AFI (or A Fire Inside), the dark lords of contemporary punk rock, will perform on Saturday night of the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2018 at the Forum this weekend, on a spectacular bill that includes headliners The Smashing Pumpkins, among many others. AFI are no strangers to this particular event, having appeared many times. For frontman Davey Havok, it'salways a good time.

“They’re fun,” Havok says, gleefully. “I don’t know how many we’ve played but we’re honored to be welcomed into the KROQ family over and over again since our first shows with them around the time of the release of the big Sing the Sorrow record. To be honest, when we’re off-cycle and it’s happening without us, there’s a bit of pining in me.”

That’s not surprising — KROQ generally does a great job of putting together an AAC bill that is eclectic while appealing to its alt-rock listener base. Two years ago, AFI shone alongside the likes of Blink-182, Green Day and Weezer, and this time they have a new EP to promote — The Missing Man.

“We’ve made a long lifetime of really pushing ourselves artistically with each record,” Havok says. “So I think if you are a fan of AFI, you’re expecting different sounds with each release. There are different sounds on this release, as compared to our last one, Blood, or certainly if you go back in the catalog you’ll see very stark differences between our musical beginnings to where we are now. So I don’t think there’ll be surprises but there is artistic growth on this record. We were inspired as we created the EP, and for us to be inspired and continue we have to grow and land upon new songs that we feel are fresh for us. For them to be so, they must be different from what we’ve done in the past.”

He raises a good point; Early albums Answer That and Stay Fashionable and Very Proud of Ya were fairly straightforward hardcore punk. By 1999’s Black Sails in the Sunset, AFI had fully embraced a Misfits-esque horror-punk vibe; and by the breakthrough Sing the Sorrow album in 2003, elements of Bauhaus and even Depeche Mode had crept in. The connecting tissue has always been darkness, but the realism has shifted.

“It’s completely organic in that, as we write we plan to move toward music we’re creating that’s fresh for us,” Havok says. “Even when it’s not conscious, it’s very common for us to create something that’s very similar to something we’ve done in the past, and because it is, it’s less exciting for us. So all the growth you see from record to record is a matter of us being enlivened by new music that we’re creating, and new sounds and fresh perspectives, musically speaking. You’ll see a lot of common threads in the lyrics that run through the band, whether they be through the eyes of a very young teenager or a very emotionally stilted adult.”

Just prior to the release of The Missing Man, AFI dropped the track “Get Dark.” Havok says that it’s not necessarily indicative of the sound on the new EP, because each song on there has a life of its own.

“Lyrically, it ties into the greatest elements of the EP, which has rising and falling tones but common threads that run through,” he says. “But the five songs have unique sounds and each have their own identity. They’re all their own creations with their own voices, and there’s rising and falling in each of them in the record if you compare it to ‘The Missing Man,’ which is a more cinematic, more swelling, growing song, as opposed to the driving force that’s behind a ‘Get Dark’ or a ‘Trash Bat.’ I suppose the most similar-sounding song to ‘Get Dark’ would be ‘Trash Bat,’ then the EP moves in different directions from there.”

The inspiration for his lyrics, Havok says, largely stems from the music created by him and his bandmates. The music they’re creating dictates the subject matter, though he admits that his mood at the time of writing plays into it as well.

“I’m very lucky to have a band that allow me to express myself emotionally and freely in our music, which I do both with and without shame,” he says. “But I do nonetheless express myself. There are scenes of disconnection — unwanted and unexpected disconnection — that run through the record, and an almost desperation to reacquire human connection. Those are common themes. Amidst a desensitized and sinking foundation of culture, whether you take it from an individual vantage or broaden it to what culturally goes on to impart those disparities.”

We’ll get some of that at the Forum, though Havok says they’ll obviously be balancing the new songs with the hits that a radio crowd wants to hear. That said, they don’t dig too deep.

“We don’t go extremely deep into the catalog usually, which is a relief for me being that a lot of the earlier songs are wonderful for the time and place that they occurred in but are less exciting for me to play now,” Havok says. “If you look at a song like ‘Cereal Wars’ [from debut Answer That and Stay Fashionable], when you’re 15, that is very important to you. Or me. Or was. It now has less of an impact on my life as it did when I was 15 years old. But we don’t go back that far, typically. With the radio audiences, they tend to be more familiar with the radio songs, so it’s very common for us to fill the set list with the bigger hits for the radio shows, then play one or two songs that are deeper album tracks that we feel people will enjoy for those shows.”

Going into the new year, Havok says he’s always writing — both for AFI and for the Blaqk Audio project he formed with fellow AFI man Jade Pugit. There is, he says, no lack of new music on the horizon. And that, we feel, is a reason to be cheerful.

AFI play the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2018 with Badflower, AJR, The Interrupters, Bad Religion, Greta Van Fleet, Third Eye Blind, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Smashing Pumpkins at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Forum.

LA Weekly