It’s been four years since pop-punk band AFI released Crash Love, and lead singer Davey Havok has been going through some tough times. On the band’s ninth studio album, Burials, Havok details the chaos in his life during the writing of the album. But the explanations of his pain are cloaked in cryptic messages and interred under thick beds of slick sound. At one point, he sings that his hands and eyes are dripping black, but he doesn’t say if it’s blood or not. Elsewhere he sings, “I’m in love with poisoning,” but fails to mention whether that’s a good or bad thing.
By now Havok has been steering the band for over two decades, yet he still sounds as volatile as a teenager when talking about his romantic anguish. Rolling Stone spoke with Havok about his emotions, growing older with his music, and the dark side of his fantastic hair.
Burials cause all sorts of emotions. Was there a particular theme you were going for with that title?
When there are so many themes running through the record, people choose which they want to focus on, which are more poignant to them at that point in their lives. The Burials title really speaks to all the different levels that are on the record. It speaks to silence and panic and anxiety and loss of self and isolation, and those different levels of hiding.
The record is a massive-sounding record. It sounds like different levels of sound are just stacked on top of each other, like those classic Eighties 4AD and Factory Records releases.
All the layers occurred during the formative writing of the record. The layers just grew and grew while we were making the record. Once we got into the studio, it was just a question of reproducing and tracking those layers. When we make a record, we don’t discuss how we are planning on doing it. It’s a very natural and organic growth. If you look at our last record, Crash Love, it’s a very straightforward rock record, and that’s just how we were feeling at the time. Burials is sort of a reaction to what we were experiencing at the time.
Both Jade Puget and Hunter Burgan said that you were in a dark place when writing for the record began.
I had experienced a vast amount of chaos at that time and it was still very, very present during the writing sessions. It was really coming through in what we were making, musically and aesthetically. It really informed what was going on, what variables there were in my life.
Was it personal issues, family issues, professional issues . . . ?
It was personal issues. There was a lot of that going on in my life. I’m not going to go into more detail than I do on the record for fear of discoloring what people might take from the record otherwise.
A lot of artists have said something along the lines of “If you understand the record, then you understand me.”
Certainly, that’s true. I don’t necessarily need for people to understand specifically what it means. If they want to take something from it and use it in a personal way, I think that’s great. I wouldn’t want to risk destroying that just so someone can get a better understanding of me personally.
You’re 37 now, correct?
Mm hmm. Yes.
Often as people get older, they’re less passionate about things, because they have so many concerns in their life, but they gain a wider worldview. Do you find, getting close to 40, that you’re not as deeply affected by things, but are wiser?
I don’t think that those two things have to be mutually exclusive. I do feel as though I have a wider and greater understanding of things now. But I also do feel as passionate about things, not only when I was in my twenties, but when I was in my teens. I was in a stage of arrested development. People get families and they move on, but I never moved on! In one sense, I’ve lived this life the majority of my life, and it’s all I’ve ever done.
Let’s talk about your hair. A lot of the darker, more romantic musicians, such as Robert Smith, Daniel Ash, Siouxsie Sioux and even Morrissey all have great hair. What’s the correlation between dark moods and fantastic hair?
I think, first of all, you have to be lucky enough to have the genes to do that. All those artists were given that at birth by way of their families. Beyond that, a lot of artists express themselves through music and how they present themselves. There’s a continuity there.
Have you ever had a hair disaster?
Yes! [Laughs] At one point we were overseas, and both Jade and I had plugged flattening irons into an outlet and caused them to explode. The natural tendencies of our hair did not allow us to leave the house without a proper flattening iron. We couldn’t leave our rooms to go do press like that, so our tour manager was running around France looking for a flattening iron so we could go do press without looking like Alice from The Brady Bunch.