Davey Havok On New Blaqk Audio Album: 'Less Celebratory, a Bit Darker'
Davey Havok is one of the hardest-working men in show business, with a staggering creative output that can't be contained in just one band. He’s best known as the singer for alt-rock band AFI, but also has been involved in numerous side projects, including retro new wave outfit Dreamcar (featuring Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont and Adrian Young of No Doubt) and electronic act Blaqk Audio, which he formed with AFI guitarist Jade Puget. Havok is also the author of two books, Pop Kids and Love Fast Los Angeles. And, in March 2011, he made his Broadway debut in the Green Day musical American Idiot as the character St. Jimmy.
AFI has been steadily active since forming in 1991, charting eight albums on the Billboard 200, with Decemberunderground reaching No. 1 in 2006. It also has logged five hits in the top five on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, including the No. 1 hit “Miss Murder.” AFI’s most recent effort is the five-song EP The Missing Man (Ex Noctem Nacimur), released in December 2018.
On March 15, Havok and Puget will release their fourth album as Blaqk Audio, Only Things We Love (Kobalt Records). The album's first single “The Viles” was released in January, and the duo will kick off a 15-date tour on March 14 in San Diego.
Calling in to discuss his latest musical endeavor, Havok is charmingly blasé, even if his description of Blaqk Audio's origins feels like a brief history lesson in electronic music, which the Rochester, N.Y., native could teach at a college level if he wanted to.
“Blaqk Audio started because, speaking for both Jade and myself, we’ve been fans of electronic music since we were both very, very young," Havok tells Billboard. "Some of the first cassettes I owned were the first Duran Duran album, Devo’s Freedom of Choice and Men at Work’s Cargo. So new wave was very much a part of my upbringing. And because I liked a lot of British synth-pop bands, I got into punk and then industrial, the darker side of synth-pop. That’s when I discovered Skinny Puppy, Ministry and Einsturzende Neubauten. Eventually, I got into big-beat stuff like The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, The Crystal Method, Orbital and Underworld, which is still one of my favorite artists."
Once Havok and Jade started thinking about forming a duo that roped in their influences, they landed on the futurepop genre, which he describes as a cross between EBM (electronic body music) and synth-pop, a genre that exploded in the late ’90s and early 2000s with bands such as VNV Nation, Covenant and Apoptygma Berzerk.
Havok and Puget started writing songs for Blaqk Audio at the turn of the millennium, but when AFI broke into the mainstream with 2003’s Sing the Sorrow, the side project had to be put on ice, which is why its debut album, CexCells, didn’t arrive until 2007. When asked how AFI fans reacted to it, given the lack of guitars, the singer is effusive. “AFI had long since evolved from being a hardcore band into what we’ve become, and our fans are very open to different types of music and certainly to hearing different types of music out of AFI," he says. "So for them, I don’t think it was unexpected at all to hear Jade and I doing Blaqk Audio. Given their participation and support, I think it was very much appreciated.”
Like its predecessors, Only Things We Love is an uncanny aural collage of electronica and ’80s synth-pop, thanks to Puget’s ear for hooks and production, and Havok’s mellifluous voice. Listeners of a certain age will instantly recognize a sound reminiscent of such beloved synth pop bands as Ultravox, Depeche Mode, New Order, The Human League, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Japan and Erasure. Havok considers the set to be “less celebratory and a bit darker than previous releases. I’m speaking lyrically in that regard. Musically, it has a lot of high-energy dance and more dreamlike midtempo, cooler moments, but it is a bit darker, and that’s something that just came without any conscious directive.”
He says the same holds true for the lyrics for “The Viles.” Musically, Havok thinks the song “is the closest thing to a pure EDM track that we’ve ever released … That genre never really had great representation with us. More so for us, it’s futurepop, synth-pop or weird other electro-pop stuff that we do: I have a hard time defining us. But this record has all of that, plus you get ‘The Viles.’ That really speaks as a place of escape for the marginalized, if you will. For those who really embrace the dark side of art and find sanctuary in the margins and in each other, that’s where ‘The Viles’ is coming from.”
Havok has been drawn to “the dark side” in most of, if not all, his musical activities. AFI, Dreamcar and Blaqk Audio showcase his lyrical affinity for that special place out of the light. “I recognize that about myself,” he says. “It’s difficult for me to get away from. I wish I could write from a different perspective, but it’s very natural for me to come from a place that is generally perceived as the dark side of philosophy, consciousness or creation. I’ve tried. I really envy those people who can write perfect pop songs that have universal appeal because I find that most of what I create and who I am to be very alienating,” he says with a laugh. “But I come from an honest place, and those sentiments inevitably come out in an honest form.”
Perhaps Havok is happy in his darkness. He's certainly pleased with The Missing Man (he calls the title track his favorite song on the EP) and teases that there’s more to come. “We’re in the process of writing an AFI full-length album, because the EP was meant to be released before our last tour, and when it was released at the end of last year, we only played three shows around it,” he says.
Meanwhile, Havok says that on its upcoming tour, Blaqk Audio intends to perform many songs from its catalog that it hasn’t played live before. “It seems that we’re in good shape to do this. Jade is working very diligently to have variations in the set," he says. "Traditionally, when we tour, we can really only play the same set every night because it’s programmed with the lights, and you can’t do anything on the fly. So it’s just the two of us, like Pet Shop Boys, Erasure or VNV Nation. Our shows are fun. Unfortunately, we don’t have the budget of any of those groups, so it’ll be up to me to just ‘Broadway.'"
Blaqk Audio’s Only Things We Love tour dates:
March 14 -- San Diego, CA @ The Observatory North Park
March 15 -- Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
March 16 -- Los Angeles, CA @ Regent Theater
March 19 -- San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
March 20 -- Portland, OR @ Star Theater
March 21 -- Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
March 23 -- Salt Lake City, UT @ The Urban Lounge
March 24 -- Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
March 26 -- Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
March 27 -- Detroit, MI @ El Club
March 29 -- Allston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
March 30 -- Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
Apr. 1 -- New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Apr. 2 -- Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Apr. 3 -- Washington, D.C. @ U Street Music Hall