A distinct voice, undisguised lyrics, and forceful, heavy music combined with the straight edge strength of Davey Havok and Jade Puget is what XTRMST is made of. The duo released their self-titled debut album for their new hardcore project in November, and let’s just say their perspective and attitude on the topic is evident in Havok’s expressive voice, or in this case, his chaotic screams. We caught up with the singer in Los Angeles where he talked to us about his punk rock roots, his relationship with Steve Aoki, and how XTRMST was created.
Cliché: I know that you and Jade have wanted to create this band for a long time. How does it feel to finally have it all happen?
Davey Havok: It’s really exciting. As you’ve said, doing a band like this is something we’ve spoken about for years, and it was casual talk for the most part only because we knew we didn’t have time to do it. When we were writing the Burials record, we found time and inspiration to start writing XTRMST songs, or what would become XTRMST songs. Initially, we thought we would start with an EP just to not be too ambitious or aspire to something that would be beyond our abilities as far as a timeline. But as we were writing, it was so natural and we were so inspired by what we were creating that we continued moving forward and decided that we wanted to record a full-length. We were really happy with it when we were done, and we were thrilled when Steve Aoki expressed interest in releasing it. He’s a longtime fan of hardcore, and I’ve known him from years ago when he played in hardcore bands. We’re really excited, and hopefully people enjoy it.
Who developed the concept for the “Conformist” music video?
It was a concept of mine that I had. It was difficult to put a visual to music such as XTRMST without being trite and without being so literal. I thought that the brutality and message in the video was an interesting and unique way of expressing the sentiment of the song, and I’m happy with the way it turned out.
The symbol for XTRMST looks like a T and X. How did that come together?
The XTRMST symbol was taken from a rune that initially my friend Dan Under and I had discovered in a book of different runes. We were at his tattoo shop and came upon a rune that we altered slightly. The initial rune was for straight edge—not the movement, but the tool—and being that appropriate, we altered the image in a way to take the straight edge rune and also form an X and a cross out of it. There are so many things within that single rune that fit the ethos of the band. It’s really perfect.
You have been a part of the movement for a long time. What do you think the teenage version of you would think of XTRMST?
That’s hard to say. I think because it’s so musically advanced from any hardcore that was happening at the time when I was a teenager, I would be a bit shocked by it and by how it sounds, musically speaking. But I’m certain I would have connected with the message 100% and would have been very excited to hear a band who was expressing my beliefs. Plus, I am that person.
Was the writing process for XTRMST different from writing for AFI and Blaqk Audio?
Yes, the views were very different. The words came very quickly with the music, and it was very cathartic for me in a new way in that I never before have formed to express that part of me, to express those things appropriately. It was very exhilarating to be able to get that out in a way that I did on that record.
I listened to the tracks, and you are really working out your vocals. Do you have any tips or remedies you follow to protect your throat?
I take a lot of vocal lessons, and I hardly give people tips because people learn in many different ways, but without my vocal coach I wouldn’t be able to sing any way at all without hurting myself. I use different techniques that she taught me; breathing and relaxation are very important in all singing.
For Blaqk Audio, you and Jade were dressed in suits mostly. Do you have a certain dress code for XTRMST?
No, I do not find myself following a dress code; it’s however I feel like dressing.
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Davey Havok Interview: Photographed by Chris Sorenson