Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Cover Story: AFI

| January 2, 2017

Davey Havok would like to take a vacation. He really would. But at this point – as the AFI bandleader and latter-day Renaissance man grapples with one of the busiest schedules in show business – he very well might have forgotten how. Rest and recreation are for other rockers – not him.

“Two months off would be incredible,” the Los Angeles native purrs, trying to envision an exotic, stress-free retreat. But it’s a pipe dream. “And I wouldn’t know what to do. My friend has this place in the desert that we stay at during Coachella sometimes, and I may go out there next weekend. So that’s kind of my only getaway – for only two days, unfortunately. I don’t have the time to take a vacation, because I have so much that I want to do. And because I’m fortunate enough to have the ability to do these things, I feel like I have to take those opportunities when they present themselves.” He sighs, with forlorn detachment. “But don’t get me wrong – I really do wish that I can take a break. Some day.”

Sure, Havok, 41, is preparing to head out on tour with his group (which includes longtime members Jade Puget on guitar, drummer Adam Carson, and bassist Hunter Burgan), backing their new tenth effort, AFI (The Blood Album), which Puget also produced. It picks up where the previous disc, 2013’s grim Burials, left off, opening on the sinister military march “Dark Snow,” then tapping into Mission-and-Sisters-of-Mercy-vintage basslines and even heavier philosophical musings on “Aurelia,” ”Get Hurt,” “Snow Cats,” and a Bauhaus-evocative “Feed From the Floor,” with Havok’s voice hovering over the proceedings like a cloak-fluttering Max Schreck in F.W. Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu. Puget also mikes the singer’s voice differently, as more of a sleek metallic snarl, on the more propulsive punk cuts “Dumb Kids” and “So Beneath You,” so the album – like AFI itself is never easy to pigeonhole.
But that’s merely the first item on the artist’s cluttered roster. He’s also been doing a bit of acting, starring alongside Rob Lowe in the 2012 film Knife Fight, and he’s also done voice work in recent features like Dacryphilia. At the request of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, he appeared on Broadway in that band’s musical American Idiot, for several 2011 appearances as the character St. Jimmy. And now he’s got a taste for treading the boards – Havok has fingers crossed to someday get the nod to join the cast of the long-running show Hedwig and the Angry Inch, maybe even a turn in some future Rocky Horror revival.

Having always lived a compassionate, straight-edge lifestyle, it’s no surprise that, in addition, he oversaw a hip line of vegan clothing and footwear called Zu Boutique, plus cool collaborations with PNUT Jewelry. And after Zu ended in 2012, he’s jumped back into the fashion fray with a new company, Eat Your Own Tail, revolving around stark, message-heavy black T-shirts.

And oh yes – Havok is a published novelist now, with one 2013 book to his credit, Pop Kids, and another, as-yet-untitled followup on the way, its plotline centering on a secondary character from its predecessor. Additionally, he’s just appeared nude in a racy ad for one of his pet causes, PETA, his giant heart-and-dagger chest tattoos clearly visible, under the watchwords “I’d rather go naked than wear leather – rock the skin you were born in. Let animals keep theirs.” And there’s more music barreling down the pipeline, too. Havok and Puget formed a hardcore offshoot called XTRMST, but mainly they keep occupied via another, more electronic-minded project, Blaqk Audio, which just finished recording more than 50 songs for its upcoming fourth salvo.

And – believe it or not – there’s actually more on the docket: Dreamcar, a hush-hush supergroup Havok formed in 2016 with sans-Gwen-Stefani No Doubt members Tony Kanal, Adrian Young and Tom Dumont. They, too, are putting the finishing touches on a full-length debut; It’s a sound the vocalist is loathe to discuss at this early date, but he swears that it will sonically surprise fans of both outfits. Again, he says, stay tuned to his Twitter feed, faithful guys and ghouls – he’ll be announcing further details shortly.

No wonder that Havok – in photos of late – always seems to have a toothpick hanging out of his mouth. He’s got so much nervous energy, he’s been gnawing through dams of them like a beaver. “They’re flavored chewing sticks, usually soaked in cinnamon, and they come from Australia – I really enjoy them,” he explains. As an ardent animal lover, he would love to own a pet or two. “But I actually don’t have the ability to even consider something like that, given my hectic life,” he sighs. “The pet would end up being neglected. But I love cats – I really do. I always take the opportunity to go and visit my friends’ cats, whenever I’m given the chance.”

All good devils need a familiar. But over his band’s 25-year career, Havok has transformed into something almost angelic. In the early days of AFI (for A Fire Inside), the rocker originally known as David Paden Marchand had left his native Ukiah, CA for Berkeley, where he was living with fellow bandmates in a spooky old off-campus house after studying English and Psychology at UC there. He was rail thin at the time, with long luxurious hair, and sort of resembled Jack Skellington if he’d adopted a swashbuckling D’Artagnan look. He was a huge collector of all things Gothic and kitschy, and he could often be found on eBay, bidding on something macabre.

At one point, though, he decided to: expand his wardrobe from traditional black; Sell off most of his truly remarkable arsenal of toys, dolls, and action figures; And take his vegan lifestyle to the next level by regularly working out in a gym. He still had the flowing black locks, but suddenly he became beefy enough to beat you up if you made any snarky comments about it. Not that Havok would – he’s one of the calmest, soft-spoken performers on the planet. But he carried himself with a new confidence, a self assurance that led to his current look – a short-haired, designer-suited George Raft look straight out of some film noir classic, like Detour or The Big Sleep. The guy had found his Maltese Falcon – there was no reason to keep searching through bogus-bird identities.

And AFI grew, matured as a result. They shook the Goth-punk tag with broader breakthrough efforts like 1999’s Black Sails in the Sunset and 2000’s The Art of Drowning. Havok loved a vast array of artists, from all genres, and would say, fly to Las Vegas just to see Oasis there if the mood struck him (Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan flew in for that gig, as well – other open-minded composers who didn’t restrict themselves to one narrow-minded definition of music). Today, in fact, one might not even recognize Havok in an average airport – save for his huge ear piercings, he could easily pass for some burly businessman, flying off to some corporate board meeting somewhere. Inside, however, he remains just as sepulchral – and remarkably sophisticated – as ever. He no longer has any need to manifest it all outwardly. Or, as he puts it, “The aesthetic of how I present myself has always changed, and it can change with the seasons. And it does very much so. It’s a matter of expression, it’s how I feel comfortable and how I feel most like myself. With my body, I’m very much part of a healthful movement, and I’m very aware of what I put into my body, and very aware of my body’s upkeep. And that, of course, will lead to exercise. I’ve never been a fan of sports, so I went the gym route. And I used to go to the gym in Berkeley, back when it was open 24 hours.”

Falling in with a plant-based diet made all the difference, Havok adds. “It actually makes you feel like you’re infused with super powers – you really respect the way that your body feels, and the way your body feels affects the way that your mind feels,” he reports. Which gave him the courage to sign on to PETA’s nude-notables campaign. He loved cruelty-free clothing, but was gutsy enough to disrobe for the striking new print spread. “Because I really believe that ads like that make you think,” he says. “Because of the different perspectives of it, from male to female, you rarely see male nudity, just because of the social stigma attached to it. So you see a naked male and you think, ‘Why is this male naked?’ And hopefully, people will then look further into why that male is naked. And compassion for animals is important to me, so I’m using my voice, my music, and my body to help someone who doesn’t have a voice.”

Naturally, the AFI leader isn’t the first to make such startling statements. He goes on to praise the work of his wise vegan forebear Chrissie Hynde (featured on page 8 in the print and digital issues) and all the trails she’s blazed for inherent animal rights.

“But I’m lucky, because I’ve been able to find a community that I live in that’s very insular,” he says of the straight edge movement, whose once-renegade precepts now seem like simple common sense. “I found a group of like-minded people that support each other, even though they share very unpopular beliefs.” Drugs, alcohol, hamburgers, and black leather jackets don’t have to be part and parcel of rock and roll, he posits – AFI rocks just as pedal-to-the-metal convincingly without any of those outmoded trappings, thank you very much.

Still, Havok will happily acknowledge the darkness swirling around the group’s new record like ancient Whitchapel fog. Mention The Mission’s God’s Own Medicine debut, plus definitive discs from Wayne Hussey’s previous band Sisters of Mercy, like Floodland and First and Last and Always, and he’s delighted that those tones resonate on various AFI cuts. “Because The Mission are fantastic, and the Sisters have made records that will absolutely always be in my Top 10,” he declares, unequivocally. “And Floodland itself is unbelievable – that record is really stunning and unique and unlike anything I’ve ever heard. But we owe a lot of that (sound) to Jade, as producer, who handled my voice in such a way that only he could, since he’s already so familiar with my voice.” He then goes on to discuss news that he finds fascinating – that sepulchral Sisters frontman Andrew Eldritch claimed that if Donald Trump actually managed to get elected in America, he was going to finally write and record a new concept album about an unusual online spate of spooksters all sporting “Goths For Trump” T-shirts, adorned with the group’s Merciful Release label logo.

Where is Havok himself coming from on AFI? He doesn’t want to spell it all out for listeners, he sighs – he wants there to be some air of mystery about the 14 tracks. But he deigns to describe a few numbers in detail. The punk powerhouse “So Beneath You,” for instance, and its line “I don’t believe that I can stay here/ And watch you vilify my blood…I won’t serve anyone,” he elaborates, “is about using fiction as a means to excuse bad behavior, or to really suppress someone for who they actually are – it all goes back to identity.” And the blood motif, he continues, came from a moment midway through recording when he noticed that certain words kept cropping up, lyrically.

“There were repeated references to blood, snow, and dust,” he says. “And then when we finished it and put all the tracks together, we realized that blood did, indeed, link the songs together, And it occurs on the record because to me, it’s talking about a time of aftermath, the aftermath of the Burials period. So it’s a moment of curiosity, and trying to recognize what exactly remains in that fallout, what has changed, and what these changes mean in the greater collapse that you saw on Burials. So there’s dust, there’s snow, and it’s wintry. And then the blood, of course, speaks of connections and – again – identity, and the perception of connection, and those themes of past and present. And, of course, the actual humanity that runs through blood.”

Mentions of dust and mortality color the closing dirge, “The Wind That Carries Me Away,” and its equally-cryptic companion piece “Feed From the Floor” – two ornate selections that almost didn’t make the album. They’re now two of AFI’s favorites, and Havok is justifiably proud that they squeaked by a rigorous whittling-down process. They don’t sound like traditional AFI. But then again, nothing really does. And that happens to be the whole point, the band’s raison d’être, if you will. Which naturally makes it easier for this daredevil to work without a net in whatever field he chooses to explore. And a lot of them have been simmering on the back burner for quite some time.
“I grew up loving Broadway musicals as a kid,” Havok reveals. “I used to think, ‘Oh, man – it would be so great to be on Broadway! You walk into a theater and you perform in a cast!’ So it’s an experience in life that I idealized.” Until Billie Joe Armstrong made him an American Idiot offer that he couldn’t refuse, that is. “I am still so amazed to be given that ideal opportunity by Billie – it was such an incredible gift to receive, and it was the best experience of my life.” What’s left for this go-getter to accomplish? He’s still considering the possibilities of live theater, he says. “Because my dream is to play Frank N. Furter in Rocky Horror on Broadway. It’ll be like, ‘That’s it. I’ve done everything if I’ve done that. So I can die happy!’”

-Tom Lanham
Appearing: 1/31 at Riviera Theatre, Chicago.

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