If someone only marginally aware of AFI had seen footage of the band’s powerhouse show at the legendary Troubadour club in Los Angeles last month, where the group opened with its Platinum single, “The Leaving Song Pt. II,” they might have thought it was just another above-average gig to a club audience packed with the ecstatic, faithful fans.
It was, in fact, much more than that. It marked the first time AFI (which stands for “A Fire Inside”) had played live since finishing its touring cycle for Crash Love back in 2010. It was also the first live salvo in the launch of the new AFI album, Burials.
“We hadn’t been on stage in three years and that was our very first show,” AFI guitarist Jade Puget says. “Playing that show and coming back to that kind of reaction, it was pretty great. People change a lot in three years; fans change, musical tastes change, so you don’t really know what to expect, even coming out after a year. But seeing how crazy people went, it was pretty gratifying.”
The craziness that Puget and AFI experienced at The Troubadour may have had several causes besides the three-year gap, including the odd rumor that the band had broken up. The various projects that AFI’s longtime lineup — Puget, frontman Davey Havok, bassist Hunter Burgan, drummer Adam Carson — busied themselves with during the break likely fueled that speculation but, all things considered, the gap wasn’t that long.
“We all did our separate things for about a year and then Davey hit me up one day out of the blue and was like, ‘Do you want to start working on some new music?,’ ” Puget says. “From there, we spent a year writing and then you go in the studio and with all the things that go into it, it ended up being three years.”
According to Puget, Havok was in the midst of a “dark, chaotic time,” and so the material they crafted was similarly themed and toned, as one might imagine from an album ultimately bearing a title like Burials.
Puget began to inject more melancholy and anger into his musical contributions to mirror Havoc’s emotional state.
“Davey needed some kind of outlet or distraction,” Puget says. “We’d never written from that perspective. It’s always he and I together in a room, working on all the material. It was a different experience for us because usually it’s not coming from a dark place, even if the music turns out dark, but it made us write some of the most creative stuff I’ve been involved with in a long time. Part of that was his pain, making me write something that he was feeling.”
After almost exactly a year, Havok and Puget emerged with the songs that would comprise Burials. The duo came up with a good deal more material than what will be included on the album (which is set for an Oct. 22 release), but those tracks will likely find release through the various channels that are available for studio leftovers.
“We just sort of write music, and if it’s fun and if it’s flowing creatively, we just keep going with it, even if we have enough songs for a record,” Puget says. “We’ve been working together so long, at some point, both of us look at each other and we’re like, ‘I think we’re done, it’s time to record these songs.’ ”
After a relatively long gestation, Puget wrote out all the instrumental parts and recorded all of Havok’s vocals, so there was a clear blueprint to follow in the studio. The planning that went into the songs that resulted from AFI’s longest writing session led to one of the band’s shortest studio stints.
“We only spent a month and a half in the studio, which we haven’t done since we made (our early) Punk records,” Puget says. “That was nice. These days, it doesn’t make any sense to go into the studio for three, four, six months. It’s not that era anymore. Being able to do that was very gratifying, because when you have this sense of urgency, it shows in the music in a positive way.”
With Burials, AFI also retained one of its signature qualities, namely the innate ability to craft a sonic identity that is distinct from the rest of the catalog and yet still uniquely identifiable as AFI.
“Like any AFI record, it doesn’t sound like any other record, which is our curse and also something that I really like about us,” Puget says. “Where we’re coming from emotionally and lyrically, it’s definitely more raw, and even moments where the music might be uplifting or happier or even have a poppy hook, it’s still so dark, thematically. I think it’s the darkest record we’ve written.”
That’s really saying something. AFI has often explored the dark fringes and found an immense amount of success since Puget joined the band in 1998, seven years after Havok formed AFI. Havok and Puget had been friends for a long time; AFI and Puget’s band at the time, Loose Change, put out a split 7-inch in 1993.
After the departures of original guitarist Mark Stopholese and longtime bassist Geoff Kresge, Puget and Burgan joined the ranks and the lineup has remained stable ever since. Many critics have noted that Havok’s songwriting and vocal presence, and AFI’s dark vision in general (and, perhaps not coincidentally, the band’s commercial success), all came into focus with Puget’s arrival, as the band continued moving away from its early Hardcore sound.
“Before I joined the band in 1998, both of us separately making music, we hadn’t really done that style and there was nothing to really indicate that we would,” Puget say. “I guess we were naturally gravitating toward that darker side of music. But when we got together for the first time, there was something about it that just dovetailed so perfectly into what we were both looking for and looking to do. We were both exactly on the same page and started making this music that neither one of us had made before. There was some kind of synergy there when we came together.”
AFI performs with Touche Amore Tuesday at Bogart’s. Tickets and more info: bogarts.com.