The Art of Punk | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Art of Punk 

Frat guys, tattoos and grits -- just a few days in the life of AFI, proud mainstream pop-punkers.

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AFI is getting kind of used to the South. It’s been a little over a month since the Berkeley-based outfit loaded the gear and set out across the country. Some of ’em have been eating grits at the waffle houses, singer Davey Havok laughs. The overall consensus is that Southern hospitality is looking just fine.

But nothing prepared Havok for what happened in Houston.

“The weirdest thing happened last night,” he says. “This club owner was a woman in her late 40s, early 50s. She was completely intoxicated and she threatened to slap me in the face. It was only later I found out that it wasn’t in the angry way, but in the kinky way.

“I was horrified,” laughs Havok. “At that point I was wishing she meant it in the angry way.”

While the owner was playing Mrs. Robinson and getting drunk, AFI put on a show for about 900 kids who adore the band. The band members get presents like black nail polish, black jelly bracelets, one kid even made a ceramic statue of Havok and yet another girl from San Diego said she was going to profess her admiration with a tattooed portrait of Havok on her body (the band’s looking forward to playing San Diego again, just to see if she did it). There’s adamant fan participation in the band’s tours. Fans are encouraged to make up an AFI poster, put up about 150 of them, and bring one to the show to get prizes and stuff. As far as the world of punk bands go, AFI is pretty damn popular, and maybe on the verge of something big.

Life wasn’t always so grand. AFI started almost 10 years ago while the guys were barely into high school. At that time, punk had yet to start integrating into the mainstream—bands like Green Day and Nirvana were merely a blip on the horizon. Havok admits it was a rough couple of years. “Everyone thought we were freaks early on.”

Like any true punk band, though, the guys played on. After AFI released its first album on indie-label Wingnut Records, they sent a demo to Nitro Records (The Offspring’s Dexter Holland’s label). They didn’t hear back for quite a while, until AFI released its next album, Answer That and Stay Fashionable. A guy at Nitro got a hold of it, and asked AFI if he could play it for Dexter.

“Dexter called me and said he was interested and asked to meet,” says Havok. “We came down to L.A. and he seemed like a really cool guy. I mean, he was in The Offspring, but he knew exactly what it’s like to be in a struggling band. Everyone at that label does.”

Soon AFI was signed to Nitro. And suddenly four kids who had picked up instruments to escape from boredom when they weren’t skateboarding had a good record deal. They found themselves criss-crossing the country and Canada on tours, even going to Europe and Japan. And perhaps the most flattering moment was when The Offspring did a cover of AFI’s “Totalimmortal” for the Me, Myself & Irene soundtrack.

But there is the nagging notion prevalent in the punk scene that bands crossing over to mainstream—like The Offspring and Green Day—aren’t true punk any more. That somehow the pop part of pop-punk has stripped these bands of legitimacy and that they’re not staying true to the punk ethic. Havok sees these accusations as complete BS.

“I really don’t fear being accused at all,” he says. “First off, I don’t really care about that frame of mind. Good music is good music, and we’re in a time where we desperately need it. It doesn’t matter if it’s hardcore, underground, whatever. It’s not watering down the punk scene to have this stuff crossover. If anything, I’ve seen it made stronger. There are a ton more kids at shows now than in ’93. If kids are turned onto it through MTV or the radio rather than someone’s older brother, then so what?”

Havok has no fears of being labeled pop-punk. In fact, “Morningstar,” a song on AFI’s latest offering, The Art of Drowning, is a departure from the rest of the album’s driving, intense zones. “Morningstar” is slow, melodic. Havok sings—quite nicely, too—and doesn’t scream. It’s a track that seems like it would belong on a Belle & Sebastian disc rather than be on a punk band’s CD. But, oddly enough, it fits perfectly and AFI pulls it off.

“I really like slow, more moody stuff,” says Havok. “I’d love to do more stuff like that. Some friends think we should do an entire album of ‘Morningstar’-like material. I really like that type of material. I’m not too worried if it fits into any genre of music.”

It’s working. AFI will head to Vegas to play with Rancid, then it heads to Europe to tour with the Offspring for a month. And it doesn’t stop there. Havok lists off more time traveling as AFI is to perform at the Australian Warped Tour, possibly in Canada, then it’s on all the U.S. Warped Tour dates for next summer—an honor since they only played a few dates on last summer’s tour.

AFI’s appeal is definitely reaching across the board. For a band that once lived in one room for a stretch of time, this can only be a good thing.

“We live in an old Frat house that’s a boarding house now in Berkeley,” says Havok. “We’re surrounded by frat guys and sorority girls. Once in a while, we can hear us being played out of their houses. And I still think it’s bizarre to have frat boys listening to our stuff.”

AFI opens for Rancid and the Distillers @ Bricks, 579 W. 200 South (328-0255), Saturday Dec. 2, 5:30 p.m. Tickets available through Graywhale CD, Heavy Metal Shop and Zumiez (Orem). u

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Molly Brown

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