AFI 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 themusicedge.com.
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.
For more on AFI including tour info, please visit http://www.afireinside.net