This article was edited October 31, 2006*
Since simply hanging a sign reading "plays good music" on a band would be entirely too vague, fans and critics clamber for ways to label music acts. A.F.I. (A Fire Inside) gets tagged as hard core-revivalist, goth, punk, and so on. The labels can get pretty creative, and a little misleading. Granted, these categories aren't totally off the mark. It's just that, well, there's more.
At the band's inception in 1991 it definitely displayed a punk thrash aesthetic. Singer Davey Havok's black-clad, quasi-gender bending appearance evokes an eerie, somewhat gothic feel. A.F.I.'s somewhat dark lyrics and intense live shows (which often feature Havok pinballing around the stage like a tattooed Dracula) have earned the band a rabid following.
The California quartet's seventh record, Decemberunderground, surfaced at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in June and exploded, launching the band beyond these labels and theorists. Soon it'll be said that A.F.I. simply sounds like A.F.I.
I talked to Havok on the phone from a tour stop in Nottingham, England. Here's what went down.
City: With bands like yours crossing and blending genres, are we finally getting past labels?
Davey Havok: Well, I should hope so. There really seems to be a need for people to categorize bands --- most commonly journalists. Certainly you see a lot of it, over here in the UK they seem very determined to find some sort of category for us and every band."
Are they right or wrong with their labels?
Oh yeah, they make stuff up. They create entire new genres.
I've heard they like "goth-punk," which is interesting to take two genres which we don't fit into and put them together and feel that that's going to make one that we do fit into. I think for us, to some extent --- especially in the States --- people have come to terms with the fact that we don't actually have any one genre we fit into. I don't know if it's ubiquitous but it's slowly happening.
You've said that your music doesn't fit anywhere, but now it's everywhere. Do you still feel that way?
By saying that I meant as far as specific niches go or specific genres of music. It is still the case that we don't really fit into one genre of music, and we're very luck that we draw from so many different places as far as our fan base goes. We have been lucky to be able to continue on as we have, coming from a place where we don't fit in without running the risk of excluding everyone. We've been able to have appeal and hold appeal for people who are into all different sorts of things, which creates that diverse fan base we do have.
What aspect of your show is for you and what aspect is for the fans?
It's really all kinda symbiotic in a sense that we really feed off of one another. I mean, I love to perform but the love of performing wouldn't be as great if the crowd wasn't so fantastic. So really we go up there and we give everything we can. And the crowd gives back. So we just feed off of one another. Of course we've been performing that way from the time that we would perform for two people or 50 people. In essence, naturally it is us reacting to what we do and putting ourselves into our own music. For the past many years we've gotten it back from the crowd. So it's really a combination.
With A.F.I.'s music, what's more important, live or recorded?
Well certainly we enjoy the live show more and that's the real representation of the music. However, to whether it's more important, I wouldn't necessarily say that. I think both are very important. Live is more fun and certainly in a sense we feel that the recording is a means to get to the live performance. Although the live performance is very energetic and very exciting and very memorable it doesn't have the permanence of the recordings. The album is what lasts and we know that. So when we create a work we spend a lot of time making sure it's exactly what we want. 'Cause I mean, if we go up on stage and hit a few flat notes or I fall down, that's forgotten in the next five seconds. But if that's the case on the record it's not quite the same situation.
The band seems to be getting increasingly anthemic and epic --- are you conscious of this evolution?
Certainly we're very conscious of our evolution. It wasn't something that was very directed. You know, there was no pointed place that we were trying to move to. It was very natural. But as time went on we focused more on the melodies and we were very into the anthem. Decemberunderground, I think it came together very well. It seems like the record we were working our way toward whether consciously or not, for the entire existence of the band. And as far as where we're going to go musically, we never really know, it's just a matter of sitting down and always pushing ourselves artistically and trying to move forward and do something that's fresh and exciting to us. I'm sure whatever the next album will be, whenever it is, we'll sound different from Decemberunderground.
So there's no telling what you'll sound like next.
There's really no way of saying. We didn't know what Decemberunderground was going to sound like when we sat down and wrote it.
Were you surprised?
I was really excited when we were done. When we finally put it together it was really gratifying because it took so much time making it. To finally hear the finished product was just amazing for me. I was so proud of it.
You were born in Rochester but left when you were 5 years old. You got out in time.
That's what I'm told.
What's the best thing about being in this band?
You know, there're so many good things about it. In essence it's being able to do what I love. I love performing and I'm lucky to have this artistic outlet. To be able to put my emotions and my artistic needs into what we do and have it take life and then furthermore have what I love and what comes to me naturally effect so many people and touch so many people is amazing. It allows me to go to different cities around the world every night to play and see that reaction --- that seemingly changes their lives in a positive way. It's amazing.
What's the worst?
It's pretty exhausting. Honestly the worst thing for me is when I'm exhausted and I'm sick and I'm physically unable to perform at the level that I feel is good enough. Going on stage when I'm hurt and unable to do what I want to do really makes me miserable. But you must go on with the show.
A.F.I. plays with guests The Explosion and The Static Age Saturday, October 28, at The Main Street Armory, 900 East Main Street, 232-1900, 8 p.m., $22.
*Davey Havok's name was changed from "Havoc" to "Havok."