After 16 years of changes and success, AFI remains grounded
AFI started playing punk rock together as teenaged friends in Ukiah in 1991. After a brief split while the members attended different universities, the bandmates decided to devote their lives to recording and playing live, and dropped out of school.
By the late ‘90s AFI had a solid lineup of Davey Havok (vocals), Adam Carson (drums), Jade Puget (guitar) and the man with one name, Hunter (bass). AFI’s punk-turned-glam-and-balladry gained them increasingly more fans worldwide, and by 2003 the band signed to major label Dreamworks and had a platinum selling album in Sing the Sorrow.
Last year the video for “Miss Murder” from their latest album, decemberunderground, won MTV’s best rock video award. AFI’s fan base, known collectively as the Despair Faction, numbers as many as 20,000. They are a source of pride to the members of AFI, who randomly pick several to attend sound checks, offer special merchandise and last year invited a select few to sing backup for the recording of “Miss Murder.”
“We were surprised,” Hunter said with a laugh. “They sang it better than we did!”
Hunter, who joined the band in 1997, talked to the CN&R over the phone during a break in touring.
AFI’s most recent album took a year to record. Is that due to being on a major label and having the finances to take your time?
The first album I recorded with the band was done in two weeks. It just takes longer now that we are writing more complicated songs and recording more intricate parts.
You were in a band previous to joining AFI: The Force.
The Force was a band I started in Grass Valley with some of my friends that grew up there. It wasn’t our first band, but it was the first band that we were able to make records and went out and played shows in other places. It was much closer to early AFI than anything else. We ended up playing with AFI all the way to the East Coast.
That is how you met AFI, by playing support for them?
Yeah, actually we played a show with them in October ‘94 that the singer of The Force, Matt, put together, and that was the first time that I met them. He ended up putting out a record for them [Answer That and Stay Fashionable] and was AFI’s merch guy until I joined the band. We played a dozen or more shows with AFI, most of them in California, just opening. [When] I started playing with AFI, it was during a tour where I was playing with The Force and AFI. It was kind of hectic at first since that was a lot of energy to expend. But I actually got used to it.
You have another solo project called Hunter Revenge.
I haven’t really done much with Hunter Revenge in a while. I recorded stuff between ‘99 and 2001, released a record and then four years later played a few shows, put together a small band playing all the Hunter Revenge material.
Do you find that you need a side project as an outlet for your songwriting, or do your songs make it into the AFI song list?
It’s really more of just finding ways to express myself musically in areas that AFI doesn’t even go near, because I do have a lot of influences and am interested in areas that are just musically different, whether it’s like ‘80s soul music or jazz or just different styles. Just last month I flew to Portland and played bass on the new Tegan and Sara record.
It’s interesting to me that you said that AFI wouldn’t touch the styles of some of the music you are interested in playing, because AFI seems to go through huge changes from one record to the next.
I should probably clarify that. It’s really that AFI is really a combination of everybody’s styles. So it won’t be my stuff specifically because it will be everybody’s ideas and everybody’s influences.
The “no preconceived genre” style …
Yeah. There are bands that try to put out the same record over and over again. Some are very successful doing that, but only to a degree. How can you keep writing the same song over and over again?
One of the remarkable things about your fan base is that it keeps growing as the style of your music has been changing over time.
I think they understand and expect that we are going to change and evolve from one album to the next. A lot of what I consider to be great bands from the past have done the exact same thing, any band from like the Beatles to Snoop Dog.
Has the major success of platinum records, MTV video awards and being high profile been stressful to the band?
I never feel like there is a lot of pressure in that respect. The bottom line is that we are doing just we’ve always been doing. As that becomes more popular, there is more tension in the media, but we’re still doing what we’ve always been doing and still having fun doing it.