“We’re not a band for radio, we’re a band for the pub”
Melbourne punks Amyl & The Sniffers chat their debut album, Aussie music, and triple j.
Interviewing Amyl & The Sniffers was an experience like no other. We were set to meet at The Unicorn Hotel at 2pm on Mother’s Day. If you’re not from Sydney, The Unicorn Hotel is a very swanky pub in a very wealthy area—full of very well-dressed families sharing quality time with their mums. Those poor fuckers didn’t know what was coming.
At about 2:15pm, drummer Bryce Wilson and guitarist Dec Martens met me out the front of the pub with a pack of Tooheys longnecks in hand. We sat on the side of the road with our longies, chatting about their Sydney gig from the night before.
After a huge set at Sydney’s Paddington RSL with C.O.F.F.I.N and Dress Up, Dec and Bryce slept in the hallway of their hotel, while vocalist Amy Taylor and bassist Gus Romer continued partying with the other bands.
10 minutes or so later, two Ubers pulled up outside The Unicorn. From them emerged the remaining two members of Amyl & The Sniffers, two members of C.O.F.F.I.N, and three members of Dress Up. None of them had slept, and they were all still pissed.
Ah well, I thought, let’s get to it. After a few close calls with public urination charges, and an ejection from the venue, I managed to pull Dec and Amy aside for a chat. Here’s what we spoke about…
HAPPY: Congrats on getting the album done. How does it feel?
AMY: It’s so exciting. We’ve finally done a full-length. It’s so great to get out new music.
HAPPY: You re-did all the songs on it, right?
DEC: Yeah, we did actually. How’d you know that? We demoed the whole album in December 2017 with Joey from King Gizzard at the Flightless studio, and from that, only Cup Of Destiny got put out. The rest of them we weren’t really happy with. We were still new to the whole recording process. Along the way, we got more labels signed, and we were touring a whole lot more, so we ended up recording the whole thing again in November last year, 2018.
HAPPY: So that first single was a demo?
HAPPY: Did you re-do it for the album?
DEC: Yeah, yeah we re-did that too. And we re-did Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled) as well. So there are album versions of them.
HAPPY: Did you approach anything differently when you re-recorded these tracks?
DEC: Um, I didn’t necessarily. We’d been touring those songs for like a year, so by the time we got to the studio, we could pretty much play them with our eyes closed.
AMY: Yeah, I was pretty much the same. We practised heaps.
DEC: What we do is really simple. Recording us is pretty much the same as what we do live.
HAPPY: For the new recordings, you recorded with Ross Orton in Sheffield. Had you ever worked in that kind of environment before?
DEC: No, that was the first time.
HAPPY: What was it like entering that world?
DEC: It was cool.
AMY: It was still pretty low-key. It was just one room, and Dave the engineer lived there. It just felt like a bedroom that was done up.
DEC: Yeah, it was really similar to a bedroom recording. It was really quite simple. We were still pretty pressed for time, so we were doing one song a day. It wasn’t like we were sitting around discussing what we were going to do. So in that way, it was pretty similar to every other recording we’ve done. We’re used to that smash-it-out method. The big difference was that this space was purpose-built for recording. When we did it with Gizzard, it stank of Gizzard sweat. No ventilation in that room.
HAPPY: Why Sheffield? Was that a label thing?
DEC: Yeah, well that’s where Ross lives, and Ross has worked with our label before. Our A&R at Rough Trade are friends with Ross, and he’d never done a Rough Trade album before, so he wanted to do one. Then the people at Rough Trade said we’d be a good fit, and we just did a video chat with him, and he was cool. So we said, “yeah, let’s go with this guy.” We already had flights to England booked, so we thought we might as well go along with it. And it ended up being a really good fit. It’s not exactly who you’d expect us to record with, but I’m really glad we did.
HAPPY: Well yeah, because when I was browsing through everyone else Ross has worked with, it did seem a bit odd.
DEC: Yeah, it’s all really different hey? And I think it’s been good for him as well. I really respect him as a producer, and he really rose to the opportunity to show a different side of himself. I think he sort of got put in a box after he did that Arctic Monkeys album, and so I think we both had something to prove. He wanted to prove that he could other things outside that whole dumb pop Arctic Monkeys thing, and we wanted to prove we could do a full-length album.
HAPPY: When you first decided to go with him, and you were looking back at things he’d done previously, what was it that made you say “oh yeah, this guy could be cool“?
AMY: Yeah, well we looked at it and nothing really resonated with us…
DEC: But you like M.I.A, don’t you?
AMY: Yeah, I like M.I.A. Well, I liked a lot of the stuff, but it was all really different to us. Ross just said that he didn’t want to change anything. He wanted us to sound exactly like we do live. So that was kind of the thing.
DEC: Yeah, I think that’s what we were looking for in a producer – someone who wouldn’t intervene and make it too complicated. We wanted to keep it super simple, and that’s how it was.
HAPPY: So capturing the live sound was the main goal of this album?
DEC: Yep, that’s our strength. I think we’d all admit that. It’s definitely not the songs… our songs suck. Just kidding. But we’re defined by our live shows, so the goal was to keep the record as live as possible.
HAPPY: On the live show… you guys have been touring pretty relentlessly. I can imagine it’d get pretty taxing. How’s it been?
DEC: Well my back muscles are cramping, I’ve got a pain in my jaw… I’m not sure what that is. I’ve got blood coming out of my nose when I blow my nose, I’ve got the worst cough in the world, but you learn to just walk to the bar and keep on drinking. Listen to Amy…
AMY: Yeah, it’s so hard. But it’s also so good. To whinge is a cop-out, really.
DEC: Yeah, there’s nothing to complain about.
AMY: If we were whinging, we’d be cunts.
DEC: When I’m hanging with my mates back in Melbourne, they’re all like “fuck, I’ve gotta be at work tomorrow,” and I’m so glad that’s not me. It’s not like we don’t work hard or anything, but I’m so glad that the hard work I do isn’t in the shape of a job like that. So we’re really lucky.
AMY: I still like working.
DEC: Yeah, well we all still like working. But when people say they’ve gotta be up at 8am in the morning, I don’t miss that at all.
HAPPY: Have there been any particular places you’ve visited that you’ve loved?
DEC: Amsterdam. Sammy (Dissclaimer) made Amsterdam great.
HAPPY: Shoutout to Sammy!
DEC: Yeah! Shoutout to Sammy. It was so good being able to hang out with an Aussie in Amsterdam. What was the question again? Oh yeah, cities. Austin, Texas is great. Manchester. These are just all the cities we got to party in… they’re the best ones.
AMY: If that’s the case, I like Sydney. Sydney’s always been really good. It’s sunny and everyone’s rowdy. Plus, I love hanging out with the C.O.F.F.I.N boys and stuff.
HAPPY: Overseas, particularly in the UK and Europe, everyone’s really into Aussie pub music…
DEC: Yeah totally!
HAPPY: Why do you think that is?
AMY: I think people just like something different. People think it’s exotic.
DEC: Plus, I’ve seen a lot of the English bands that are playing at the moment, and they’re really bad… like really bad. So I’m not surprised that everyone’s loving the Aussie shit. And it’s great because, in Australia, we don’t really have too many crossover fans who also listen to Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Skegss, and all that shit, but overseas, people are just really into Australian music. So people come up to us and say, “yeah, I saw Stella Donnelly the other day,” and we’re like “oh, that’s cool. We don’t know each other, but cool.“
*Anthony from Dress Up pulls up a seat*
ANTHONY: Alright, so are we doing this interview or what?
HAPPY: Too right. Jump in.
ANTHONY: I play in Dress Up by the way. I just play guitar.
AMY: Tell them about how you liked playing with Amyl & The Sniffers…
ANTHONY: Our experience was fucking amazing. It was the first time I took pingas, and I got absolutely fucked up. I jumped off the stage, I had a blast. That’s about it. I had the best time of my life. We’re just a little band from Texas, Dress Up. Rock n’ roll. We’re just trying to have fun. We don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what’s going on. I just play guitar. That’s all I do, I play guitar.
HAPPY: When you see all these Australian punk bands who are really killing it overseas, they don’t really get the triple j treatment or anything down here. They don’t seem to get that kind of attention. Did you guys ever see that as an obstacle?
AMY: Yeah well we’ve never gotten the triple j support. But fuck triple j. They just pick a band, they push em out for two months, then they wither away because the band don’t have any backbone. They don’t play everything that’s going on. It’s not a good representation of Australian music. Which is fine as well, but I’m glad that people came to our gigs just because they liked our music, not just because we got pushed on the radio.
DEC: Overseas, people are really confused by triple j. All our label people are really confused why triple j don’t play us. Because they associate triple j with contemporary Australian music, so they get confused about why they don’t support us. Well, maybe they do support us in some capacity… like on Double J and shit.
AMY: I think we’ve been played six times. But fuck, whatever. Double J is sick. Double J are doing cool things, and all the community radio stations are doing cool things.
DEC: We’re not a band for radio, we’re a band for the pub.
Interview by Bill Robinson.
Photos by Charlie Hardy.