Blaqk Audio :: AFI-band Members Go Electronic
If Duran Duran had begun in 2007 instead of 25 years earlier, they may have looked like and sounded a bit like electronica band Blaqk Audio. With the release of their sophomore album "Bright Black Heaven" on September 11th, Blaqk Audio's band mates Davey Havok and Jade Puget hope to repeat the success of their major post-hardcore band project AFI ("Sing the Sorrow," "Decemberunderground," "Crash Love").
Led by the lyrics and vocals from AFI founding member Havok, Blaqk Audio represents the real roots of the duo, who cite their influences as the Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, and Devo. As later explained by Havok, if they had the resources and knowledge to create electronic music available to them, Blaqk Audio may have very well been the primary band project for its band mates rather than Billboard's #1 charting AFI.
In today’s modern rock world, it is not uncommon to find musicians expressing their varied musical interests by forming multiple bands. Once approached to join the Misfits after the departure of Michale Graves, Havok is comfortable with branching into different creative endeavors. These include his clothing line Zu Boutique, his involvement in side project Son of Sam (a spin-off from band Samhain), and his acting in Green Day’s "American Idiot" on Broadway.
So the surprise of Blaqk Audio is how Havok and Puget plan to make the band a major player in the electonica music genre. In Blaqk Audio’s first gay-media interview, I had an opportunity to speak with the California-based band’s lyricist Davey Havok during a mini tour on the West Coast and discovered why there was a 5-year gap between Blaqk Audio’s debut and sophomore albums, what obstacles prevented the electronic music of Blaqk Audio from being presented earlier in its members careers, why they created their own record label, and how Blaqk Audio may affect the future existence of multi- platinum band AFI.
BeBe: In looking at the title of your sophomore album release, ’Bright Black Heaven,’ the pairing of the to words ’bright’ and ’black’ are unlikely. Is there some significance to using these two words in the title, and how does the title relate to the music on the album?
Davey Havok: The title represents the overall mood of the record because throughout the record you’ll find moments of upbeat, exciting, and happy transcendence, and other moments of escape. That dichotomy, we felt, was tied in by the title.
BeBe: Even as with the first album, ’Sex Cells,’ which was released several years ago (2007), this album does have what you have called a hedonistic tone to it. Will you elaborate?
Davey Havok: If you look at ’Bright Black Heaven’ you will see those themes of living for the moment and living for yourself and taking joy in the immediate; not at the expense of others, but really focusing on a lot of the worldly pleasures available to us which can allow, if enjoyed correctly, for a lot of fulfillment. I think that lyrically the record speaks about and puts forth that tone and can sometimes illicit that reaction in the album.
BeBe: You guys have gone the route of releasing a series of three info videos prior to the release of the album. These videos give an in-depth, almost documentary-like, explanation of what the album is about. Can you explain to me why you felt the need to use this type of marketing tool from the start? My initial thoughts were that the videos were a way to show the difference between this Blaqk Audio project and your work as members of AFI.
Davey Havok: First, it was to get people familiar with the record, and perhaps excited about the record, and allow them to have more insight on what we’ve been working on for the past 5 years. And, to give them a little listen as to what was to come from us musically on the piece since there had been so much time between the two records. We really hadn’t had the opportunity to really communicate or give anybody a taste of what we were doing during the interim due to the industry constraints we were experiencing.
BeBe: As I reviewed the backgrounds of you two, I discovered your roots are really in the type of electronic music you display with your Blaqk Audio projects versus the type of modern rock music you put out with being members of AFI. So, how did AFI come about for you two when your initial drive and interest in music is different from what AFI produced?
Davey Havok: That’s a very good question. When we began AFI we were 15-years old, and there were a couple of elements which shifted our direction in AFI from perhaps the direction that Blaqk Audio goes in. Both directions appealed to us at the time, and still do now on certain levels. One of the elements was being angsty teenagers and having a natural predisposition to moving toward the aggressive visual nature of hardcore, and another one was being teenagers without any concept of how to create electronic music or having any means to acquire the tools necessary to create that type of music. It was so foreign to us. So, the drive was two-fold, to go into the influences of punk rock rather than what you hear on Blaqk Audio. So when we had the opportunity, the time and the resources and the tools to pursue that side of our musical passion, we were very much ready and willing to do so. We began Blaqk Audio in 2001, I think. It’s all hazy (said under a little chuckle).
About the lyrics
BeBe: Davey, I know you’re the primary lyricist for Blaqk Audio. And thinking about that led me to think of how maybe ten years ago it was rare to find dance and electronic music that was driven by the lyrics, most were driven by the beats and the feel of the music. Now, it seems dance and electronic music has become more relevant in what the songs are saying with the lyrics as much as what your feeling from the beat. I have to say I enjoy listening to the lyrics in Blaqk Audio’s music and feeling the beats. When I listen to your music, words that come to mind are ’honesty,’ ’Vulnerability.’ and ’truth.’ Do you have any comment to what I’ve just said?
Davey Havok: I really appreciate what you’re saying. I would go so far to say that that is accurate within the direction I was thinking. Everything I write is very honest and very truthful, and I try to be very open and vulnerable. At times, I can even be dramatic, but as you say, always coming from a place of honesty. For me, what has appealed to me the most was that (the honest lyrics) with a strong top line... a strong top line with a strong melody line over it. I really like a pop song, even though I listened to a lot of Trance and the less lyric-oriented genres of Electronica.
Growing up with synth pop which was a vocal based genre, there were lyrics and there were substances that were coming across beyond the feel of the beat. And, that always inspired me. That was the direction I always wanted to go into, to provide not only something someone can dance to, but something they can also relate to on a personal level and just be moved by.
Straight to the remix
BeBe: It seems to me that remixers have had major influence in the changes music has made, in particular, with the type of music you are doing with Blaqk Audio. Remixers have been real good at taking ballads which are lyric-driven, meaningful and full of messages and stories, and setting these same lyrics and melody lines to a dance beat. And now, we have those so-called remixed songs as a primary means of how the song is presented to us, as opposed to, the secondary offering. Where does this fit in with what you guys are doing?
Davey Havok: We go straight to the remix, like you say, you know? I think it’s great that we’re able to enjoy that as much as we are, especially seeing mainstream acceptance of dance music. It’s funny that what you said reminded me of the times I would buy a record thinking it was the DJ I heard on the dance floor, only to find out, it was entirely different. What I’d been enjoying was a remix of the song which was completely different than the original track which I was obviously disappointed in, because it didn’t have the energy that drew me to the song in the first place in combination with the lyric.
BeBe: Now, you and Jade have started your own record label, Big Death, and from what I’ve gathered, it will allow you to push forward with Blaqk Audio’s music. So, with that, one would assume that there may be some end in the near future with the two of you being involved with AFI. Blaqk Audio was never intended to be a side gig for you and Jade from the start. Blaqk Audio is apart of who you guys are musically. So, will this be your primary focus moving forward?
Davey Havok: I appreciate you recognizing that Blaqk Audio is very important to us, and is by no means a side project, which many people refer to it as. We are as passionate about this as we are with all of our artistic endeavors. We are lucky enough no to be confined to just one (endeavor). We can do multiple projects and create in multiple different ways, Blaqk Audio being one of them. As far as balance goes (now), we are treating the balance between Blaqk Audio and AFI the same way we’ve done in the past. We will give ’Bright Black Heaven’ the attention it deserves because, simply, we are serious about it, and will tour on it as much as we can. Once we have finished with this ’Bright Black Heaven’ cycle, we will return fully to AFI and thereafter return to Blaqk Audio again (and so on). The good thing about Blaqk Audio is though there has been a five-year gap between albums ’Sex Cells’ and ’Bright Black Heaven,’ it has really been with ease that we’ve been able to create this music and record it, especially in comparison to the rock music (of AFI). That endeavor (rock music) is usually far more difficult to go from writing to releasing that music. Electronic music can be done with far greater ease when it’s facilitated, which now we feel it is (with the creation of Big Death label). It wasn’t facilitated well during the gap between the two records. As we are continuing on, Jade and I feel we should be able to release Blaqk Audio records at a far greater frequency. So, it’s really exciting for us.
Write and write and write
BeBe: You’ve mentioned the gap between records one and two a couple of times now, but let’s make it clear that you were definitely recording music during that period, so much so and at such a rate, that when you went to put the ’Bright Black Heaven’ compilation together, you had 40-50 tracks to go through to decide what eventually would make the album. Not to mention, you had to sift through the diversity of the tracks like the upbeat and poppy dance feel of ’Everybody’s Friends’ and down tempo of ’Bliss.’ Was it difficult to choose the tracks you have on the album?
Davey Havok: Yes, it’s always a task which we’ve always experienced from album to album. Jade and I have a tendency to just write, and write, and write until the zero hour which leads us to having to make the difficult decisions of what to put on the album. Some of that process is helped by Jade where... for instance with ’Bright Black Heaven,’ there are songs that were written early on in the the writing stages where I am really happy with the songs, but Jade felt they didn’t meet his technical skill level where he has grown as a programmer. He’ll cut them out immediately. But, I think they are great songs! So, that helps the process.
And, then being that Jade and I want to create a balance record rather than a record that is all high energy or all mid-tempo or all down tempo, we want to have that balance and movement throughout the record. We both grew up listening to records as opposed to singles. So with that, since we both have that tendency, when the two of us wrote our lists of our favorite songs we thought should be on ’Bright Black Heaven,’ the lists only diverged with one or two tracks. There was little discussion required thereafter.
BeBe: You recently came off of a mini-Western U.S. tour where you finished to a sold out crowd at the Roxy in Los Angeles. Where do you go next?
Davey Havok: Our plans are to tour the rest of the U.S. and North America, and hopefully make it back to Australia (where Blaqk Audio opened for Evanescence) and Japan and Europe, if we can.
Blaqk Audio new release "Bright Black Heaven" is now available at all music outlets including iTunes and Amazon.com. For more on the group, including upcoming appearances, visit the group’s website.
For upcoming news and tour dates, follow Davey Havok and Jade Puget of Blaqk Audio at www.Blaqkaudio.com .
Watch the video of Blaqk Audio’s "Faith Healer":
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.