Goth punk — that’s the label that, for a time, got under the skin of Jade Puget, guitarist, co-songwriter and co-producer for AFI. It was a label tossed around by a journalist to describe the veteran California band’s sound. He doesn’t think it applies. Shoot, he doesn’t even know what it means.
“I used to get angry when I would read these descriptions of us that seemed so trite, that had so little creative thought put into them,” said Puget, who performs Sunday with AFI at the Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati. “Then we got saddled with ‘goth punk’ 15 years ago, and it just stuck with us. We were neither punk or goth. Goth isn’t really even a genre. So I felt a little indignant about that until I realized, ‘You know what? I understand if you need a way to describe a band that is quick, easy and evocative. So I understand how some people would just latch on to that thing because it sounds like a unique way to describe a band. But I just stopped worrying about it. We let our music speak for itself. If people listen to it and think we’re goth punk, then so be it.”
The truth is, the music on the band’s newest recording, “AFI (The Blood Album),” forms a crisply produced overview of modern rock ’n’ roll. It’s plaintively emotive, even a bit wistful at times. Songs like “Snow Cats,” “Aurelia” and “White Offerings” are fully electric and rockish, but there is enough of a pop sensibility about them to make each a viable candidate for rock radio airplay.
Audiences didn’t seem to have a problem with the music, either. “The Blood Album,” released in the dead of winter after a 3 1/2 -year gap from the preceding “Burials,” shot to No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200 chart in its first week of release.
“We went into this one with a really free and open mindset. Davey (Havok, AFI frontman and vocalist) and I, who were the songwriting team, didn’t really feel the pressure was on us. We didn’t go in trying to write a hit. We didn’t go in there thinking we could or should please anyone other than ourselves, which is a really creative way to go about it. I liked doing it like that.
“Our last record had been very dark, lyrically and musically. This one had a little bit more of a hopeful vibe. It’s as hopeful as AFI can get, anyway. And I think that translated into what we came up with.”
AFI’s beginnings go back to 1991, when Havok and drummer and high school pal Adam Carson began gigging together. Bassist Hunter Burgan joined in 1997, with Puget signing up a year later. The lineup has remained unchanged since then.
“We all grew up in the same town (Ukiah, Calif.), so I knew those guys,” Puget said. “It wasn’t like I was coming into a group of strangers. I was coming into a group of friends. We were all living in a house in Berkeley at the time. I was actually staying in Davey’s room while he was on tour with AFI, so it was just a natural fit.
“I was a little scared at the beginning because I was coming in and writing some songs for a band that already had records out. I mean, I could have ruined the band if I wrote a bad song. But once Davey and I sat down and realized we’re such a natural fit together, we just never looked back.”
He already was one of the band’s principal songwriters, but Puget’s role increased when he was enlisted as co-producer for “The Blood Album.”
“It could have gone many different ways, because there is always band politics involved when someone in the band takes on a leadership role. I mean, it’s hard for me to tell the other guys what to do because they know what to do. We’re all important to the band, so while I was worried that it could get weird, it totally didn’t. They were super awesome about the whole thing.”
All the tags and labels attached to the band might be, at the least, limiting, but what’s in the name? There have been numerous theories as to what AFI stands for. Among the first was “Asking For It.” The band’s website address suggests differently: “Afireinside.net.”
But in the end, it’s the music and the band chemistry that continues to validate AFI, not labels and acronyms.
“One of the things that has been a cohesive part of the band, and a reason why we’ve been together for over 25 years, is that AFI started out in an underground scene,” Puget said. “It wasn’t about popularity or success or money or any of those things. It was just about a love of music. That is something we’ve maintained throughout all our years together. I think we have that kind of punk communal/community spirit and an appreciation of our fans. That can sustain you for a long time.”
If you go
Bunbury Music Festival
Where: Sawyer Point Park/Yeatman’s Cove, 705 East Pete Rose Way, Cincinnati
For the full schedule, go to Bunburyfestival.com/schedule-2017.
2:30 p.m. Flor
3:30 p.m. NF
5:45 p.m. Mike Stud
7:45 p.m. G-Eazy
9:45 p.m. Wiz Khalifa
Sawyer Point Stage
1:30 p.m. Flying Undeground
3 p.m. July Talk
4:30 p.m. Eden
6:30 p.m. The Shins
8:45 p.m. Death Cab for Cutie
2:30 p.m. Kevin Garrett
3:30 p.m. Frenship
5:45 p.m. Hayley Kiyoko
7:45 p.m. Tech N9ne
9:45 p.m. Bassnectar
Sawyer Point Stage
1:30 p.m. Current Events
3 p.m. Cobi
4:30 p.m. San Fermin
6:30 p.m. D.R.A.M.
8:45 p.m. Pretty Lights Live
2:30 p.m. Caamp
3:30 p.m. Flogging Molly
5:45 p.m. AFI
7:45 p.m. Thirty Seconds to Mars
9:45 p.m. Muse
Sawyer Point Stage
2 p.m. White Reaper
3 p.m. Dreamers
4:30 p.m. Moon Taxi
6:30 p.m. Jon Bellion
8:45 p.m. The 1975