AFI's Davey Havok and Jade Puget Hit The Road With Dark Electronica Project Blaqk Audio
By Chris Steffen
May 4, 2016
15 years ago, Davey Havok and Jade Puget of AFI started tinkering with electronic music. Since then, they've released three albums as Blaqk Audio, combining the darkest elements of Depeche Mode with their fascination with the EBM revival of the early 2000s. Their latest album, Material, came out in April and pulled in a four-star rating from editor Neil Z. Yeung, who dubbed the record "sparkling party music for the downcast masses."
The duo just hit the road for two weeks of dates (the schedule is listed below), so we got Puget on the phone to talk about the magic of Depeche Mode, how he tears it up on the dance floor, and what it's like to spend even more time with a guy he already plays with in two other bands.
AllMusic: Some people do side projects to get a break from the people in their main bands, but here you are, spending even more time with Davey.
Jade Puget: That is true, but almost 20 years on, I’m actually spending more time with Dave now working on music than I was then, so that was never an issue, not wanting to make music with him. It was fresh back then, our working relationship, and he and I shared a love of electronic music going back to the eighties and being kids and listening to Depeche Mode and Ministry and all of the synthpop and industrial that was happening at that time. Then around, 2000, 2001, there was this scene called EBM out of Europe, which was more industrial-based synthpop, stuff like Apoptygma Berzerk and Covenant and VNV Nation, and we were like, “OK, we have to do some electronic music.” I was learning how to program and make beats and electronic music, so it was the perfect opportunity for us to delve into this music that we both loved.
AllMusic: How did you become aware of that scene?
Puget: I don’t even really remember how we first got turned on to that scene. We were just trading music with each other, and there was a label called Metropolis Records that was putting out all that stuff, and so once we got turned on to this label, you could just explore what they were putting out and extrapolate from there to follow these other labels and see who was doing the same kind of music. It was very exciting to hear this kind of music, and back then, electronic music, in this country, wasn’t what it is now, there were still a lot of subgenres.
AllMusic: Ministry in particular has gone through several eras, which period of Ministry did you most connect with?
Puget: When I was in high school in the eighties, that was Land of Rape and Honey, and when I discovered that album, that was huge. There wasn’t much stuff that I was experiencing like that, I was more into punk and hardcore as a kid in the eighties, starting in the early eighties, so here was something like what I was listening to, aggressive and intense like that, but being electronic, that really spoke to me, and “Stigmata,” that song, that’s an intense song. That really drove my love of going from listening to stuff like Depeche Mode and Sigue Sigue Sputnik and the softer side of electronic music to getting into stuff like that, that was based more in industrial, that was exciting.
AllMusic: Though many of your influences are from the eighties, Material doesn't sound like a throwback record.
Puget: We don’t intentionally go for any genre or time period. When we put out our first record in 2007, everyone was saying that it sounded so eighties, and we were baffled, we weren’t trying to be eighties at all. Listening back now I can hear what people were hearing and why they’d think that. We’re unaware of how people are going to view it, so putting out this record, I didn’t have any idea of it would strike people as eighties or as modern. There’s going to be influences like Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode and stuff like that, but there is a bit more danciness to a couple of tracks on this record. I didn’t want it to sound like we were trying to be EDM, that’s not something that Blaqk Audio is. It runs the gamut.
AllMusic: There is some dance-friendly music on the record. Do you like to dance in public or do you keep it behind closed doors?
Puget: Oh no, I’m on the dance floor, for sure, especially at weddings. You get me on the dance floor at a wedding, and I’ll be there until they close the place down, I have no problem dancing in public.
AllMusic: Do you have to approach Blaqk Audio with a different energy than you would your guitar-based bands?
Puget: Yeah, I suppose so. Even with other things like AFI, which is more rock or alternative-based, I’m working a lot with electronic elements, so it all blends together now, which is very creative and nice. I feel like I can sit down in front of my computer and whether I pick up a guitar or I’m on my keyboard or piano or synth, it all flows from the same place. Some things are more obviously Blaqk Audio, since it’s electronic music, and AFI comes from a more organic place.
AllMusic: And when it comes to performing live, it must be pretty different than in a band like AFI.
Puget: Between the two bands, that’s definitely the biggest difference. Creatively, there’s not much of a difference, but when I’m onstage, I am confined behind a table with laptops and keyboards, and with AFI, I’m running all over the place and I’m able to move around the stage, that’s what I’ve been more used to my whole career, but it’s actually really fun, even though I’m confined and in the background, I’m in the shadows, but I’m still back there dancing.
AllMusic: It seems like one could tinker forever with electronic music. How do you know when a song is done?
Puget: No one will ever accuse me of not adding enough layers, I’m an endless tinkerer. I have to control myself in that way, I have that mentality that I could sit there and audition snare samples for an hour. I have to exercise some kind of control, but a song is never done for me, I have to force myself to move on. That’s an endless process, and that goes for AFI, as well. I score commercials and do all kinds of stuff, and so not only to pare down what I’m doing and make sure I’m not adding too many things, but just to stop messing with something.
AllMusic: Do you ever pull your own samples?
Puget: Sampling has a long and rich history in electronic music and hip-hop, but I’ve just never done it, I don’t know why. You don’t want to get in trouble, for one thing, but it’s something I’ve never really done. I’ve actually been working on a new Blaqk Audio song where I’ve found the synth sound that they used on “Beat It,” it’s really obvious, it’s a preset that was on this 80s synth, and it’s such a cool and iconic sound that I wanted to put it in a song.
AllMusic: Which did you pick up first as a kid, guitar or piano?
Puget: Technically, piano, because my mom was and is an amazing pianist and composer, so some of my earliest memories are sitting on the couch, watching her play and just listening to her play, and she taught me early, like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and “Fur Elise,” and that was before I’d picked up a guitar. My dad plays country and western guitar, so he had a mandolin, and I learned a couple of really simple things on the mandolin when I was really young, so that was really getting me into the idea of playing music and being around music, but really when I picked up a guitar when I was a teenager was when I became a “musician,” I guess, even though I didn’t consider myself one at that early stage.
AllMusic: Something about this kind of music almost begs for a British accent. Do you ever catch Davey slipping into one?
Puget: That’s not something he does very often, but it has happened, whether it just sounds like he’s doing it, even though he’s not, or if he’s actually doing it. Him and I have written some punk songs that haven’t come out, and sometimes that will trigger that. Jay Reatard, he made all kinds of amazing lo-fi punk stuff, and he’s American, but he’d kind of sing in this fake British accent, and it worked. If it works, screw it. A lot of British people, when they sing, they sound American, that’s just the way it happens.
AllMusic: After listening to Material I had to go listen to "The Chauffeur" right away.
Puget: I love Duran Duran and “The Chauffeur” is my wife’s favorite Duran Duran song, so there’s that. It’s not my favorite, but it is cool, and it’s kind of a Depeche Mode-esque song, so maybe they were influenced by them in writing that song. I love Duran Duran, I wish I could have more Duran Duran influence in Blaqk Audio, but they’re very funky and bluesy and guitar-based, in a lot of ways, and that doesn’t fit with what we’re doing, but I really love that band.
AllMusic: How early did you get on board with Depeche Mode?
Puget: It would have been so early, Speak & Spell came out in 1981, and I probably heard “Just Can’t Get Enough” sometime in the early 80s. When they started getting big, which would have been Some Great Reward with “People are People” and “Master and Servant” and stuff like that, that’s probably when I really became aware of them, and that was ’84. Anything after that, and for someone like me, when I was into punk but I also loved dark music, anything dark like that, it was crucial.
AllMusic: Did you follow them as they transitioned into more of a rock band?
Puget:Violator is such an amazing album, you have songs like “Personal Jesus,” and the crucial part of that song is the guitar riff, and Martin Gore was writing basically blues guitar riffs, but it never seemed like it was rock, it was still electronic synth pop, even though it was guitar riffs. That’s probably the classic record. I don’t know if you’ve seen their documentary , but I’d never watched it until about a year ago, and that’s a great documentary. Not only is it them at their prime, but it’s also like they invented the reality TV show. The whole premise is that they take these kids who are super Depeche Mode fans and put them on a bus and film them following around the tour, so you’re not only seeing these live performances, but I was basically one of these kids, although I was a little younger. It’s a really interesting document of 80s pop culture.
AllMusic: When you started this project, did you think it would make it to the 15-year mark?
Puget: When we first started, we just wanted to make some electronic music, we didn’t think too far down the road. It’s been hard for us to find a lane to put this stuff out, because we’re so busy with AFI and other stuff. We should have had five or six records out by now. Even though we’ve been doing this almost 15 years, I’m hoping we can start putting out records more regularly. We have enough material to put out another record, so maybe next year we can get another one out. But AFI will be our next focus.
AllMusic: How do the two of you go about rehearsing for the live shows?
Puget: Dave and I are not fans of rehearsals, so it’s often just one day of rehearsal, sometimes two fi we’re really feeling crazy. This time we’re bringing out some lights, which we’ve never done, and so that will be fun, having a bit of production out there. There’s always the opportunity to have the lights synced up to the music, which you can’t really do in rock, and that’s always fun, I’m excited to do that.
AllMusic: I have a mental image of the two of you stuffed into a station wagon with all your gear.
Puget: We’ve only done one real tour in all the years we’ve been together, this is the second one, but we did a bit of touring on the last record, and we drove in a car for a couple of the shows, just rented a Civic or something and drove, so that was even more lo-fi than our band.
Blaqk Audio Tour Dates:
May 5 Observatory Santa Ana, CA
May 6 Troubadour Los Angeles, CA
May 7 Ace of Spades Sacramento, CA
May 10 Doug Fir Lounge Portland, OR
May 11 Croc Seattle, WA
May 13 In The Venue Salt Lake City, UT
May 14 Bluebird Denver, CO
May 16 Turf Club Saint Paul, MN
May 17 Bottom Lounge Chicago, IL
May 18 Mod Club Toronto, ON
May 20 Sinclair Cambridge, MA
May 21 U Street Music Hall Washington, DC
May 22 Bowery Ballroom New York, NY
June 4 Live 105’s BFD Mountain View, CA