DH: The comic book was pretty rough itself as well. But yeah I also read the super hero stuff as well. Well I read like Punisher and Dare Devil and stuff like that, but mostly I was more into the underground comics stuff, but then I just stopped, until I found Jhonen. I mean he’s just an amazing artist, and his writing is just great. It’s just great. Oh and I love Invader Zim.
RN: I still haven’t seen it!
DH: Oh does it not come over here?
RN: Only if you’ve got satellite, and I’ve been trying to get it on DVD or VHS or something but of course they don’t work on our TVs…
DH: Man – I’m sorry – it’s the BEST! It’s really funny, and it’s really dark and it’s really twisted. I mean obviously it’s on Nickolodeon so it’s not as dark as it perhaps could be, but he really pushed the boundaries which is why they cancelled it. And Grr! is just adorable. He’s just so cute.
RN: Well have you ever considered him (Jhonen Vasquez) to do artwork for the band.
DH: Well you know I’ve met him a couple of times and umm I don’t know. I just kinda always assumed that’s he’s so busy, especially once he started working on Invader Zim, that he just wouldn’t have the time! He doesn’t… I don’t want to bother him about designing an AFI t-shirt, but I would love it if he did do that!
RN: Is it weird suddenly having your face spread across all the magazines and being touted as the next big thing when you’ve been around for such a long time?!?
DH: Yeah, it’s weird, it’s something that you can’t really….you don’t really grasp it. I mean as you say we’ve been around for so many years and we’ve got so used to just doing what we do at the level that we do, so to all of a sudden get this recognition is very surreal. I mean it’s very cool and very exciting but … we’re so ingrained in the ways that we do things, because it dosen’t change anything that we’re doing it’s just really…novel. I mean it’s really exciting and we’re not like ‘Oh yeah whatever’, I don’t mean to sound blase about it, we love it, it’s very cool. But it’s not like, ‘Oh my god I can’t handle this’ or ‘Yeah I’m cool’ (laughs) it’s neither of those things its just very cool!
RN: Is it weird suddenly having to do thousands of interviews?
DH: That’s weird. Suddenly. Because we did none, with the exception perhaps of the UK which has paid attention to us which is really nice. But no US press, ever, and now this tour all we do is – press!
DH: Seriously, like all day, every day, up until the show!
RN: Dosen’t that get frustrating?
DH: I mean…this interview that we’re doing is so refreshing because you’re not asking …a) you’re not asking the same questions that we’re asked over and over again, and even if there’s elements of the same question in it, at least we’re having a conversation, because alot of the people who are doing press I don’t know it seems like there isn’t the flow.
RN: So what’s the question that you just get permanently asked?
DH: It’s about, there are about seven of the same questions over and over again, and I can’t really blame them because what else are you going to ask us right now. So I mean they ask about Jerry and Butch, they ask about how does this album differ from the last album, how do you think the fans are going to recieve it? Accusations of being sell outs, what do we think of that? What else? What can someone who has never listened to AFI expect to take from this record…
RN: I hate reading that question….that final question just really bothers me…
DH: Yeah I mean what do I say?
RN: Like asking a band that – you, as a critic, know what the album sounds like.
DH: Exactly I mean, why are you asking me….’so yeah if someones never listened to the band what would you say?’ – go listen to the band (laughs) you know?!?
RN: Do you ever worry that cause you’re such an iconic lead figure that you overshadow the rest of the band sometimes?
DH: Yeah it’s not really fair – I mean I understand that’s just how things work, through rock n roll history people are drawn always to the singer. But this band is not just me, by any means. Everybody contributes to this band so much, and for people to just focus on me is really absurd. Without those guys I would be nothing. Useless. The talent in this band, and the talent that everyone else has is really just amazing. It’s not just me, AFI is AFI, and it wouldn’t be AFI without all four elements.
RN: Are you as a band – cause I don’t know cause everyone just focuses on you – are the rest of you straightedge?
DH: Yeah I claim the straightedge movement, and I’m vegan. I don’t like to speak for the others, but since you’re specifically asking….Hunter: Does not do drugs and is vegan. Jade: Is straight edge and is vegetarian, Adam is vegetarian. But yeah as I say I don’t like speaking for the other members of the band so if I’ve misrepresented any of you guys I’m sorry!(laughs)
RN: Do you think that straightedge has been taken further than Minor Threat, Ian MacKaye (that so isn’t how you spell that name – sorry) and the rest originally intended it to be?
DH: Yeah I mean Ian dosen’t even claim the movement anymore, he’s really disavowed it cause it’s become something entirely different to what it was in the beginning. And that’s just how it happens with anything. Any kind of underground movement, or culture, or philosophy…it just morphs into different things, and it definetly has. Straightedge goes through different stages and straightedge goes through different waves, probably about 1% who claim the movement ever stay true to it. Probably about 99% of the people who are the most vocal and who fly the flag the highest and the most abrasive are the ones that leap soonest. I’ve seen that – I mean I’ve been part of this movement now for *wow* well over ten years and you see it over and over again. The biggest straightedge dicks are drug dealers three months later. (laughs) Always! And drunks and junkies…Always!
RN: Do you think it’s something to do with the intensity of the straightedge character that you tend to either be completly on the edge or you a complete drunkard?
DH: Yeah I think that might have something very much to do with it. I’m an extremist, allow though I will say that doing drugs has ever appealed to me. I don’t understand it, like it’s not something that crosses my mind. I think because straightedge is part of that extreme personality it does attract alot of people who will go one way or another. But I think really its more because you get that extreme personality and you get them wanting to be part of a trend because straightedge will become a trend and it’s something that they don’t really believe in and they are an extreme personality, or you will get a person who is using the movement and the label, to be completely cliched, as a crutch. And they are using it to fall back on like saying ‘No I don’t do drugs because I’m straightedge’, not ‘I’m straightedge because I don’t believe in this’ but because I need to say that so that I won’t do drugs, and it’s not meant for that. It can’t support you, you have to support it! So I think that’s really more of a reason.
RN: Do you think an AFI tattoo is the ultimate form of flattery?
DH: It’s one of the highest forms of flattery absolutely and I see them every show.
RN: Does it not freak you out at all?
DH: No not at all. I think it’s great! It’s awesome, I’m so flattered by it. I think it’s so wonderful that people represent us and show that level of loyalty and dedication to us – it’s great. It’s so cool! (laughs)
RN: So do you have any band tattoos yourself?
DH: I do… I have…actually I have an Alleyway Dragon, I have the skull and bolts logo, and I have…those are two bands that we’ve toured with alot, and are really good friends with, and then actually just got another band tattoo the Dark Angel tattoo, and after meeting those guys for the first time, and I just love their music – it’s just glorius – and after meeting them for the first time, they’re just such nice guys that I was just like ‘you know this is going to be the first band tattoo that I get of a band who I haven’t toured with’. That’s my first band tattoo of a band in that circumstance.
RN: Have you ever – going back to the straightedge, vegan thing – you never actually use the lyrics or the inlays, or even the website to talk about it?
DH: No, for a few reasons. We’re not a straightedge band so it wouldn’t be appropriate, first and foremost. Secondly that’s just not the way I like to do things, I love straightedge bands, it’s so fun to go to straightedge shows, and dance and ‘x’ up, and it’s fun. But alot of times, really straightedge bands tend to preach to straightedge kids, and you’re preaching to the converted, and alot of my views and my believes will come through in my lyrics, because that’s who I am but I really don’t like to push anyone message on to people. Any message at all I mean if you look at my lyrics they’re somewhat enigmatic in all respects, so just in the same way that I don’t like to have a song obviously about one thing, that one thing isn’t going to be about straightedge.
RN: When you look at the lyrics – and this is gonna sound sycophantic I think – they look like it’s more books and poetry that have influenced you more than music…
DH: Thank you…
RN: Is that true, or am I just making stuff up?
DH: No, no, definetly. I mean I take inspiration from literature, I take inspiration from film and from poetry, from all different forms of art, and you know I just like to present my words in a way that I’m happy with. In a way that I can read them and be satisfied. I like, I like to use symbolism and I like to create images with my words…so I try to do that.
RN: When you first started out, were you ever worried that your lyrics would be too difficult to grasp…I mean sometimes there are times when you wanna reach for a dictionary!
DH: (laughs) It’s funny because I really…I’m kind of unaware it, because generally when I’m writing something and a word comes to me and I think it would be perfect I don’t think, because I know what it means I don’t think, ‘oh no one else is going to know what it means’! (laughs) So I really don’t think in those terms. I just craft the words naturally and when I’m done I’ll be like ‘Oh I’m happy with this’, or ‘this sucks’ and then change it, so! You know, it’s never really been a consideration.
RN: Have you achieved everything that you wanted to achieve as a band or do you still have aspirations?
DH: Oh I want to continue growing, and continue doing this for as long as possible. As you reach certain places that you never thought you were going to reach, there are more places for you to go. We still haven’t been to Australia! I’d like to go to Australia!
RN: So do you think AFI are going to be around forever, or are you a finite band?
DH: I hope we’ll be around forever, I hope! It’s very nice to … [que roadie dressed up as policeman entering interview - stage right] sorry officer have we been here to long, officer I…sorry are we doing something wrong here. yes I’ll work on that I’m sorry officer. [exit officer - stage right] The police here are kind of tense (laughs)
RN: Not as intense as America though – they have guns in America!
DH: They don’t have guns here, oh yeah that’s right.
RN: Yeah that just scares the shit in to me! (laughs)
DH: Yeah they’ll shoot you too – yeah they will…
RN: But yeah going back to AFI being around forever…
DH: Oh yeah, I really hope that we will be, I really hope we will. It’s nice in that we’re a band that continues to change, I think that will increase the chance of our longevity, the fact that we continue to grow. I think if we were writing the same album over and over again, it would get stale and die.
RN: Well then do you think your present record’s the favourite one you’ve recorded?
DH: So, so, so much my favourite record! I could not be happier with this record. We are all so happy with it. I think it totally overshadows everything that we’ve done before. Really when we finished this and we listened to it, it was like *wow* ‘the rest of the records are obsolete’! Every record that we make, we’re always happier with it than the one that we’ve done before, but this is so extreme…
RN: Adam was saying in an interview that you…depending on what track listing you chose it would completly change the mood of the album…
RN: So do you think you’ve got the mood you wanted on the record as it stands now.
DH: We just wanted it to be the strongest record that it possibly could and we just wanted it to flow and to really have all different peaks rising and falling and have really heavy moments and to have really quiet moments, and I think that the overall dynamic of it is very full and very sleek! I think complete is just the word that encompasses what we have done. I think there are tracks which we could have substituted that would have changed the record a little bit. Tracks that we really liked that didn’t make the record but would have weighted the album in a way that we didn’t want.
RN: Do you think you’ll put out an EP with those tracks on?
DH: Somethings going to happen with them. They will see the light of day at some point. I don’t know how or when but they will. A couple of songs that I really like, I wish that I could have put them on the album, but there was just not a place for them!
RN: Now that you’ve moved so far away from the earlier, well the first three records, do you ever not want to sing those songs live?
DH: Ah, do I not want to sing some of those old songs, let me tell you. I mean like…for a few reasons, one, having played the same songs for years and years and years, it just gets boring, especially when the songs are so simple. I would imagine that some of the songs from Shut Your Mouth on that I won’t get bored of playing, or I’ll be less bored of playing because they’re more dynamic and there’s more going on, and they’re just inherently more fun to play. But like some of those older songs that are really simplistic and that we just have been doing forever, they’re just so boring to play after ten years. Not to mention I think that they’re, they’ve become somewhat inappropriate, when put into context with the rest of the songs that we’re playing in the set just sound very bizarre, and detached, so it kind of breaks the flow of the entire set. Yup we just kind of go into cruise control.
RN: OK … uhh this is slightly out of the blue, but who came up with the electronic bit in Death Seasons?
DH: The EBM part – that’s Jade. Jade and I are really into electronic music, me personally since around ‘99, I got really into that kind of music, and it’s the music that I listen to most, so we thought that it would be really interesting to try and incorporate that sort of industrial dynamic into a predominently hardcore song, and try and make it flow, and I think we did! (laughs) Yeah Jade wrote all the electronic parts on the album…
RN: Because the question I was gonna ask has completly gone out of my head have you ever encountered homophobia in the scene?
DH: Oh yeah my whole life…all the time…yeah people are disgusting! But it’s got to the point where I don’t care because anybody of that mind frame just means nothing to me – you know, it’s just sad that the first thing that attracted to me to this scene was the level of openess and acceptance, and to get that kind of criticism from someone who thinks they are part of the scene is really dispointing. [re-enter police officer right - interview concludes]