Davey Havok On AFI’s New Album, John Hughes Movies And Why Bugs Bunny Was Punk


INGLEWOOD, CA – DECEMBER 08: Davey Havok of the band AFI performs on stage during the KROQ Absolut … [+] Almost Acoustic Christmas at The Forum on December 8, 2018 in Inglewood, California (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for KROQ/Entercom)

Getty Images for KROQ/Entercom

AFI released their eleventh studio album, Bodies, this past Friday. Frontman Davey Havok tells me the record was done before the COVID pandemic, but unable to tour behind Bodies, the band held onto the record , which was not an easy decision Havok says.

“For me, writing and creating a record is a means to the performance. It always has been,” Havok says. “And when COVID hit we had plans to release and tour the record. And those were halted. It was tough for me to be sitting on this record that I loved so much.”

But now the record has been released just as things are starting to open back up. And though the band has no tour dates scheduled as of now for 2021, Havok says they will get to play the album at some point in the future.

I spoke with Havok about his creative mindset during the pandemic, the stories behind Bodies, discovering the Rocky Horror Picture Show and why Bugs Bunny was punk before there was punk rock.

Steve Baltin: A lot of people have discussed the fact that they felt a creative freedom during this time. Did you find that as well?

Davey Havok: I was completely uninspired to create during the pandemic, for the majority of it. Recently that has changed as I’ve become more and more comfortable inside. And things have shifted. But for the majority of the pandemic, being that most of my inspiration comes from life and living, and life experience, on one hand I was uninspired because none of that was happening for me. Nor for anyone else. And then additionally, the triage of civilization that was occurring pointed to a glaring lack of worth in what I create. Now I don’t fully believe that. But at a time of crisis that we experience, to be confronted with the first responders and people dying and hundreds of thousands of people dying, me expressing myself and my feelings didn’t seem quite so important through the medium of art. At least to me. Now that being said, I understand that if we do survive we do need something to live for. And I’m of the opinion that what we need to live for is art.

Baltin: Most musicians are used to a schedule of album, tour.

Havok: Yeah, certainly. And that schedule disintegrated, entirely. Which was tough for me personally, emotionally, because the Bodies record I’m very, very excited about. Right now it’s my favorite AFI record that we’ve created. And for me, writing and creating a record is a means to the performance. It always has been. And when COVID hit we had plans to release and tour the record. And those were halted. It was tough for me to be sitting on this record that I loved so much and like it or not we would inevitably have to release it or, we wouldn’t have to but I felt inevitably that the group would want to release it before we would be able to play on it. And that’s what’s happening. So that’s tough. That schedule allowed us to put out a record without the scheduling of a tour. But for me, that’s hard because the performance of the music means so much to me. Now of course I know that doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to perform these songs at some point. These songs, they won’t go away. But it is a surreal circumstance for me to, for the first time, in my life as a musician release music into a void. With no live realization of that music. It is weird.

Baltin: Do the songs still feel relevant to you today?

Havok: Certainly they do and that I think is testament to the quiescence and the void that occurred for a year. Nothing much changed in regard to the songs or the music but the life around it changed. So on one hand like I said I was uninspired and I would’ve certainly been disinclined to play those songs during the pandemic. Now without the pandemic I would’ve been thrilled to go and perform them. But you have to take into account the humanity of it all.

Baltin: Were there early records that you go back to?

Havok: I used to listen to my mother’s records and jump on her bed. Diana Ross, Michael Jackson. And then, of course, Rocky Horror Picture Show. She had the Rocky Horror Picture Show 12-inch on vinyl. I was enamored, starting at it, starting at it. Very telltale.

Baltin:Which character did you identify most with as a kid?

Havok: Well I was a child, so all I had to look at was the cover of the soundtrack and Frank is front and center with his blue eye shadow and that beautiful, almost…kind of…it wasn’t quite Lichtenstein. But you know that, it was that ’70s pop art. I don’t know if you can picture that specific cover of the record that I’m talking about? I don’t know what I was looking at or what I was listening to. And then my cousin and I, when we were 12 or 13 we would go see it in Sacramento without our parents knowing. Well, her parents didn’t mind. My mom didn’t want me to see it.

Baltin: So once you saw it for the first time, what character did you identify with the most?

Havok: Well, Frank. [laughs] Frank, Frank. Then and to this day. Wow. What a wonderful scientist he is. You know, I’m a scientist? He and I, we relate on that. Scientific method and whatnot.

Baltin: And the music is amazing.

Havok: Of course, the music is fantastic. It’s only as an adult I realized, this is David Bowie and Roxy Music and Brian Eno. This is what we’re doing. And I didn’t realize that as a kid.

Baltin: What are your favorite songs from it to this day?

Havok: “Sweet Transvestite,” always. The opening song is one of the best musical openers ever. “Science Fiction, Double Feature.” Wow. All of them. All of the songs are so good, but those two. Eddie’s song (“Hot Patootie”)  is great.

Baltin: As we reach the point where were closer being able to play live, what are one or two songs from Bodies you can’t wait to play live?

Havok: All of them. I would love to play all of them. I’m really looking forward to trying “Dulceria” live. There’s a track called “Tied To A Tree,” that I’m very curious to hear how that will develop in a live forum. “Begging For Trouble” is a really, really fun one for me. I’m looking forward to that. Honestly, all of them. This is a record that I’m very, very happy about and very much looking forward to play. I would go out and play the album front to back. That would be fun for me. That won’t happen. We don’t do that. But that would be fun.

Baltin: Couldn’t you do that at special shows?

Havok: We could. We probably won’t but we could. It’d be nice. I’d do it at the Troubadour. I love the Troubadour. It’s the best.

Baltin: What was the nest show you ever saw there?

Havok: I saw the Cure there. I saw Depeche Mode there. And I saw Nine Inch Nails there. And I’ve seen Low there. Those spring to mind. Any of those are some of the best shows I’ve seen there. It’s my favorite indoor venue. The Bowl is my favorite outdoor venue. (1086)

Baltin: Going back to Rocky Horror, Tim Curry is one of those true artists who has a presence that inspires regardless of medium. Who are those artists for you outside of music that inspire you?

Havok: Countless, countless. We can get into directors that had a huge impact on me as a person. We can start with the Rocky Horror Picture Show but we can go on from there. I am a huge PT Andersen fan, the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino. You needn’t look farther than the A Fire Inside record to see an homage to Tarantino’s work. And then the John Hughes, the brat pack had such an impact on me growing up. Because when the Brat Pack films were coming out, I was a tween and that was teenage life to me, the fantasy teenage life that I would never live were those Brat pack movies. And I didn’t ever live them. You mentioned Back To The Future, which was the first movie that I went to see in the theater after a moratorium against going to see movies in the theater because I was afraid of the coming attractions. But I digress. So many actors. David Lynch is by far one of my favorite directors of all time. And then going back before Lynch with the French new wave or looking at [Federico] Fellini. Even getting into animation, whether it’s Brothers Quay. Or you wanna be honest, you wanna be real, you wanna talk f**king French new wave or Fellini? Bugs Bunny. Seriously. When I watch Warner Brothers cartoons and I watch Bugs Bunny, I can acutely recognize the impact that that character had on my psyche as a child. And how cool I thought Bugs Bunny was. I wish I were more like Bugs Bunny. I’m not. I’m not as cool as Bugs Bunny. I can’t keep it as cool as Bugs Bunny does. But Bugs Bunny used to cross dress. Let’s not forget. It was not uncommon for him to dress up as a woman. To dress up as Zsa Zsa Gabor or Carmen Miranda. Esque-type character. He was just bold and unapologetic. And in a way, Bugs Bunny was punk, now that I think about it. So Bugs Bunny was punk before I ever really heard punk rock. We could get into authors and fine artists. It’s all connected to me, as we were talking earlier, because if someone has a genuine passion and a genuine perspective and a genuine need to create and emote, the medium will reveal that passion and will reveal that honesty in a very powerful way more often than not. And it will speak to those who speak that language. And I’ve found so many people that speak the language that appeals most to me over the years, over the many, many years of loving literature and loving fine art, film and theater.

Baltin: As a John Hughes Fan, if you could have been a teenager in any John Hughes film, which film what it have been?

Havok: Sixteen Candles seems like the most fun. To be rolling with Anthony Michael Hall. I mean that’s where I’d be, let’s be honest. I certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near Samantha, other than the nerds trying to hang around her. That seems like a fun one. Obviously Breakfast Club, well not obviously, but Breakfast Club would have to be my favorite, I think maybe most people’s favorite.

Baltin: It’s either that or Ferris Bueller. Because everyone wanted to be Ferris Bueller.

Havok: I tell you, seeing Ferris Bueller now. I really feel I saw Ferris Bueller in the theater. It’s after Marty McFly, right? I remember when Ferris broke that wall, that was the first time I remember seeing that in a theater where a character addresses the audience. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen. Now of course, directors had been doing that for years but I hadn’t seen it.

Baltin: A lot of times you don’t think about these things until you have to do this type of interview. When you look at Bodies then, do you see the influences of a Tarantino or a David Lynch or a Bugs Bunny or Rocky Horror? Whatever it is.

Havok: I’m certain someone could if they sat down and got into it. I would have to sit down and really pick it apart. But I would say that if you wanted to find that in there it would be easy to find because like I said, all these artists really informed my perception of creation and my perception of art worth and emotion, emoting I should say. And all of that had a profound impact. And that doesn’t leave, it morphs, it changes, it’s revealed in different ways but it’s all there being that they influenced me at such a young age and really showed me the worlds that I wanted to live in.

Baltin: Going back through your catalog, since you referred to “Science Fiction Double Feature” as one of the greatest opening songs of all time. Is there one song of yours that you find closest to that track?

Havok: No. [laughs] None, none. We have yet to embark on the show tunes side. Now when you’re speaking of AFI we are certainly a collaboration. I don’t know, I can’t say one way or the other whether the members share an affinity for musical theater. And when we’re getting into show tunes, to write something that gets close to a show tune would take a collaboration of many, many people who are okay with that. And I don’t know if AFI is that group of people. But I am. [laughs] I would be happy to do that. To be honest, I don’t know if I would be happy to do it in the context of AFI, it just doesn’t seem appropriate for what we’re doing. But I would love to be a part of a show tune creation if I had the chops. I don’t know, it seems very difficult.

Baltin: The thing that’s interesting about AFI is you branch out and do different projects as well, so you’re always working within the confines of a collaboration. But as you were talking about your grandfather one thought that occurred to me, is doing a solo record that’s more of standards.

Havok: Oh, that would be so fun. To sing standards, let’s do some Cole Porter. I think it’s because of my grandfather and he’s a crooner and he sang to me, I naturally revert to crooning and the crooners appeal to me. Even the crooners within the alt-music. You get to Morrissey or you get to David Vanian [the Damned] or listening to Roy Orbison, that croon has always appealed to me and it was probably because of my grandfather singing to me. That would be fun, Steve, that would be fun. I can’t play anything so we’d have to have someone lay down those tracks for me to croon over.

Baltin: Obvious question, one or two songs that if you were to do an album of standards, that have to be on there?

Havok: [Laughs] [sings] “It had to be you, it had to be you.” Maybe that. I think rather than actually do the standards, I would rather write. Now we’re writing again, now were collaborating again. I would rather write a standard influenced album of originals, if I could. Looking at that era of the show tunes.