The AFI singer chats about his crush on Beyonce and his high school role in "Oliver Twist"
In person, AFI's Davey Havok is so charming, upbeat and funny that it surprises you that this is the guy who writes tortured lyrics like ''My whole life is a dark room.'' From his home in Oakland, California, Havok, 30, says AFI's seventh album, Decemberunderground, is about finding love -- and is aimed at ''those detached few who, in their relative abnormality, find solace in each other.'' It's the group's most eclectic disc yet, a far cry from AFI's doom-and-gloom punk-rock roots, and it mixes disparate influences, from Television to the Cure. The hot single ''Miss Murder'' even has a whiff of glam. ''I'm really happy with the whole record,'' says frontman Havok. But is he superstoked that December will be released on June 6th (6/6/06). ''I don't put too much weight in those Christian concepts,'' he says. ''Does Slayer have an album out on that day? I hope so -- it would be so right.''
You're vegan. What cities do you like to hit on tour, based on the vegan dining options?
Good question. I've got it covered. New York, absolutely. You've got Zen Palate, you've got Red Bamboo. There's a lot of vegan treats. There's a woman who makes vegan desserts in -- I want to say Pennsylvania or New Jersey, and she ships them into New York. But then, I believe she also sells them in Philly, which is great because in Philly you've got a place that sells vegan cheesecakes, all these vegan desserts. Like one year I happened to be in Philly on my birthday and everyone on tour with us surprised me with a -- check this out -- a vegan cookies-and-cream birthday cake. It was out of control. L.A. -- it's fantastic. San Francisco has my favorite vegetarian/vegan restaurant anywhere, which is Millennium. Chicago has vegan French toast, as does Portland. Seattle has vegan cinnamon buns. Salt Lake City used to have vegan soft-serve. And Vegas now has vegan donuts, which is yet another reason to go to Vegas. Then you've got Toronto and Montreal, which has Le Commensal, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant where you pay for your food by the weight. Like, you go through and they weigh your plate and charge you accordingly, which is very interesting.
Why don't you live in San Francisco?
I like San Francisco, as far as that restaurant place. But I really don't have any desire to live there at all. There's really not much going on there except inability to park. Like, if anything's going on I can just go across the Bay and enjoy it and then come back to where I live [in Berkeley]. It's funny, we grew up here in the East Bay, and we always said that San Francisco was a place where people went when they retired and got old -- retired from the scene basically. And, really, I've never gotten over that concept. Starting with that, I've never really wanted to live there. It seems like the social scene over there, is mostly going out to bars, which I don't think is much different than anywhere else in the world, but there's not really much going on other than that. And I have absolutely no interest in going out at night and sitting at a bar, especially since I have nothing to do, other than asphyxiate on smoke and watch people get wasted.
Did you get drunk once and then realize it wasn't for you?
Actually, no I've never been drunk in my life. I've never even had like a beer. It never really appealed to me. That culture was just very unappealing and I never wanted to be part of it. I just saw how people acted and treated each other. And I was just like ''that is not for me.'' And I also thought of it as something very civilian. It seemed like the mandatory recreation for civilians. I thought, ''If alcohol makes you do this, I want no part. I want nothing in common with these people.'' That's when I was fifteen.
Let's go back to being a kid. When did you start singing?
Technically, I started singing when I was maybe like five years old. My grandfather used to sing to me. And my mom was very musical. I remember going to see my mom in a local musical in New York where we lived, and I was probably like four or five years old.
What musical was it?
Oh man, I think it was a local children's production. All I remember is a song that she sang with a group that was called ''It's All Okay.'' That might have been the name of the play to tell you the truth. But I was surrounded musically. And I just used to sing songs that my grandfather had taught me. And then, at a young age, I was probably doing local musical theatre. I think I did Oliver Twist in fourth grade -- in fact, I don't think, I know I did Oliver Twist in fourth grade. I did theater throughout my childhood and throughout high school. And there was a pretty good time where I was doing AFI and musical theatre in high school.
What was your grandfather singing to you?
''Darktown Strutters' Ball,'' ''Mr. Moon,'' ''Ballin' Jack.'' We're talking very old songs. So I learned those and I would just sing those along with him. Then I would listen to my mom's 12-inch records. I'd jump up and down on the bed and listen to Diana Ross and Michael Jackson's Off the Wall. And then she had The Rocky Horror Picture Show on vinyl, which I was fascinated with at a very young age. Somewhere around there I got my first tape player, and then I went out and bought my first tapes, which were Duran Duran, Devo, Men at Work and Journey.
Why'd you get those?
We didn't even have MTV where we lived, but I knew Duran Duran and Culture Club and, I think, Devo came from seeing the videos somehow. Or I knew the songs from the radio. I don't know why I bought Journey, to tell you the truth. It was 1980-whatever and Journey was everywhere. So I was like, ''Well, I need a Journey record.'' I didn't even know what I was buying, but I got it.
You were talking about doing musical theatre. Were you like the star of the show at that point?
Not when I started. When I first auditioned for Oliver I was just one of Fagan's boys, but I think the director didn't know what was going on. [Laughs] Later, yeah. I mean, we're talking local theatre, so I don't think ''star'' is the appropriate word. Lead role possibly, but definitely not star. I was the lead role in my last musical that I did in high school, which is Pippin. I was Pippin.
Nice. Do you think your interest in musical theatre has to do with the make-up that you wear now?
I would imagine that it has something to do with it. I definitely had a propensity for that for years, since a young age. And I think musical theatre helped with that. I remember being in high school, and it helping as an excuse with the more threatening students when they'd say: ''Dude, are you wearing make-up? Oh, you're in a play, right?'' ''Yeah, it's just from the play, I'm not gay.'' [They laugh] ''Yeah, I'm in a play.'' ''Oh, okay.'' And it's funny, because the same girls who thought it was totally freakish that there were guys wearing make-up, when you're wearing it because it's left over from the play the night before, it turned into, ''Oh wow, you look really pretty!''
Do you remember the first time when you heard yourself on the radio?
I do. I absolutely remember it. Well, I remember it the first time I heard it on mainstream radio. I was in my car with my friend Tigerlily, who used to help me hang flyers for our shows, and she used to do a fan 'zine. My car had one speaker that worked, which was on the passenger side. The driver side speaker was broken. The tape player was broken; there certainly weren't any CDs in it.
What kind of car was it?
It was a 1982 Honda Accord. And this was 1995. And the little button that you press for FM and AM was broken. So, you had to shove a toothpick in it to make it go to FM. All I could listen to was the radio. And so we were listening to Live 105 and the song came on. It just fuzzed out of the blown-out speakers. Before I could make out what was going on, I turned to Lily and I said, ''This doesn't sound like it sucks?'' And she's like, ''Yeah.'' And then I'm like, ''What is this?'' And I turn it up, and I'm like, ''Oh my God.'' So, I was really excited and I also really embarrassed that I was saying that we didn't suck. It was really like, ''Oh my God, I can't believe this is our band!'' And she couldn't believe it either because radio stations definitely didn't play anything like that at the time. Ever since then they've been -- that radio station, Live 105 -- has actually supported us, which is really exciting for us.
Cool, what song was it?
It was ''Don't Make Me Ill'' off of Answer That and Stay Fashionable.
That's only the most really accessible song on that record, if you can say there was one at all.
What are your favorite, or the funniest uses of the AFI acronym?
Oh, I really like, Aw, Fuck It. On a couple occasions people will maintain that it stands for something like, A Fire Within, or A Forgotten Song, something like that where they totally ignore the letter of the acronym. Those are always really good. It's always good to hear the really sort of uninformed, base, derogatory definitions aimed at the band. It's always good to hear the new improved versions, like A Fag Inside. It's always good to see what they come up with. I kind of enjoy those just to see how those people's minds work; it's kind of interesting.
Is there a kind of music that annoys the shit out of you?
As far as genre?
I remember what was called ska-punk -- excluding bands like Stiff Little Fingers and Operation Ivy. You know what we're talking about. That drove me crazy.
That was a huge East Bay thing, too.
Yeah, there was a lot of it here. There was a lot of it everywhere. It drove all of us crazy at the time. It was very prevalent in like '95-'96, so much that it was appropriate to say to our booking agent when we went on tour, ''Look, just make sure that the local bands aren't ska-punk bands.'' It would be fine if they're ska, or if they're punk. But when you put those two together it drove us crazy. Luckily, that's over, which is nice. As far as broad hatred of the genres, I don't really hate entire genres. I mean, usually there's something good within a greater genre, even if the whole thing is mostly bereft of any sort of quality.
What are your guilty pleasures, in that regard?
I don't really see any of my pleasures as guilty pleasures, because anything I like, I feel like, ''Well, I like it. It's good. If you don't like it I don't care''.
So you'd still throw on Off the Wall?
Yeah. Well, I never owned the Michael Jackson record -- it was my Mom's -- but yeah, a song came on when I was getting my eyebrows done from Off the Wall yesterday, and I was like, ''Oh yeah, this is good.'' It was interesting because it was kind of a good example of what you're talking about. Three songs came on in a row and they were completely different, but I thought to myself, ''Wow, these are really great. This is like three songs in a row that I like'' -- completely different genres of music. There was a song off of Off the Wall, DJ Sammy's remix of Brian Adams [''Heaven''], which is great, I love that, and then they played a Smashing Pumpkins song off of Siamese Dream. So, that was really cool.
You know, people ask me, ''Is there anything you would listen to that would shock people?'' and for me it's hard to answer because so many people have so many different perceptions of who I am. Wherever I go, whatever show I go to or whatever event I go to -- and I go to a lot of shows -- people always say ''Wow, I'd never expect to see you here.'' I don't know where people expect to see me. I mean, when I'm at an industrial show, or a Morrissey show, or a hardcore show, or some sort of fashion event or whatever, they don't expect to see me there.
Yeah, and I always say like, ''Why? Where did you expect to see me?''
In a park, under a tree, in the rain, writing gloomy lyrics?
They never have an answer! [Laughs] Yeah, I guess it's just that they don't expect to see me at all, anywhere.
Are you super-excited that your record's coming out on 6/6/06?
No. I mean, I'm not disappointed. It's not really a big deal. I don't put too much weight in those Christian concepts. It's kind of fun in that it's memorable, and maybe it's going to bum some people out. But let me tell you: To answer your question, I would have been super-stoked in junior high or high school if you would have told me that I was going to have a record that came out on 6/6/06. It would have been amazing. But now it's like, you know, whatever. It was coincidence; it wasn't on purpose. It just landed on a Tuesday. So, there it is. Like, I would be super-stoked if Slayer was coming out on that day, because it should be. I hope so. I hope so. I hope Slayer planned that out in advance. You know, it's just so right.
Do you decorate your vocal booth in the studio?
I do. I do, yeah, for inspiration. I like to put posters of my favorite singers up around the vocal booth, so there's always Moz and Bowie and Freddy. Unfortunately, the last recording session was greatly lacking in all my Ians: Ian Curtis, Ian Astbury, Ian MacKaye. We couldn't find any of the Ian posters. So, you know, you might be able to see they aren't represented in the vocal quality. Umm, Peter Murphy, Robert Smith. And lots of candles. Most studios actually provide the candles.
Cool. What's your bunk like, on the bus?
Passenger side, closest to the front of the bus, lower bunk. Adam's always above me.
What happens after the show when you guys all get back on the bus? What do you guys do?
It's pretty uneventful. I mean, we get back on the bus, we all sit around a little bit, kind of hang out with all our crew. And, most recently, I think the South Park movie happened to be on. We discuss anecdotes of the day and then just go to bed. But, pretty rock and roll, huh?
That's outta control.
Completely out of hand.
How do you remember anything?
I know. It's nuts that I'm even still here.
Is there one record store that you've spent the most money at? Maybe at Amoeba?
You know, it's probably Rasputin's, because Rasputin's actually had a greater industrial, dark section than Amoeba did for years and years. Now that's not the case. Now, Amoeba's better.
I read somewhere that you got letters written in blood.
Yeah, I've gotten a few.
What do those say?
They say really nice things. They're usually professions of adoration and commitment and appreciation. They just happen to be written in blood.
What other kind of bizarre stuff do you get in the mail?
Most of the stuff, luckily, is not as frightening as that, or as unsanitary. I get socks, kind of cute socks sometimes. I get make-up. I get nail-polish. I get little Japanese plastic toys or plush toys. I'll get things like that, which is far preferable to any sort of bodily fluids.
Do you have an iPod?
Is there a ton of shit on there?
There is so much on my iPod. In fact, I actually need a new iPod.
You need a separate one.
I hear rumors that they're going to come out with the 100-gig. And I'm kind of holding out for that. I think it's going to come out really soon, so I'm holding out.
So you have a 60-gig now?
No, I don't even have the 60, that's the thing. I need the 60. I really do. In fact, I should be going to get it today so I could connect it and have it on tour tomorrow. So, who knows, maybe by the end of the day I will have a 60. But I just have a 40.
Do you have it in nearby?
Yeah, let me grab it. Or do you want it off my Nano, which'd be the gym iPod?
Definitely the gym one. Isn't it amazing that with the Nano, we can finally shove 100 songs up our ass?
[Laughs] I've wanted to do that for years. And CDs are just so bulky and sharp. Okay, I could tell you every artist that's on here; there's not that many. Ready?
Okay. Error, 108, A Perfect Circle, Atari Teenage Riot, Black Audio, Catherine Wheel, Circa Survive, Covenant, Day of Contempt, Dead Guy, Depeche Mode, Dillinger Escape Plan, Duran Duran, Echo Image, Erasure, INXS, Iris, Jawbreaker, Modern Life is War, Morrissey, Quicksand, Sisters of Mercy, Tool, and my vocal warm-ups, which are scale exercises I do before the soundcheck and before the show. It's about a 45-minute vocal warm-up. So, I have to do it like...I usually do it two hours before we play so I have an hour to get physically prepared, like visually speaking. And stretching, as well.
What are your favorite lyrics on Decemberunderground.
I love ''Love Like Winter,'' ''Endlessly, She Said,'' ''Kiss and Control,'' I really like the mood of that song. I'm really happy with the lyrics. I'm actually really happy with the whole record, in every aspect. It's really exciting. But those are the three songs that spring to mind.
What about a specific lyric?
I was thinking about this the other night. Just a really quick lyric off of ''The Killing Lights'' came to mind, where it just says -- it's very simple -- it just says, ''Am I beautiful; am I usable.'' I really like that line.
You said in a press release, ''Decemberunderground is a community of those detached and disillusioned who flee to love like winter in the recesses below the rest of the world.'' Can you expand on that?
It's basically describing a sort of exclusive, unique type of feeling that certain people have, and those people gravitate toward each other, and find solace in each other in different venues. I mean, whether they find that within music, within our music, within different forms of art, within different cultures, it's those detached few who go to each other in their relative abnormalities to find that winter love, in that respect. And, more specifically, to quote Gahan, or art specifically I suppose, it's that strange love, it's that dark love, it's that cold love, it's the outlook that it's completely different than what most people perceive as something maybe even positive. That's kind of involved in the whole mood of Decemberunderground.
But, it reflects a lot on the band as well, I think. As opposed to just this album.
Yeah, most definitely. To speak of it in those terms directly kind of puts an air of importance on the band that may or may not be there, depending on the listener. But, it definitely speaks that way to us, internally.
Is there a moment, a place, a time that you realized that this is the album that you want to write, that this was the overriding concept of the album, the theme of the album?
It was really more natural than that. It wasn't a moment in time. It was just a flow and a growth in the album. And, as it became realized and created, it just all came together in that way, and the title just fit perfectly with the whole mood and sentiment. So, it just naturally came together and it worked.
I love ''The Missing Frame''.
Ahh, the ''The Missing Frame,'' yes. Sorry, what was the question again?
I was just telling you that I dug it.
Oh, you like it. Oh, thank you very much. I love playing that song. It's been one of Adam's favorites for a long time, too. It's really, the mood that it creates, I think, has a sort of...now, let me say a few things, because I've always felt this when we were working on it -- it seems to have kind of like a protopunk vibe to it, kind of a mid-period Joy Division or a...not vocally, obviously. But maybe like a Television kind of feel. Kind of Magazine, maybe.
Wow, that was great. Do you remember a show with the least amount of people in it?
Yes, I do. We played a show in Olympia, Washington on tour to three people. There were two people who came to see us; this couple, this guy and this girl, who used to come see us every time we would play in the northwest to very few people who typically come see us. And, this time there were [three].
Do you remember the names of those two people? We should give them a shout out.
I wish I remember the names. I don't, I don't. I really wish I'd remember the names. If they read this, they'll definitely know who they are; they'll definitely know because they were the only ones there.
The last record you bought?
I haven't listened to it yet, but just last night I bought Gnarls Barkley. Is it good?
Yeah, it's fucking great.
Awesome. It sounds like it's...I mean, I've only heard the one song. It's amazing. It reminds me of something Moby would sample.
Writers who influence you?
I love Wilde -- I know Morrissey's been citing him for years. Fante, John Fante. Chuck Palahniuk. [Bret Easton] Ellis. Poe. Baudelaire.
Most attractive band?
That's a good looking band. They're all tall, skinny and good looking! And very nice. It was cool to meet them recently.
Girl musician you're attracted to?
I was getting my nails done and I looked to the left and this girl had these gorgeous, red glitter heels. I look up to see one of the most beautiful people I've ever seen. The type of beauty that just closes up in your chest, like I was looking at something surreal. So I said, ''Your shoes are amazing!'' I had a brief conversation about glittery shoes -- she was really nice. This is how lost I am: When she walked out, Paul, the guy doing my nails says, Oh my God, I can't believe that was Beyonce -- I have to call my boyfriend!
Fifteenth anniversary of AFI -- when's the date on that?
It's June of 2006. Yeah, fifteen years. That's amazing!
What was that first day like? What happened fifteen years ago?
Okay, here's what the first day was -- lunch time, Ukiah High School. Mark, Vic and myself are sitting in our little area. You know, it was, of course, like any high school lunch -- separated by little cliques. And we were in our very small group. It was just the three of us, that's how small our group was. And, we were just sitting around talking about music, like we always did every lunch. We used to talk about music or skateboards or some such thing. And, we said, ''Hey, let's start a band!'' And, Mark immediately gets dibs on guitar. And Vic said, ''I'll play bass.''
I said, ''I've gotta sing.'' I believe someone said, ''No shit, choir boy?'' And, then I'm like well what are we going to do? We need a drummer. And Mark's like, ''Do you know Adam Carson?'' I'm like, ''I think so.'' And he said, ''He has a drum set. He's a friend. Let's go by him and ask him.'' So we went over to where Adam was hanging out and we're like, ''Hey.'' He's like, ''Hey.''
''We just started a band. Do you want to be in our band?'' He said, ''yeah.'' And that was it. And we didn't have instruments. We didn't know how to play. Adam had a drum set and that was it.