XTRMST’s Davey Havok Talks Straight Edge Inspiration, Future Plans + More
There's no denying the musical chemistry that Davey Havok and Jade Puget share. For years, they've built a reputation as one of rock's standout bands in AFI. But the pair have also spread their wings a bit, stepping out with the electronic-based Blaqk Audio and now exploring their straight edge hardcore roots in XTRMST. Loudwire recently had a chance to talk to vocalist Davey Havok about XTRMST's self-titled debut disc and you can check out the interview below.
Davey, just love the aggression of this album and it's an interesting idea tackling the straight edge lifestyle. Tell me about the impetus of what got you guys wanting to do this album.
Thank you for the accolades. We became talking about doing an XTRMST record when we were very young, Jade and I. We got into straight edge in our early teenage years and since then we've oft talked about doing a straight edge band, but pretty passively in our whimsical sort of way. As life went on we were more seriously talking about it, but we didn't have the time to dedicate to it until we began writing this record.
I think it was 2012 when we started writing and recording simultaneously as we were writing the last AFI record. When we first began we talked about doing a simple EP, writing and recording four songs, but we were so inspired by what we were doing that we continued and it ended up being a full length record. I'm happy that it did.
Can you talk about the straight edge lifestyle? You mentioned you got into it growing up. What first appealed to that lifestyle for you?
Even within the context of the alternative scene I was a part of, within punk and hardcore and the alt scene there was a focus on self-destruction. There was a lot going on within those communities that really postured as being forward thought whereas as the same time they were veering nearer mainstream culture in that they were embracing the self-destruction behavior of recreational drug use. I never found that appealing and I always felt a disconnect for that reason. Then I discovered the straight edge movement and I discovered people who shared my affinities artistically speaking and my political aversions, in that respect. It was really overwhelming, it was such a relief realizing there were people who I actually could relate to, fully. From that moment on I claimed the movement.
Obviously, you and Jade have known each other for a long time. Was this maybe one of the things that bonded you when you were first getting together and thinking about music?
Certainly. We were friends long before we played music together. AFI formed in 1991 and at the same time Jade was in another punk band in a small community we were a part of. We lived in a small town and so the few alternative kids, skaters, punks and so on really all knew each other because we always had. So I knew Jade through that, our bands used to play together and was also one of the few people within that community who didn't drink or do drugs. So, it was -- we related on many levels from a very young age and when the time came with AFI to get a new guitarist it was really exciting for me to have the opportunity to ask Jade to be a part of the group for many years -- edge just being one of them.
When the idea of giving straight edge a musical identity came up, was it a daunting task to approach that idea or did it come easy for you, being that you were familiar?
I feel like it was very natural for the both of us. Certainly it was a daunting task especially for Jade more so than me to push the music forward in a way where we would find it inspiring. In the very beginning we were writing what was a bit more akin to traditional straight edge music that we grew up to, and what we were doing was fun but it wasn't as musically inspiring as what we later moved forward with.
When Jade brought the music for 'Conformist' and I laid down the vocals/lyrics that I had written, we both realized, "Okay, it needs to be more like this," and we moved forward in that direction in that more chaotic / nightmare stretch. So it was a bit of a task but not really. Not for me, Jade is such a talented songwriter. Both of us grew up listening to a lot of hardcore and going to a lot of hardcore shows. So the seeds of XTRMST were a part of us.
Then lyrically speaking it was very natural for me. I don't like screaming, but it was appropriate for this. Everything about what we were doing seemed very natural and very organic. The lyrics came very easily, mostly because I'd never really had the opportunity to write that vantage before. That perspective is so much a part of who I am, so to finally have an appropriate outlet to artistically express that was very cathartic. Then very liberating.
'The Conformist.' Brilliant video. Simple yet gets the point across. I'm even kind of laughing about the fact that you and Jade are basically in the background for 5 seconds. That's gotta be the easiest video for you guys.
Yeah, in that respect it was. Fortunately it was appropriate for the sentiment of the piece for us to barely be in it as voyeurs of the violence, the self-inflicted violence. I really wanted to do something that was atypical for the greater genre and something a little striking in contrast with the sound. I feel that it would have been more expectant to do something visually darker and visually more explicit in a way or something dirtier with the sound. But I felt it would have more impact if it was a little less expected. It's kind of difficult to come up with a treatment for this sort of music because it's so easy to go for the literal [Laughs] as far as an interpretation of the song goes. That's just boring to me.
Was 'Conformist' essentially the jumping off point for this record?
Very much so. I feel Jade would answer that question better musically speaking because my artistic input was writing vocals and the top lines. That music really informed that, although whether we're doing something more simplistic or as technical as XTRMST is, I knew I was going to be screaming over certain beats [Laughs] within whatever music it is. But, very much so I do feel that 'Conformist' was a springboard for the rest of what we were doing. There were tracks before that, that had a different feel, a more simplistic feel that we liked but really didn't excite us like 'Conformist' did, and from 'Conformist' we moved in that general direction.
We're premiering 'Sharper' at Loudwire. If you want to talk about that song, where it came from and your thoughts on how it turned out?
I'm really happy with 'Sharper.' I think 'Sharper' is very important because for me, the exercise of XTRMST in my later years was an ability for really modern contextualization of the movement and since it's inception in the early '80s there's been so many sects and controversy surrounding it. There's been questions of whether it's subjective or objective and are there straight edge Christians? Is there sex? Can you eat animals? Also, for me it presses a point I feel is controversial within it, but I feel it's very important in that it defies God. It defies certain responsibility and passing it on toward a fictitious being. It points to the caustic self-destructive or the caustic destructive impact of organization and allying oneself to a fictitious deity and shows the parallel between that and drug use as a very wise comedian said, "Religious is the opiate of the masses." It is an opiate. You are not clear of mind if you are aligning yourself to any of that and 'Sharper' makes that point.
Straight edge was a part of your youth and I know you've mined that era before, but what makes the teen years such a creative fertile ground for you guys?
Actually, with XTRMST, to me it doesn't really have much to do with my teen years other than that being the moment when I found the movement. Straight edge really is who I am, so it doesn't relate to a specific point in time. That's actually why I'm so excited to be doing this band now as opposed to when I was younger. I think it points to the permanence of the philosophy. It points to the permanence of that perspective. It points to the perspective maintaining throughout, going beyond your teen years. Going beyond 21 and going into your adult years and allowing the listener to -- if they look further and see that these people are adults playing that realize that it is relevant at all ages. It is relevant now in 2014 just as much as it was in 1982, or 1987 or 1997. If not, more so.
This album embraces a lot of the hardcore roots as well. Can you talk about some of the bands that inspired you as you were growing up?
Certainly without hardcore, we wouldn't have been doing this. Straight edge came out of the hardcore scene. I don't necessarily believe, as some people believe, that you have to be a part of the hardcore scene to share that philosophy and stance against recreational drug use. But it is where it came from and it is where it influenced me to be a part of it. So a lot of that was a very important, a lot of that music and culture was and is very important part of my life. We grew up listening to so much hardcore, everything from the very early DC stuff, Teen Idols, Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, SOA, Government Issue to bands who weren't straight edge like Negative Approach. I really feel they were one of the greatest punk bands ever. Then into the late '80s with the Youth Crew and then in the '90s with bands like Earth Crisis, Snapcase... Refused were a straight edge band. All of that we were listening to, going to shows. Of course, Sick of it All who technically aren't a straight edge band, but many of them hold very similar beliefs. They and the Cro-Mags, which one could say the same thing about the Cro-Mags -- I mean, they're wildly influential not only on us but thousands of hardcore kids.
Are you guys thinking of taking this on tour?
Yeah, we're definitely planning on playing some shows. I don't know that we would do a proper tour unless the record was very well received and it demanded for that and we were able to do so. For the time, we're planning on playing in California and hopefully in New York. There are people elsewhere that want to bring us out, then hopefully we'll be able to go.
I'd think an XTRMST show would be awesome just to see what the audience would be like.
I hope so. I hope that is reaches people and they understand and appreciate it. I hope those people come out, so I really would be excited. All of the record, which I believe is under 30 minutes, or just over [Laughs] and that's all we've got. So seeing how any of it reacts with the crowd would be very exciting. If all goes well, it should be a chaotic show.
I saw you did the Indiegogo campaign for 'The Violent' film and that it reached the goal. How is that coming along?
I don't really have much to say about that, I'm not really informed with what's happening right now with it. I jumped on as producer when Clint actually asked me to do that, [Laughs] and I was -- I loved the script. The script is amazing so Clint is a friend of mine through the industrial scene and I ran into him at my buddy Trevor's show. I hadn't seen him in years. He passed me this script when he told me he was making a movie, I read it and I loved it. He offered me a role in the film, I was thrilled to be a part of it. The script is really great and I'd really be thrilled if it did get made. I do feel it'd be a great film that would be really important for this generation. I was really happy to hear that they met their goal but I haven't heard from Clint in a while, so you'd best ask him. I'm just waiting for the call to show up on camera.
Lastly, AFI and Blaqk Audio. Just looking for an update on where things stand?
AFI just finished touring 'Burials,' so that cycle is done. Blaqk Audio has been working on a third record and we've written many songs. We plan on writing more. We're in the process of doing that now. Hoping to get into the studio as soon as possible to record and release that. Again, I'm just being hopeful where but I'd like to see it out by late Spring. I don't know if that's realistic or not, but we're going to try.
We'd very much like to do a proper tour on that record. We didn't get to on 'Bright Black Heaven' and that still pains me today. We only did maybe two weeks of shows. I'd really like to get out and play both songs that will be the third record and a lot of 'Bright Black Heaven' songs. Then of course XTRMST is coming out as well.
Our thanks to XTRMST's Davey Havok for the interview. XTRMST's self-titled debut disc is currently available at iTunes.