AFI came in ahead of the hardcore/hair rock tide of the ’00s, and despite an image that screamed style over substance, they’ve still consistently delivered when it comes to musicianship. There’s something that seems forever fragile about their career, though, and while commercial success has appeared to fall in their favour, every album feels like it could be their last. Their latest release, Burials, is no different – immediately identifiable as an AFI album, familiar without being entirely derivative, but somehow hinting at a farewell. Or maybe that’s just what they like us to think.
Working with powerhouse producer Gil Norton (The Triffids, Pixies, Dashboard Confessional), AFI finally got to realise what they felt they were unable to on 2009’s Crash Love. “We initially spoke with Gil about working on Crash Love but unfortunately scheduling did not allow [it],” says frontman Davey Havok. “When he expressed interest in working on Burials, we were thrilled. His history with Echo & The Bunnymen, the Pixies and Catherine Wheel first attracted me to his work. His expertise and dedication to our record was invaluable. Gil was able to highlight detail within the multiple layers of the record”.
Havok has been quoted describing the album as “shamefully honest”, among other things, so where in the honesty lays the shame? “The shame comes from a few places,” he says. “Firstly, the record is very dark, as would be expected of AFI. I’d have much preferred to move on from such redundant themes but couldn’t do so honestly. Secondly, the weight given to the subject matters far exceeds their relative worth. There is a solipsism and weakness at the core of the collapse that drives the lyrical tone of Burials … The record was written at a chaotic time in my life. This chaos informed the themes of panic, anxiety, collapse, betrayal and spite that carry through the work.”
After floating around unsigned for a while, Havok and co. were able to find a home for their tortured contemplations in the form of Universal’s Republic Records – and this, apparently, helped the creative process quite a bit. “Simply knowing that there is a team behind you who are passionate about supporting what you create allows for a more creative environment,” Havok says. “Also, having the financial support of a label allows us the time in the studio to realise our work in a way that could not be done otherwise. I’m very grateful to be part of the Republic roster.”
With Havok in an open and reflective mood, he takes to the topic of artistic sincerity with the same brutal honesty he seems to approach most issues. “I’d say that this album is far more sincere than those of the early days. When we began, we hadn’t found our voice. Our influences were more pervasive and our desire to be part of a movement pushed and pulled us in ways that they never would again after we’d grown as individuals, musicians and songwriters.”
AFI may well have another 20 years of recording and touring in them, but you just never know – they’ve already been in this hamster wheel longer than most. Two questions are begging to be asked. The first; what keeps AFI going? “Our ability to grow artistically with every release,” says Havok, “and the luxury of a wildly passionate fan base that looks forward to that progression.” So what then, would make AFI stop? “Artistic stagnation,” he says. They’re not there yet.
BY KRISSI WEISS
Burials out now through Republic Records/Universal.