It’s very hard to believe but A Fire Inside, better known by the acronym AFI has been a band now for nearly twenty years. In their near two decade history, no one could ever accuse the group of taking things easy as they have written and released now eight studio records, eleven EPs and toured their asses off. You might think that AFI’s best years are behind them but judging by the reaction received by 2006’s Decemberunderground and their latest Crash Love, it’s a safe assumption that the band has never been so creative and also popular. Released at the end of September, Crash Love is a deep look into the mind of singer Davey Havok with its many themes that abound throughout the twelve songs. AFI are currently on a North American tour that will go right until Christmas before going to Australia for some festival dates in February. Recently, we had the good fortune of speaking with AFI drummer Adam Carson for an in depth look at the concepts, themes and origins of Crash Love.
Your brand new, eighth studio album is called Crash Love and just came out recently. How are you feeling about it now that it’s ready to drop?
Adam: I feel this enormous wave of relief. When you work on records for a long time, there is a point where they’re finished and then there’s a point where the band thinks it’s finished. And sometimes that happens simultaneously and then sometimes that takes months to realize it and in that time the band has done something to ruin it. This record I feel like we recognized the moment it was done and we stopped and so it sort of retains a little bit of that immediacy and a little bit of sort of urgency. I mean, it’s a polished record but it’s sort of raw sounding to me and it’s really a rock record and I think that uh, you know if we were to spend more time on it, we could have easily polished off some of those rough edges. So um, I’m just really happy with the record all around, it’s the best playing we’ve done together as a band and I think it’s just really indicative of what the band wants to sound like right now.
What was the writing and recording process like for Crash Love? Did you take any time off after touring behind Decemberunderground?
Adam: Yeah we had a little bit of time off, you know people kind of went their own ways and did various projects for just a short period of time, but you know within a couple of months we were sort of back at it. The recording process was pretty similar to the way it always is, it starts with Jade and Davey getting together in a room and kind of coming up with structures and melodies and chords and everything and when they have ideas that seem like they’re good enough to work on, the four of us will get together. It was a good process, it was really organic, it wasn’t forced at all, you know the one thing I think we have learned after so many records is that we’ve learned to recognize when things are being forced and kind of shut down for a while until we can, you know, we can make sure we’re making music for the right reasons and making sure that we’re feeling fresh. All in all it was a pretty easy process.
How have the fans been receiving the new material in a live setting?
Adam: So far, so good. We’ve only played eight or nine shows since the record came out, but you know with every show we’re noticing people sort of standing up a little straighter when we’re playing the new songs. You know it’s sort of hard these days because we have eight studio records and then we have fans who… some people identify with certain eras of the band and they want to hear songs from maybe the early years or there’s the people who really like the middle period, you know Black Sails, The Art of Drowning era. So we kind of are trying to create a list that makes everyone happy but one thing that we have noticed is that when we play the new stuff, everyone seems to be really feeling it.
You mentioned there that this is your eighth studio record. It’s hard to believe but Crash Love is AFI’s eighth studio album. What would you say is the main difference between AFI’s sound today and your earlier material?
Adam: Probably about a hundred and twenty BPM. [laughs] I don’t know, I think, all joking aside, we have kept things interesting for ourselves, I really appreciate the music we’ve made so many years ago, every record we’ve made has been sort of a snapshot of where we are as musicians and what we’re feeling, you know what we’re into. I don’t disown anything we’ve ever done, I can’t say that if this was our eighth record doing sort of a rehash of our first record, it probably wouldn’t be too interesting for us and I don’t think that people would really care. I think that by allowing the band to evolve and by exploring wherever we are musically, we commit to tape what the band is and you know, we manage to sort of get away from it before it gets stale or before it sounds like it’s sort of rewritten. What I’ve always felt is that there’s a spirit as a band that’s retained in every record where even though the music might be slightly different, the essence is sort of undeniably AFI. I think maybe that’s why we can evolve as a band and keep the same fans.
Now Crash Love, while maybe not a concept record has a sort of a theme that connects the songs together. Could you tell us a bit about the overall theme of the album?
Adam: Sure. I mean it’s sort of difficult to talk about because the lyrics are you know entirely Davey’s department. But I can say that this album is really interesting to me because the songs do have these themes… like you said, you know I wouldn’t necessarily call it a concept album, but there are central ideas that run through every song. Davey’s always written lyrics that are sort of looking in, you know sort of introspective and this is the first record he’s written where I feel like all the songs… well they’re both looking in and looking out though, it’s almost a commentary on the world, on media and the concept of self, the concept of celebrity. It speaks highly of sort of the degradation of society and the degradation of art and art culture and a commentary on why people are making art and those ideas are explored from many different angles.
I was trying to answer that question in a way that still allows people to read into the songs the way they choose to because one thing that I have discovered is that any time I think I really know what Davey is talking about, he flips the script on me and shows me that there are many ways of looking at everything which is always interesting to me.
To produce the new record you worked with a very well respected team of Jacknife Lee and Joe McGrath. How did Jacknife and Joe first become involved in the project and what was it like working with them?
Adam: Well um, we worked with both producers, they were separate sessions. Joe McGrath has made two records with us now; he was Jerry Finn’s engineer, uh, the late Jerry Finn and um so when we were preparing to make a record, the first person we thought of was Joe because he’s been there for the last two go-arounds. And that just felt natural and it felt really normal, Joe’s an incredible engineer and a great producer. He’s really a rock guy, but he’s not a sort of over-produced, modern rock guy, he’s you know very much a ‘70s sort of punk rock disciple and his philosophies are you know, get the sound right when you’re setting it up, commit it to tape, don’t leave any decisions for later on, just have some balls and make a record. And that’s really refreshing and if you listen to the records that he made with Jerry Finn, those records all sound great so it was sort of a no-brainer.
Down the line as the record was really taking shape, we had the idea of doing a couple of tracks with Jacknife Lee just to see what we might come up with. It’s kind of a fun exercise that unfortunately bands don’t have enough money or time or patience to do, but you really can record the same song a bunch of different times with different people and get drastically different results. You know, we’re the type of band that’s always prepared when we go into the studio and I think that comes from not having enough time and enough money in the studio so we make sure that we have made every decision and completed the songs before we even get into the studio. This time we felt like we had a little bit of a chance to stretch out so we kind of fully gave ourselves over to Jacknife Lee, you know we thought to ourselves ok we’ve recorded these songs twice now, if we keep doing the same thing what comes natural to us, we’re just going to come up with a third version so we really kind of let Jacknife Lee do his thing. He’s an incredible producer, he’s a real quirky guy and uh, what he came up with and what we started to build was really interesting because the songs had a sort of soundscape to them and there’s a lot more serial tones and just levels of real… it’s hard to describe the sound but real crystally sounding highs and stuff, a lot of strange guitar stuff. He messed with the room compression and he did all kinds of things that really had nothing to do with us actually performing but just the way the room would sound, the room would capture the sound and he built it all together. I guess to give you a long answer; it was a great experience working with both guys.
I read that you were originally going to work with David Bottrill on Crash Love. Is this true?
Adam: Yeah, we actually tracked all the drums and most of the rhythm guitar and some bass with him and then we parted ways. It was real simple, it wasn’t personalities or anything, it was just we weren’t happy with the sounds we were getting and you know that happens sometimes, you can never really point a finger, it could be the studio, it could be the engineer, it could be the producer, it could be the vibe, it could be the instruments, you know a million different things. We just started and it wasn’t feeling right and we gave it a handful of weeks and still we weren’t sorting it out so we figured it was just best to pull the plug and start over.
You have some tour dates lined up through October in the US. What does AFI have planned for after the tour and early 2010?
Adam: Well you know our goal is pretty much the same as it always is; touring is the reward for making records so we’re interested in touring as much as we can and playing as many shows as we can and really getting behind this record and supporting it for as long as we think people want to hear it. And then after that, it’ll be a moment of reflection where we decide where we are as a band and what we feel like doing and if we’re lucky and if we’re allowed to and people want to hear it then we’ll make another record. Then once again it’ll be like “ok what kind of band are we?” If we feel like we have something to say then we’ll make another record.