Just glancing at a few of AFI’s album titles (Black Sails in the Sunset, The Art of Drowning, Sing the Sorrow) can offer a good indication of their majestic, gothic art-rock style – one fueled by Jade Puget’s intricate, minor-key riffs and Davey Havok’s glammy post-punk bellow. Whether they’re dressing up their tunes with wide-screen synth-pop gloss (2006’s Decemberundergound) or stripping back to a razor-sharp punch (2009’s Crash Love), AFI conjure music from a deep, dark place.
With the band’s ninth studio album, Burials, Havok aimed to switch gears with a lighter, less brooding approach to songcraft. As one might gather from the title, he failed.
“It is certainly – embarrassingly so – a very dark album, especially in its candidness, which is something, to be honest, that’s disappointing to me,” he says. “It’s something I just keep coming back to – I can’t escape it. It’s always a joy to me to reach away from that. But the themes and sentiments on this record are within that darker realm and that darker tone because I’ve always been honest in everything that I write. It’s beyond me. I’m crippled. There’s nothing I can do but be genuine in my writing, and that’s what came out this time – without any sort of pointed effort.”
“I really feel [the title] speaks of the overall sentiment of the record,” he continues. “The album really speaks of a burial of a silence and the burials that result from those silences of panic and anxiety and betrayal and cruelty – and a loss of self, a loss of stability.”
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But Burials is a change-of-pace for AFI – just not the kind Havok intended. It’s a heavily layered, grandiose set that veers sharply from the raw simplicity of Crash Love. New single “I Hope You Suffer” points toward this epic new direction, layering Havok’s anguished cries within a lightning storm of distortion, synthetic orchestrations, and volcanic percussion.
“To me, Crash Love is the most stripped-down record that we’ve made since the early Nineties, and I would say that ‘I Hope You Suffer’ is indicative of the overall tone of this record in being the opposite of that. I feel like Jade came with a complete piece of music with that song. Jade is really a genius with the riffs and the layers and the soundscapes, and that’s what really creates the tone of that song.”
“This album is very layered and very rich and far, far less straightforward than what we did on the last record, which – much like every record we create – was the result of a natural growth, a natural indication of where we are as songwriters now. This record has no chance of being anything else other than what it came to be. It was inside us in a way. I know that sounds a bit dramatic. But it’s true: When Jade and I began writing – two years ago, I believe – we were immediately quite prolific. The songs just came out, and they came out in relatively similar forms to the songs that people will hear on the record.”
It’s been four years since Crash Love, but a snail-like pace is the norm for AFI. In their writing partnership (which now spans 15 years and also includes their electronic side-project Blaqk Audio), Havok and Puget are known for their perfectionism – and with Burials, they took that principle to new extremes.
“The writing has never been casual for us,” Havok says. “It was similar to the last record in that we worked every day. But on this occasion, I’d been living a few miles away from Jade, and we would meet every day for about a year and a half until the record was done. Eventually, we started taking weekends off, but at the top of it, we would meet every day in a small room in the Hollywood Hills in my friend’s house, which is actually set into the hill. It’s this tiny little room with non-matching drapes pinned over the windows. It really very much resembled some place that the Doors might have crashed in 1969 – a tiny, shadowy little room that we set up and would write and demo in every day. And we wrote a lot of songs as we typically do.
“Jade and I tend to converge,” he continues. “Our writing process is somewhat surreal at times when we’ll be working on something, and we’ll have the exact same idea for a part in a song or a movement or a top-line or a conceptual part or a reference. And that was more prominent in this writing process – that reoccurance of that convergence of our visions – than any other record before.”
Assisted by veteran producer Gil Norton (the Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen, Foo Fighters), AFI recorded the final product at Hollywood’s legendary Eastwest Studios (formerly Ocean Way), where they’d previously recorded a decade earlier.
“It’s the studio where they recorded Pet Sounds, so it’s a classic, historic studio,” Havok says. “Previously, it looked like a studio that Pet Sounds might have been recorded in. Now it looks like a Las Vegas club – it’s pretty fun. There’s architectural furniture, there’s a plastic black stallion with a lamp on its head in the foyer. There’s black-lights everywhere. It’s over the top, and I appreciate it.”
That process of laborious writing and hi-fidelity recording isn’t as fashionable in 2013 as it was in the Pet Sounds era. But it’s the only way AFI know how to work. Burials is an ornate brand of misery, a lush labor of love.“We just come from the place of wanting to be 100% happy with the works we create, rather than fulfilling some sort of demand, whether it be from a label or a consumer,” Havok says. “It’s really the modern standard of short attention spans, and it puts us in a difficult position. Quantity typically eclipses quality these days, but we can’t bow to that.”