AFI Fans Surfing, Phoning, Traveling In Cryptic Treasure Hunt

Band's elaborate game involves Web sites, classified ads — but what's the reward?

It's been going on for months. It has involved Web sites, audio files, answering machine messages, a classified ad, a comic book store, the dude who handles merch sales for the band Bleeding Through, and the lyrics to David Bowie's "Andy Warhol."

And AFI guitarist Jade Puget doesn't want to discuss it.

"We haven't really come out and talked about it because it's kind of in the middle of it, and there's some big developments and revelations coming," he said. "We didn't want to stand up in the middle of the theater, in the middle of the movie, and tell people the ending, you know?"

What is "it"? An intricate treasure hunt that's had AFI fans playing Sherlock Holmes. They've spent hours working together via the band's official message board, trying to unravel this tangled web of clues — without even knowing what all of this detective work might lead to.

It started with an audio clip, which led fans to a Web site where they found a menu to a vegan restaurant in Los Angeles that AFI frequent. Within that menu was a sequence of numerals that fans realized was a Louisiana phone number. When they called it, they heard a strange message: two women and two men, rattling off even more numbers. Those were decoded, using the alphabet code (i.e. 1 being A, 2 being B, etc.). This guided fans to a Web site containing a video of AFI frontman Davey Havok — his head wrapped in one long bandage. As the clip progresses, hands, concealed in black gloves, begin to remove the bandage from his face. Havok is mouthing the words "Tell," "Nothing" and "Charlotte."

In time, fans would uncover yet another phone number. On the answering machine's outgoing message, a woman named "Charlotte" advises "Georgia" to "leave your number, so we can talk." She also says, "I've been trying to reach you on IM, but I can't." Fans then tried IMing the screen name "CharlotteNothing," which worked: several people received a riddle in French as a reply. They translated the riddle, figured it out, and that directed them to yet another site — this one containing a paragraph comprising lyrics from dozens of AFI songs. By double-clicking on certain words, in a specific sequence, fans were led to another site with yet another video. It featured a man scratching down a notation concerning a classified ad in the Toronto Star.

On December 1, the newspaper printed the ad, which was placed by someone named "Charlotte." It provided the name and address of a comic book store in Oakland, California. Visitors to the shop asked the store's owner questions about AFI and, before long, were escorted to a back room, where a television was set up.

The fans were shown a video, which ends with bassist Hunter extending his arm with an apple in the palm of his hand. Eventually, AFI fans figured they should look up Charlotte Nothing on MySpace; her page lists two friends, one named "Apple" and the other Bleeding Through. Clicking the "Apple" MySpace page opens a separate site, featuring a video with drummer Adam Carson sitting in a room with a mask over his head, holding five types of flowers. The clip also features backward audio, which, when reversed, quotes David Bowie lyrics.

The mystery doesn't end there. The "Andy Warhol" lyrics directed fans to a new Web site, with another riddle. It offers dates and writes: "Listen to Brandan, but do not tell him. He who knows wears it on his sleeve. He sells the rest to every guest. If you propose, the answer is free. Any ring will do." The dates coincided with the tour for Bleeding Through, fronted by Brandan Schieppati. Concertgoers approached the dude behind the merch table and asked for the next clue: a pin that asks "Where are the five flowers?" And that brings us to the most recent clue: the Web site

The site is still being worked on. But within days, Puget said the next clue should be revealed. So fans have been in something of a holding pattern for the last three weeks, pondering what this all means.

"This has been going on over the course of several albums, and there's definitely going to be a dénouement. But because the band's ongoing, I think the only way it could fully end is if we ended," he explained. "This part of it, this expansion of it, is definitely something that's been going on over the course of the last five months. The fans have really put a lot of time and effort into it, which is cool. But it definitely has a narrative. It's not like 'Lost' where they just make it up as they go along. It's definitely going somewhere. But it's leading up to something bigger than an album title — although, the album title could be revealed as part of this.

"Everything we have been doing is tied into the imagery of the upcoming album and the album title and the lyrics and the songs. In retrospect, once the album is released, you'll be able to see how everything ties in."

Given that AFI's album, titled Decemberunderground, is due June 6, it seems everything's about to come to a head in the next few weeks.

"It was never something that we were even going to consciously expand and bring out into the world," he said. "It was maybe just a theme of the band. But I mean, there are elements to it that haven't been discovered yet, in connection to parts of our past that people haven't put together. Everything from AFI from the past six years is tied into it. All will be revealed soon."

This spring, before the band heads out on this summer's Warped Tour, AFI will play club shows in most of the nation's major cities. And during Warped, the band plans to do several headlining off-date gigs. "We haven't been on the road for almost two years now, and we just can't wait to get back out there," Puget said.

In addition, the band will be filming a video next month for the album's first single, "Miss Murder." AFI are still working on the details for the treatment and also need to recruit a director.