AFI: On the road again
AFI released its hardcore-inspired debut Answer That and Stay Fashionable in 1995. Nearly 20 years later, the band’s sound has shifted, veering toward Goth-punk. Thanks to getting some good exposure on MTV in the ‘00s, the band became hugely successful. But in 2011, the guys took a hiatus. They reconvened earlier this year to record Burials, which comes out next month. The first single, “I Hope You Suffer,” has Cure-like overtones. The group is on a tour to try out some of the new tunes and reintroduce itself to its fans. Bassist Hunter Burgan recently phoned in to discuss the tour and album.
Your tour kicks off today. Talk about what it’s like to know that you’re going to be back on the road again.
I’m pretty excited. We played a warm-up show at the Troubadour and it was first show we played together in three years. I’m still a little sore. There were a few muscles I haven’t used in the past three years. It’s made me so excited to get out and play these songs on the road again.
You’re playing smaller venues than you used to play.
We wanted to make sure it was something that would be fun and intimate. It’s easy to lose connection with the audience and miss the point of what you’re doing.
Did the band actually break up in 2011?
No. We just took a break. As soon as we get off the road, we immediately start writing another album and immediately start recording it. That cycle has been going as long as I’ve been in the band. After 14 years of doing that, it was time to take a breath. I think it’s a slightly self-indulgent thing to have a moment to ourselves and establish what we’re doing in our lives. AFI is a huge part of our lives and it wasn’t long before there was a pull back into that.
The single “I Hope You Suffer” is more of an accessible pop tune. Is that indicative of the rest of the album?
The album has a whole lot of different stuff on it in terms of sound and moods. It’s not an indication of the entire album. There are certain emotions in “Suffer” that are carried throughout most of the album. I don’t know that any one track gives you an idea of what the whole album will be. That’s a good thing. There’s a good range within the album.
Do you think the lyrics are darker?
Davey went through some really difficult stuff. He experienced a lot of anxiety and despair and that’s certainly reflected in the lyrics. Everyone goes through these types of things at different points in their lives. I relate to it. I’ve had some moments like that.
It sounds like he’s in a much better space now.
Yeah, because it is very cathartic, getting the lyrics out on paper and putting them on tape and performing the songs. Even as an instrumentalist, just performing stuff that has an emotion to it . . . once you experience that you get to the point where you’re no longer holding the emotions in. You’re sort of channeling them and letting them flow through you. It’s a really healthy process.
Talk about what it was like when you were recording in the studio.
Well, the first thing was that we attempted to make this record in the shortest amount of time that we have ever made a record, at least since the ‘90s. We were confident, but it was something we have never done. All of the choices of sound and everything — we had to be more instinctual about things. Sonically, we tried to push it. This is our ninth studio album. We tried to experiment . . . The drums are distorted in many songs. I tried to make the bass sound like synth in songs. Sometimes, there is bass and synths in the same song. Because we were racing through it live, everything had a cohesive nature to it. I’m really happy with how it came out.
Did you have to rearrange the new tunes for concerts?
We only worked out a couple of songs in the set. We will attempt to create them as best we can. We don’t typically do too much as far as different arrangements go. We try to give the audience a similar experience to listening to the album.
Is there an aura at the studio? It’s where The Beach Boys recorded Pet Sounds.
Yeah, we recorded there 11 years ago. Between 11 years ago and now, they completely redid the studio with the exception of the tracking rooms. If you’re in the tracking room it looks exactly as it did 11 years ago but as soon as you walk into the hallway, it seems like you’re in a nightclub. We were there 11 years ago, and it’s so strange. It’s like a dream; you have something familiar smashed into something foreign. There’s definitely a vibe there. It feels like that’s where you make records.
You started out as an underground hardcore band. What was the key to breaking through to the mainstream?
I guess from the beginning of the band through the ‘90s, we toured a lot. Our records didn’t sell that well. Our focus was on the live show and the live performance. We put ourselves wholly into our performance. Around 2000 or 2001, we reached the point where more people started paying attention. We had great offers from bigger record labels who saw what we doing and wanted to help us take it to a bigger level. Our whole career has been doing something we love and people noticing who have the ability to make it bigger. We partner with them and continue to grow. That’s how it’s been at every stage in our career.
The music business has changed so much in the time that you’ve been a band. Talk about the current challenges and how your approach has or hasn’t shifted.
It is strange because it’s not how it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago but something that is enduring is that people love music and we love to play music. As long as that’s the case, we’ll figure out a way to overcome the challenges. Ten or 20 years ago, it was easy for bands to sell records. That was used as a benchmark for success in the past. Now, nobody sells any records at all. As long as we stay connected to the audience in some way, I feel like that’s the most important thing.
Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates
Lawrence, KS – Granada Theater
Byers, CO – May Farms, Riot Fest
Boston, MA – Royale
Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
New York, NY – Webster Hall
Philadelphia, PA – Theatre of Living Arts
Sayreville, NJ – Starland Ballroom
Pittsburgh, PA – Club Zoo
Cincinnati, OH – Bogart’s
Houston, TX – Warehouse Live
Austin, TX – Mohawk
Tempe, AZ – Marquee Theatre
Los Angeles, CA – Henry Fonda Theatre
San Diego, CA – House of Blues
Pomona, CA – Fox Theater
Las Vegas, NV – House of Blues
Santa Cruz, CA – The Catalyst
Reno, NV – Knitting Factory
Portland, OR – Roseland Theatre
Seattle, WA – The Showbox at the Market
Vancouver, BC – The Commodore Ballroom