A tumultuous sea of black. Carefully disheveled hair. Charcoal eyeliner meticulously smudged. Lips that don’t dare smile at passersby.
No, these are not the dreamily depressing lyrics to a song written by AFI, or A Fire Inside, who headlined last night’s final show at the Living Room in Goleta. Rather, it’s a quasi-clever description of the crowd Artsweek stumbled upon when arriving to interview the aforementioned band. Even still, such a description seems likely to not only illustrate the anxiously waiting fans, but also the perceived aura of the 11-year-old Northern California punk/hardcore band. Except, that is, that once aboard their somewhat lavish tour bus, lead singer Davey Havok came across as utterly polite, slightly soft-spoken and even a wee bit funny when talking about veganism, tattoos and their upcoming album. Don’t worry, Artsweek can keep a secret.
While guitarist Jade Puget, drummer Adam Carson and bassist Hunter Burgan meander between their bunks and the penned back lot of the Living Room, Havok sits down for a quick pre-show Q&A. Known for his goth-like appearance, Havok is bright-eyed under his heavy black makeup and gesticulates vividly with cut-off lace Madonna gloves and Vamp-colored nail polish. A few moments into the interview, he is already eagerly gushing over the new album, slated for release Mar. 11.
“It’s the best thing that we’ve ever done,” Havok said. “It really overshadows everything in the past. It’s really kind of exciting for all of us.”
“Sing the Sorrow” is being marked as a slight directional change for the band as it was produced by Butch Vig (Nirvana) and Jerry Finn (Blink-182, Sum 41) and released by major label DreamWorks. AFI has earned a devout following after six independent releases and has changed its sound, as well as its lineup, significantly over the last decade.
As for what diehard fans can expect to have lost and gained, Havok anticipates feeling both sides of the receptive coin.
“It is a lot different. The songs are larger, longer, more layered and more epic in a way. I think anybody who enjoys ‘The Art of Drowning’ or ‘Black Sails in the Sunset’ is really going to enjoy this record.”
Even still, those still latched onto AFI’s early punk image might find a bitter taste in their mouth.
“Anyone who’s only heard our first two records, well, we’re not that band anymore,” Havok said. “We haven’t been for a long time. [‘Sing the Sorrow’ is] not a punk rock record.”
Well, if it’s not for the punk rock kids, then who the hell is it for?
“The crowd that we get is hugely diverse,” Havok said. “There’s hardcore kids, punk rockers, skaters, straight-edge kids, metal kids, indie rockers, college kids, mainstream kids, everybody. It’s very flattering because we don’t play just one style of music.”
Indeed, one couldn’t help but notice that for every 10 black-Misfits-shirts-and-studded-belt kids, a random plaid-scarf-and-cardigan fan would be strewn in the mix. More important than their attire, though, was the obvious devotion these kids held for their dear AFI.
“The fans really know us,” Havok said. “They do things like they bake us vegan cookies or bring me my favorite nail polish color.” Immediately, Artsweek notes the gallon-sized Ziploc bags of homemade cookies littering the tour bus.
Havok himself has been a vegan since 1998, which explains his uncanny lack of body fat. As if in preparation for an onslaught of detailed are-you-or-aren’t-you vegan questions, he fessed up, “I eat honey. Because if you get down to specifics, a lot of vegans say you’re not vegan because you eat honey. And that’s fine.”
Honey eaters or not, AFI plans to become a much more familiar name over the coming months.
“We would love for as many people as possible to hear our music,” said Havok. “They’re playing us on the radio already. I have the radio on everyday waiting to hear it. It’s so exciting, [but] painful to actually have to listen to the radio for that long.”
Even still, Havok notes a recent change in mainstream rock music with bands like Interpol and Queens of the Stone Age climbing the charts. “There might be a light at the end of the sports-rock tunnel,” Havok said.
If their live show is any barometer for what “the kiddies” are listening to these days, don’t expect anything short of a mass-sing-along-crowd-surfing-chant fest. Before the band comes out, it is an AFI crowd tradition to chant the intro to “Strength Through Wounding”: “Through our bleeding, we are one!”
“[The show] is just this huge exchange of energy,” Havok said. “The crowd sings, which is the best feeling in the world. The first time that people sang along to our songs was the point that we all said, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do with the rest of our lives.'”
It seems this rabid pack of AFI devotees is still not content with chants and fan clubs, though.
“It’s amazing how many AFI tattoos you see,” Havok said. “At virtually every show I see a handful. It’s the highest form of flattery … complete and true dedication. And I totally respect that.”
As if his tattoo-sleeved arms weren’t testimony enough, Havok continued his praise of tattoo culture.
“We’re big fans of the tattoo world; tattooing is an art form that we try to support. If you look at our albums, we have recommendations of who to go to and where to get tattooed.”
Outside the AFI tourbus two teenaged fans clung to the chain-link fence and begged any passersby for help getting tickets, after driving six-hours to see their favorite band. Havok haggled with his manager to try and work something out for the boys, further underscoring the mutual affinity between the band members and their fans. Though he mentions the “common thread of despondence, darkness and disappointment” – visible on the new record – Havok’s apathetic melancholy seems in actuality to only exist in his lyrics and performance attire.