AFI Guitarist Jade Puget On XTRMST + Straight Edge Hardcore
Add six more capital letters to the already diverse resume of AFI guitarist Jade Puget.
As a kid in the '80s growing up in Ukiah, Calif., Puget embraced the burgeoning straight edge hardcore movement given a voice by bands like Minor Threat and Youth of Today who championed refraining from using alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs. XTRMST -- who released their self-titled debut last month -- are Puget and AFI frontman Davey Havok's long-awaited entry into the genre. Both vehemently straight edge, they wrote and recorded each of the album's 14 ferocious songs on their own -- much like they do with their other side-project, the synth-pop-inspired Blaqk Audio.
We recently caught up with Puget who told us how XTRMST came to be, how a band can influence a listener's entire belief system and how much more his fingers hurt after playing the new songs.
Considering how intrinsic your core beliefs are to XTRMST, how personal is this album to you?
It's weird because Davey writes all the lyrics and I write all the music. Because I didn't write any of the words, it's mostly a very creative record for me -- like an artistic project. It's sort of a different outlet for both of us in that way. For me, it was just cool to sit down and write a record that's completely different than anything I've ever done. I didn't expect to be writing a record like this at this point in my career. Even though Davey and I had talked about writing a straight-edge hardcore record for a long time, I didn't really picture it being like this. I think we both kind of pictured it being, like, a youth crew kind of thing -- like a lot of the straight edge records we grew up with, but it ended up being a lot more chaotic and crazy. It exceeded my expectations of what I thought it would be.
When did you first discover straight edge?
The first time I heard about it I was in the sixth grade in the early or mid-'80s. This kid was telling me about a band called Minor Threat. He told me they were for skinheads and I can't listen to it because it's too crazy. He said, "If you try and listen to it, you'll get your ass kicked." So that really intrigued me. Back then, you couldn't just go down to a record store and buy something like Minor Threat -- at least not where I lived. So by the time I actually heard Minor Threat, that was my first exposure to the ideas of straight edge and what it was all about.
What about it appealed to you?
When I was around 13 or 14, I was experimenting with drinking like you do when you get to that age and want to know what everything is all about. Even at that early age, even though I was doing all the things my friends were doing, I felt like it wasn't for me. I wasn't having fun and it wasn't making sense to me. So once I heard these bands who were talking about straight edge and promoting this other alternate lifestyle, that's when I started getting into it. I was also into punk and hardcore, skateboarding and all the things that set you apart and made you an outcast in '80s high school society, so it also fulfilled me on that level. I've always felt like I was counter to what everyone else was doing.
Why do you think hardcore lent itself to straight edge so much more than any other genre? Why wasn't it more rooted in, say, acoustic folk?
I think if straight edge had been invented in the early '60s, then there probably would have been some straight edge folk groups. But because Ian MacKaye and Minor Threat were the first ones to put forth these ideas and they were playing hardcore punk, it made sense. It's an extreme message and hardcore and punk and other more aggressive types of music speak an extreme message.
Why was the right time for you to do it now?
We were already writing for [AFI's 2013 album] 'Burials,' so we were seeing each other every day and together writing music. It was just like, "Let's try and do this. We can just throw this in with that stuff and see if it's going to work."
Did it work right out of the gate?
Yeah, I started writing a couple of songs that were straight-up hardcore and Dave wrote some vocals to them. I listened to them and thought they were cool, but we were like, "We've already heard this. We grew up with this." I wanted to do something a little more challenging and unique. So I started over and started writing the songs that became the record.
What kind of changes?
Instead of writing a chord progression or a riff that I've written before, I tried to write things I hadn't heard or written. Because everything really has been done, I went just more chaotic with crazy chromatic riffs and chord progressions that almost don't make sense to the ear. So, a lot of it -- not every part of every song -- but there's a lot that's just kind of madness.
What was the recording process like? Similar to how you work for Blaqk Audio or AFI?
It was kind of like working on Blaqk Audio. It's completely different music but the idea is the same. It's nice to have just two people in your band and no record label and no one else involved. You can make whatever music you want with no pressure. We didn't even talk about putting this album out. Our original idea was that we wanted to do it anonymously. We weren't even going to tell anyone it was us and just put out a few hundred cassette tapes and give them away for free. But, of course, Davey's voice is so distinct that people would immediately know it was him, so we realized that wasn't going to work.
Obviously, this is going to draw fans of AFI and others who probably don't know a whole lot about straight edge. Are you guys hoping to enlist people or just raise awareness?
To me, those are two very different things. I've never been a proselytizer. I've never been someone who preaches. You may listen to the lyrics and be like, "Well, this sounds like you're trying to enlist or spread your message," and that's true. But, for me personally, I've never felt the need to try to convince people they should be like me. I don't say, "I'm straight edge or vegetarian, so you need to be like this." For me, it's all been a very personal choice. My wife isn't straight edge. She's not even vegetarian and that's fine. I want everyone to be an individual and make their own choices. Obviously, the lyrics have been very divisive. If you're not straight edge, you might be like, "These lyrics are crazy. They say I'm a terrible person for drinking." But, to me, it's just more like conveying an extreme message. If you're listening to a Snoop Dogg song and he says, "187 on an undercover cop," you don't think he went out and killed a cop.
One of the things that's controversial within the scene is people who become straight edge but then fall off. Do you worry about bringing new people in who are just attracted to the music and get into it for superficial reasons?
Yeah, but that's always been the case with straight edge and it's really the case with any belief system -- whether it's religion, politics or straight edge. A lot of people who get into something either get into it for the wrong reasons or because their friends or someone they looked up to is into it. Then it doesn't work out for them and they move on. I'm not really worried about it. If you try it and its not for you, that's fine. There are always going to be a couple of people who try it and -- like me when I was a kid -- it resonates with them and it becomes their belief system.
Not every band can change someone's entire belief system.
Yeah, and I hope anyone who does try straight edge because of us does it because they're making their own individual choice and not feeling like, "Oh, AFI are my favorite band and I need to try this because Davey and Jade do it." Don't do something because we told you to do it. [Laughs]
While Davey writes the lyrics, what's at the top of your list of things angering you these days?
Well, that'd be a big list. But in terms of straight edge, it's the same thing that has always existed -- things that have been there since the beginning of mankind. Obviously, people have always drank alcohol and used drugs and it's always had a detrimental effect on people -- both individually and on society. But that's just the way we are as a race. Humans look for that escape. So for me to be a part of something that's counter to that, I realize that people like me are the freaks. We're the weird ones. We're very strange to not drink because drinking is such an intrinsic part of the human experience. But when you look at the destructive effects of alcohol and drugs, that angers me. I see people I know and love who are being damaged by it. But at the same time, I realize how we are as people.
You guys are playing a couple XTRMST shows, which has to be hard on Davey's voice. How difficult will they be for you? There's a lot of shredding and intricacies that may not be in a typical AFI song.
Man, it's crazy. I wrote a lot of these songs on the fly. I would just hit record and start playing stuff that came out just off the cuff. But once I recorded them, it wasn't like I was sitting there every day playing them. There's so much stuff and it's so intricate that I had to go back and relearn them. Not only is it super-intricate and super-fast, but there are barely any parts that repeat more than once. It's actually not the playing that's difficult, its the remembering. It's not even math rock -- it's calculus. Listening to it is insane and playing it is 10 times more insane.
Is this going to be a one-off album or do you think you'll do another XTRMST record down the road?
We haven't really talked about it yet. But it was so fun, I'd definitely be down doing another record. We have other things like Blaqk Audio and AFI that we have to pay attention to, so I don't know when that would be. But I actually have a bunch of songs started for a potential next record if it ever happens.
You and Davey have so many side-projects at this point. Is there another genre you'd like to pay homage to?
I just love to write music. If Davey was like, "Hey let's do a country album," I'd probably do it. [Laughs]