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We asked AFI’s Davey Havok about punk’s place in Trump’s America

Mar 25, 2017

We talked to the iconic frontman about AFI's evolution.

Donald J. Trump, who can’t spell “tap” and tweets nonsensical tantrums on the regular, is the President of the United States. His head of the EPA doesn’t believe carbon dioxide causes climate change; his Secretary of Education isn’t an educator; his Chief Strategist is a white supremacist; and his daughter has access to “well-guarded information about national security” for some reason. And that’s just the top of the tip of the Trump of the iceberg.

Contemporary America is clearly in the midst of some darkest timeline shit. As such, now seems like it would be a great time for punk rock to throw some haymakers at the establishment. But do people even look to music to do this sort of thing anymore?

I was already set to talk to Davey Havok about AFI’s eponymous tenth release, so I asked him.

AFI by Riley Taylor

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

I know what I think about your album, and that doesn’t interest me. What do you you think about your album?

DAVEY HAVOK: I’m very, very happy with our album, The Blood Record. [ED NOTE: the AFI S/T is also known as The Blood Album even though Davey says “The Blood Record” throughout this interview.] You will not find an AFI record released that we aren’t all very, very happy with, because the whole point of creation for us is to create something that we’re proud of and that we feel represents us appropriately for the time at which it was created. That’s the case with The Blood Record and it has been the case for all of our records historically.

Do you have a favourite song that’s already sort of burning bright for you? Something that you feel, while performing it, is very representative of the new record?

DH: It’s [been] hard for me to pick favourites, historically. I know it sounds trite, but each of the songs hits me in a different way. However, that being said, there are a handful of songs on this record that I really look forward to playing, “Aurelia” being one of them. Getting to play that for an audience, I look forward to doing that because I think it’s really such an important song for the band and I think it represents AFI really well and does so in a way that hasn’t been done in the past. There are moments of post-punk inspiration that pervade in this record in a way that has not come through before as strongly. “Aurelia” is one of those songs, as is “Above The Bridge,” and “Feed From The Floor.” I’m really excited to be presenting those to people.

I got into your music when I was younger, and when you were younger. We were both younger men, although you’ve aged much better than I have…

DH: (Laughs) Well, thank you.

The last time I saw you play was with the Dillinger Escape Plan at Medley in Montreal, and one of the things I remember noticing was how many young people were there, and how many young people were getting into AFI around Decemberunderground, around “Miss Murder.” What do you think a kid getting into AFI today is going after or looking for compared to, say, when you were first making music and when I was first getting into you?

DH: I think that if someone who is finding AFI right now, when they’re 17, they’re looking for it. Just as we looked for whatever we — you and I — were looking for when we were 17. Also, they’re not looking for it in a record store, or they’re not looking for it on a flyer or in a zine — although at some points now they are looking for it in a zine because in the past few years there’s been a resurgence of zines and vinyl and whatnot. But I think what they’re looking for is — they’re looking for connection. I think what they’re looking for is a unique voice and unique perspective in relation to what is happening in the mainstream. And when we talk about the mainstream we’re talking about pop music and dance music, which I have a great love for but which is a very different perspective than one that’s seen in AFI. Now, if someone [is] 16 years old in 1995, then they’re looking for that perspective enveloped in aggression, and hardcore, and minimalism. That is not present in modern AFI, [so the question is], “Which AFI are they finding first? Which AFI are they gravitating towards?” I think the unifying element there is the connection and honesty of music.

I think that when we were younger we were finding before we were looking.

DH: Correct.

I think that it’s almost better for bands [now] because, I mean, knowing everything that’s out there and knowing that you have the ability to search for and find everything that’s out there suggests that you’re going to find what you’re looking for.

DH: Right. You are.

And if you don’t find what you’re looking for, you’re gonna trash it really fast and go on to the next thing.

DH: Right, and what we’re looking for is that people who are actually looking for something.

I want to talk a little bit about America.

DH: (Laughs) Oh no!

Regardless of whether or not you still consider AFI to be punk rock, does punk rock matter anymore? I mean, Trump is in the goddamn White House.

DH: I think that many people upon recognizing what is going on politically in America and specifically what you had mentioned, people are hoping for punk rock to have that resurgence and have that political aspect of punk rock be represented again. That’s not something that I am looking for; [I’m interested in] more of the sociopolitical as opposed to the very literally political. But not only are there people hoping for that direct commentary, but also for an upsurgence in the arts because, you know, within times of divisiveness politically, great art comes of it. I think we need this in punk rock, which has existed for many, many years, and existed before the genre of punk rock. When looking at rock and roll, and its perspective in context of the time that it was created, it’s very important. And it has always been important for people to question and to move forward and to express themselves honestly and positively, and I think that that is very very relevant right now. And I think — I hope that great art is created as a result of the current, likely suffocating environment as it has been in the past. I think it will. It always has.

Based on everything you said in the last 30 seconds, can you say definitively or not whether or not AFI is interested in writing a protest record vis-à-vis the current political situation going on in America?

DH: As I mentioned before, that has never been our attention as a band. But I would stand there and sing along and support all of the political artists that do. Well, not all of them. Depending on who they are. Maybe we won’t sing along with all of them but I will be there in strength and in spirit.

You are in AFI, you are in Dreamcar, you are in Blaqk Audio, you are in XTRMST, you are very vocal about the things that you believe in, and so on and so forth. What is the function of the artist in present day America, Mr. Davey Havok?

DH: It is, as I spoke before, to provide connection where connection doesn’t otherwise exist.

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