A few years ago I was a writer on the short-lived VF MAGAZINE. I think it only got 2 issues out, but I had the pleasure of conducting some interviews that unfortunately never saw the light of day. One of them was with Davey Havok of BLAQK AUDIO (and better known as being the frontman for the huge emo/punk Bay Area band AFI, of which just released their new CD “CRASH LOVE”)
Anyway, I thought the interview(s) were pretty damn cool, so I thought I’d put ’em up for posterity. Enjoy.
BLAQK AUDIO: Cex with the Lights Out
Interview by Matt Fanale
Davey Havok and Jade Puget are known worldwide as being part of A Fire Inside, aka AFI, but in a drastic (yet logical, if you read on) change of pace, Havok and Puget have founded the BLAQK AUDIO electronic project, combining classic synthpop, modern ebm, and a little bit of the old geetar. Their first disc CEXCELLS is now out on mega-label Interscope Records, home of Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, and, well, AFI. With the record industry’s sales tumbling another year, Interscope has taken a significant challenge on with a genre of music that isn’t quite as popular as the heyday of Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, or Erasure. Havok took some time to talk Blaqk Audio with me while on the promo listening tour for the new CD.
VF Magazine: Let’s start with some basics—when and how did you and Jade come up with Blaqk Audio and the new CD CexCells?
Davey Havok: We began discussions of forming black audio around 2001 or 2002, I believe. Jade and I are longtime fans of electronica and we wanted to create a dance based band that had a strong vocal focus while still occasionally touching on the darker side of the beats. Jade had begun programming and around eight songs came out of these formative years but with the increased amount of time we needed to dedicate AFI at that time, the writing ceased until recently. With the exception of “Snuff on Digital” all the songs that appear on CexCells were written and recording during the few free hours we had amidst, and in between, the Decemberunderground tour dates.
VF: AFI, or at least you, have had a long history in the goth/industrial scene. I remember years back seeing you walk around the crowd at the Warped Tour in a Cure shirt, and also seeing multiple pictures of you in magazines wearing t-shirts from bands like Apoptygma Berzerk and VNV Nation. Describe how the genres have influenced your music over time, with both AFI and Blaqk Audio.
DH: Really, the dark alternative scene has been something that has appealed to me for as long as I can remember. I suppose if I must point fingers the Cure started it all for me (although I could also finger being enamored with those beautiful mall death rockers in Sacramento as lad) and Bauhaus was just waiting in the wings to perpetuate such love. The list goes on and on and the affiliation with the dark electronic scene I need not explain, though I will say that it was ebm/industrial that worked as gateways to other electronica for me. As far as anything directly inspiring Blaqk Audio I can’t quite say, but certainly spending many sweaty nights on the dark dancefloors over the years lead me to where we are now. As you pointed out, I’ve worn many an influence on my sleeve – and some under my skin – most of the aforementioned bands included. They mean quite a bit to me.
VF: You’re one of the first unapologetically full-on synthpop/ebm projects to be signed to a major U.S. label in quite some time. Obviously being in AFI helps, but what’s Interscope’s take on Blaqk Audio and their enthusiasm towards putting out something in a genre that hasn’t been “big” for quite some? Is the label taking a more grassroots approach to marketing it in “the scene”?
DH: We have a very good relationship with Interscope and our wonderful A&R guy Luke Wood. Because of this, we were lucky enough to have him agree to put out the record before he ever heard a single song. It was however, clear that most people at the label, and most people in general, presumed that Blaqk Audio was going to sound more like Coil or Skinny Puppy rather than be based deeply in melodic vocals and poppy synth lines (why this was, I cannot quite say). When we finally finished the record and the label heard it the interest in the release became great and what could have been tucked away as a niche record has been getting far more attention than most electronic acts do. The radio play at modern rock (despite there being absolutely nothing rock about the record!) has been fantastic and [label co-founder] Jimmy Iovine himself gave high praise to CexCells. As well, the label has hired Metropolis Records to service the record to the clubs in the scene – something that was very important us – so that it didn’t fall between the mainstream cracks. The success of the record has yet to be seen. As of now it has not been released, but hopefully if it does reach a large audience it will cause an upswing in interest of the greater scene.
VF: What was the process that Jade and you used to create Blaqk Audio’s music, and how is it similar or different to the process by which music is created for AFI? How long did CexCells take to come about from idea to completed work and when the hell did you guys have time to work on it with all the touring and recording for AFI?
DH: Every moment that Jade was busy with AFI last year he spent programming Blaqk Audio tracks – on the bus, at home, and in is hotel rooms he sat at his laptop for hours. On our few days off between tour legs, he would send me completed files that I would write words and melodies to. Eventually, we amassed an albums worth of songs and converged in Hollywood (again, on any day we had off the road – which were few and far between) and tracked the vocals in pieces. It allowed us zero time off, as has promoting the record currently, but we are so passionate about the music that it was a pleasure to create. We really felt it was time to make it happen and dedicated ourselves.
VF: Does BA allow you to explore different elements of yourself than songs from AFI, either thematically or emotionally?
DH: Absolutely. The music inspired me to go in an entirely different lyrical direction than any I’ve touched on in AFI. CexCells is primarily about sex, a topic never quite focused on in all 16 years of AFI.
VF: Name six albums, three classic and three current, which have influenced Blaqk Audio’s sound?
DH: For classics, Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Depeche Mode’s Violator, and Ministry’s The Land of Rape and Honey. For current, VNV Nation’s Empires, Apoptygma Berzerk’s Welcome to Earth, and Covenant’s Northern Light.
VF: Do you work on lyrics before or after the tracks are done, and do you write them (if before) saying “these are for Blaqk Audio” or “these are for AFI”?
DH: All Blaqk Audio lyrics were written specifically for Blaqk Audio. Most were directly inspired by the music. It is however, not uncommon for me to have notes that I’ve taken during moments of lyrical inspiration that hits outside of writing. Some of those eventually became Blaqk Audio songs as well.
VF: Your first live date for Blaqk Audio was just announced in your hometown of San Francisco. Are there any plans to tour on this CD and if so do you have a wishlist of who you’d like to open for you?
DH: We are indeed touring CexCells beginning early September in Atlanta and hitting a select few cities in North America. Whether or not we take it international depends on how the record is received. The shows will be opened by DJs.
VF: BA’s first single was “Stiff Kittens”. What part did you have in the choosing of this and who remixed it, such as Assemblage 23’s Tom Shear (also featured in this issue)?
DH: We definitely played a hands on role in choosing remixers for the single and we approached Tom having both been longtime A23 fans. We’re hoping to have a second single for which I could create a huge list of hopeful remixers – including but not limited to: Andy Laplegua of Combichrist/Icon of Coil, Ronan Harris of VNV Nation, Justice, Paul Oakenfold, Crystal Method, Amon Tobin…I could go on forever. As far as choosing the single itself we leave that up to the label and the radio station. We don’t put anything but songs we love on a record and which works get showcased as singles makes no difference to us.
VF: “Stiff Kittens” is a reference to the legendary post-punk band Joy Division (eventually, of course, becoming New Order after Ian Curtis’ suicide). What brought that tip of the hat about and, maybe more importantly, are you as excited about the new Anton Corbijn directed film of Ian Curtis as the rest of us fans are?
DH: Jade and I are both long, long time Joy Division fans. We actually share the same Joy Division tattoo. The title of the song accompanied the file of the music sent to me by Jade. He named it before the lyrics were written which is common. Typically with BA I’ll change the title to fit the lyrics or write the lyrics based on the title. On this occasion I did neither. The name Jade gave it was too good. As far as the Corbijn film goes, I cannot wait, though I’ve heard rumors that New Order pulled the plug on it.
VF: AFI’s fans, to say the least, are devoted. What has the response been from them to the clubbier sounds of Blaqk Audio in relation to the rockin’ of AFI?
DH: Well, so far the majority of people we’ve met at the listening parties have been AFI fans. In general I think most AFI fans are open-minded music listeners and thus, will not be opposed to looking outside of Rock for good music. That’s not to say that there won’t be a group of AFI fans who just can’t get with it. I certainly don’t expect that they will all understand.
VF: Would you be interested in taking Blaqk Audio to the large European fests like Wave Gotik Treffen or Mera Luna?
DH: Though I’ve never made it to those fests myself, I’m well aware of them. If the record is well received in Europe and those festivals invited us I’m sure we’d get on the plane.
VF: How important is it to you both to be accepted in the underground ebm/synthpop scene and not just seen as “those AFI guys slumming for the goff clubs”?
DH: Hah, well, I’ve never quite thought of it as slumming and most people (in the California scene at the very least) are familiar with me as I’ve been haunting the scene for years now. Our intentions our pure, our roots are deep and we’re extremely proud of the record. Certainly CexCells potential to hold great appeal to fans of futurepop, ebm and synthpop, but if someone wants to discriminate against the record simply because it was written by Jade and I, that’s fine – silly, but fine. I’m proud of it either way.
VF: BA’s sound harkens back to 80s synthpop like Depeche Mode, OMD and classic new romantic like Human League —I kept thinking it would have fit perfectly on a John Hughes soundtrack —what’s your favorite 80’s movie soundtrack and why?
DH: High flattery, high flattery. Thank you. Pretty in Pink is PACKED with great songs though obviously the quintessential Brat Pack Song is “Don’t You Forget About Me,”…or wait….is it “If You Leave”?…hmm…
VF: VNV Nation’s Ronan Harris helped you on Decemberunderground, as well as supplying a remix for “Miss Murder”. Do you think the “futurepop” sound is getting wider acceptance in the U.S. market? Which bands do you think have the best chance of breaking onto American radio, if any?
DH: Clearly futurepop has been growing and growing since the late nineties. Simply looking at the attendance at VNV and Apoptygma Berzerk shows around the country can show this to the case. Breaking into American mainstream radio is SO difficult unfortunately. The system radio stations use to decide weather to play a song is mind blowing and we are SO lucky as both AFI and Blaqk Audio to get radio play (Blaqk Audio especially.) I’d have to say that “Once in a Lifetime” may be the only song that comes to mind that might have gotten a shot at mainstream airplay and if Wolfsheim wrote a similar track it could possibly have a chance. I base this simply on my knowledge of how things work in that world and I’m certainly not saying that I think it’s right. If I were in charge the airwaves would sound much different. Oh, a piece of advice – XM Radio’s “The System” is a great listen. I think it’s 82 on the dial. (editor’s note- this is correct, and he’s right, it’s great.)
VF: For all the gearheads out there, what hard and software have you used to create CexCells?
DH: I’m not going to pretend I know anything about the technical side of creating electronic music. I am not even a novice. I am but a melody and lyric writer. Jade is the beat maestro. Please don’t quote me but I think I’ve heard him say words like “Reason, Pro Tools, Reactor, Acid….” How does that sound?
VF: The 80’s new wave sound has made a resurgence with the electroclash scene, but more frequently bands like Blaqk Audio and others like Kill Hannah and The Bravery are reincorporating an “old school” sound into their music. What do you think is drawing bands back to those sounds and do you think the cyclical nature of old becoming new again means industrial will be making a comeback as well?
DH: Well, I can only speak for myself here as other’s intentions are unclear to me. Any “old school” sounds that seep through in the rock of AFI are simply a result of all the members of AFI having grown up to such music and that foundation seeping into our song writing. As far as industrial goes, the Skinny Puppy reunion shows seemed to be a big success and I hear Nitzer Ebb is working on a new one so the future may be bright!
VF: Who’s the biggest synthpop nerd between you and Jade, and what criteria are you using?
DH: Honestly, unless you take height and weight into account, were both equally big nerds.
VF: What are you listening to these days and what’s keeping you on the dancefloor?
DH: I’m literally listening to the new Chemical Brothers right now. Combichrist will undoubtedly get me on the floor. The “Military Fashion Show” [by And One] single always has me shaking as does the Justice song. Though, not electronic, The Scissor Sisters Ta Dah may be one of the most danceable records to be release in the past few years. I’m always a sucker for anything Iris as well.
VF: What heroes of yours from the goth/industrial/synthpop world have you had the fortune of meeting and what was it like?
DH: I’ve met so many people from the scene over the years and it was a relief to find them all to be very nice. However, I’d have to say that with having grown up with The Cure and The Cult by my side, the acquaintances that I’ve established with both Robert and the Wolfchild have been the most touching.
VF: If you’ve conquered both the arenas and dancefloors, what’s next for the ever-expanding Havok styles? Gregorian chants? R&B? Klezmer?
DH: I’ve got my sights set on the fashion world!
VF: How will Blaqk Audio live be different to AFI? Will you both be playing onstage and/or will you have other members exclusively up there for the live show?
DH: Blaqk Audio will be extremely different as a live act in comparison. It will just be Jade and I, some lights, some projections, some computers and some keyboards. Think Erasure…though I won’t be wearing any underwear.
VF: Okay Davey, let’s bury the hatchet once and for all on the AFI/Caustic “controversy”. For the history– AFI has a song called “Kill Caustic”, to which I, “gangsta rap beef-style,” retaliated with a track called “Kill AFI (they started it)”. [Note that AFI’s beef was in fact tofu. –ed.] Can you let the people of the world know that we finally met in person and sorted out our differences without a single bit of bloodshed spilled?
DH: The hopscotch at high noon was heavy, but in the end we resolved our differences and the Noise and Alt Rock worlds were once again at peace with each other. For the record, I laughed out loud when I heard about the song for the first time and was quite happy to commend you in person.
VF: Thanks for taking the time to do this, Davey, and good luck with the new album.