Group formed in 1991 in Ukiah, CA; members include Hunter Burgan (born May 14, 1976), bass; Adam Carson (born February 5, 1975), drums;
Addresses: Record company —Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Website —http://www.afireinside.net.
Formed in Ukiah, California, 1991; released a single with the band Loose Change, 1992; released Answer That and Stay Fashionable , 1995; released Very Proud of Ya , 1996; Burgan joined the band, c. 1997; released Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes , 1997; released Fire Inside , 1998; Puget, a former member of the bands Loose Change and Redemption 87, joined the band, c. 1999; released Black Sails in the Sunset and All Hallows , 1999; released The Art of Drowning , 2000; released Sing the Sorrow , 2003; released AFI , 2004; released Decemberunder-ground , 2006.
Awards: Viewer's Choice Award, MTV2, 2003.
AFI, short for A Fire Inside, became a hugely popular band when its major-label debut, Sing the Sorrow , was released in 2003. Its mix of aggressive hardcore punk and darkly textured goth and its songs' despairing verses and inspiring choruses appealed to a mostly youthful audience of fans craving emotional intensity and honesty. The band had been laying the foundation for their seemingly sudden success for 12 years, since they met as teenagers in a small California town. Starting as a generic hardcore punk band led by lead singer Davey Havok, they began integrating dark post-punk influences into their sound after guitarist Jade Puget joined the band. As a major-label act, they turned off some critics with their morbid and melodramatic lyrics, but impressed others with their unusually broad mix of influences.
AFI was founded in 1991 by Davey Havok and Adam Carson, who were high school students in Ukiah, California, a town about 100 miles north of San Francisco. In 1992, they put out a seven-inch single (only 207 copies were pressed) with one of their songs on one side and a song by another band from their school, Loose Change, which included guitarist Jade Puget, on the other. AFI briefly broke up when its members went off to college, but they reunited to play one more show on a holiday break, and the audience was so enthusiastic, the band members decided to drop out of college and pursue music careers. The band relocated from Ukiah to Berkeley, California.
AFI's first two albums, Answer That and Stay Fashionable and Very Proud of Ya , released in 1995 and 1996 respectively, featured a sound that AFI's web-site described as "youthfully exuberant, sometime sophomoric East Bay hardcore/punk." Some of the songs were jokey and silly, such as the first album's "Cereal Wars" and "I Wanna Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won't Let Me Get One)"—an approach that Havok would later grow uncomfortable with and abandon. The band signed to the Nitro label, owned by Dexter Holland of the punk band The Offspring, and the label released the second album and rereleased the first one.
It took AFI several years to build a large following. "The first few years were not very glamorous," Havok told Steve Morse of the Boston Globe . While touring, the band would sometimes sleep in parks, since they barely had enough money to buy gas to get to the next show. Though the fans they did attract were fiercely loyal, AFI did not get much attention from critics, probably because they were playing hardcore punk, a genre that had not progressed much in years. Andy Hinds of All Music Guide likely reflected the average critic's taste when he dismissed Very Proud of Ya as full of one-note songs featuring "warp-speed hardcore riffing" that did not add much to the genre. Not everyone in the San Francisco punk scene liked AFI either, in part, Havok admitted, because his voice sounded piercing and whiny and because of his goth look, which included heavy makeup.
After adding bass player Hunter Burgan (whose stage name is simply Hunter), AFI took its first steps toward a more diverse sound with the 1997 album Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes and the 1998 EP A Fire Inside . Starting with the 1999 album Black Sails in the Sunset , Puget joined the band as guitarist and began to collaborate with Havok on songwriting. Puget began accenting Havok's interest in goth sounds and stressing the hooks among the band's rhythms and riffs. The new album and an EP, All Hallows , showed flashes of a more mature sound. The group's 2000 album The Art of Drowning , which included a guest appearance by Holland, helped advance AFI from having merely a loyal cult following to wider popularity. MacKenzie Wilson of All Music Guide lukewarmly described the album as "another mishmash [of] single-fisted anthems." But a single from the album, "Days of the Phoenix," attracted some airplay on modern-rock radio stations.
Sensing that they had an opportunity to achieve mainstream success, AFI signed with a major label, DreamWorks. They recorded their next album with acclaimed producers Butch Vig, of the band Gar- bage, and Jerry Finn, who had also produced songs for blink-182 and Green Day. The result was the 2003 album Sing the Sorrow , a major change from their hardcore years. Its songs still had strong, an-themic choruses, but also new, more complex sounds that benefited from the major-label production, such as layers of keyboards, chamber strings, and echoing vocals. The result was a mix of angry punk and sad goth (despite the band's insistence its music cannot be categorized either way). Rolling Stone reviewer Robert Cherry gave the album four stars out of five, warning that Havok's lyrics were sometimes overwritten in their nightmarish melodrama, but declaring that the band members "make abandoning all hope sound so inviting." Morse, in the Boston Globe , wrote that Sing the Sorrow "may be the most ambitious rock disc of the new year, threading together punk, Pink Floyd-like opera, industrial samples, acoustic interludes, and lyrics that make it clear that Havok reads everyone from [American poet Charles] Bukowski to [19th-century French poet Charles] Baudelaire."
As Sing the Sorrow was released, and the band began to sell out venues such as New York City's Irving Plaza, AFI seemed to take their spiking popularity in stride. "The larger world has ignored us for the entire lifetime of our band, and if it continues to, that's OK," Carson told Rolling Stone writer Kate Stroup. "If new folks want to peek inside, we welcome them." That sort of proud indifference to fame made sense for a band that was already blessed with a rabid following. Their fan club, Despair Faction, was legendary for its unusual devotion; many of its members traded photos of their AFI tattoos. "They're not really a fan club per se," Puget said in the biography on the band's website. "The Despair Faction was conceived to be more interactive than that, to have more of a direct connection with us." The band often invited Despair Faction members to attend its soundchecks, and Faction members would reciprocate with gifts such as vegan food (Havok and Hunter are vegan; the other band members are vegetarian).
AFI's world soon expanded exponentially. The new album quickly hit the Top 10, the single "Girl's Not Grey" grabbed substantial modern rock airplay, and concerts attracted sold-out audiences and rave reviews. Erik Pederson of the Hollywood Reporter described the band's Los Angeles show in April of 2003 as "a star-making showcase of intense performance, incendiary music, and lyrics as dark as Havok's jet-black hair." The band's years of touring in obscurity had paid off, Pedersen declared, in Havok's confident stage presence and the swirl of influences. Pedersen detected shades of the Who and Rolling Stones in the band's outfits and stage poses, and heard, in elements of their sound, the fire and speed of punk, metal solos and Goth moodiness that recalled the 1980s, and alt-rock flourishes recalling 1990s bands such as Smashing Pumpkins. When Morse of the Boston Globe asked Havok about his influences, he cited late-1970s and early-1980s post-punk bands such as Joy Division and Bauhaus, metal bands Guns 'n' Roses and Metallica and industrial bands such as Skinny Puppy and Ministry. "We've just tried to keep growing beyond the simplicity of hardcore and punk," he told Morse.
Sing the Sorrow sold more than one million copies and was named one of the best albums of 2003 by the New York Times, Guitar World, Spin, Alternative Press , and Revolver . The band won a viewer's choice award from MTV2 the same year. In November of 2004, AFI's former label, Nitro, took advantage of the band's new popularity by issuing a collection of hits and rarities from their previous albums, simply titled AFI , in November of 2004. The band did not approve the release; they posted a message on their website that said that they felt their career was just getting started and that it was too early for a retrospective.
AFI spent two years recording their next album, produced by Jerry Mann. "There's a lot more attention to detail on this record," Puget said on the band's website. "We took our time not just on every song but on each guitar part, each vocal, each bass line." Decemberunderground , released on June 6, 2006, debuted at number one on the Billboard pop chart. The new album maintained the winning combination of punk speed, gloomy verses, and uplifting choruses. Its first single, "Miss Murder," featured members of the Despair Faction singing in the background. Music writers detected a wider range of influences, from hints of 1970s glam rock to the wiry proto-punk band Television. Havok confirmed the glam-rock influence by telling a writer he had decorated his vocal booth with pictures of David Bowie and Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury as well as goth and post-punk heroes Peter Murphy of Bauhaus and Robert Smith of The Cure. Meanwhile, Burgan told Bass Player 's Brian Fox that he was most influenced by the wild, melodic style of Motown Records bassist James Jamerson.
Not every critic liked the new album. Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune made fun of AFI for having a "vampire fetish" and complained that the band's self-pitying lyrics made it "pretty difficult to take AFI as seriously as the band takes itself." Dave McKenna of the Washington Post , reviewing a concert in November of 2006, mocked Havok's lyrics as overwrought (offering up the line "As a rapturous voice escapes, I will tremble a prayer" as an example) and described his vocals as ranging from a "fey tenor" similar to Robert Smith's to a "hellish roar" reminiscent of death metal. But Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly gave Decemberunderground a grade of B+, calling it melodic and catchy, though he warned it might be difficult for older listeners to relate to its mood of misery.
Mixed reviews did little to dampen the enthusiasm of AFI's fans as the band toured the United States in the summer of 2006 and performed overseas that October. Unlike many obscure bands' fans, who turn against their former heroes when they sign to major labels and change their sound, AFI's longtime followers eagerly joined its new fans in celebrating the band's new success. While lead singers of other bands stage-dive into the crowd and trust their fans to hold them up, Havok goes farther, walking across the crowd on their heads, hands, and shoulders, a sign of how much he and AFI fans trust each other. "Some artists fear change and their fans' reaction to it," Puget said in the biography on the band's website. "A big part of our relationship with our fans is that we do change with every record. It's expected and embraced."
Answer That and Stay Fashionable , Wingnut, 1995; Nitro, 1997.
Very Proud of Ya , Nitro, 1996.
Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes , Nitro, 1997.
A Fire Inside (EP), Adeline, 1998.
Black Sails in the Sunset , Nitro, 1999.
All Hallows (EP), Nitro, 1999.
The Art of Drowning , Nitro, 2000.
Sing the Sorrow , DreamWorks, 2003.
AFI , Nitro, 2004.
Decemberunderground , Interscope, 2006.
Bass Player , July 2006, p. 16.
Boston Globe , May 9, 2003.
Chicago Tribune , June 18, 2006, sec. Arts and Entertainment, p. 12.
Entertainment Weekly , June 9, 2006, p. 136; July 14, 2006, p. 30.
Hollywood Reporter , April 29, 2003, p. 24.
People , July 10, 2006, p. 47.
Rolling Stone , January 23, 2003, p. 45; March 20, 2003, p. 64; April 17, 2003, p. 78; June 15, 2006, p. 36.
Washington Post , November 3, 2006, p. C11.
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