AFI are without a doubt one of the most enduring acts in all of modern punk rock. From their beginnings as an agitated and frenetic hardcore band, the Californian quartet have been on a constant forward trajectory. They've never been a band that is content with resting on their laurels, and are always interested in moving on to the next thing, the next idea and finding the next inspiration. Progression is as important to their identity as their punk roots and DIY upbringing.
There's nothing cynical about the evolution of AFI, nor has any change they've made sounded like a calculated attempt to remain relevant – Whatever that means in this day and age. Rather, AFI is the sound of four friends who consider themselves lucky enough to be able to make music for a living, trying to satisfy their ever-changing creative urges.
Now entering their 30th year, the band – Comprised of vocalist Davey Havok, guitarist Jade Puget, drummer Adam Carson and bassist Hunter Burgan – Are set to release their 11th album, Bodies, this summer. The album represents another step for AFI in their continual growth from scrappy punk stalwarts to modern gothic infused rock giants. MusicRadar spoke with guitarist and songwriter Jade about the record and how he gradually fell into the role of album producer for the band, as well as to talk about the 10 albums which changed his life.
“Davey and I try to avoid repeating ourselves.” Jade tells us, when discussing the band's longevity. “We try to avoid making the same record or copying our most popular records. We want to avoid becoming a legacy act and always try to push our personal envelope creatively, which makes it feel fresh every time we do a new record. Our fans are constantly being thrown left hooks and right hooks because they never really know what we're going to do – but I think they've grown to appreciate that from us. ”
“I think our longevity also has a lot to do with us being able to get along. If you look at the history of bands that have broken up, usually it is from creative differences, someone being on drugs and not being able to handle it, someone not wanting to tour anymore, those are the kind of things that break up a band and we've been able to handle that pretty well.”
This new batch of songs has also led Jade to re-evaluate the role of guitar in the band, looking at how to best use sounds and sonics to serve the songs rather than throwing riff after riff at the listener.
“Over the years I have looked at myself as less of a guitar player and more of a songwriter.” says Jade. “Instead of wanting every song to have bombastic quadruple tracked rhythm guitars, I've started looking at guitar as another tool to use. I think this is the first record where heavy guitars aren't hitting you over the head all of the time, so it leaves a lot of space to do other interesting things with other layers.”
This is definitely something we notice on Bodies. Jade's shimmering, reverb drenched guitar work ebbs and flows over tight, punchy drums and glacial basslines. They're not afraid of sparsity, allowing the songs breathing space for Davey Havok's always emotive croon to take the lead. There's a noticeable influence from 80s new wave present too, but Jade points out that this wasn't necessarily a conscious decision.
“As far as the new wave element, we get that comparison a lot. It's never something we are trying to do. But I am a child of the '80s, and the '80s are what really formed me in a lot of ways, so it always sneaks in there. It kind of baffles me when people recognise it, because I don't really recognise it myself.”
After 23 years with the band and having written, performed and produced on 8 albums, Jade says he is as creatively excited as he has ever been – And even in the run up to the release of a new album, still finds himself working on new musical ideas almost every day.
“It's kind of wild. I've been writing songs for 30 years now and am probably as driven or even more driven than I ever have been to do it. I don't understand it because I feel like I would have become bored of it or become uninspired by this point, but that desire to do it is as strong as it has ever been.”
“There's no one source of inspiration. I do it every day - Literally seven days a week i'm writing music, and I don't take it for granted. I'm very thankful that I still love to do this and there's something in the world that inspires me to keep going.”
Bodies also sees Jade settle further into the role of album producer for AFI – Something he has been doing for a while, but for which he fully took the reigns in 2017 with their self-titled album.
“I've been producing and co-producing AFI albums for a long time now. I realised along the way that I was basically doing all of the production, and then by the time we'd get into the studio we would essentially just be recreating the sounds I had already captured on the demos. Rather than do that, I thought we should just cut out the middle man and start producing ourselves. I think unless the band fires me, then i'm pretty sure i'll keep doing it!"
AFI have also brought in some outside help for the first time ever on this album, with the legendary Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins having co-written the song Dulceria with them.
“This is the first time we've had someone outside of the band work on the writing of an AFI song,” Jade says. “Billy and I had got together previously to write some songs for an unrelated project, and it was always really fun working with him. I don't really enjoy writing with other people very often, it's not really my ideal creative process. But with certain people, especially Billy, it is very easy, fun and creative. We wrote a bunch of great stuff very quickly. He's extremely smart and super talented as a songwriter and so we were sort of writing for this record, I thought it would be interesting to get in a room with Billy and see what happened, as we'd never really done that before.”
“This is the first time we've had someone outside of the band work on the writing of an AFI song.” Jade says. “Billy and I had got together previously to write some songs for an unrelated project, and it was always really fun working with him. I don't really enjoy writing with other people very often, it's not really my ideal creative process. But with certain people, especially Billy, it is very easy, fun and creative. We wrote a bunch of great stuff very quickly. He's extremely smart and super talented as a songwriter and so we were sort of writing for this record, I thought it would be interesting to get in a room with Billy and see what happened, as we'd never really done that before.”
“No single song that we did with Billy was really the one, but I went back and listened to everything that we had done and found parts here and there, like a verse or a chorus or a bridge from the things we had done and try to fit them altogether. I'd change the tempo and the key and sort of pieced together Dulceria from all of those disparate pieces. It ended up being a great song.”
By the time Bodies is released in June, it will have been nearly two years since the last time AFI were able to perform live together – Their most recent live appearance having been with the Smashing Pumpkins in August 2019. With the ability to tour hindered by the global pandemic, the band took a different approach – Rolling out half of the album in a staggered way, a tag team of songs every few months to build momentum.
“Usually we wouldn't do that, releasing half the record ahead of time, but because we can't really do anything else we wanted to stretch out the release of the record so that there is something happening. Music releases are the only thing we really have any control over right now, so we decided to release it two songs at at a time.”
“On the one hand it feels like ages ago since we were able to play live, but on the other hand we have taken breaks that have been longer than this before without making a record in between, so it's not totally foreign. At the same time, everyone in every band is just ready to get out there and play, especially as we have a new album and we haven't been able to perform it, so we're really looking forward to it.”
Jade Puget: 10 albums that changed my life
1. Vivaldi - The Four Seasons (1725)
“I figured I would list these records chronologically, in the order I heard them, just to give it some sort of narrative. Vivaldi's Four Seasons was my earliest memory of hearing music as a child. My mom was a composer and a pianist and she would play this, both on her piano and on record. I was very young, probably only about 3 years old, but Concerto in F Minor was the first time I remember ever being emotionally affected by music. I felt like this is what started the musical journey I was about to go on.”
2. Men at Work - Business as Usual (1981)
“This was the second album I ever owned. I was about seven or eight years old, and it was the first time that I ever loved an album. I was old enough for the first time to be affected by music in a way I could comprehend, and it was definitely the first time I noticed music as being more than just something you have on in the background. It really is an incredible collection of songs. Every song is solid. There's some really beautiful melodies and the guitar playing is stellar.
“Since it was the '80s, this record gave me fantasies of being a saxophone player before I even picked up a guitar. I certainly played air sax while listening to this record! Even today I still listen to this album. It really is solid.”
3. Suicidal Tendencies - Suicidal Tendencies (1983)
“This album is what cemented my growing love of punk music. I discovered punk rock around the same time I was getting into skateboarding and this album really turned me onto both. My life really took this left turn towards skateboarding and punk which affects me to this day around that time. It really is an amazing album.
“I remember my aunt hearing me playing this album. I was listening to the song I Saw Your Mommy and she was so concerned when hearing the lyrics. It made me feel like, 'Yes! This is exactly what I need to be listening to right now!' because it is making my relatives concerned about me, which is exactly what I wanted at the time.”
4. The Cure - Standing On A Beach (1986)
“This is a singles collection and not a proper album, really - But I didn't know the difference at the time. I was still really into punk when I heard this, which would have been around 1986. It was very life altering in a musical way. Something about the songs, the sounds and his voice touched some latent part of my psyche, and I was instantly entranced by it.
"I was mostly listening to aggressive punk music, and then here's this other sound that touches me just as deeply and fundamentally as the punk stuff. It turned me onto the whole dark British sound that I wasn't fully aware of before this.”
5. The Clash – The Clash (1977)
“This was an album that was the soundtrack to my early summers spent skateboarding and living in a punk house where we were listening to a lot of aggressive music.
This was a kind of punk that had this melodic sensibility which influenced me as a songwriter, but it also had lyrics that dealt with a lot of social issues, which I didn't understand at the time - Or rather I didn't fully relate to, because they were British issues and I was young and didn't really understand where they were coming from. But it started making me aware of punk being able to have a message like this, whilst also being melodic and catchy and having a pop sensibility.”
6. Depeche Mode - Some Great Reward (1984)
“A lot of the early Depeche Mode records were big influences for me, but I picked this one because it got me really into thinking about electronic music at an early age. It was sort of a gateway record for me to discover industrial and other 80s electronica such as Ministry. I've been making electronic music for 20 years now and this is what put me on that path.”
7. Too Short - Life Is...Too Short (1988)
“Too Short is a Bay Area rapper from Oakland. In the mid '80s I was discovering hip hop, and it was mostly east coast artists because that was where it was all coming from when I started getting into it. I'm from Northern California, and Too Short was a relatively local rapper.
"Discovering this record it is what really made me understand that there was a whole underground scene happening, and it wasn't just Run DMC and The Beastie Boys. I still listen to this record to this day, it's fantastic.”
8. Jawbreaker – Unfun (1990)
“This came out in 1990 which would have been around the time I was playing in my first band and learning how to write songs for the first time. Blake's guitar playing, the chord voicings, it all sounded so advanced to me.
"It was a real inspiration to try and think outside of the 3 chord box that I figured I needed to be in. To this day it still sounds very advanced and interesting to me. It sent my guitar playing, or the thought of what I could do, in a new direction"
9. Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings (1937)
“I bought this when I was in high school. I was still into punk and hardcore and that is what I loved, and what I was playing in my band at the time. But I had this weird, strange and powerful interest and attraction to the blues. I don't know if that stems from my childhood and my mom's influence, but I would put on BB King and Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and just play along in my room when I first discovered a pentatonic scale.”
“When I discovered Robert Johnson it was this whole other level, though. There's something ethereal and eerie about his recordings, his playing and his voice. They're just really incredible and really inspired me as a guitar player, with the idea of playing rhythm and lead at the same time which to this day is sort of a hallmark of something I try to do as a guitar player. A lot of that started with hearing him play, even though I don't play anything like him.”
“There was the whole 'sold his soul to the devil' legend as well, with the songs Cross Road Blues and Hellhound on my Trail that gave this strange mythos about him and his life and death that really attracted me.”
10. Refused - The Shape of Punk to Come (1998)
“This is probably a common record for a lot of people to be inspired by if you are really into punk rock, but this album really did flip the idea of what we were all doing on its head. When this came out, I was expecting another incredible hardcore record similar to Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent, their previous album, which I had played the shit out of - But what I heard was something so unexpected and groundbreaking for the scene that I was in - Or any scene, really.
“While Jawbreaker's Unfun is what inspired me to think about punk in a way that involved pooling in a lot of ideas, this inspired me with the concept of there being no boundaries to what you can and can't do. If you can imagine it and realise it in your music, then just go nuts and do whatever you want to do.”
Bodies is released on 11 June via Rise Records. More info at afireinside.net