AFI’s Jade Puget, on creativity, longevity, and brutally honest guitar

by Patty Templeton

Can Eris please come forward? I’d like to kiss the goddess of chaos square on the mouth. Why? She’s kept her distance from AFI for over a quarter of a century. The lack of discord’s allowed them to reach their tenth studio album, a self-titled work also known as “The Blood Album.”

AFI started as a hardcore band and evolved into a darker, Daedalian sound through the songwriting partnership of Davey Havok and Jade Puget. AFI’s cinematic, cerebral tracks could equally compliment walking through the pines, the pines where the sun never shines or score the daily desk drawer glance Mary Shelley gave Keats’ calcified heart. It wouldn’t be unusual to hear an AFI anthem throbbed from the steel door covering the crooked maw of your favorite industrial club, and you can bet your stomping boots that “The Blood Album” continues to bring the beautiful noise.

DGO spoke to Jade Puget about creativity, playing brutally honest guitar, and where in the hell that blues lick in “The Wind That Carries Me Away” came from.

Honesty in art and in the studioPeople always talk about lyrics being brutally honest. Can guitar be brutally honest? I guess it depends on what you’re going for. When you listen to, say the Ramones, you could say that that’s brutally honest guitar. All down strokes, all power chords. You can’t get more raw and honest than that, but at the same time if you’re talking about some flowery Yngwie Malmsteen solo, you can’t tear that down either. That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if I can answer that.

Ever feel like you bared your soul in a guitar lick?I think that what I write, whether that’s guitar, bass, or drum parts, it’s coming from a very honest place. The place that AFI comes from – the hardcore scene, the punk scene, I retain that to this day. Because it’s so honest, I guess I am baring my soul because there is no artifice to it. There’s no agenda to it.

Has the writing or production process changed over the years?The creation process was similar to how it’s been since “Black Sails in the Sunset,” which is Dave and I just sitting down and writing an album face-to-face together in a little room somewhere. It’s nice that that hasn’t changed and it’s been the same no matter where we’ve gone as a band.

The production side was a little newer. I do a lot of the production before we hire a producer and I will give them the songs in a completed form, but usually we hand (an album) over to someone to do their thing to it. This time I decided, “You know, I do so much to the songs already, why have someone come in?” A lot of the time we are re-doing my demos in the studio so what’s the point of that? Might as well do this as a band, and at this point, we should be able to do this as a band considering how many records we’ve made and how long we’ve been together.

On creativity and longevityHaving worked this long as a professional musician, do you battle an inner critic about the art you put into the world anymore? Not only do I battle the inner critic on a daily basis, but I believe the inner critic is absolutely crucial to anyone who is any type of creative person. I mean, you have to have confidence in what you do, but if you’re overconfident and you think that everything you’re doing is great and wonderful and you never edit yourself, you don’t have any objectivity about what you’re doing. No one is perfect. Everyone can improve on what they do.

I feel like I am definitely overly-critical, and everything I write, Dave is like, “That’s amazing! That’s brilliant! That’s great!” and everything I write I’m like, “It’s terrible.” We kind of balance each other out, which is good.

Does the creative process change as a band matures? I’ve had this conversation a lot and I think about this a lot: How, in a band that’s been around a long time, from us to the Rolling Stones, as you go on, it seems like you should get better and better at writing songs and better and better at your craft because you know more and you’ve been around more and you’ve done it more. But most bands get worse as they go. Is a Rolling Stones album that they put out in 2017 going to be as good as “Exile on Main Street?” No. Why is that? We should all be better songwriters.

I try to make it a point to work harder and harder as time goes by on my craft, on doing what I do because I realize that there is something in all songwriters where you’re better earlier and you have to work harder to maintain that level as you get older and as you do more and more and write more.

Henry Rollins once said he wished the Rolling Stones changed the lyric from “I can’t get no satisfaction” to “I don’t want no satisfaction.” It would show hard work and process still going on and not repetition.That’s a big part of it. The other component of that is when you get some success as a band, especially on that level – a U2 or a Beatles or a Paul McCartney or Stones – you don’t need to work harder anymore. You don’t have that hunger.

Hunger is a big part of what makes bands excel and do their greatest work. When you’re just living and creating music, that’s where it’s at. When you get older and make some money or you get interested in other stuff and maybe start a family, you’re not focused on the music as much, so there is no way that it can be as good.

AFI’s career had a mega take-off point, but you had a slow build. Can you talk about the slowburn of success? I think that it was really crucial to what we do and the fact that we’re still here. You see a band that has that explosive popularity on their first record and how do you deal with that? Especially, if you’re really young, you don’t have any perspective or any context for that kind of success. The fact that AFI, from even before I was in the band, from the first record, it was built over the course of so many years leading up to having mainstream success and each step was a little bigger. It wasn’t like we were faced with this overwhelming situation that we couldn’t process.

I think we’re pretty level-headed people, too. We’re not a party band or anything, so we didn’t burn out really quickly once we got some success.

How does PMA and a healthy lifestyle factor into longevity and success?A big part is not partying, drinking, doing drugs, that kind of stuff, because, as we all know, that’s torn apart countless bands. Especially when you get on the road, it’s very difficult to maintain not only the level of performance you want to give but maintain your sanity if you’re running yourself ragged like that.

I don’t want to go out there on stage and just stand around. I can’t do it. Being in your 40s, you have to be in good shape and you have to be healthy to go out there and perform. If you look at Dave out there, he works out every day and he’s the most insane vegan that I’ve ever heard of. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t do anything like that, and that allows him to do what he does on stage.

Also, (a healthy lifestyle) helps band relationships. Band relationships suffer when there’s that one guy who is the party guy who is causing all the drama in the band, or those two guys. We’ve never really had that situation and it’s a blessing to us and probably why the band’s been around 25 years.

Davey Havok is known for walking into the crowd like a rock ’n’ roll Jesus. Do you ever want to be the one to get all up in the crowd? Early on, when I first joined AFI, I used to dive into the crowd with my guitar. We had a booking agent named Stormy Vehnekamp who was a wonderful woman, who is still our booking agent, and she is this nice Mormon woman from Utah and she has a really high-pitch voice and she’d say, (mimics high-pitch voice) ”Jade, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to jump in the crowd. You could hurt someone.” I didn’t really realize that because I had never thought about it. I was like, “Ohhh, that’s probably true.”

It’s one thing for Dave to jump into a crowd just holding a microphone, but with me and a guitar – a big piece of wood – I don’t wanna get someone on the dome with that thing. I kinda was like, fairly early on, “Ya know? I better stay on the stage.”

On ideas and forever-tinkering Ideas, it seems like if you don’t use them in the proper amount of time, they go stale. Do you always get to an idea before it goes stale?My folder where I keep all my projects I’ve got ongoing, like songs and song ideas, I’ve got easily over a thousand things that I’m working on. Maybe there’s something that I haven’t come back to in three or four years.

I think I can go back to an idea that I was working on 10 years ago and make it a viable song but it’s a little more difficult. Say, Dave and I wrote so many songs for “Decemberunderground” and I still have a bunch of them, completed songs that we never recorded or did anything with. Some that Hunter and Adam haven’t even heard. To go back to a song that is completed like that and try to make that into a current song, that’s a little more difficult. It seems like if it’s in a more nascent stage you can do it, but I don’t know. There’s something that when you finish [a song] and you’ve got the lyrics on there, Davey, those are lyrics on issues that he was feeling 10, 15 years ago and he’s not feeling like that anymore.

Have you ever had a song idea that all of a sudden someone else is doing, as if an uber specific song idea was shared in the ether?There have been times when I wrote a guitar riff or a little vocal melody or something and, not that I put it aside, but I’m kind of working on it and I’ll hear that thing on a song on the radio and be like, “Damn, now I can’t do that because its been done.”

I remember we wrote this song on “Art of Drowning” “Of Greetings and Goodbyes” and it has this “whoa” part of the chorus and I remember when that album came out, Joe from Rise Against was like, “Man, we were working on a song that has that same ‘whoa’ part and you guys already did it.”

How do you know when a song is done? For me, I have to force myself to stop. I could tweak stuff and tinker something forever. If I could somehow make a living just messing with my songs and never releasing them, I would be super happy. That’s what I want to do, I’m that kind of personality. I could sit there for an hour auditioning hi-hat samples to find the right one for a Blaqk Audio song or something.

Nothing is ever done. The second I put a record out and listen to it for the first time and it’s too late to change anything, I hear a million things I wish I could’ve changed.

Are you the type of creator that has to stop listening to music when making music because you don’t want to be influenced by what you hear? I have a friend who is in a band and he can only listen to his own music when he is working on stuff for a new record. It’s crazy. That’s fine if it’s your process, but for me, I’m so constantly inspired by music all the time that I couldn’t handle not listening to music.

I love to read. I love to listen to music. I love to watch movies. All that stuff percolates and makes me feel creative.

What are you reading right now?Right now, I’m reading a book that’s part of a trilogy by Anthony Ryan. I can’t think of what this new one is called. [“Queen of Fire” in the Raven’s Shadow series] It’s good. I’m reading the third one and it’s wrapping up the series. I like it. It’s fantasy.

A blues infusionOn the self-titled album, there are a few songs that take interesting turns, like the last song, “Wind That Carries Me Away.” It opens with this gorgeous blues lick. Where the hell did that come from?Well, you know, partially because when I first started playing guitar, I was a punk and I listened to punk in the late ’80s and early ’90s and when it came to guitar, I just loved the blues. I didn’t sit down and play the Ramones and I didn’t play punk, I played the blues. The genesis of my playing is in the blues so it’s always been in there.

Also, in that song, I had the idea of playing a blues riff that doesn’t really fit in AFI, but like Depeche Mode, Martin Gore has these amazing blues riffs, but in the context of Depeche Mode, you don’t think of it as blues. But it is really just blues rock ’n’ roll riffs, stuff like “Personal Jesus,” that’s a good blues riff. There’s a cool way to do that and not come off sounding like you’re Stevie Ray Vaughn or something.

Who are your blues heroes? Are you the Howlin’ Wolf guy? Are you the Buddy Guy guy? The Robert Johnson guy?Out of those, I’d definitely be the Robert Johnson guy. Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, I used to love B.B. King. I would put on a B.B. King record and play along like when I first learned the pentatonic blues scale, just put on B.B. King and play along to it. I’ve always loved that stuff, but Robert Johnson is probably my number one

How do you juggle as much as you do and maintain sanity, sense of self, and relationships? I think, for me, the drive to do music is what maintains my sanity. If I have to take a long time off, if I have to take a couple days off from writing music, I start feeling weird. I do it every day. Literally, every day, I write music. It’s not because I feel like I’m on the clock or anything, I’m just so driven to do it, even to this day. After doing it for decades, it’s just what I love to do.

Bonus questionWhen’s the next Xtrmst album? I know everyone’s got 17 projects going, but please give. (Laughs) You know, yeah, we haven’t necessarily talked about doing another one. I actually wrote a bunch of Xtrmst stuff, if that record ever happens, because it’s such a fun mode to write in. I have all these songs that are Xtrmst, but I’ve kinda taken it to what the next level wo
ld be for Xtrmst.

It’s hard because you have Blaqk Audio and now Dave has Dreamcar and there’s so many things fighting for space that Xtrmst would be kinda down the list, but I would love to do another record.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer


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