Sure, they have a morbid side, but the clean-living, chart-climbing hard-rockers of AFI want you to know they're not all doom and gloom

By Tom Sinclair
Updated May 09, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
AFI Photograph by Emily Shur

Is this a setup or what?

No sooner has AFI singer-lyricist Davey Havok stepped into Eide’s Entertainment, a rather cool music-comics-video store in Pittsburgh, than one notices that the music blasting over the sound system is — whaddya know? — AFI’s new album, ”Sing the Sorrow.” Havok, he of the heavily mascaraed eyes and long raven hair, swears it’s pure serendipity, and since the trip to Eide’s was pretty much impromptu, you tend to believe him.

Though he’s playing it cool, the telltale glint in his eye lets you know Havok, 27, is relishing the moment. Maybe, as he flips through the CD bins, he fantasizes that Pittsburgh is a bastion of AFI-mania, that all over town at this very moment people are plunging into Sorrow’s depths. Hey, people are plunging into Sorrow’s depths. Hey, it’s not that far-fetched — at least judging from AFI’s blistering, triumphant performance at local rock mecca the Metropol the previous night. Imagine a crowd of several hundred kids, about 70 percent of whom seem to know the words to every single song, pumping their fists and singing with passion, grimacing and grinning and swooning and nodding as if each and every note were speaking to, nay, caressing their very souls. ”Ours are the most dedicated, loyal, enthusiastic fans imaginable,” says Havok proudly.

”We get metal kids, rock kids, indie kids, hardcore kids, Sour Patch Kids,” he continues. ”But if there was such a creature, an average AFI fan [would be] very emotional and more pensive than the average other fan.”

There’s a common misperception that AFI are a new band who got lucky. In reality, the Berkeley (via rural Ukiah, Calif.) quartet — which also includes guitarist Jade Puget, 28, bassist Hunter, 26, and drummer Adam Carson, 28 — has been around for more than a decade and has six full-length albums to its credit. ”We’re a 10-year overnight sensation,” cracks Carson. ”We started in 1991, but there were a couple of years where it was like, ‘Yeah, we’re a band. We just don’t know how to play our instruments’ — so we were a fake band for a while.”

AFI (an acronym for A Fire Inside) became a real band with the release of 1995’s ”Answer That and Stay Fashionable.” Featuring deathless classics like ”I Wanna Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One),” the album reflected the punk scene the band came up in. ”Basically, we grew up on L.A. hardcore like Black Flag,” says Havok, ”but we also liked darker British stuff like the Cure and Joy Division.”

Those gloomy influences would resurface in 1998, when Puget, who writes the music, joined the band. The first AFI record he played on was 1999’s ”Black Sails in the Sunset.” ”I think that was the album that kind of started us in the direction we’re in now,” says Puget.