Oh, I’m not jealous. Not in the least. I don’t mind seeing my rock star dreams being lived out by a bunch of kids I went to high school with. It doesn’t bother me at all when the mere mention of AFI’s name makes a girl cover her heart, roll her eyes and swoon as though Eros himself had just invited her to sail off to cloudland on a freaking giant swan. Hell, I kind of enjoyed it when my old schoolmates in AFI played the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on my birthday—the one I’d long ago picked as the absolute, no-appeals expiration date for my hopes of “making it” in music—and even brought along Tiger Army, another successful band led by one of my peers from high school.
But here’s the poison on the dart: As AFI guitarist Jade Puget shares a few memories of life in Ukiah, Calif. with GT, it couldn’t be clearer that he’s the nicest guy imaginable. Much as I might want to hate him for his success, it just isn’t possible. In fact, we’re getting along swimmingly, bonding over our shared experience of growing up bohemian in a town where the gun racks outnumbered the full sets of teeth.
“We [AFI members] got so much shit from everyone!” the 36-year-old guitarist recalls. “Growing up listening to punk in Ukiah, or anywhere, probably, in the ’80s—that was a minority. There were only a few people in town who listened to the same music you listened to, and it really made you stick together and stay dedicated to it.”
Back when the group’s old bassist Geoff told your narrator that he’d just joined a punk band called Abuncha Fuckin’ Idiots—AFI for short—no one could have predicted that these Misfits-worshipping garage dogs would transform into A Fire Inside, become the heroes of the Hot Topic set and release two consecutive platinum albums: 2003’s Sing the Sorrow and 2006’s Decemberunderground, the latter of which debuted at No. 1 and spawned the No. 1 hit “Miss Murder.” In light of the Beatlemania-style fervor that Decemberunderground evoked, the members of AFI (Puget, vocalist Davey Havok, bassist Hunter Burgan and drummer Adam Carson) couldn’t have been blamed for following in that album’s synth-heavy goth/emo direction when it came time to create their latest offering, Crash Love. Instead, they’ve reinvented themselves yet again—this time as a straight-up, guitar-based rock band.
“As a songwriter, I didn’t want to recreate the [previous] record,” Puget explains. “So the only way we could really make a different record was either to do more electronic elements, which would be sort of overpowering, or go the opposite direction and do something more stripped down. That appealed to me more.”
Crash Love’s finest moment is “Beautiful Thieves,” a superb pop single whose Smiths-ian verse explodes into a sweeping arena-anthem chorus that sounds like the best thing Peter Murphy never sang. As with “Miss Murder,” the song’s downright addictive melody masks its dark lyrical agenda: “Thieves” is just one of many songs on Crash Love to explore the superficial, cutthroat aspects of fame. The prevalence of this theme can be attributed at least in part to the fact that Havok and Puget wrote much of the album at a hotel on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, where they had a bird’s-eye view of what Puget calls “ground-zero pop culture.”
Puget, who says his dream was always to be a writer rather than a rock star (wanna trade, bud?), doesn’t seem particularly attached to the fame he’s reaped as a member of AFI. “As long as I can keep writing songs that are exciting to me, and we can keep putting out records and touring on ’em, that’s really all I want or need,” he remarks soberly.
Spoken like a truly down-to-earth guy, you good-natured, level-headed, unassuming punk.
AFI plays at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, at The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $26 in advance or $28 at the door. For more information, call 423-1338 or go to catalystclub.com.