“Let’s fucking do this,” cries Amyl and the Sniffers frontwoman, Amy Taylor, upon entering our Shoreditch studio for their shoot. She is followed by bandmates Declan Mehrtens, Gus Romer and Bryce Wilson, who politely shake hands and sit quietly awaiting instructions from our team. It’s an unexpectedly quiet entrance from the foursome, even with Amy’s thickly Australian-twanged remark, who have established somewhat of a reputation for their rowdy demeanour.
On a glorious summer’s day in Margate last year, I had watched in awe as the mullet-sporting punks commanded thousands to ditch the sunshine for the only indoor set of Mac Demarco’s Mac Will See You Now festival at Dreamland, antagonising the crowds with insults and spitting beer on those brave enough to approach the barriers.
The Melbourne misfits originally formed back in 2016 hoping to entertain their friends with a few tunes, not with expectations of stardom. But following two successful EP releases (‘Giddy Up’ in 2016 and ‘Big Attraction’ in 2017), the quartet debuted their self-titled album on British label Rough Trade Records to overwhelming critical acclaim last year.
Since then, the Aussies haven’t shied away from the hard work – spending more time on tour than off, carving out a distinctive sound and an equally distinctive image to match, earning them a reputation as the most exciting live music act on the planet. Evoking a gaudy pastiche of 70s punk, rock’n’roll and glam, they pair their musical ferocity with tongue-in-cheek lyricism.
But the group’s talent really shines on tracks like ‘Gacked on Anger’, their latest video release, which harnesses the anti-establishment ethos of their musical inspirations in a seething, spitting statement on the troubles of capitalism, and it’s catchy as hell. It’s angry music, and at a time when there’s plenty to get angry about, it’s resonated far and wide.
We caught up with lead singer Amy to discuss their whirlwind success, the Australian wildfires and finding comfort in the chaos of punk music.
As a band, you seem really proud to be Australian. How has the Melbourne music scene influenced your music?
Fuck yeah! Well, a huge amount of our influences came from down here because we love it so much. There are so many solid Aussie musicians it’s hard not to be influenced by them. None of us had really travelled before so when we first started we thought Australia was the whole world. Anywhere we go is essentially a long flight away so overseas influence didn’t really reach us until we first left Australia. When we went overseas for the first time, I think my world really opened up to all the current overseas bands that rule too, like Surfbort and Viagra Boys. But the Melbourne music scene is popping off all the time so I think we’re lucky we were incubated in it.
You’ve spoken about being a naturally angry person – not to mention the taboo for women to express their anger – and that this is what attracted you to punk. What makes you angry right now?
The world is absolutely cooked at all times. Melbourne air quality yesterday was literally the worst in the world – because of all the bushfire smoke people are walking around in gas masks and I’ve been coughing all day! Not good. It’s not really news to anyone that the government is just a big corrupt mafia gang.
But the bad always exists with the good and there’s always good to focus on. Just look at all the people who reached out to help down here. Even Lizzo did a day volunteering packing care packs at a food bank! It’s stressful and it’s sweet and I’m glad I get to witness the wild bullshit of life. I have energy and I will tell people what I think but I’m also nice and gentle too, but the chaos of punk shows as a kid was my favourite thing and seeing people angry, even furious, made me feel good. It still makes me feel good to be doing it now, sometimes you just want to smash and destroy and there’s life in that.
Lyrically you have not been afraid of candid social commentary. After a year like 2019, how important do you think it is to highlight social and political issues in your music?
I think most of my politics is based on wanting everyone to be happy and equal and feel good, and have basic human rights and enjoy their lives. That’s what people like Gordon Koang or Dolly Parton do with their music, they do it without shutting anyone down and it’s some of the truest politics ever I reckon. They do it with the strength of their positivity and just by existing with their own open hearts. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t conscious of how other people would react to our music while we’re writing it but if I think about it now, I want people to feel less alone and to come together or feel the fury inside and find a place for the rage. Just know they can exist, or that their frustration with authority is universal. Or maybe someone will see me doing it and go, “well if that feral, with stains all over her and pissy dental hygiene can be a Gucci model then I can do anything too”. I just want to inspire people to not be a victim to the prison of society. To enjoy. Punk is support, and the people who need support are the marginalised. Someone pointed out that we have a platform to maybe share some other voices and that could lead to political change, especially with the fire season in Australia being so gnarly.
Because of this, social media is sick as I can share my opinions or share other people’s perspectives to a wider audience, for example, indigenous rights or how fucked in the head the inaction of the Australian government is with the fires. It’s like our song ‘Gacked on Anger’… you’re high on the stress of society but it’s almost like a positive, you’re high on the energy of depression and that becomes strength and a celebration! Bogans against the government!
Punk is support, and the people who need support are the marginalised.
You released your debut album this year, and I know it was a significantly different recording process with Ross Orton and Rough Trade Records. What did you enjoy most about the new process?
Yeah we’re making moves. But at the same time, it wasn’t too dissimilar to doing it at home and all that. Ross was a real laid back guy and the studio was this little industrial house modified to be a recording studio so it felt familiar, except it was way colder and the sun set at like 3pm. The toilet was outside and you’d freeze when you went out for a piss. He and his assistant Dave were hilarious and really kind to us. It was like a sitcom! We love them both. He didn’t make us something we weren’t – I reckon he caught the energy.
Was there anything that you preferred about your DIY recording set-up used in earlier EPs?
It was just free and fun and easy. Who doesn’t love a raw sounding song, and it always feels good to do something for yourself, something to be proud of because it’s completely independent.
Independence is my favourite thing in the world, to know things and not have to rely on someone else to do it for you, there’s real freedom in that. Not that I knew how to record, but it was just the four of us stuffing around and it was really organic. We still hold onto that ethos as much as possible. I think about how far we’ve come and how lucky we are, from the fellas’ musical skills from back then to now as well… they slaughter their instruments and they’ve never even had a lesson.
What has been your favourite gig to play thus far and why?
I think playing The Teragram Ballroom in LA was one of my favourites – the crowd was really full of energy. I always love playing LA, and Sydney too. Also playing at a place called Meteoro in Barcelona was the best thing ever. We’d been on tour for a little while already and we happened to meet some people who asked us to play a show on our day off at a club called Meteoro. It was really cosy and we jammed a bunch of people in. The owners were so great that it restored my faith in music
The band has a striking image, the mullet hairstyles in particular. Was this look an intentional choice as a band, or did the aesthetic come about more organically?
In 15 years, I’ll either still be a staunch bitch with the haircut or I’ll be laughing at the stupid fashion choices I made in my 20’s, but it’s a way to say “fuck you” with a haircut. It looks really pretty though, it’s my favourite style.
Beyond just releasing music and touring, you guys have also had an amazing year with Gucci. As an advocate for tough women, how did it feel to face a beauty campaign for the brand?
That sure was interesting and amazing. We’ll try anything once! The boys and I are pretty far from the fashion world and so when they asked us to do the pre-fall campaign for 2019 it was really exciting and flattering, and such an iconic thing to be a part of. People have their opinions of it coming from where we come from, and I understand that, but I’m not a one-dimensional person – I’m multi-dimensional. I loved being in magazines and on big posters, it makes me feel famous. Alessandro Michelle loves flaws and we’re full of them. Gus and I also walked in Milan Fashion Week for Gucci. I was actually terrified to do that because it was so out of my comfort zone, I could have cried! I’d barely ever walked in heels so I was trying to learn how to do it. It was nice to be included and I think they were really genuine and warm people, they also helped out with the Australian fires. The makeup artist was an Aussie too!
In 15 years, I’ll either still be a staunch bitch with the haircut or I’ll be laughing at the stupid fashion choices I made in my 20’s, but it’s a way to say “fuck you” with a haircut
What has surprised you most in your band’s journey so far?
Well, that whole Gucci thing was a surprise. Winning an ARIA [Australian Recording Industry Association Music Award] was a surprise. Pretty much everything has been a surprise. I’m driven and I work really hard, I’m like a workaholic, but it always kind of blows me away.
It’s a new year, which for many means a chance to reflect and set new resolutions for the coming year. What are some goals that you have, as a band or personally, for 2020?
Annoy small-minded fucks, listen to heaps of sick music, experiment with other musicians, experience experiences, try to share more and make people feel welcome, and get rowdy. I want to get better at grammar, put out new music, lots of videos, and have purpose. I want to make people feel good. I want to enjoy all the challenges life hurls and stop being a little bitch. I want to continue to power through the bitches and the negativity and be the humble country girl I was raised as. Jealousy just means you believe in me!