Scoring Massive Havok – AFI front man Davey on debut novel POP KIDS and more
There was this American kid called Davey who started a band with his buddies back in 1991. They played their first concert in their high school quad in their small California town. They had a song called ‘Mini Trucks Suck’. Fast-forward 22 years, and Davey Havok is still the lead singer and front man of AFI (the acronym stands for A Fire Inside) as well as half the electronica band Blaqk Audio (the other half is AFI-guitarist Jade Puget). Havok also played the role of Jimmy in the Broadway production of Green Day’s American Idiot musical, and acted in the movie Knife Fight, starring Rob Lowe. Oh, yeah, and he’s also designed a couple clothing and jewelry lines.
The 37-year-old singer/actor/designer has now added another job description to the mix: writer. 2nd April saw the release of his debut novel, POP KIDS. Days before its release, the specially embossed pre-order copy, signed by the author, was already sold out. Scheduling an interview between his many other engagements was difficult but eventually doable, and Havok was incredibly engaging, talkative and enthusiastic about his newest endeavor when we chatted on the phone.
A big fan of his music, I’ve heard him express his desire to write a novel in interviews over the years, and I asked him – why now? He replied: “It really was a matter of finding the story. I had wanted to write for many years – since I was in high school, really, the thought of writing a novel appealed to me. I never really wanted to write anything autobiographical, nor did I have the expertise to write any nonfiction. The novel was really what appealed to me, not only as a writer but as a reader, I was always a fan of fiction. But I never had the story.
“And then one evening, in the fall of 2008, the story hit me, and I just sat down and I decided to go for it. To kind of shoot and then aim, and it was a shot that went wild. I wrote about 600 pages in a matter of a mere approximate three or four years. Eventually it became the novel that’s going to be released on the second [of April].”
I was lucky enough to get a copy of POP KIDS through the magic of holding a journalistic position, and am able to verify that it is more than the book’s bubble-gum pink cover that pops. Its back cover proclaims that: “inspired by pop stars, fashion models, celebrities, Internet porn, social networking, reality TV, sex, drugs and vegan banana bread, the Pop Kids shine an arc light on modern nihilism.” I asked Havok who he wanted to reach with this ambitious novel:
“My dream would be to impact many different sorts of audiences. I’ve so far encountered the peers who seem to react in a strong way towards it, really understanding the intended sentiment of the book. But to also illicit a strong reaction from the youth culture that it highlights, as well as from cultures and generations beyond mine that are unaware of the situation and might be a bit more surprised by it – that would be really gratifying to me. I feel the book can appeal to many different facets of culture.”
Havok himself has appealed to many different facets of culture. He started out as a punk skater dude – one of AFI’s early albums sports a track titled ‘I Wanna Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One)’ – and with each successive album that came out, so, seemingly, did a new Davey Havok. Sing the Sorrow (2003), AFI’s break-in to major commercial success, had many of their fans screaming “sell-out”, as the guitar melted to melodic and the vocals were more often full-bodied, wider-ranging tunes than impassioned screams and growls. With the change in musical style, Havok’s looks changed as well. Though his lip-ring was a constant, he abandoned his devil-lock and grew his hair out. Baggy band t-shirts were gradually replaced by form-fitting black Ts and white suspenders. In recent years, he’s moved beyond these and towards a fashion sense that is far more in the know than I am able to write about.
However, throughout these changes, Havok has remained a staunch atheist, a vegan, and part of the straight edge movement: “I joined the movement in 1991, and obviously have been straight edge ever since. To me straight edge is a philosophy and movement based on respect of others through respect to yourself. It’s first and foremost about abstinence of drug-use and about standing in opposition to drug-use. And I truly believe that godlessness is also a part of the true straight edge.”
POP KIDS is narrated by Michael “Score” Massi, a teenager in a small town in California, who abstains from drug use and who often remarks on his aspirations towards achieving veganism, fashion and fame. The similarities between Score and Havok are many, but he asserted they were barely skin-deep: “Well, I hope they [the readers] will recognise that Score is completely fraudulent. I mean he expresses to deeply appreciate a lot of things, be it Morrissey or be it veganism…. He has this seeming passion for fashion and style and though he is obsessive about his looks and seemingly interested in the design and designer aspect of fashion he doesn’t really live it. And he’s not even a vegetarian, if you’ve noticed…“ Indeed, though Score waxes poetic over any vegan baked-good he can get his hands on, he occasionally forgets that bacon is not quite kosher to his lifestyle. Havok continued: “So it’s all a matter of construct and façade and persona for him, so if people aren’t reading very deeply or aren’t paying attention and they know and are wanting to see me in that character, it’s easy for them to do so in that respect. Certainly, I think most writers write what they know and it was easy for me to infuse seeming parallels of characteristics where they’re just not truly there.”
Indeed, one would hope not. The novel’s arc follows Score’s rise within his small community as he begins to throw movie parties at The Palace, an abandoned hotel. At first, these innocently illegal film-screenings are exclusive, attended only by Score’s friends – but soon, the parties become rambunctiously sexual, and X-rated footage of Stella, the town’s social queen, appears on the Internet, giving her and Score the fame they crave. When asked whether the sex-parties were based on reality, Havok commented:
“I mean, certainly a lot of the events at the parties I’ve seen or heard tell of in my life. Friends in generations just a few below mine – or if even one below mine – have helped inform the activities that went on in The Palace. And to this day, every day, I see those characters in my actual life and in my wanderings about California. I feel that those scenarios, though rarely as organised as Score’s, do exist and have existed. Not, perhaps, with such frequency, before they fall apart, but that is part of the fiction of it.”
Although Score is the narrator of the novel, Havok laughed when I called him its “hero”, saying that it was “a generous word for him”. The anti-hero, then, although acting shamelessly confident and unabashedly in control as often as he possibly can, nevertheless reveals himself, to the careful reader, as vulnerable. Score repeats the words “It’s fine. Everything’s fine,” to himself often, whenever anything goes wrong. The constant warring between the two states is a fantastic reflection of a certain kind of teenage mind. Havok said he wanted to “infuse that youthfulness into the characters while contrasting it with the adult lifestyle that they live, are attracted to, are in touch with and that they’re being offered.” He went on: “So that level of insecurity that is very pervasive in youth culture, I wanted to highlight it in him. It’s also a part of the human condition – that insecurity – whereas Score’s goes beyond that. I feel it’s a deeper hole with our main character, but that is what I was trying to create with that fragility and that anxiousness that is constant in his character.”
It sounded like Havok didn’t much like his main character, but he admitted that he had fun writing him: “I mean, there are parts of him that make me laugh because he’s just such an empty creep that I’m sort of laughing at how upsetting he is, so that was fun for me. You know, a truly, truly empty protagonist has always thrilled me and so it was fun for me to create one, in that respect.”
There are some upsetting parts of the novel, ones that highlight the protagonist’s creepiness more than others. In one of the later parties, Score is in the middle of a carefully orchestrated threesome (he is always on the lookout for his friend Alvin’s paparazzi-like camera) when he sees something that gives him a moment’s pause. Mia, one of the girls in his original group of friends, is tied up and ball-gagged, but she has tears in her eyes and spittle leaking out of her mouth as Lynch, Score’s co-host, has sex with her from behind. She isn’t having fun, this much is clear. Everyone at The Palace is wasted, high out of their minds, and presumably Mia is as well – in another scene she does a line of cocaine and finds herself with an uncontrollable nosebleed – but Score is sober. He even pats himself on the back for telling party-girl-Stella not to drink before admitting that all the alcohol will help grease the wheels for the activities he has in mind for the parties. This double standard is distressing, especially coming from a straight edge author. Havok remarked that “Score’s lack of drug use or seeming lack of drug use at this point in his life is without empathy. It’s purely out of fear and out of self-preservation. He is absolutely by no means straight edge. He is looking to only further himself on a very immediate physical level or on a social level. And those are his main desires as informed by the culture he has grown up in. So his reaction to what’s going on around him is only self-serving at all points.”
When pressed on the discomfort a reader may feel with such problematic portrayals of sexual consent or lack thereof due to substance abuse, Havok remarked: “I mean, my hope is for a world that is uncomfortable with that. However, if the reader is not, and the reader relates and comes away from the book thinking it was just a fun ride entirely, I will have also done my job. If I’ve written this book that the culture that it speaks of relates to then I feel I have accomplished something great on that level, and I’ve captured that culture so well that they recognize it as simply a reflection that they can appreciate.”