Last month my life changed forever (not even being dramatic), and I got the chance to tick off one of my bucket list interviews. I was due to speak with Hunter Burgan, bassist of AFI– so exciting. The time for the interview comes and…. Jade Puget, guitarist, songwriter and producer, joins me instead. Wild! Somehow the fact I was quietly shitting myself doesn’t come across, and we have a great chat about AFI’s constant evolution, their new album Bodies, Paul McCartney and the possibility of Keith Richards outliving everyone.
We start with the obligatory COVID-19 question and how the band has fared, they’ve obviously not had too bad a year.
“It’s hard to complain about things that happen to your band in the greater scheme of things with people losing their lives. Everyone that’s in a band has definitely had their careers upended, but we’re all still alive, we’re all still healthy.
Our record was finished right before the lockdown happened, so we just pushed everything back like a year and a half. It sucks, but when you look at the perspective of what’s been happening, it’s not that big of an imposition. So now we’re finally releasing the album; It’s exciting to finally have it see the light of day.”
A word that seems synonymous with AFI is evolution- each one of their albums shows growth and change within the band. Jade and I discussed where Bodies sits in the AFI story. I suggest it seems like a more sleek and cool adult album– the album you want to be when you ‘grow up.’ Jade laughs;
“Well, thanks, I guess we’ve been adults for a long time now, so it’s about time we made an adult record, I suppose.”
In terms of where Bodies sits in the band’s evolution story, Jade says;
“It’s hard to say because the evolution of AFI isn’t a linear journey. Even though I write all the music and produce it, I don’t know what this next step will be. I like that it’s an adult album– I can appreciate that, it means we have matured musically. There are sounds on here that we’ve never made before. I want to push the story forward like a shark; you gotta keep moving, gotta keep swimming.”
To me, Bodies has a retro, 80s feel with lots of synth and throwback sounds. I question if that was intentional or if it just ended up that way in the process:
“It’s funny– I’ve actually heard that a lot over the years with AFI albums. I never try to do retro stuff – I’m just such a child of the 80s. A lot of my musical tastes and discoveries were made in that era; it’s just such a part of me that I can’t help it. Davey [Havok] and I both love that era, and we’re so fundamentally influenced by it– it’s just always there.”
This leads to my next question – have AFI found the fountain of youth because they are all in their forties but look like they’re still in their twenties, living their best lives? Jade laughs a lot at this and replies with:
“Well, I’m actually forty-seven, so thank you. Part of it is clean living, I think– we haven’t succumbed to the Keith Richards type lifestyle. It works for him though, because he’s become sort of pickled and mummified. I honestly think he’s going to outlive me, so good on him.
But I think we’re very lucky to do what we do– play rock music for a living; I never take that for granted. So I think that is something that helps keep us preserved; we get to live our best lives every day, which not a lot of people can say.”
I take this opportunity to tell Jade the story of my good friend who, as a teen, realised the party lifestyle wasn’t necessarily for him and thought about being straight edge. Then he saw AFI when they toured Australia in 2006, and seeing a band he looked up to living the way he wanted to, solidified it for him and he’s been edge ever since.
“That’s cool! When we were teenagers, we saw bands like Minor Threat, Youth of Today, Earth Crisis and bands from the New York scene that were sort of espousing those same beliefs. So we had the same experience as he did seeing bands that we loved, and they were living this lifestyle that we wanted to try to see if it worked for us, and it just so happened that it did.”
Getting back to the album, I explain that even though I am so happy to be speaking to Jade, I had prepared for Hunter. Jade laughs and says he can pretend to be Hunter if I want to ask some bass questions– which is what I do. I explain that my ears hone in on bass lines, especially in AFI songs, and they are my fave parts of many songs. On Bodies, it seems like the bass is mixed louder than in previous releases. I ask Jade if this was intentional.
“There’s a lot of great bass grooves on this record, and it’s always our intention when mixing a record to have everyone be audible. Sometimes it works better than others, like on Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes; the bass is nonexistent. So on this one, Tony Hoffer mixed it, and he’s a great mixer, and he was able to make everything sing and be clear.
I’m the same way with the Beatles; if you ever hone in on Paul McCartney’s bass playing, it’s outrageous. What a bass player– he’s insane.”
We joke that we could both keep chatting about the Beatles and Paul McCartney forever but it’s not necessarily why we’re here so we won’t. At the time of the interview, I hadn’t heard the entire album (I have now– no spoilers, read my review here), but everything I had heard single-wise was incredible. I tell Jade I instantly became obsessed with ‘Dulceria’ and quiz him about if he has a favourite track or if that’s like picking a favourite child?
“Usually, it is like picking a favourite child, but on this record, I’ve been really drawn to ‘Tied To A Tree’. There’s something about that song. We were actually shooting a video for it last night. It was an incredible experience– I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’ve shot many, many videos over the years.
Two different people had to leave the soundstage to cry, like literally cry. And these weren’t AFI fans– just people working on the set– they may not even listen to us. Something about the song and the visuals was affecting people. It was a really weird and cool experience.”
At the time, I’d not heard ‘Tied To A Tree’, but it was released just after our chat so I have now and what a different song! I can’t wait to see the film clip. Speaking of film clips, I focus my attention to the ‘Looking Tragic’ music video and ask if it was as fun to shoot as it looked.
“It was hectic. We were filming outside, and it was just going to be us filming in this little tinsel area. By the time I started doing my part, the wind became so insane that it was blowing over the walls and the equipment. So all that chaos and hectic energy was real, people were trying to hold up stuff so it wouldn’t fall over, and the tinsel was blowing all in our faces while we’re trying to play. So it lent this chaotic energy that translated well for the song.”
As with the albums and band, the film clips have evolved over the years. We talk about the difference between videos for Decemberunderground and Bodies songs, for example.
“Yeah, like ‘Dulceria’, that video is very minimal. I often don’t like our videos, but that one I really like. There’s not much happening, but it captured the vibe well. Going back to earlier videos– in the mid-2000s and before that, we had these insane budgets for videos, and that doesn’t mean you’re going to make a good video. It’s about having a good idea, and you can still make a good video with a smaller budget if you put some art into it.”
This leads me to ask how long Jade thinks AFI will keep going and add that I hope it’s for a very long time.
“I’ve been in the band for almost 22 years, so I’m the new guy. We never thought to the next year or the next record, just that moment. If you had told me I would be still in this band in 2021, it would’ve blown my mind. I think the fact that we’re making music that isn’t the same, we’re not remaking Black Sails, we’re still trying to push the envelope, so we’re still invested. If we ever get to a point where there’s nothing left in the tank, and we’re just resting on our laurels, then that’s a time to hang it up. Hopefully, that’ll never happen, and I will die holding my guitar and just keel over– that’s the way I want to go.”
I suggest that because the band dabbles in side projects like Blaqk Audio and experiments with different sounds and styles it would help them stay invested. I question if there is a sound or style Jade hasn’t yet tried that he wants to.
“Over the course of the lockdown, I was stuck at home, and I have a little home studio, so I’ve been writing insanely. I’ve written a huge amount of new AFI songs that I haven’t even played for anyone yet, even the band. I don’t even know if they’re going to like them, but I’ve been excited about it.
It’s once again a new direction, an AFI that hasn’t been before, but maybe the AFI that we should or could have been. Maybe the songs suck though, I’m the only one that’s heard them, and it’s always a risk. Our fans are very understanding and they’ve been along on this journey with us for a long time and have accepted our musical perambulations. But at some point, it might be ‘OK– you went too far– I’m jumping off’.”
This leads me to (cheerfully) interogate him about the fabled iPod with hundreds of unreleased AFI songs and if those songs will ever be released.
“We always say so. And it’s funny, the classic iPod that’s become this cult status thing, frickin’ died yesterday. I have the songs; they’re not lost, but the classic iPod fricken died, and I’m kind of distraught.
Every time we put out a new record, we’re like, we gotta put some of these unreleased songs on this new record because they’re so good. And then it’s always like all-new material. Davey and I are incredibly prolific, but that doesn’t mean that everything we’re writing is gold; there’s a lot of chaff in there. But there’s some great songs that I love, and I wish they could see the light of day. But I have a feeling I’ll probably die, keeled over– guitar in hand, and these songs will just be lost on my computer, and it’ll just go into a landfill someday and hundreds of AFI songs will never be heard. Maybe that’s just the nature of life; I didn’t mean to get so existential there.”
Jade jokes that it’s 2021, and he’s only just giving up using an iPod and only because it died– it turns out the enigmatic iPod has been used daily right up to its death.
“My process is that I work all day on music, and then I put it on my iPod and go for a walk in the evening to review because you get fresh ears. So the iPod is where I collected all the stuff that only I had access to, so I could review it and make notes, and it became the de facto vault for AFI unreleased material.”
Let’s hope the band can Frankenstein the device without losing any of the key components that fans have been so eager to get their hands on. To end, we quickly chat about how much Jade is enjoying Ru Paul’s Drag Race Down Under and that his wife is a huge fan of Aussie reality shows like The Bachelor. Bless!
Honestly, I can’t believe this is my life!
Interview By – Cait Mac @cait_2tone
AFI’s new album Bodies is out June 11 via Rise Records.
AFI – Bodies tracklisting
1. Twisted Tongues
2. Far Too Near
4. On Your Back
5. Escape From Los Angeles
6. Begging For Trouble
7. Back From The Flesh
8. Looking Tragic
9. Death Of The Party
10. No Eyes
11. Tied To A Tree