AFI (Contemporary Musicians)
Whether it be punk, rock, or Goth, AFI has offered its fans a perpetually changing image. Founded in Northern California by four teenagers in the early 1990s, the band picked its name as an acronym for A Fire Inside. Espousing a dynamic paradigm that anything goesxcept substance abuseFI band members Adam Carson, Davey Havok, Hunter, and Jade Puget subscribed to the straight-edge ethic of living free from tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs; they further refused to assign genre labels to their music. Stalwart AFI fans, calling themselves Despair Faction, have found AFI's unpredictable variety of styles invigorating, and have joined forces at concerts to form a crew of diehard devotees. In March of 2003, after five albums and a decade of intensive touring, AFI made a major label debut on DreamWorks. AFI's highly animated performances have earned the band a place in Revolver 's ten best live bands ever.
AFI founder Havok was born David Marchand on November 20, 1975, in Rochester, New York. He grew up in Ukiah, California, where in 1991 he gathered three high school friends, drummer Adam Carson, guitarist Markus Stopholese, and a bassist known only as Vick, to form a rock quartet. The band set out to find its groove. Later that year Havok brought in Geoff Kresge to replace Vick on bass, and the four rockers recorded an EP disc called Behind the Times.
AFI lasted until the band members graduated from high school in 1993. At that time, three members of the group left for college, and Kresge moved to New Jersey to join Blanks 77. The combo disbanded with little fanfare, but reunited a few months later for a concert in Ukiah. After the excitement of the reunion concert, the band reactivated AFI as a full-time career. Kresge opted not to return to New Jersey, choosing to remain with AFI as well. Fans, too, were eager for more of AFI and called for a reissue of their 1991 EP disc, which had sold out in area stores.
Despite the band's limited exposure, it had accumulated a modest following of fans. Comprised largely of adolescent idolizers, the AFI fan club grew in numbers and adopted the name Despair Faction. Some reportedly had tattoos etched on their bodies to match those of the band members. In one unfortunate incident in September of 2004, at a San Diego Street Scene concert in Petco Park, frenzied AFI fans rushed the stage and injured a score of spectators.
Encouraged by their cult-like following, in 1993 AFI embarked on a decade-long series of grueling tours. While spending their free time writing and practicing music, they began to develop more cohesion as a group. During these early years Havok adopted an austere vegan lifestyle, and the other band members joined him. Self-described proponents of the socalled straight-edge lifestyle, these musicians dispensed not only with meat, but also with tobacco, alcohol, and other recreational drugs. Their lofty ideals overflowed into AFI's music, permeating the tunes with an introspective bent. An AFI debut album, Answer That & Stay Fashionable, appeared on the Wingnut label in 1995, and a second album, Very Proud of Ya, was released on NIT in 1996.
Still growing and evolving, the emerging band underwent a dramatic overhaul in 1997. Kresge departed the group and was replaced by Hunter, a colleague formerly with Badical Turbo Radness. Stopholese also left that year and was replaced by Jade Puget, a former Redemption 87 guitarist. Shut Your Mouth & Open Your Eyes was released on NIT in 1997, and Answer That & Stay Fashionable was reissued three times during that year. The revitalized band endured into the 2000s, releasing Black Sails in the Sunset in 2000 and achieving recognition in a Rolling Stone photo set in 2001. Within two years the band made a breakthrough in securing a major label contract with DreamWorks.
The year 2003 was a blockbuster for the band, beginning with a concert at Anaheim's House of Blues in January, and continuing with a major label album debut, Sing the Sorrow, on DreamWorks. Veteran producers Butch Vig and Jerry Finn helped create the album, which earned excellent reviews. Steve Morse in the Boston Globe called it "a smart record made for rock fans who are tired of humdrum formulas and assembly-line bands." Sarah Tomlinson cited AFI's "flair for the darkly dramatic ... cantering drums, arcing harmonies, and electronic embellishments blend[ing] into a menacing sound." The album made its debut at number five on Billboard 's Top 200, and spawned multiple hit singles.
AFI embarked on Vans Warped Tour, performing concerts in New York City, Denver, and St. Louis, Missouri. Well known throughout Northern and Southern California by then, the AFI musicians were seen at the KROQ Weenie Roast in Orange County that year. Early fall found the band in Albuquerque, New Mexico, returning home to California in November, and receiving high praise for a performance at Bren Events Center in Irvine. Early in December, AFI shared the bill with Dashboard Confessional at Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois. Despite panning the DreamWorks album as "forgettable," Jim DeRogatis reported in the Chicago Sun-Times that "the group's [live concert] set sped by in a blur of sweat and energy."
By 2004 AFI had shifted its home base to the San Francisco Bay area. The band toured South Florida in March and later that spring won three CAMA awards, including prizes for Outstanding Group, Outstanding Rock Album, and Outstanding Debut on a Major Label. Brent Baldwin reviewed Sing the Sorrow with enthusiasm in Tulsa World, noting that the album "dabbles [in] many genres of music, not limiting the band to a single style," and calling the debut "thoroughly enjoyable."
The AFI public image depends heavily on a display of black garb, enhanced by make-up and tattoos. Because of this ominous appearance, some observers persist in linking AFI with the gothic vein of punk music. But Havok and his mates have maintained their individuality and refuse to acknowledge their affiliation with one specific movement of punk rock.
In 1999 Carson's name appeared on the credits of a young group called Tiger Army, which released a self-titled debut in December of 1999. He exited Tiger Army in 2001, at approximately the same time that former band mate Kresge joined that band. Also during the 1990s Havok organized a second band, featuring Todd Youth, London May, and Steve Zing. Tom Schulte in All Music Guide reviewed this new group, Son of Sam, calling it a metal-Goth-punk fusion. Son of Sam released a debut album on both vinyl and compact disc called Song from the Earth in April of 2001.
Behind the Times (EP), 1991.
Answer That & Stay Fashionable, Wingnut, 1995; reissued, NIT, 1997; reissued, Wingnut, 2000.
Very Proud of Ya, NIT, 1996.
Shut Your Mouth & Open Your Eyes, NIT, 1997.
A Fire Inside (EP), Adeline, 1998.
Black Sails (EP), NIT, 1999.
All Hallows (EP), NIT, 1999.
Black Sails in the Sunset, NIT, 1999.
Art of Drowning, NIT, 2000.
Sing the Sorrow, Nitro/DreamWorks, 2003.
AFI Box Set, Nitro/DreamWorks, 2003.
AFI, NIT, 2004.
Albuquerque Journal, September 26, 2003, p. 17.
Boston Globe, May 2, 2003, p. C13; May 9, 2003, p. C12.
Denver Post, April 4, 2003, p. FF-1.
Florida Times Union, February 27, 2004, p. WE16.
Rolling Stone, April 17, 2003, p. 78.
San Diego Union-Tribune, September 16, 2004, p. NIGHT-D.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, February 27, 2004, p. 78.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), June 27, 2004, p. 3.
Tulsa World, September 19, 2003, p. D3.
"AFI," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (January 2, 2005).
"2004 California Music Awards," California Music Awards, http://www.californiamusicawards.com/ (January 2, 2004).