As an avid long-distance runner,
Hunter Burgan knows a thing or two about the importance
of endurance. And given his 16-year run with gothic-punk
outfit AFI, it’s clear that Hunter understands how keeping
pace and evolving your stride yields results. Growing up as
a multi-instrumentalist who eventually found a calling in
bass, Burgan’s early days as a hardcore player were fueled
by a “speed-first” mentality where note density took precedence
over melodic choices. Now a seasoned pro, Hunter
focuses on the song as a whole and his relationship to
the other instruments around him. On his band’s ninth
release, Burials, Burgan has lost none of the fire of youth,
but this time around there’s much more than speed fueling
the movement of his bass lines. And thanks to doubling
up lines with synth bass and using a three-amp setup
in the studio, Burgan’s tone is louder and lower than ever.
In his downtime prior to tracking Burials, Burgan kept
busy with The Color of Summer, a solo album he recorded
under the name Las Gatas Beach Club. The tracks showcase
Hunter’s multi-instrumental acumen and love for
melodic, laid-back beach music. Sporting a warm, clean
bass tone with a resemblance to dub and putting the spotlight
on vocals and ukulele, Las Gatas Beach Club couldn’t
be further from AFI’s sound. But don’t let the chill vibe of
his solo work deceive you—Burgan and his AFI bandmates
are thrashing as hard as ever. Even after years of constant
touring, Hunter still relishes the excitement
of the stage, and judging from his high-flying leaps
and roundhouse jump kicks, he’s as fit as when he
was just a young punk picking up the bass. With a
lot of road behind him, much awaiting him, and the
knowledge that pace is everything, Hunter is now
hitting full stride.
How do you view your role in AFI?
I like to think that even from the earliest years
when we were playing hardcore music, instead of
just following the guitar riffs, I would try to squeeze
other genres of music into what we were doing. That’s
kind of my mission statement in this band. Whether
that is by trying to put a jazz movement into a fast
hardcore song or putting some punk into a pop song,
that’s just me trying to be the rebel. At the same time,
I understand the fundamental role of a bass player,
and I try to give each song movement and counterpoint
where it needs it. I also try to play off the vocals
more than the other instruments, because I feel like
the bass is a highly melodic instrument.
What were your goals for bass on Burials?
When you’re presented with a song that already
has a set mood, you have to find the most tasteful
thing to play—what will serve the song best, and
what won’t take away from what’s already there. I
love that challenge. It’s often what I do best—solving
Can you give an example?
On “The Face Beneath the Waves,” there is a middle
section that I tried a hundred different things on. I
didn’t love any of them, and then I realized that the
best thing I could do was not play. Most bass players
reach that thought process or level of maturity
at some point in their career, but it was a real eyeopener
You get some gritty tones on the new album.
How did you dial in your sound?
For most of the songs I used three different amps
that we blended together; I didn’t use a direct signal
at all this time around. I used an Ampeg SVT Classic
with an 8x10 cab for warmth and body, a 100-watt
Fender Bassman and 4x10 cabinet for my midrange,
and a Marshall JCM800 and 4x12 for my top-end gain.
We mixed those three amps differently for each song
to get different tones. It was all about getting crazy,
aggressive sounds that were in some cases deeper
than anything I’d gotten in the past.
You also play synth bass.
On “The Embrace,” I used two additional synth
basses on top of the three amps, and it made the
song so thick on bass. I used a Moog Minotaur that
sounded great blended in. When you’re double-tracking
bass and synths, you risk frequency cancellation,
but if you experiment with it, you can make it work.
How would you describe your picking technique?
Live shows are such a circus that my technique
varies a bit between the stage and the studio. Depending
on the nature of the song or how much I’m moving
around, I often do a thing where I’ll fret with one
left-hand finger and use the other three fingers to
mute the other strings. That way I can go crazy with
my right hand. It’s a bit sloppy; I only do that if I’m
jumping off the kick drum or something. Because
I do a lot of crazy moves onstage, I use my right-hand
ring and pinkie fingers to lock my hand in and
keep my bass in place. It keeps it steady and allows
me to do my ninja kicks. I feel like I have a pretty
large toolbox of techniques because I’ve worked on
them for so long.
In your opinion, what makes for a great
I always feel safe plugging into an Ampeg SVT
Classic with an 8x10 cab. You can dial the knobs
straight up and you’ll get a great tone. I like to turn
down the treble and roll up the bass a little; it all
depends on the room and how it reacts to low end.
I shape a lot of my tone with my picking hand—just
the angle of the pick and how hard I’m playing dictates
a lot. I usually play really hard, but I can dial
it back to change my dynamics. I feel like I can get
almost any sound that I want just from altering my
Your solo work is quite different from your
I’m into a lot of different genres of music that are
way out of the realm of AFI, and it’s a great thing to
have outlets to convey the other sides of my playing.
Getting to work with other artists is really exciting;
it’s a great opportunity to work on new songs and
new puzzles in studio situations that call for a lot of
improvisation. There’s not a lot of that in AFI, because
we like to know everything we’re doing before we go
into the studio. So it was refreshing to come up with
an idea on the fly and not know if it works or not.
What excites you most about playing live?
We have an audience in front of us who came to see
a show. If they’ve seen us live before, they know what
to expect—we can’t let them down. If they’ve never
seen us before, this is our first opportunity to blow
them away. That’s the first thing I think about when
I get out onstage. I get excited before we even play a
note. From there, it’s mostly a matter of pacing energy.
How do you manage that?
I think about how I’m going to carry my energy
through a long performance. You want to come out
strong, of course, so I run around the stage and
jump off things. As the show warms up, we get into
a groove. I’m having so much fun nowadays that I’m
finding myself singing to all the songs and loving
every minute of each set.
How do you prepare for AFI shows?
|AFI, left to right: Davey Havok, Burgan, Jade Puget, and Adam Carson
I don’t do a ton before the shows anymore. I think
being in good shape in the first place is the best way
to be prepared. I’m a runner, I’m a vegan—I watch
what I eat, and I try to get enough sleep and generally
take care of my body. The act of putting on my
stage clothes before a show—which aren’t too different
from my regular clothes—gets me into a mind
space that I’m about to put on a performance. It’s
like when I put on my running outfit before a run;
it mentally prepares me. I switch into that mode,
and that makes me excited from the time I put the
clothes on to the time I get onstage.
How has your playing matured over the years?
When I first started playing, it was in a hardcore
band. We couldn’t find a bass player—I was
on drums—so I picked it up. My initial goal was to
set myself apart from other bass players by playing
faster and tighter than they could. That carried over
to AFI for me, but then I realized that I needed other
things in my palette. So over the years I’ve added a
lot of different things to what I do. I definitely feel
like songs are a puzzle, and as I get older and have
more experience, the puzzle is easier to solve. I find
that a lot of the time, a simple solution can be the
AFI, Burials [Universal
Republic, 2013]; Las
Gatas Beach Club,
The Color of Summer
Bass Fender American Standard
Rig Ampeg SVT Classic heads, Ampeg
8x10 cabinets (live); Fender Bassman &
Marshall JCM heads (studio)
Effects Electro-Harmonix Bass Microsynth,
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff
Strings Dunlop Nickel Wound
Picks Custom Dunlop Tortex, .73mm
Synth Moog Minotaur