Good morning! I went to bed at 2am last night and woke up at 6am, but for some strange reason, I feel incredibly well-slept. Coming from someone who can sleep (and has slept) 18 hours straight and still feel tired, that’s pretty fucking phenomenal – especially considering I am so far behind with AG #144 and I really could use every second I’ve got.
But ANYWAY, last month I had a really nice chat with Jade Puget of AFI. I found him incredibly insightful and very bubbly, easy to riff off of and carry the interview along. I’d shopped the story around for a few weeks before their latest record Bodies came out, but I sadly couldn’t get an outlet to bite on it. The record has been out for a hot minute now (it streeted on June 11th), so I figure it might just work best to throw this piece up here and let it shine on its own merit.
AFI: KEEPING THE FLAME ALIGHT
When they formed in the hazy Californian winter of ’91, AFI were nothing if not enthusiastic. None of the four wide-eyed ragamuffins knew how to play an instrument (no, literally – they didn’t even own any), but that hardly stopped them from thrashing away to their hearts’ content, in time making their full-length breakout with 1995’s Answer That And Stay Fashionable. Co-produced with Rancid members Tim Armstrong and Brett Reed, the record was, by and large, your stock-standard hardcore punk affair: loose, gnashing guitars, scatter-paced drum fills, and scratchy yelled vocals dripping with venomous teen angst.
Looking back on the record in 2021, it’s… Well, it’s something. It’s hard to believe Answer That And Stay Fashionable was bashed out by the same AFI that made Bodies – the band’s kinetic and kaleidoscopic 11th LP, due June 11th on Rise Records. On the new record are glimmers of the crunchy, mosh-ready mania that AFI cut their teeth on, but there’s also a tinge of the seedy, soul-gripping emo they dipped their feet into on 2003’s Sing The Sorrow, and a solid dose of the effervescent new-wave vibes they’ve explored in recent years. There are also tracks that sound unlike anything else AFI have ever done before; it’s a triumph of the band’s storied past, but also a defiant charge ahead in their eternal pursuit of innovation – it feels purpose-built to celebrate AFI’s 30th anniversary.
Except according to guitarist Jade Puget, the impending milestone never even grazed his mind until last month. As far as he’s concerned, every AFI record is the debut effort from a new incarnation of the band. Reinvention is crucial, he stresses, lest they lapse into a soul-sucking cycle of half-assed insipidity. As Puget ruminates to [insert outlet name here], Bodies is a snapshot of AFI in the present day, and there’s no telling where they’ll go – let alone who they’ll be – from here.
One of the really exciting things about being an AFI fan is that you never know what’s going to come next. You’ve gone from hardcore to goth-rock, to pop-punk, to indie-rock… You’ve been everywhere, man. How much of that creative process is just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks? Do you see a value in experimentation?
I do! As a songwriter – and y’know, as a musician and an artist in general – I think stagnation really is the death of creativity. If we were to just remake our most popular albums, or try to replicate the formula that sold us the most records, I don’t think we would still be a band. Because sure, you might make more money or sell more records, but it’s just so soul-crushing. Even if you fail or people don’t like it, to strike out in a new direction is still more artistically rewarding.
Has there ever been a time where you’ve done something and then stepped back and gone, “Okay, shit, we might have taken it a bit too far here”?
I mean yeah, all the time [laughs]. I actually brought this up to Davey the other day and he doesn’t even remember it, but when we were writing for this record, we somehow ended up with a reggae song. Y’know, obviously AFI is not known for its reggae – and it certainly wasn’t what we set out to do – but that’s just the way the song happened. And at the end of it, we were just kind of looking at each other like, “…How did this happen!?” But it was a good song! I actually ended up finished it after the fact, and I really like it! I don’t think it’ll ever see the light of day, but y’know, it’s fun to explore those paths less travelled when the opportunity comes up.
So where did the inspiration for this album’s thematic palate come from?
There wasn’t any particular thing where it was like I went through some traumatic experience, or had a bad breakup, or anything like that. It’s more just that at this point, I’ve been writing songs for a long time, so I just take everything in. It could be the weather, or a movie I just watched, or a book I’m reading… Y’know, you just kind of internalise everything that’s happening in your life, and then it somehow comes out in the music.
The stylistic ebb and flow on this record is truly something else. You’ve got tracks like “Dulceria” and “Tied To A Tree”, which are really deep and atmospheric, but then you’ve got tracks like “Begging For Trouble” and “Looking Tragic” which are really bright and energetic – and the way they all gel together is magical. Is the dynamic of mood something you were very conscious about?
I’m glad it happens that way, but when we sit down to write, we really have no plan for what we’re going to write. At the end of that process, it’s just like, “Okay, what are the ten best songs we have here?” But with a song like “Tied To A Tree”, you can’t write too many of those in a row or you’ll just be incredibly depressed. So you have to write something like “Begging For Trouble” to sort of cleanse your palate.
Is that diversity a testament to your creative chemistry as a band?
Yeah, even though I write all the music, I don’t try to take over it with all these crazy guitar theatrics. In fact if you listen to our records throughout the years, you can actually hear that I’ve become less and less interested in making my guitar any sort of focal point. To me, the guitars have just become another tool in my arsenal of songwriting techniques, and it just needs to be in its place and have its time. You don’t need to have these giant stacks of guitars constantly assaulting you. If you let the guitar have one cool moment in a song, that will be more impactful than having it hit you over the head for the entire song. So now I can create space for Hunter [Burgan, bass] to have his moment, for the vocals to have their moment… For everyone to have their moment.
Is that something you’ve found has come more naturally to you with time?
Yeah. I think as I’ve become a little more adept at songwriting, I’ve realised that making a good song isn’t about having everything sounding huge all the time. I think on this record especially, you can see that those spaces in the music can be just as impactful and as powerful as 13 layers of guitars.
Do you ever trawl through the catalogue and reflect on AFI’s evolution, or is your focus always set on the next chapter of the journey?
I’m always just trying to move forward – and I think Davey feels the same way. Y’know, sometimes I’ll sit down with my guitar and I’ll try to be like, “Okay, I’m gonna write a fast song!” Or, “I’m gonna write a song that sounds like something from The Art Of Drowning!” But when you try to force something like that, it never tends to work. It feels inauthentic. It feels uncreative. Now if that was to happen naturally – if I was to write some fast old-school punk song because that’s what I had stuck in my head – I would be all for it. And sometimes we do write that kind of stuff, and it’s okay, because it came to us naturally. But I’m not really one to reflect on our past; I’m certainly not one to throw on an old AFI record and rock out to my own music.
Do you have any plans to celebrate AFI’s 30th anniversary this year?
Yeah, we’re trying to figure that out at the moment. We’ve gotta do something cool, right? It is a big milestone – I don’t think very many bands get to 30 years – so we’re trying to think up something cool for the fans, a way that we can celebrate the whole history of the band and all the records we’ve put out.
How strong would you say the band is right now? Could you see AFI kicking on for another 30 years?
I mean, I hope to die well before that [laughs]. But if it does happen, I won’t be complaining. I think as long as we’re able to make music that excites us, we’ll keep it going. That’s really the key to everything. If at some point there’s nothing left in the tank and we start retreading old stuff or it’s just not fun anymore, that will be when we call it a day.
I like that vibe. Sometimes you’ve just gotta go with the flow.
Yeah! I mean, that’s how we started. When we were kids, we never had any master plan – we were never looking forward to the ten-year anniversary or thinking about a five-album plan, or going, “What are we going to do after this record?” It’s always just been about taking it one day at a time.
Is that harder to do when you’ve got label contracts and expectations to meet?
No, because strangely enough, I really feel like all four of us still operate on the same wavelength; we still have the same approach [to AFI] that we did when we were a DIY punk band. We’re not going to do anything because we owe it to a label, or because we need to make money. It’s never going to be about that. Whenever we go to make a record, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is this real for us? Is this authentic? Are we having fun?’
Well if the energy isn’t there for an AFI record, you’ve all got side projects to channel your creativity into.
Yeah, exactly. Blaqk Audio is my main side project, and that’s always a fun escape. In fact, Davey and I are writing a new Blaqk Audio record right now, so we’re hoping to record that soon!