Over the last five years, Melbourne’s Amyl and the Sniffers have been tearing up the gig space with their erratic brand of raw and raucous pub punk. Teeming with lyrical invocations and self-reflection, the quartet’s forthcoming second album, Comfort To Me, is one long exercise in rock rumination.
Part of Amyl and the Sniffers’ charm stems from their authentically candid beginnings. Motivation to start the band was inspired largely by the urge to play live at outdoor parties with friends. “We’re all self-taught,” singer Amy Taylor explains from her home in Melbourne amid another country-wide lockdown. “None of us had really played our instruments before, so when we first started I was 19, we were all just little kids.” Along with Declen Martens on guitar, Gus Romer on bass, and Bryce Wilson on drums, Amyl and the Sniffers have recreated a heroic vision of days past, bringing their Australian rock spiritus to stages worldwide.
Giddy Up and Big Attraction were two EPs that caught the attention of fellow Aussies King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Flightless label, with the band eventually signing to ATO Records. For Taylor, these releases were DIY and spontaneous writing adventures, just fun songs they recorded themselves in an afternoon and put on Bandcamp. Naturally, when their first album, Amyl and the Sniffers, was released in 2019, it was a reflection of the chaos of their heightened success and busy schedule on the road, aptly being written behind a three-month tour. “All the boys in my opinion have gotten so incredible at playing since then. Mainly we’re just different people in a lot of ways and have just lived our life a bit more” she says.
To say the pandemic brought a bout of self-reflection for Taylor would be an understatement. While patterning her off-stage persona and practicing her art in isolation, she became what she describes as a “temporary monster.” “Last year, mentally, I just lost the plot at a certain point. I went into some pretty dark places; the monster being straight-up depression.”
“Last year, mentally, I just lost the plot at a certain point. I went into some pretty dark places; the monster being straight-up depression.”
Writing Comfort To Me, the Sniffers’ second full-length album, provided artistic nourishment for her creative side to blossom during the pandemic. Taylor spent most of lockdown living with her band, writing and perfecting the songs, but also took time to focus on her health, encouraging her bandmates to run and stay fit with YouTube workout videos. Distilling a rough-hewn year into digestible sonance, singles “Guided By Angels” and “Security” give us a taste of just how much Taylor has grown into her role as a lyricist. “I like that I’ve been through shit. There’s a certain cynicism throughout the album that was born from that kind of mind-set that I was pushed into. Because my headspace most of the time was pretty dark, it was considered, but considered in a nihilistic way. To me that was kind of beautiful in its own way.”
For someone who exudes so much energy on stage, it’s hard to believe Taylor had become an introverted, socially anxious person. Due in part to lockdown, she explains how quickly her social skills began to disappear. “I really value chatting with people. I love small talk, I love interactions. I love that I go down to the pub and I know everyone just in a surface level way. I don’t care too deeply and they don’t care too deeply about me either, but we can say ‘what have you been up to?’ I’m still trying to get that back.” Anxiety aside, Taylor’s raucous stamina has been both a major player and potent symbol of the band’s relentless force. “It’s really hard for me to chill out,” she admits, “I’m a really high energy person who enjoys being productive. It’s tough to stay busy. I feel super lucky to be so motivated, so it’s a weird inverted hell. It’s awesome, but it’s also frustrating.”
Amy Taylor, stage persona aside, is so much more than just the rebellious, envelope-pushing singer of Amyl and the Sniffers. “I’m also pretty interested in the business side of music. I like to be switched on, I like having my head on my shoulders and I like having control over stuff and learning as much as I can.” Reflecting back on some of the highlights of her time as a musician, she exclaims that “there have been so many special and bizarre experiences that solidify how life is,” continuing, “like doing that Gucci stuff, getting flown first class to Sicily, getting picked up in a nice car and staying in five-star hotels.” Despite the glitz and glam her and the band were given through a music collaboration with the high fashion label, selling out shows still proves to be the most rewarding gift of all, she assures.
Observed frequently by members of the band, loosely fit comparisons to Iggy and The Stooges and Blondie are often used by critics to describe her and the surface of the Sniffers’ sound. “Sonically, we’re not that similar to either, but with Debbie Harry, it’s just because we’re two blonde females. At the end of the day, I am Australian and my influences are very much Australian.” She continues, “obviously, I can’t control [what other people say] but if I’m compared to somebody I love, or who is an influence, like Wendy O. Williams, Dolly Parton or Bon Scott I’m like, fuck yeah that’s dope. I feel like with those references, it’s a better representation and an easier way for someone to understand me. But to compare me to somebody I don’t feel influenced by – I wonder, well, how can I be like them if I don’t really know them?”
Arguably, the non-sonic aspects of punk still frequent the media as much as they ever have. For Taylor, the barrage about how she looks and dresses is not only vexatious, but irrelevant. “It’s not often, but I will read stuff and be offended even if it’s meant to be positive, or I’ll read negative stuff and think it’s funny. It all just depends. Pitchfork once said that we were ‘intentionally ugly,’ which I don’t know if that was positive or negative. But I was like, well, I’m actually trying to look pretty nice.” In defence, Taylor tries to remember that “pretty much everyone who works in the music industry just loves music, but we all exploit each other sometimes and that’s fine.”
However accomplished the industry sets itself up to appear, there is still very much a poignant clash of stereotypes in every genre, especially punk. “In the music scene they still assume that I’m one dimensional and people really sexualize me,” Taylor reveals. “It’s not all the time, but I notice that if I’m dressing a certain way the respect will dissipate because I look like a bimbo or whatever. But I like looking like that, it gives me confidence. I like wearing shorts and a bikini top, but I also like wearing jeans and a shirt. I’m not a different person, I’m still the same person in both outfits. I’m just kind of still trying to understand why it has to be different, like why?”
With confidence, Taylor shrugs it off, comparing the negative comments to the governing metaphor ‘water off a duck’s back.’ “People mainly assume that if you dress a certain way, then you’re doing it for somebody. I’m just a strong advocate for people dressing however the fuck they want and I think it’s really important to have femininity on stage, especially in the punk scene. I’m not one way or the other. You can be feminine and you can be a strong person and I feel like separating that kind of attitude is important.”
“I’m just a strong advocate for people dressing however the fuck they want and I think it’s really important to have femininity on stage, especially in the punk scene.”
Today, Taylor feels lighter, as if releasing the album has helped her deal with those internal demons she faced head on during lockdown. “Honestly, it just makes me happy to be busy and have a purpose. If I have nowhere to put that energy, I just feel fuckin’ bored. Bored isn’t even the right word. There’s so many things to say about the need to be productive for capitalism and consumerism, it’s just a really human kind of thing, but I am so much happier lately.”
Interpretation of the new album, she says, is completely up to the listener. “Personally, I want them to throw out anything I’ve said about it and just to listen to it and interpret it in their own way. I could explain each song and I have, I’m happy to, but in the end I think a bit of mystery is good and it’s nice for the listener to go ‘Fuck yeah, this is just a rowdy party album’ or ‘Fuck yeah, this is a dark and feminist album.’ Whatever they feel is right. I love it and I’m proud of it and it’s serious to me, but at the same time I don’t want to take it so seriously and remember it’s just music and music is made to just move your body to, make your day better, and to connect with other people.”
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The 88 Rising star moves into her artistic future by looking to the past and reinventing songs from her high school days.