As the band recently geared up for the release of their long-awaited new album, Decemberunderground. I had a chance to speak with main songwriter Jade Puget and pick his brain about the new album, the past and the future.

Later this week, Punknews.org will run the second AFI interview, with bassist Hunter Burgan.

How‚??s everything been going in the prep for the record?

Good, just busy busy.¬† Every second we‚??re running somewhere to do something.

With the first major label release,  everyone was kind of not really sure where things were going to go, but with this one it seems like there is a lot more riding on it. 

But since then we just kind of do the same things, and you can‚??t let that kind of pressure get to you, worrying about what your record‚??s going to do.¬† It‚??s going to do what it‚??s going to do.¬† You‚??ve just got to have the right songs and go on tour and let it do what it does. I sounded like Ray for a second. (laughs)

Yeah I mean it‚??s just interesting because you guys kept a relatively low profile over the past couple of years -

For sure.

And usually when a band reaches the point that you guys kind of did with your last one there‚??s gossip and feuds and all that, but it seems like you guys kept very close to the ground it seems.¬†

We really didn‚??t do anything except work on the record for two years basically.¬† So we weren‚??t out there trying to drum up some press or do interviews or anything like that. We were just kind of like totally concentrating on the record.¬†

Right right, and I think you mentioned the Billboard that you did that you guys wrote a hundred songs for this one.

Yes.

We can just keep doing what we do no matter how the mainstream views us. We know that we‚??ll always have at least some fan base that‚??s out there to follow us.

How did you kind of boil it down to the ones you ended up with?

Just, you‚??ve got to be really harsh on yourself and not hold on to some song because you wrote it or you really like a certain part.¬† You have to be like - this song just isn‚??t as good as this other one, cause you know that you have to outdo your last record and that just involves really going through a lot of material and just cutting anything that isn‚??t superior.

Right, and as far as the songwriting process, has it pretty much been the same for the last couple of albums? 

Yeah the last probably four albums.

You guys have been around for a number of years, I remember seeing AFI a good ten years ago, with Good Riddance in Toronto here.

That was even before my time. 

You came in right after that tour?

I joined in 1998.

There‚??s been a lot of history with the band.¬† And I‚??m just wondering how does that kind of lead into how you feel about what you do and kind of influence the day to day?

In some ways its, in many ways its positive because we have this fantastic fan base that - a lot of these people have been there for a long time and you know that they‚??re going to support you in what you do.¬†

If you‚??re a new band that kind of blows up out of nowhere you can‚??t really be confident that those people really like your band; or just like your band because they saw you on MTV you know?

We can just keep doing what we do no matter how the mainstream views us. We know that we‚??ll always have at least some fan base that‚??s out there to follow us.

There‚??s been that increasing fanbase pretty much throughout even when you were on Nitro, you were pretty big within the scene and then with the last album it kind of reached almost mainstream level but never - I don‚??t know it‚??s never been that kind of gossipy situation with starlets and stuff.

But we can pretty much sit down and do whatever we want, and that can be an AFI song.  Whether it be electronic or it be piano or an acoustic guitar or metal or anything, which is kind of nice because it just allows you to explore so many different areas.

I think in some ways it seems to me that that whole thing has kind of grown more in the last few years since our last record. Where like bands from kind of the scene have entered that kind of tabloidy kind of level.

It doesn‚??t seem like that was, back in when Rancid was big or the Offspring; there was never any of that kind of gossipy stuff going on with those bands either.¬†

I always thought that was because you guys and those bands came up in a real underground scene in a much more real sense; AFI wasn‚??t your first band, you had Loose Change right?

And a hardcore band called Redemption 87.

Of course, I should have remembered that one.¬† I hear from people that you guys are still very present in shows around the hometown and stuff like that.¬† How do you guys imagine that you guys are going to run things in the future, do you ever think of starting a label or kind of - since you‚??re all very in touch with this stuff?

When we signed to DreamWorks they offered us a label.¬† But we were like - first of all we were so busy with that record and second of all we knew that the four of us are so - our tastes in music are so disparate that there was no way we could ever agree on a single band y‚??know?

What we listen to is so drastically different that we knew there was just no way we could sign someone and have all four of us agree on it, so we kind of just didn‚??t take them up on their offer.

The new record is pretty dramatically different and diverse even compared to the last one which wasn‚??t exactly a linear, every-song-sounds-the-same album either.¬†

Yes

How do you guys define what you think of as an AFI song?

There really isn‚??t, I really don‚??t, which is kind of liberating, just to be able to just sit down and write anything. I mean there‚??s some things we probably wouldn‚??t do like have a ska part or a rap part.¬† But we can pretty much sit down and do whatever we want, and that can be an AFI song.¬† Whether it be electronic or it be piano or an acoustic guitar or metal or anything, which is kind of nice because it just allows you to explore so many different areas.¬†

As far as the lyrical focus, is that pretty much all Davey right now?

Yeah it always has been, y‚??know. When I joined the band that was always kind of like understood, that that‚??s his kind of domain. The music is my domain.¬†

When you joined the band it kind of almost kicked off a major defining of AFI sound.¬† Around that time I think the older stuff, which was when I started listening to it, was much more Nitro-ish at the time, y‚??know like you guys could play a bill with Sick of It All or Guttermouth or something, but over time, and a lot of people kind of attribute it to your joining - the sound has evolved dramatically.

 

Do you think you actually have a role in that or it was just one of those coincidences?

When I joined which was the first record that everyone else bought because it was a different songwriter coming into the band, so of course its going to sound completely different. Dave and I working together, it just kind of - that new sound which was Black Sails that didn‚??t sound like anything that AFI had done, that was just Dave and I coming together as songwriters and that was just the sound that defined modern-day AFI.

Just to go in a different direction, you guys did the scavenger hunt and you‚??ve got the Despair Faction and stuff like that and you‚??re very involved which a lot of bands aren‚??t.¬† And you‚??re very directly in touch with bands, more so than anybody at your level I think.

I‚??ve always kind of had disdain for bands that think when they reach a certain level that that means that they can take their fan base for granted and they don‚??t need to talk to fans anymore. And in fact they try to avoid fans, y‚??know, they run by the fans after the show and jump in the van and go to the hotel or just think that when you sell records there‚??s a certain way you have to start acting y‚??know?¬† Which is kind of above everybody and have that certain attitude and it‚??s just not necessary and really I mean - who do you think put you there?

We enjoy interacting with the people who listen to our music cause that‚??s really why we‚??re doing this.¬†

Now as far as the old bands, you obviously have had some reactions on both sides, like I said, because of the history of the band.¬† Do you read the reviews from old zines and do you read Maximum Rock‚??n‚??Roll still, that kind of stuff?

No, its like, I remember even from before I was in the band, like when Shut Your Mouth came out, and everybody on the AFI message board was like "Oh, what is this crazy, this sucks, I hate this, this is like" every record that comes out - people freak out and they have to get so mad. 

Even before I was in the band. When you‚??re in it, you can‚??t worry about how people view your music, you just have to stay true to what you think it should be.¬† I‚??m not sure if that‚??s what you were asking but (laughs) that‚??s where I went with that.

I agree that it must be difficult to satisfy everyone when you have a decade-long history and there are so much entrenched ideas about what you should be.

Of course there‚??s people - amazingly in 2006 -¬† there are still people who think we should go back and do some Very Proud of You or Answer That. And its like - we try to please everybody, and then there‚??s people that love the new direction, so even if we wanted to do that, that‚??s an impossible task to try to please everybody because everybody has their own opinion of what you should sound like or how fast your songs should be or whatever.

You guys really kicked off, at least in my view, a real resurgence of Goth-punk stuff, and I know you guys come from a different direction because there‚??s far more of a Danzig/Misfits thing going on than some of the other bands that are out there with the more overt vampire stuff.¬† I‚??m just wondering how you feel about that?

I think that‚??s more the product of the band‚??s image than the music.¬† I do think that image has definitely been corrupted a lot.¬† And if it works for you then - great.

When you do something that is at all successful of course there‚??s going to be people that take that and use it.¬† Like when The Killers got big and there was the whole wave of faux-Killers bands.¬† If you do something and it works, then there‚??s going to be people that do that too.¬†

It‚??s kind of natural; it‚??s the way it‚??s always been in music.¬†

A lot of people have been really talking and debating your new video.¬†¬† And some of the imagery and some of the whole thing together.¬† I‚??m just wondering how you guys put that together?

We were trying to go for a kind of Evita kind of feel.

But there‚??s a whole plot element with it.¬† With the female protagonist or antagonist. We really kind of came up with a loose plot and just wanted some really striking imagery and Mark Webb the director of course had a big hand in that too, and that‚??s how it just kind of ended up.¬† What is the debate?

There has been speculation about the way Davey looks mostly.

And how do people think it looks?

I think there‚??s just like some dictator thing going on there.

Yeah; well ,Evita. (laughs)

Once you said that it kind of clicked for me, but up until that I think people were thinking about another dictator. 

Oh (laughs).  No.

I didn‚??t think so but -

I wouldn‚??t say that that‚??s a direction we‚??d ever try to go in.¬†

Well I thought maybe you were trying to do a Reagan Youth  ironic thing. It could happen.

Not really, I love Reagan Youth though.

When Shut Your Mouth came out, and everybody on the AFI message board was like "Oh, what is this crazy, this sucks, I hate this, this is like" every record that comes out - people freak out and they have to get so mad.

After what is a very busy summer, any plans to go abroad or anything like that?

This summer we‚??re going to be going to Japan and at some point we‚??re going to Australia, and we‚??ll probably be going back to Europe later on this year.¬† We‚??re going to be all over.

What kind of reaction you guys get when you play in Europe?

Europe‚??s good, I mean some parts are a lot better than others.¬† In the UK its great, there, it‚??s like playing in the States. And in Europe all the years we were on Nitro they didn‚??t really have distribution or distribution worth a damn there, so that was always kind of lagging behind the rest of the world.¬† So in mainland Europe we‚??re still kind of building there, even now, we‚??re still trying to come up and we could headline a tour there for sure, but it‚??s definitely an area where we have work to do.¬†

Its cool, we definitely play shows at these little tiny clubs where you get to go back to that kind of vibe again.

I was going to also ask you if you could tell me what kind of music you were listening to while you were writing and recording?

That‚??s the thing; I really get everything that comes out, in pretty much every genre. Everything that comes out, well not everything, but the vast majority of stuff I‚??ll check out, I‚??ll at least listen to it once. So its hard to say that I go through so much, to play stuff for such a long period of time that there was no particular thing that was really inspiring me during the writing of this record.

Is it daunting when you have to take such a long stretch of time to write something?

It‚??s daunting to sort through that much material and distill it down to the tracks that you want to use. But I guess it would be more daunting to be forced to write an entire record in a couple months.¬†

I just can‚??t imagine that, a hundred songs, it‚??s like trying to pick your children.

Yeah, well we didn‚??t write a hundred and then go "Ok we have a hundred songs let‚??s choose the ones we want."¬† It was along the way that they got cut, as they were written.

Are there a lot of B-sides that you expect to see pop up anywhere?

Its funny, we actually don‚??t have many B-sides because we didn‚??t record any of those songs.¬† Even though a lot of them I really like and they‚??re good songs and I‚??d be happy to see them come out at some point but we didn‚??t actually record them.¬† We‚??d write them and then if they weren‚??t good we‚??d not even bother to record them.¬†

I hope you guys do release some of them; B-Sides are always interesting, because sometimes they‚??re not bad songs, but they don‚??t fit within what the band‚??s concept for the record.

We have some, like we‚??ve done a couple covers, that will come out as B-sides, and there actually is kind of a demo song that we didn‚??t end up recording but that there‚??s a really good demo version of it that will probably come out as a B-side, which is an original.

There‚??s even a song from Sing the Sorrow that hasn‚??t been released yet that could come out at some point as a B-side.

One of them just came out recently right, the Rabbit one? 

It‚??s nice to have the songs; I mean I really like that song and I‚??m glad it finally came out.

Right right.  One of the things - how long - what kind of longevity do you feel like you guys have as a band?

I don‚??t know, I mean we‚??ve had a pretty good longevity so far.

Do you feel like you could do this for another ten or fifteen years?

We could, I mean we‚??re going to do it until - we‚??re going to do it as long as it‚??s a viable thing you know?¬†