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AFI

The Band That Destroyed The World

(Interview With Jade Puget Taken From Black Velvet 36 - May 2003)

By David Jackson

When the 2003 NME Award Shows were announced one band sold out the London Astoria within hours of their tickets going on sale. Competing along side the likes of The Vines, The Datsuns and Idlewild it was AFI who shocked the indie mainstream by being the first to sell out the impressive line-up of London shows. Currently holed up in a Kensington hotel with a busy press day preceding the evening's gig, AFI's guitarist Jade Puget is relaxing in a tiny hotel lounge. In front of him a small table is covered in tea and cake. Suitably English. Dressed in black jeans and a short black leather jacket considerable time has obviously gone into the guitarist's carefully groomed facial hair.

 

 

Photo By David Jackson

 

 
 

"They contacted us which was kinda strange," begins Jade, commenting on the Awards tour show. "They'd never mentioned us in their magazine and all of a sudden they were asking us to headline one of their main nights. I think they're stuck because our show sold out before any of the other shows. They realise now! The UK before even the American press caught on to us. Even the BBC and MTV were really there before the American press was. NME wasn't, but I mean what can you do? Not everyone can be there at the beginning."

With only a handful of performances in the UK over the last few years anyone other than the avid fan knowledgeable of the event prior to it being announced, was confronted by somewhat of a brick wall if attempting to obtain tickets for the Astoria show. Despite this, with a UK tour expected following the release new LP 'Sing The Sorrow' what can those new to AFI expect from any given live performance? Happy to offer some kind of guide Jade reveals. "We have always been firm believers in putting on a really energetic and dynamic show. Coming from the punk and hardcore scene I've never really understood bands that just go up there and act really bored. You might as well just sit at home and listen to their CD and look at a picture of them if they're just going to stand there. That's why they call it a show. We try to do something visually entertaining, we try to both have an energy and put on a show. Our fans get really involved, they know all the lyrics and so they're as much part of the show as we are. It's that whole interchange."

March 10th in the UK marked AFI's jump from Nitro Records into the depths of the music mainstream with the release of 'Sing The Sorrow' through Dreamworks. Marking another leap in AFI's creative output the album is far from 'The Art of Drowning' Part 2, their critically acclaimed previous LP. Upon making this statement Jade is quick in wishing to express the importance of that opinion. "The thing about us is that anyone who is a true fan of our music wouldn't be content with 'The Art of Drowning' Part 2. Literally every album AFI has put out has been different, and each gets drastically more different, starting with 'Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes' to 'Black Sails In The Sunset.' People that are fans of our band know that it's an integral part of our music. It's going to change. It's going to grow and you're never going to get 'Black Sails…' Part 2 or 'The Art of Drowning' Part 2. Anyone who is disappointed doesn't really understand AFI."

Far too often bands in AFI's position, making the jump from punk independent to mainstream major, receive a certain degree of scrutiny for their decision. This however usually amounts to little more than professional jealously at the opportunity to sign to a major record label. Jade is quick to detail the more important possibilities that have become open to the band since their move to Dreamworks.
"One of the key problems was distribution. People couldn't get our records. In the UK it's been fairly easy but in mainland Europe, Australia and Japan you couldn't find them at all, except on expensive import. When we've tour Japan no-one has our records and that's a big problem, we can't even get to Australia. Promoters don't want to bring you over there if nobody has your records. That was the main thing; the whole distribution was just not getting off the ground. Then general resources. Just being able to go into the studio and not have to settle for, 'well this part is not very good but we don't have the time or money to sit here and make it better'. Just being able to make the kind of album you want to make finally."
So would it be fair to say you've been trying to advance things in the past but restraints at Nitro were limiting you?
"Certainly, but it's no knock on them. That was one of the reasons why we went to a major because Dexter (Nitro Records/Offspring) basically said that to us. Nitro only has a limited amount of resources. We reached the point where we needed to go on to a new place."

Another first for the band was the choosing to enlist the producing expertise of arguably A-list producers. The co-produced 'Sing The Sorrow' saw Butch Vig, drummer in Garbage and producer of Nirvana's 'Nevermind', and Jerry Finn, producer of Rancid's '…And Out Come The Wolves' working together with AFI. As conversation moves into further discussion about the new album a sense of happiness in working with such producers is still evident in Jade's voice. "We had a wish list of producers and they were at the top," he begins. "We would have been so happy for either one of them alone but then mysteriously all of a sudden it happened we were trying to get both of them. We never thought it would work. They had never co-produced, so when it worked out it was a dream situation. A once in a lifetime chance to get two producers of their magnitude to work together. It's not like one worked on half the album and one worked on the other. They were both in the studio with all of us. It was like a dream team."

So who else was on AFI's producing wish list? Questioning Jade further familiar names begin to surface. "Earlier on in the process, we talked about Flood, who produced U2 and some of the later Smashing Pumpkins stuff." Adding Nine Inch Nails main man Trent Reznor into the equation in relation to Flood, Jade instantly jumps in. "Trent Reznor! That would be amazing to have him produce something. There wasn't that many. There are so few good producers."
Working with individuals so experienced within their field can only have opened new doors for AFI.
"This band has been around for a long time, we know what we're doing," hints Jade. "I had all the songs written by the time we went into the studio. They (Vig/Finn) knew we had the musical side of it nailed down. What they brought in was taking the songs we had written and making them sound as good as they could when they were recorded."

With music written prior to the band entering the studio, a certain degree of strict preparation and productivity within the recording environment surrounds AFI. Discovering this leads nicely to quite where 'Sing The Sorrow' was written. Happy to discuss this further Jade continues, "Actually a lot was written in my room. I'll just sit in my room with my guitar and come up with songs and call up Dave (Havok). We used to all live in the same house, which was nice cause he lived on the floor below me. I'd just go 'Dave come up here, I've got a song.' Now we live about 10 minutes apart. 'Girls Not Grey' was the last song I wrote. We were almost done writing for the record then I decided to go to Toronto it to get away, I wrote that song in Toronto. One of the other songs, one part was written in Glasgow, one part in Belgium, and one part on the Warped Tour in America. I don't really get directly influenced by bands. A lot of bands might hear a part of a song and write a part like that. For me it's more like everything."
Pausing, Jade turns and stares out across a miserable overcast London skyline before continuing, "If I went out walking on a day like this that would inspire me to write a song, far more than listening to a band. I like to read poetry a lot and write. It's art in music and poetry and atmosphere that really influences our music more than just bands."

With AFI seeming very much a partnership between guitarist Jade and vocalist/lyricist Davey Havok I was interested in delving further into the way in which AFI songs are born and developed.
"It's always been, since I've been in this band, that the music comes first," states Jade. "I'll write the music and Dave and I will work together on the melody and then he'll put lyrics to it. Some bands may work the other way around where it's lyrics first but that seems such an obscure way. I mean lyrics can't exist without music."
Without wanting to argue I offer the opinion that surely lyrics can exist in a poetic form without music. Pausing to consider this view he continues. "Yeah I guess lyrics can exist as poetry, but few people's lyrics can stand on their own as poetry. I think Dave is one of those people. If you just read his lyrics they're very poetic, but we've always worked the other way around."

The first single to be lifted from 'Sing The Sorrow' is the excellent 'Girl's Not Grey.' In many aspects a clear progression from where 'The Art of Drowning' concluded, it's obvious in Jade's voice how passionate both himself and the band are about their new LP.
"All the songs on the album we really love," he begins. "Distilled from so many to those twelve we wouldn't have cared which of those songs came out as a single, but that song's got a kind of good mixture. It's got a lot of melody but it's also more up-tempo. It seemed a good representation of the album. This album is so eclectic it's got everything from really fast hard to really melodic slow so it's hard to have one song be a major. It's as good a major as any."

Making further strides away from their hardcore punk routes, 'Sing The Sorrow' is the band's most diverse to date, seeing AFI explore new avenues and sounds. Upon listening, it instantly raises the question, is this is the shape of things to come from AFI and in what directions will things progress in the future?
Offering a few hints and likely possibilities, Jade is quick to comment on the electronic aspects of their music. "I did all the electronic stuff on the record. My main hobby outside of the band is making electronic music; it's something I really enjoy. I think people think that because of Butch Vig being in Garbage he did a lot of it. It's always scary to bring that stuff in there because it's so foreign to this kind of music. I now really wish I'd done a little more. The song 'Death Of Seasons' has the EBM breakdown. I mainly use it in an atmospheric sense, as a kind of added layer or another texture. I love to make electronic music. I'd like to experiment, maybe more, you never know. We never know what an album's going to be like until it's done. We set no goals for ourselves. Dave and I, all we listen to is electronic music, we hardly listen to any music with guitars in."

With time creeping on AFI drummer Adam Carson briefly appears from a joining room, before exiting into the main hotel. Posted on their web site during the beginning of the 2003 members of AFI detailed brief listening lists for the past year. Discussing further Jades fascination with electronic music the diversity of his tastes are apparent with the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros and Muse sitting along side lesser know names including Assemblage 23 and Covenant. No matter how little or exaggerated, every band has a manifesto. Turning to Jade I finally ask what he hopes listeners can take away from 'Sing The Sorrow', any AFI release or live show. Again pausing for thought he offers a concluding opinion. "I'd be happy if they just took away an enjoyment of the music and the lyrics. That's what we're doing it for. We're trying to make music that we think is great and that other people can enjoy. Maybe they'll get the idea of our aesthetic, the kind of despair, dark and more serious side of humanity, life and music that we try to explore."
With a passionate following already exploring this aesthetic, ready or not AFI have begun to launch their assault into the mainstream, quite rightly demanding attention.

Visit www.afireinside.net for more info.

 

 

 

 

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