More about: Amyl-and-the-Sniffers
“Even though punk is, in essence, kind of like rebelling against authority, it can be taken the wrong way and it can just be a violent, misogynistic, kind of racist world. Even if it’s unintentional” Amy Taylor (Amyl and the Sniffers’ lead singer) reflects from Melbourne over a Zoom call. We’re discussing how important it is to have a big punk scene as a haven for people with leftist beliefs in Australia, which, like the UK, has its fair share of conservative views. “Music is meant to be for everybody, and so easily we forget that and think it’s only for the cool crew” she laughs.
It’s no secret that alternative music has a big lack of diversity, and a multitude of discrimination issues: in May this year, punk duo Bob Vylan led the charge calling for the removal of the controversial Die Antwoord from the line-up of Alt+LDN festival. Issues like these highlight the importance of taking up space, both physically and virtually. However, that’s not always easy as the frontwoman of a punk band, where there is also sometimes pressure to set an example.
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“Because I’m a female, my experiences are my experiences and I just have to share them. It’s inherently political. I know for a fact that at gigs I’ve been groped and stuff. I know for a fact that I get elevated because I’m a female and people want females and so I’d probably get more allowances than if I was a male, and I also know that I get held back by it. I exist in a whole different world to them. I’m not trying to be like the blokes. I’m just doing me, and I’m doing it good,” she explains.
Taking up space also means calling out abusive and toxic behaviour at gigs. Before each set, the band tells the audience to help anybody who falls, and to not touch anybody without their consent. “I’m a strong advocate of punching people who grope me. If somebody is acting in a violent way, I’m going to react violently and negatively. There’s an expectation on people to do things in a calm way. But it’s like: 'motherfucker, you started this!'”
Live music is a huge part of Amyl and the Sniffers’ story: Amy and drummer Bryce Wilson grew up in the same area in New South Wales, and they moved to Melbourne, joined by the band’s first bass player, Calum Newton, and their guitarist Dec Martens, before Newton left and was replaced by Fergus Romer. They mostly met down the pub, and in the first couple of years, they worked throughout the week and played on the weekend in the DIY scene.
“The motivation at the start was just to get free entry to gigs supporting people” Amy jokes. “We all really loved live music and at that time we’d go to gigs six nights a week. We just wanted to be a part of it really and be involved in some way”. Their first EP ‘Giddy Up, was a last-minute project, recorded in just 12 hours. Much has changed since then, and their process is a bit more cohesive, and longer, whilst still holding onto that DIY feel. “This is our job, this is like, everything. We’re lucky enough to put time into it, we can practice twice a week and think about what songs we want” she tells me. Amy describes their current process as “chaotic”. “Someone will bring this guitar bit and then someone’s like ‘Oh, I wrote this guitar bit, how about that for the chorus?’, like a team. It still has the same kind of essence of just… we don’t plan stuff. How do we feel? Let’s just express ourselves.”
Success has been an odd thing to comprehend for the band. In 2019, they won Best Rock Album at the ARIA Music Awards for their self-titled debut and were nominated for the Australian Music Prize. I ask Amy if the fame makes her nervous: “It’s just foreign. I don’t really know what this feeling is. I feel really glad that lots of people like us. But it’s also confusing because so many people know who I am, so to speak, but I don’t know who they are. On just a human level, it’s confusing.”
They’re not the only musicians from Melbourne to have found success – King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and Courtney Barnett are amongst several names that come to mind when discussing the music scene in the city. “People really care about music here, I guess. We feed off each other in some kind of way – if one person gets recognition overseas, it opens the floodgates for others. Our first international tour was supporting King Gizzard, so probably if they and Courtney Barnett hadn’t done the hard work first and like, getting the press overseas and shit… that makes it easy for other people to understand what we’re trying to say.”
Just as Amyl and the Sniffers have their fellow Melbourne acts to thank for creating that all important springboard for success, the underground itself continues to influence mainstream music. In November 2020, UK-based feminist punk band Dream Wife took to Instagram to post comparisons between their music video for ‘So When You Gonna…’ and Miley Cyrus’ music video for her track ‘Prisoner’ feat. Dua Lipa. It was clear how similar the visuals were, with Amy leaving a comment on the post saying “Omg lowkey highkey somebody stop miley”.
“I wanna preface this by saying I think she has ripped us off. She has a whole kinda thing like ‘what’s trendy? What’s going on?’ but also I acknowledge that I am hugely influenced by ‘70s rock females which Miley is kind of stating that she’s influenced by. So there’s definitely been a crossover, but I also believe that it would in some way loop back to us and Dream Wife and lots of other female fronted bands in the scene” she explains. “I actually think Miley Cyrus’ music is dope and I want to support women. I’m not the police, but it’s frustrating because we all work so hard and don’t make that much money, and people will assume we’re copying that era of Miley Cyrus but we’re just doing our thing that we’ve always done.”
Amy reflects on this further: “Obviously it’s a team of people, her career is based on staying relevant and being on the edgy side of pop and doing the rebellious thing. She’s a performer and is acting like an edgy rock chick. But it’s like, you ain’t shit, you have a mansion. Be yourself. It would actually be really beneficial if stylistically or personally it was a copy of Dream Wife/me, it would mean so much if she actually shared it like ‘hey, there’s a bunch of bands I really like that I’ve been really influenced by’. But then I kind of remind myself, like, there’s a huge chance you have nothing to do with this and you’re making an arsehole of yourself. If I’m honest, it just makes me laugh to pick a fight with her” she laughs.
Looking ahead, the band, like so many other musicians, are keen to get back to normality. “I want Melbourne to be safer so we can keep doing what we need to do and what we want to do. I just want to be really busy. I really like working and being in the band,” Amy tells me. Recently, they played a gig in Victoria with no social distancing restrictions: “It was very loose. They had way less of a hit with COVID. Everyone was just absolutely going for it. I think everyone was just like ‘aah!’ I was frothing at the mouth.”
This year will see Amyl and the Sniffers release their sophomore album, with the band already posting frequent teasers on social media. “There’s more depth and politics in it whilst still being simple and kind of like the common man. I think the arrangements are slightly more complex without being pretentious. We’ve never been a pretentious band but I think it’s more complex and layered. There’s a power pop song in there, there’s a more metal song in there, lots of punk. I’m really proud of it and I want it to be out so bad! I don’t want to be patient, I want everyone to hear it!”
Comfort To Me arrives 10 September via Rough Trade Records.
More about: Amyl-and-the-Sniffers