For at least five albums now, the scene's most divisive band has abandoned its punk sound, venturing off into more mainstream areas, becoming more and more distant from their hardcore roots. But now AFI's Davey Havok and Jade Puget are making a return to form with their new band.
XTRMST is a straight-edge hardcore band that is louder and heavier than anything the creative duo has ever done before. On a day off in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during the never-ending Burials tour, guitarist and songwriter Jade Puget spoke to Punknews interviewer Gen Handley about why they started a straight-edge hardcore band now, how they ended up on Steve Aoki's label and if he still considers AFI a punk rock band.
Where did the idea for XTRMST come from?
Davey (Havok, singer) and I had been talking about doing something like this for a long time, just casually kicking around the idea. When we were writing Burials, just to take a break from that process, we decided to try to write some songs. As we started writing more stuff and getting more and more into it, a record began taking shape.
Was XTRMST a reaction from writing Burials? From the other band?
Yeah. I wouldn't say it wasn't a reaction so much as it was just doing something we had been talking about for a while. Because we were already in the process of writing so much and getting together every day to write, it was a perfect opportunity to just throw in some other stuff.
Was this album pretty liberating for you?
Yeah, for both of us. In a different way for Davey, I think, because for him, lyrically, he's talking about these things … these straight-edge themes … that he's thought about and lived his whole life. And for me, writing the music was a different sort of thing … this type of music I have never really written before. So yeah, it was kind of a release for both of us in some ways.
What was production like for this album? It sounds pretty raw.
Yeah, that was what I wanted … super raw and noisy and low-fi. Which was kind of easy because we didn't go in a studio, we didn't pay to have anyone involved with it. it was all done in my bedroom and the room Davey was living in. That raw sound just kind of naturally happened.
How long did it take to record?
Musically, I just did it. writing and recording at the same time over the course over, maybe, a couple of months. And for the vocals it was super raw. It was just one, maybe two takes per song and he would just run through it. Like, the songs are only one and a half or two minutes long, but every time Davey would do a song, he'd be completely destroyed because he was going at it so intensely, screaming in a way he had never screamed before. So that part was actually really quick.
Aside from yourself and Davey, who else is in the band? Who else played on the album?
It was all just me. We're going to do a couple shows so we're going to try to put together an actual band and get some friends who are straight edge so we can play these songs live.
What does being straight edge mean to your life?
It's something I've been since the '80s and it goes beyond passion, it's just who I am … it's just part of my identity. I'm not out there trying to turn people, to preach it or get people on my side. I could care less what people do. It's not about that at all. It's just a part of who I am and how l live my life
What are themes on the album?
You know, anger, despair … it's not that different from AFI records in the past (Laughs). But this album has a different focus, a focus on straight-edge ideas. Everyone knows what straight edge is, well most do anyway, and we wanted to explore the different facets of that on this album.
So why start a new band for this album? Why not release a hardcore record as AFI?
Because AFI isn't straight edge and never has been … Adam (Carson, drummer) isn't straight edge so it wouldn't make sense to have that focus in AFI. We've never done straight-edge songs in AFI so it makes sense to do something that's completely separate.
You mentioned earlier how you don't want to be preachy when it comes to this culture. Do you sometimes find it difficult not to be preachy about being straight edge because you are so passionate about it?
Yeah, just by virtue of what it is, people feel judged by it sometimes. If your beliefs are in opposition to something and there's someone that is part of the other side of that. if you drink or do drugs and I'm straight edge, even if I don't say anything like, "You're terrible" or "Stop doing that," you're still going to feel judged. So I think people automatically feel it's preachy even if you don't say a word. It's just something I've experienced my whole life as being straight edge and that's I'm used to. As straight edge, we're very much the minority but we're not like, "How can he drink? That's so disgusting and strange."
This album is being released on DJ Steve Aoki's Dim Mak label. That relationship is a bit random, eh?
Yes and no. Dim Mak started as a punk and hardcore label and Steve was in a straight edge band and he was straight edge, but obviously now they're almost exclusively a dance label. When we thought of putting this out, we immediately thought of the usual suspects like the hardcore and metal labels. But then somebody mentioned Dim Mak and we thought it would rad but didn't think he'd want to put it out because (the album) is so insanely different from anything does. But we asked him and he was totally into it so it was cool.
So it's a pretty good relationship.
Yeah, Steve's rad and like I said, he knows the hardcore kids. AFI actually played shows at his house back in the day with straight-edge bands. I mean, I'm sure there's going to be handful of people who are going to buy this record thinking it's Dim Mak's newest dance artist and will be totally baffled and angry. (Laughs)
You mentioned you're going to play a few shows in support of the album. Will there be a tour at all?
No, I don't see us touring. I think we're going to play a couple of shows and that's it.
Have you guys started working on a follow-up to Burials yet?
Yeah, a little bit. We're actually in the process of doing a new Blaqk Audio record right now. We're pretty far along with that so once that's done, we'll move back to AFI.
Is XTRMST maybe indicative of a harder direction that AFI might be headed towards?
Um, not necessarily. To me, it's totally a different thing. I don't think it would have any influence on AFI, but at the same time, it could end up being anything. The next AFI record could be more melodic or harder, we'll see.
You and Davey have made a lot of music together over the years. When did you realize there was that unique creative chemistry between you two? Back in high school?
I have known him since high school, but it wasn't until they asked me to join AFI in like 1998 and when we sat down to write Black Sails in the Sunset and I immediately felt that connection between him and I. It was so easy right off the bat, which is why we're still making records together today. It's the writing process. we never fight, we never argue and we've been doing this for almost 20 years now.
It must closer to a brotherhood at this point.
It is. We've been friends for a long time and been in a band for a long time. It's why bands break up or struggle is because musicians and artists are difficult people and they can't get along … especially creatively … when they're writing songs and you think your song is better than the other person's. With him and I, being the writing team and getting along so well has made it pretty unique.
How do you feel about the punk community these days? Do you still feel connected to it?
I'm not part of the contemporary punk scene … I'm not sure it's very thriving, very relevant. I started listening to punk in 1994 so when I do listen to punk, I tend to listen to stuff I grew up on. And there are so many great punk records from back then that it's hard for me to be like, "Man, I need to go find new punk records because I'm so tired of Bad Brains or tired of listening to Blag Flag." I don't know. maybe I'm stuck in the past in that regard, but when I listen to punk, I'll probably put on something I listened to as a kid.
Do you still consider AFI a punk band?
No. I mean, anyone that listens to our music wouldn't consider it punk, you know? But I'll never not have some of those ideals, I'll never not have what was so important to me in my formative years, growing up in the punk scene in a punk band. So no, I don't think I would characterize AFI as a punk band … we're just not anymore.