Interview: AFI – Hunter Burgan

Recently I had the brief opportunity to speak to AFI bassist, Hunter Burgan, the man who joined for a tour and decided to stick around for 13 years.

AFI are commonly known for their punk roots, but with the 2009 release of ‘Crash Love’, the bands eighth studio album, they decided to change things a little and aimed to release a straight up rock record.

Starting out as a hardcore punk band in 1991, the band have grown up and changed their style over the years, most notably when the current line-up, 1998 till present, came into effect. The bands style changed from hardcore to punk to alternative rock and they continue to keep a dedicated fan base no matter what they do.

As we mainly hear from lead singer Davey Havok regarding the album, I was eager to go back and ask some questions about the album from Hunters perspective and also find out a little bit about touring with such a discography.

The band has been on the road for a few months now since the release of the album, are fans reacting well to the new material?

People seem to really like all the new stuff, which is great because it’s really fun for us all to play and we love it.

The style of the band’s music has, over the years, moved from punk to an alternative rock sound which we started to hear in ‘Decemberunderground’, was it something the band wished to do in order to test new boundaries?

Certainly but we have been evolving with each album so of course if you compare it with the old songs, it is going to be considerably different but it still contains the same spirit. There has been a lot of growth in our music when you consider the band has been around for about 19 years. I would hope we have grown in some ways.

With ‘Crash Love’ you all stated from the very start, before you entered the studio, that this was a straight up rock record, did that mean there was a full new process for you?

The process wasn’t too different from that of the old albums. We would get together and just bang out the songs in our practice space, which is our traditional way of doing it.
I think on ‘Decemberunderground’ we used more weird methods of writing just because we were trying to come up with the weirdest and most interesting material that we could. A lot of times with that, it was still conceptual that we couldn’t possibly represent the ideas we had in our heads in a practice space, it was stuff we could only realise in the studio.
With this album here, we went into the practice space and we knew what we were playing was what would end up on the record so we just made sure that was the best we could do.

Did the change in style and the fact you were creating an album which is more guitar based than normal allow you more freedom?

Yeah I suppose it did though with this album it’s not just more guitar based, we focussed on specific tones and guitar things instead of it being just another layer with the keyboards, bass and all that. So there was a little more freedom in there but I also have more responsibility in order to push the tracks along, which is what a bass player does.

Did you work any of your solo projects (Hunters Revenge) style or sound into the album during the practice/recording to give ‘Crash Love’ something different or do you focus on the two separate?

Well, Hunters Revenge is only one aspect of my musical style and ability, so there are certainly things that I take from my personality and work with into AFI. If you compare Hunters Revenge and the new AFI album, I sing more falsetto which I do in a lot of my Hunters Revenge stuff and I always try to bring interesting rhythms that I take from my solo work. I don’t force it in; it just comes from my personal style.

‘Crash Love’ did mark the band’s eighth studio album and with all the experimentation you have done with styles of punk and now rock, are there new areas you can see the band going into?

I hope so haha.

You have 80s style R&B and Davey and Jade work together on Blaqk Audio (electronic music), could it be that your projects outside the band may form with the AFI sound to complete something a bit crazy?

Some of our more interesting sounds that we have experimented with are a result of not just one idea but an idea from all four of us. “Oh you’re doing that sort of thing and I’ve done this sort of thing” so when it comes together it then gives us this sound. I think as long as we continue to take on influences individually we will always be able to come together and make something new.

Who influences you, especially with the unique base of Hunters Revenge?

I’ve been a huge fan of all types of music my entire life and I would like to think I am a sponge, absorbing little bits here and there. I am really influenced by 60s rhythm and blues and motown. Melodically I have listened to lots of stuff like jazz but really just everything that hits me sticks, The Beatles, Beach Boys. I can switch easy, just throw on a punk record and I can easily go with that. When we come together as a band, I will usually listen to what everyone else is doing and try sort of figure out what it needs; what can I do to make it unique and stronger, it’s not so much a conscious process. You might hear a bit of Weezer in there or a bit of Jane’s Addiction or Led Zeppelin; I’m just playing music that has influenced me.

Based on your and the bands influences, is there still a strong connection with hardcore bands as you have toured with Gallows and you will be taking Sick Of It All out with you in the UK.

It’s not just where we come from historically but it’s a great inspiration for us in everything we do and it’s also went beyond a style of music and is now a lifestyle; a style that we have always been, even in our softest moments, able to identify with most. It’s great to have band like that out with us too; they are great people and they are coming from the same place musically and that is something we can really identify with.

Part of AFI has always been the image, especially that seen in your live shows. Having seen the band perform in support of ‘Decemberunderground’, on stage, you of course wore white clothing but the stage was also transformed to fit AFI.

I think with each new album we try to bring as much to it as we can, not just musically but visually and we try to present a full package which moves into the live show. There is certainly energy and a colour palette that we have with us for ‘Crash Love’ haha. I think the direction of ‘Decemberunderground’ went from ‘Sing The Sorrow’ was more drastic and had a more visual feeling than what we are doing now but there is still the same energy from it and I hope people can translate it.

When you joined the band 13 years ago, AFI was in their hardcore era and hardcore bands really push themselves at every performance but as the band has grown and the music has come down a notch, is there still a need to push yourself that extra bit or has the band took a step back?

That’s an interesting point. The songs we play now are actually far more complicated and harder to play accurately and actually make them sound good than the old hardcore stuff. The hardcore songs, although are faster and crazier to play, are like a break to us, there is a little more freedom to run around, go crazy and push ourselves. The new stuff has me playing more intricate parts and then singing counter rhythmic in full voice then switching to falsetto. There is so many things going on, I don’t know why I’ve challenged myself to so much but it’s fun and that’s the bottom line for us, we do it because we love it and its fun for us.

You have said before that the music is written for you and the members of the band, not the fans. It’s written the way you want it done and the way you love it.

Exactly. Every night we play in front of different people but it’s always the same four guys playing, so if we don’t continue to write music this way then we are going to hate it, the process, each other, and everything basically. We need to make sure we love what we’re doing and beyond that hope that others will like it to.

As you work out a set list for each show, do you focus on what the band loves or do you focus on what the fans want to hear?

There are certain songs that are staples in our set because they are fun to play and they receive a great reaction from the crowd. We take those songs as the skeleton and in order to flush that we draw on songs that he have rehearsed lately. Before we started the tour we worked on 30 to 40 songs so we could mix it up every night. Sometimes we will throw in an old jam or sometimes we will try something new, something we have never played live.

Are there songs that you always make a point of avoiding for the set or any that one of you mention and the others say no to?

Well there are some, most of the older songs as its impossible for Davey to sing them live. They were just studio songs and when performed in practice or live, we knew they didn’t belong so that was as far as they would go. We tend to avoid writing songs that we can’t play live now.

Do newer fans respond to older songs; can you see in the crowd who has never heard the old AFI before?

There are some fans but most of them have explored our older material and even if they don’t know the song, they still give it as much as a reception.

Based on the new album, what is the main track that you love playing live and is part of the skeleton to the performance?

‘End Transmission’ is probably my favourite song right now from the new stuff. There is some really nice elements to it; a good mix between softer dynamics and energetic stuff, so it’s fun for me to play. I really love all the new stuff and to play it live is the main highlight. ‘Too Shy To Scream’ is another song, really fun, it’s got a shuffle beat like ‘Miss Murder’ but rhythmically the way I approach it is completely different and it makes it fun to play.

Based on the comment Davey made stating “this is the album AFI will be remembered by”, looking back on the recording and now playing the material live, is this, in your view, the album that you will be remembered by?

I hope so.

Do you think there is still a better album to come?

This album marks an important artistic point for us. For the first time we have changed a lot of the elements that we have worked on over the years and actually were able to achieve something with a little more cohesive. It will free us up on future albums to explore things a little more boldly and hopefully continue to build on the body of the work that we have building on for so many years, but still taking it to a new level.


About ??

Michael is the owner and creator of EspyRock. He is your general all round geek; sports fan; TV show fanatic. You can find him sharing his thoughts on his personal Twitter account. Contact Michael on Twitter or via Email.

One Response to “Interview: AFI – Hunter Burgan”

  1. Awesome interview. Great questions and great answers :D