Since breaking into the mainstream with their album Sing the Sorrow in 2003, AFI has made a huge impact on the spooky core music scene. The album won a vast array of awards, and its first single, “Girl’s Not Grey,” was named one of the top singles of 2003 by USA Today. All this set a very high bar for their latest album, Decemberundergound, which was released on June 6, 2006. We caught up with AFI bassist, Hunter Burgan, in early May to discuss Decemberunderground and all that it encompasses.
Davey and Adam originally formed AFI in ’91, but it wasn’t until you joined in ’98, and then Jade a year later, that the line-up as we know it was complete. How did you come to be a part of AFI, and how has the band and its music changed since then?
Hunter: I was playing with a band called The Force, and we were friends with AFI from Grass Valley. AFI at the time was based out of Berkeley, and we were two and a half hours away, so we played a lot of shows together locally. When Jeff quit AFI, he recommended that I replace him, and everybody else agreed that might be a good idea – just temporarily, until they could find a more suitable replacement. Later that year – this was actually ’97 – later that year, they actually asked me to be a permanent member, and I jumped at the chance.
Right on. How would you describe AFI’s sound to anyone who hasn’t heard the band before?
Hunter: I don’t know. It’s tough, because I don’t think we have a sound that’s so specific that it can just be described. I think that, if I had to describe AFI to someone who isn’t familiar with any popular music – somebody like my dentist, who’s just a little bit removed from music – I would probably say that it was a very dark, dynamic rock with influences from everything under the sun. I think… I don’t even know. Yeah, that’s a tough one.
Okay. So the bulk of your earlier material was put out by Nitro, until Dreamworks released Sing the Sorrow in 2003. What drew you to sign with Dreamworks in particular, and how has that benefited you guys in the long run?
Hunter: I think we were really attracted to the fact that… I mean, every label we’ve been a part of was like a small community. It was a very personal relationship with the label. One of the things we wanted to make sure of in signing with a major label was that we still had people that would listen to us. We’d heard a lot of horror stories about bands signing to major labels who just sort of got lost in the shuffle, and we didn’t want to let that happen to us. So we actually signed with Dreamworks under the… What’s the word I’m looking for? Anyone?
Hunter: No… Well, we signed with Luke Wood, who was one of the only people who we met with at the time who actually knew where we were coming from. And he comes from a musical background – that was really important to us. I think that Dreamworks was basically a big version of a small team, if that makes sense?
It definitely makes some sense actually. It’s just a lot more personal?
And Dreamworks is also putting out Decemberunderground, right?
Hunter: Well Dreamworks doesn’t really exist anymore.
Oh right. They were bought out, weren’t they?
Hunter: Yeah, well, they were sort of folded into Interscope. And so yeah, we’re still lucky enough to have Luke with us, and we get to work with a lot of the same people. Especially internationally, because it’s the same people. So that’s great, just building relationships with people who are working on your record. It’s nice. I don’t feel like we’re lost in the shuffle at all. We’re very fortunate.
You brought back Jerry Finn, who co-produced Sing the Sorrow, to produce your latest album. What did Jerry bring to the table when working on Sing the Sorrow that made you decide to work with him again, and what effect did that have on Decemberunderground?
Hunter: Jerry is a producer, and we’ve built a relationship with him, professionally as well as just as friends. He’s also a ridiculously, ridiculously great producer in his own right, and has produced so many amazing records, that it seemed to make sense. That was the obvious choice for our record, that we know exactly what we want, and we know that he’s the best man to do it. …That was a horrible answer.
[nervous laughing] Um, okay… [laughing] On afireinside.net, Davey describes Decemberunderground as “a time and place… where the cold can huddle together in darkness and isolation.” What meaning does it hold for you personally?
Hunter: That. [laughing] Sorry. No, I mean, he speaks for all of us, and that’s our collective meaning and interpretation of that title.
Alright. You recently filmed a video for the first single, “Miss Murder.” Who directed the video, and what was the concept?
Hunter: Mark Webb directed the video – he’s done two videos for us prior to this. The concept is that Dave plays an orator addressing a large, large crowd. It definitely has some fascist, dictatorship overtones. There’s a femme fatale who plays a large part in the video. There is a whole slew – I don’t know if that’s the correct term – but a slew of black bunnies. Maybe it’s a herd? Whatever the term for a group of bunnies is.
Yeah, I don’t really know.
Hunter: A satchel of bunnies? A gaggle?
I think gaggle’s geese.
Hunter: A pillowcase of bunnies? No, that’s not it.
A fuckload of bunnies, basically.
Hunter: A fuckload. That wouldn’t’ve come to mind. There could’ve been more but, you know. We filmed the whole thing downtown at City Hall in Los Angeles after hours, which is a really old building. It’s really pretty in all its grand architecture, and… I don’t know. There you go. …Sorry.
It’s alright. The next few months hold pretty much nothing but touring for you guys. There are a few scattered shows in May, and then in June, a couple of Canadian shows before you go off on a US tour. Who are some of the bands who will be joining you guys for those upcoming shows?
Hunter: Most of our summer tour is with Dillinger Escape Plan. We’re also doing some Warped Tour dates, so I don’t necessarily know who’s on that. Check warpedtour.com or whatever.
Something like that. Got it.
Hunter: Nightmare of You, also, will be playing with us on select dates.
Okay. So you wrap up the tour in early August, and then you have two dates in Japan for the Summersonic music festival. You’re playing with bands like Metallica and the Deftones and Tool… how did you get involved in Summersonic, and what are some of the other festivals you’ve played in in the past?
Hunter: We’ve actually played Summersonic before, and we love playing Japan. Japan’s probably my favourite place to visit, so we’re obviously not going to turn down an offer to play that festival. I don’t think that has anything to do with Metallica or Tool, but it’d be kind of rad to play with them.
They’re actually playing the festival too, so…
Hunter: Last time we played Summersonic, we actually were able to see a lot of the bands we were playing with, which is not typical of a lot of festivals. Sometimes you’re just too busy to check out the other bands, so hopefully we’ll be able to see them this time around.
If you were going to create an ideal concert for yourself to go see – not play – who would be in the line-up, and where would you hold the show?
Hunter: Okay, I’d probably hold it at the Arco Arena in Sacremento.
Hunter: I’d wanna see Tone Loc, Huey Lewis, James Brown, Debbie Gibson, Jimmy Hendrix Experience and… maybe Sugar Ray. That’d be awesome, seriously. And tickets would be $15.
Oh yeah? What would the money go to?
Hunter: It would go to me. Alright. [laughing]
Fabulous. [laughing] So what is your proudest moment with AFI to date?
Hunter: Proudest moment? Oh gosh, I don’t know. I think, every time we finish a record. That’s something to be really proud of. We have received several awards and accolades and what have you over the years, and those were all really great and an honour to receive… but I think mostly the thing I’m proud of is putting out a record that I’m really happy with. Actually, any time we just step out onto the stage, and there’s people there that are obviously excited to see us play. That’s just really cool to be able to see something that we’ve done, something that we’ve created. But other than that… I try not to take any of that for granted.
So there’s a lot of touring to promote the new album coming up, but aside from that, what else does AFI have planned for 2006?
Hunter: Just that. I mean, aside from the tour dates that you’ve mentioned, we have a bunch of stuff that’s tentative. I don’t know that I’ll be sleeping in my own bed at all during 2006. It’s just a lot of touring, and that’s really all we can do – as much as we can. We’d really like to play our new stuff for as many people as possible, so that’s really our main goal.