AFI: An Interview with Adam Carson

AFI band picAFI began humbly, fumbling around playing what they could wrest from their teenaged musical imaginations in an Ukiah, California basement. Vocalist Davey Havok, drummer Adam Carson, bassist Hunterand guitarist Jade Puget, who later joined the band for their breakthrough record Black Sails.

The band spent the better part of the ’90s touring endlessly, playing for small crowds that have grown from dive bar punk club sizes to arenas. The group also had a regular stint on the main stage at the Vans Warped Tour. Their 2003 DreamWorks Records debut, Sing The Sorrow, helped the band see their first taste of the mainstream, without sacrificing their signature sound or ostracizing any of their die-hard fans. Their music transcends genre lines, and the clearest ne plus ultra lies in the roots of rock ’n’ roll with hints of ’80s hardcore punk, Goth and an impeccable talent for crafting catchy, anthemic sing-along tunes.

Recently, drummer Adam Carson took some time out of his day to answer some questions for

SR: What’s your first recollection of music, and how do you remember it affecting you and your decision to play?

Adam: I started listening to music at a really early age. I remember having a small collection of 45s as early as age 3 or 4. My parents considered it educational to be exposed to art and music, so once every week or so they’d take my sister and I to the record store and let us buy a record or 45. When I was 8 or 9, I came home from the record store with Def Leppard Pyromania, as well as a poster of them performing live. I remember listening to the record and looking at the poster on my wall and thinking that being in a rock band must be the best thing ever.

SR: When did you first start playing drums, and how did you convince your parents that it would be a good thing?

Adam: My folks have told me that I used to drag all the pots and pans out of the kitchen and assembled them into a drum set in the living room, but I don’t really remember that. My dad was a drummer in the ’60s and early ’70s but sold his drum set before I was born, so when I started to play drums he was really supportive and no convincing was necessary. I think I was in the seventh grade when I got my first drum set. I played for a year or so and then inexplicably I stopped. In high school, we formed AFI. I was 16. I became the drummer because I owned a kit.

SR: Were you involved in school music? If not, why? And how do you feel about the fact that music programs are being cut by 60 percent in public schools every year?

Adam: I was in the school band in sixth and seventh grade. I played the drums (surprise, surprise) and had hot pink drumsticks and thought I was totally rad. I thought because I owned a drum set and could play a rock beat that I knew everything there was to know. I got sent to the office a lot for messing around with the trombone players, and when we had substitutes I organized mass switching of instruments by the class. I think I ended up with a tuba at one point. I kind of wish I had paid more attention because I can’t read music and know very little about scales and that type of thing. I quit band when the teacher called me a flake. I think he was pissed because I didn’t want to join marching band, and I was pissed because he turned me down for jazz band and they had a drum kit. Even though I was a screw-up, I think being in the school band was educational and affected me positively. I think school districts that cut music programs are letting their students down and depriving them of a healthy, educational and mind-expanding experience.

SR: How did you meet [singer] Davey?

Adam: We were on a soccer team together in the fifth grade, but we weren’t friends because he was a “St. Mary’s Fairy” and I went to Oak Manor. We became friends in high school.

SR: What was the first AFI practice like? How quickly did you realize that there was a chemistry there between the members, and how did that change with the addition of [guitarist] Jade for what is often considered your breakthrough album, Black Sails?

Adam: The first practice was pretty funny because no one knew how to play at all. I remember my dad was in the garage and spent like an hour trying to get the bass and guitar in tune. We didn’t even know how to tune anything. I think we tried to play Angry Samoans and Germs covers. There really wasn’t any chemistry at that time—it came a little later. Jade really changed the band for the better. At the time, Hunter had only been in the band for a year or so, and he and I were still learning how to play together, and Mark was in the process of leaving the band and didn’t really have his heart in it anymore. When Jade joined, he brought this new energy and willingness to explore music. In a way it was a rebirth for the band.

SR: What are some things, either musically or outside your profession, that inspire you to consistently challenge yourself and to keep your voice unique in a seemingly democratic band?

Adam: It’s really important to me to show growth on every record. I think if you listen to our records chronologically you can hear the evolution of my playing. My daydream is for someone someday to hear my playing and be able to tell that it’s me. Kind of the same way I can tell if a song is by Green Day or Zeppelin by the way the drums sound. That is always a motivation.

SR: What does the writing process for AFI consist of? Is there any “set” way of writing, or is it an organic and spontaneous process—or even more refined than that?

Adam: It varies song to song, but traditionally Jade will come up with a loose thread or idea or riff and he and Davey will get together to construct melodies. When they feel like they have something worth working on, the entire band will come together and work on it. Along the way things are smoothed out, sometimes rearranged, and transitions are created. Sometimes things just jell immediately—sometimes it takes a little work. Oftentimes, we throw songs away because they’re just not working.

SR: How has your recording process changed and evolved over the years from the first 7″ to the last record? What have you learned as a drummer as far as sounds you want to hear in the mix, and how has that affected your live playing?

Adam: The most obvious difference in how I record nowadays as opposed to when we first started is simply the amount of time I can spend tracking. Our first 7″ and albums were recorded with such a limited budget I scarcely had time to redo anything. Basically if I made it from one end of the song to the other, we kept it. This had an effect on my playing in that if the take was feeling especially good, I would subconsciously censor myself towards the end because I didn’t want to mess up a good take by flubbing a complicated roll. Now I can spend the time making sure that all the fills are there, that the track has a good pocket and that all the transitions are good. Also, I’ve become a bit more particular in the way the drums sound and can alter the sounds from song to song and sometimes within a single song. I guess all this has affected my playing live in that I have far more to live up to and reproduce onstage.

SR: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a drummer? It could be anything from the smallest rudiment, maintenance and throne height type of thing to the larger, more practical type of life lesson.

Adam: From a technical standpoint, I’d say to just keep your back straight and play relaxed. If something hurts the next day, try to analyze where the stress is coming from and change your set-up. Drumming is pretty physical and I’ve been doing it for 13 or 14 years and want to continue to do it for the rest of my life, so I’m hyper-aware of it. Also, it’s important to remember that drums have a million different voices, and there is no wrong way to play them.

SR: AFI is known for its very close-knit relationship inside of the band, which can also translate into the personal and positive attachment your fans have to the band itself. With such a lengthy existence in a world that once scoffed at ‘punk rock’ music, do you feel that your success is validating? Does it make a difference to you in how well you play and how you are perceived as a musician/drummer?

Adam: I don’t worry about validation too much. I think we’re a decent band and we’ve already accomplished so much more than I ever thought possible, so I think we’ve proven ourselves to the world. I take my responsibilities pretty seriously. I always try to play as best I can. I also try to enjoy myself as much as possible because if you don’t enjoy it, there’s no point doing it. I should probably practice more or whatever. I hope that people remember me as a decent drummer, but I’m not vain enough to think about it too long.

SR: Any advice for the kids out there banging on their desks with their hands, thinking about purchasing that first kit?

Adam: Get that kit. Drumming is one of the few things I truly love to do. Interests come and go, but I’m still as excited by drumming as when I first started.

Thanks Adam!!!

For more on AFI including tour info, please visit

Bad Religion: An Interview with Greg Hetson

When it comes to bands that have made their unique mark upon an ever-expanding world of music, Bad Religion’s 20-plus years of playing rank up there with The Beatles as far as influential bands are concerned. Of course, many of those bands may never play the Hollywood Bowl or the Bowery Room in New York, but each year they’ll be on Warped Tour, The Take Action Tour and headlining their own sold-out shows. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if that’s the case, then Bad Religion is flattered beyond all expectations. Their latest release, The Process of Belief, is another example of what it means to push limits and push sound—to move past what may be expected and surpass everything that came before.

The history of this prolific punk rock machine began almost two decades ago as a reaction to an environment that was not only hostile to punk rock music but also an industry that wasn’t taking any chances on anything that couldn’t turn a profit. Three teenage friends growing up in Southern California met and began rehearsing in a garage, playing shows and recording a completely DIY EP. Brett Gurewitz, Greg Graffin and Jay Bentley soon realized, much like their counterparts in Black Flag and Minor Threat, that to get anything done they had to do it themselves. With that, Brett decided to start a label called Epitaph Records to release the now classic, How Could Hell Be Any Worse?

Several years later and a couple band members more, Bad Religion was soon becoming more than just a hobby. With the addition of Greg Hetson on guitar, Bad Religion’s sound was fully rounded out into the melodic buzz saw attack, a signature sound they have become famous for. 1987 was a good year for the band. They recorded the classic, Suffer, an album that held fast to their punk rock values while embracing a high amount of production quality. Soon after the success of Suffer, three more albums were released—No Control, Against the Grain and Generator—creating a veritable quadripartite of punk rock genius.

From that time on, the band managed to release one album a year, and in 1993, during a time when punk rock music was taking a loose hold on the mainstream, they were signed to Atlantic Records and managed to land a hit with the track, “Infected.” In 1993, the record Recipe For Hate, which hosted guest appearances from such greats as Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano (“It Struck a Nerve”) and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, who lent his signature voice to several tracks (“American Jesus” and “Watch it Die”), further broadened Bad Religion’s scope as musicians and respected artists. The years to follow had the band jumping from Atlantic to Epic and finally back to Atlantic. With the release of their latest record, The Process of Belief, the band was once again at home with Epitaph and under the wing of their friend and musical brother Brett.

During the times when Brett was involved heavily with the label, Bad Religion hired the talents of former Minor Threat guitarist, Brian Baker. A triptych of guitar talent was formed with Hetson and Brett, and the three brought a new aesthetic to the idea of what makes a band. Eschewing everyone’s expectations and pushing well past any predetermined ethos, Bad Religion took on the year 2002 with magnified intensity, bringing The Process of Belief to the forefront of progressive rock music.

Hetson always wanted to play guitar, but he was never in school band. “I wasn’t in school band because I wanted to play guitar but they didn’t have guitar in band,” he says. “There were a couple of schools in my district that did. I remember seeing them wheel around these Pignose amps for guitar and bass.”

Some of Hetson’s earliest influences in music were such guitar-heavy bands as The Beatles, Credence Clearwater Revival, Queen, Judas Priest, The Ramones and The Buzzcocks. Early L.A. bands like Black Flag and X inspired him as a player as well. His first guitar “was a cheap Harmony electric all-in-one that I got when I was 12. I play an (Gibson) SG now through two Marshall straight cabs and a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier. I also have a Marshall 6555, Silver Jubilee (released in 1987 to celebrate 50 years of Marshall business), which has a little more output than a JCM 800.”

Hetson began, as many do, by taking guitar lessons, learning the basics and hoping that one day, he would be playing in a band of his own. “At about 16, I started playing along with some friends who also wanted to learn how to play. I think I was about 19 when I started with the Circle Jerks. Basically what happened was I quit Redd Kross in front of the Whiskey, and Keith (Morris, singer of the Circle Jerks) overheard me saying I didn’t want to be with the band anymore, and he said, ‘Screw those guys let’s start our own band.’ He said, ‘I know a bass player,’ and I said, ‘I know a drummer.’ And that’s kind of how it all came together.”

So how did Hetson start playing with Bad Religion? you might ask.

“They actually gave me a demo tape. One day we were all hanging out at Okie Dogs. It was a place we all used to hang out at after shows. I really liked it and became friends with the guys. We (The Circle Jerks) were going to be on the Rodney On the Rocks Show the next week, and I said something like, ‘If we like the tape we’ll play it over the air.’ I started getting them opening slots on our shows and air play and somehow I ended up in the band years later.”

When it comes to orchestrating six members of a band, it takes lots of patience and practice. Fortunately for Bad Religion, having three guitars transfers well in both a live and recorded setting. Hetson says, “Surprisingly enough, recording is pretty easy because we do so many overdubs and layering anyway. Live, it kind of just works. We don’t do a lot of the shows with him (Brett), but when he does we’ve usually got enough going on that it works. Part of the time we’re all doing the same thing and other times others are doing different accents and things that were on the record. So it kind of works out—we thought it would sound like a wall of mush but it actually sounds good.”

The writing process for Bad Religion is collaborative. “For the most part it’s collaboration, but sometimes someone will come in with a complete song,” he says. “If you look at a lot of the songwriting credits, [they’re] always attributed to pretty much everyone.”

The new Bad Religion record is about half way through the mixing process. Hetson says, “It’s coming out really great. I think everybody is really happy with it. Some really strong songs. Some heavy lyrical content, as usual. It’s a little darker, lyrically than the last record maybe. There’s a lot of stuff going on these days for inspiration.”

Bad Religion has always been at the forefront of music both politically and socially with their various contributions to charities over the years and their songs inspiring fans to think outside of the box. The auspicious title for their soon-to-be-finished record is The Empire Strikes First, and like Hetson said, it has some ”heavy lyrical content.”

Of course, the lyrical content of Bad Religion’s songs has always been a message of self-empowerment, articulated positively by a UCLA master’s degree/Cornell University Ph.D. (Evolutionary Biology/Zoology/History of Science) wielding Graffin. They also have a band-sponsored research fund that “was created to allow students to pursue field-oriented investigations in cultural or natural science,” according to Hetson. “It is an award with an educational focus and is meant to promote self-motivated discovery, practice of the scientific method, and experience in scientific writing.”

With two decades of music behind him and many more ahead, Hetson, like his Bad Religion band mate Brett, decided to start a label with long time friend and producer, Steve Kravac. The two met at Westbeach Studio some years prior and decided to take their experience as musicians and give back what they had learned in the business to younger bands. According to the Porterhouse Web site, “Each band added to the Porterhouse roster has been selected for their individual merits as opposed to the strategy of many indie labels that adhere to a sonic likeness to create label identity.”

Hetson says that in music today, “People can’t tell Trapt from Incubus. You can’t tell one from the other. They all jump up and down, choreographed in time to the music. The most important thing is to create your own identity. Classic punk rock bands like The Clash didn’t sound like The Ramones. The Adolescents didn’t sound like Black Flag. None of the bands sounded like each other and maybe that’s why no one is selling records anymore.”

Hetson added some words of wisdom, saying, “The best thing you can do when you’re first starting is play the music you want to play. Try to create your own identity and style, and stick to what you believe in musically and philosophically. Do something with a twist.”

With that kind of grassroots individualism in mind, Steve and Hetson have managed to produce great records from bands like Speedbuggy and the newest edition to the Porterhouse family, Lightweight Holiday. Porterhouse is essentially run out of Hetson’s garage where they built a Pro Tools studio. “We’ve got enough room in there to cut drum tracks. It’s a two-car garage and if we do drums in there, we have to track them in the control. We’ve got a good-sized iso booth where we can fit a couple guitar amps and get some decent vocals out of. We’ve got two rooms, one small and one pretty big.”

When it comes to sonic differences between analog and digital sound, Hetson says, “I guess analog sounds better but you know, well they both sound pretty damn good. Analog sounds better but for convenience sake, Pro Tools works better. We do some of the drums on tape, depending on what the bands budget is and the rest on Pro Tools. We’re doing the new Bad Religion record with the drums on analog and everything else on Pro Tools. When it comes to time saving and money saving, you can’t beat it.”

Porterhouse is a small band’s dream. The Web site invites bands to send in unsolicited material and that’s essentially how Lightweight Holiday was discovered. “They just started sending in demos and after about a year-and-a-half of listening to their stuff, I had them open up for The Circle Jerks and checked them out live. Then we went in to rehearsal with them and told them, ‘We really like you guys but try this out and this out.’ They liked how we were approaching things and we said, ‘Let’s do a deal.’ They were really receptive to our feedback. Some bands are really reluctant when it comes to offering feedback, but they were really receptive.”

When all’s said and done, and the feedback from the amps reverberates to its final decay, Bad Religion isn’t just some average punk band you might listen to on your MP3 player, or in your car on the way home from school. They are, without hyperbole, an institution of integrity. By posing questions and always challenging their fans to think first, Bad Religion is an example of an ongoing legacy that hopefully inspires more young bands and fans to follow their dreams.

This ranks up there with one of the more remarkable interviews I’ve done. I definitely got the best of two of my favorite punk bands with Greg being part of BR and Circle Jerks.