Interview: Davey Havok of AFI
Who doesn’t know and love AFI? The Berkeley, California hardcore punk quartet has played an exhausting touring schedule over the past year, headlining shows all over the world, as well as supporting acts such as Rancid and the Offspring. This summer, 2001, they will be playing the main stage at every date of the Warped Tour. Josh Stern, who runs an amazing web site, www.punkinterviews.com, chatted with vocalist Davey Havok in late 2000.
How long have AFI been together?
We have been together for about nine and a half years. Since the summer of ’91.
Were you in any bands before that?
I wasn’t, no. No, we all started with the original lineup. We were bored, there was very little to do, so we said, “Let’s start a band.”
Did you guys have any names before AFI?
No, we named the band before we had instruments.
What made you choose “A Fire Inside?”
It was just something we liked and we used an acronym because we were really young, you know, and we listened to bands like TSOL, DRI, SOA, and all those acronym bands, so we were like, “We’ll be an acronym, too.”
Aside from the “acronym bands,” what else did you listen to growing up?
I listened to those bands. I listened to a lot of Black Flag, The Germs, Samhain, The Misfits, Minor Threat, The Cure, Joy Division, Slayer, Metallica…lots of different stuff.
What influences you to be in a band and be a songwriter?
I love it, there is nothing I’d rather do than this. Being able to write, record, and mostly perform music and to be able to tour every night and play to a different group of people who appreciate what we do, who appreciate all what we have given our whole lives, our entire selves to is the best feeling. I mean, going up on stage and having kids sing along to your songs, there is no better feeling then that. It’s the best.
So you have put out all of your full-lengths on Nitro?
All of the full-lengths are on Nitro, and we have one EP on Adeline and one EP on Nitro.
What’s Checkmate Records?
That is Hunter’s label.
What are your future tour plans for The Art Of Drowning?
We finish this leg of the tour in five days and the Distillers and ourselves join up with Rancid again to do 10 more shows out west. We get home December 9th and next month we are going to Europe with the Offspring, which I’m really excited about. I believe we are going to be doing the Australian Warped Tour as well as the US Warped Tour this summer, and hopefully someone will invite us to go to Japan with them. I love Japan; we have been there once with the Offspring which was an ideal situation to be in.
What are the kids like there compared to the US?
The kids there are so generous, so open, so kind and accepting, and so excited about everything. All the people over there, the culture is just such an accepting culture and they are so welcoming to us. We got there and we had never played in Japan before, and none of the people there knew our songs. We were the first band out of three, and every night the doors would open up and everyone would run inside — and these are huge clubs — and everyone would pack up to the front. As soon as we started playing the whole place went nuts. The whole place, front to back, the whole place! Never heard of us before — and you’re not gonna get that in the States, never, not the first band…no way. It’s just not like that.
How do you feel about The Art Of Drowning?
I love it. For me, it’s my favorite thing that we have done. As a work, I think it’s our best.
How do you compare it to Black Sails or anything else?
I think that anybody who enjoyed Black Sails or the All Hallows EP would like The Art Of Drowning. It’s a more dynamic album then Black Sails; it has more continuity [and] I think its more representative of AFI as a whole. And it is doing really well. I’m really happy, people seem to be receiving it very well. We were so happy with it and we worked so hard on it, so it is nice that people seem to appreciate it.
The title, The Art Of Drowning — does it foreshadow any future for AFI?
No, no it is a representation of the lyrical content mainly, of the album. We will be doing this as long as we possibly can.
If you could change one thing in the world today what would you change?
I would like to make people somehow more responsible — to take more responsibility for their actions — be aware of their actions, and what the result of them will be. I think there is a huge amount of disrespect towards everybody — people disrespecting themselves, disrespecting others with really no regard for how destructive it is.
What is your favorite AFI song?
I don’t know. I have a lot of them. I mean, I am really happy with a lot of the songs. [From] the new [record], my favorites are “Ever And A Day,” “Days Of The Phoenix,” “The Despair Factor,” “Morningstar,” and I like “Wester.” I really like the new album a lot, there isn’t one I really dislike at all. I really like “God Called In Sick Today,” “Totalimmortal,” “Fall Children,” “Prayer Position,” and…I dunno, I have too many favorites.
What song gets the biggest crowd reaction?
Its hard to say, because we get different types of reactions to different songs. We get a good reaction to most of the songs. “Prayer Position” gets a really strong reaction, as do “God Called In Sick Today,” “Totalimmortal,” and “Fall Children,” but they are all different.
So you were touring with Rancid and The Distillers — why did Rancid drop off of this leg?
It wasn’t that they dropped off, it was that we kept going. It was just that they had those shows and we were like, “Well, we’re gonna be over there, so we’ll do these shows. We’ll come through the South and hook up with the rest of the tour in Seattle.”
You guys all live in Berkeley right?
All of us and most of Rancid live in the Bay. Not all of Rancid lives in Berkeley, technically.
What’s been the craziest show in your band’s history?
The Japan shows were great. I mean, we have had amazing shows. The last show we played here (Tampa, Florida) was fuckin’ awesome. Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland, most of California is great. The last show we played in New York at Rosanne last week with Rancid was great. We had a problem in Toronto a few years back where there was almost a riot.
Have there even been any mishaps that have caused you to stop playing?
We’ve stopped for fights. Hunter split my head open in Connecticut with the tuning pegs on his guitar. Stuff like that happens on stage all the time; he did it in the first song, but I finished the set. Hunter cuts himself sometimes, too, electrocutions [happen] a lot. It happened the other night — sometimes the crowd will be so wet that when I go into the crowd to sing along with them and I touch them it will create a current.
Does that affect your voice while you’re singing?
Yeah, it is hard to concentrate when you’re being electrocuted. So that happens. We stop if there’s a fights we stop if people are fighting with us.
Are there a lot of fights at your shows?
No. It’s great. Its gotten to be less as the years go on. When I used to go to shows there would be fights all the time. When I was your age, going to shows was like, “Alright, we’re going to a show.” Luckily, now it has gotten a lot mellower, and we rarely have fights at shows.
How do shows differ from your hometown, Berkeley, to a smaller town, like Lawrence, Kansas?
(laughter) Funny you should bring up Lawrence. Well, I mean, we draw way, way more people at home then we do at, say, Lawrence. Generally, when it is our own show, we’ll play to like 50 or 60 kids. Well, actually, we’ve played in Lawrence to about 15 kids, but generally nowadays it doesn’t really matter how many kids are there because they’ve come to see us, and they are there to have fun. And so it’s just great.
Have you ever played any arena shows?
Yeah, we have played some really big shows with The Offspring, Warped Tour… When we did those eight or nine shows last summer with the Warped Tour those were really big, I think those were the biggest shows we’ve ever played.
How do you like that compared to a place like this, or even a smaller club. Which do you like better?
They are both really cool. They are a little different, but they are both really fun. Really all that matters is the energy of the crowd and the exchange between us and them, and if it’s there, it’s great whether it’s five people, or 500, or 5,000 people. Just as long as the people there are giving 100 percent then it’s great. The only thing that gets a little weird in the big places are the barricades, and whether or not I can get off the stage and to the barricade, that’s kinda hard sometimes. It gets tiresome with the barricades, but other than that…
If you weren’t doing this, what do you think you would be doing?
No idea. If I wasn’t doing this and my body wasn’t adorned the way it is I would have liked to have done acting. I probably wouldn’t have altered myself and tried to do that, if I had the guts, if I had the courage to do that. Because acting, like music…you really gotta say “fuck everything” and just go for it, and if you get lucky, you get lucky. So I would have liked to have done that; maybe I would have been able to pursue that, and maybe not. If I wouldn’t have done that I dunno what I would have done. I would have been in college and done something that wouldn’t satisfy me at all.
So you dropped out of college?
Yeah, I quit my second year. I went to UC Berkeley.
What do you think of the new pop-punk stuff?
I have seen Saves The Day a couple of times and I like them; they are a really talented band and great songwriters, really cool. I watched them the other day. We’ve played with them. I saw them at Slim’s — my friend who I was staying with was tour manager for them, actually, my friend Jimmy. Generally I don’t really listen to too much pop-punk. I don’t know what New Found Glory sounds like, for instance. I love Green Day, I love Weezer.
What do you think of the new Green Day?
I like it, I think its really good. Really good. We listen to that a bit in the van.
What do you think of Napster?
Napster, I think it’s cool. I mean it could be frightening. It could starve me and prevent me from doing what I love, which is this. But I don’t think that is gonna happen. I really think that people who are gonna buy our music will buy our music, and people who won’t, won’t. I think the same people who are satisfied with a taped copy of a record are the same people that are going to be satisfied with a burned downloaded copy of the record — tape dubbing did not destroy the music industry, and I don’t think Napster will.
On the other hand, I actually think it might help us because I know tons of kids had our record before it came out, the whole thing, because they came up to me months before it came out and said, “I love your new record.” And even though all those people had our record, I think it was cool because I think it encouraged people to go get it because they liked it. And for a band like us, where we don’t get very much radio play and MTV wont touch us and our music is not as accessible to everybody, I think for people who are like, “Oh, I have heard of AFI, but I haven’t heard them” can go download a song, and if they like it they can buy a CD. For those people who aren’t willing to buy a CD they haven’t heard before, they can listen to the songs and come out to the show.