Amyl and The Sniffers Aren’t Afraid of Mistakes

Amy Taylor on the business of being a musician, releasing an album in lockdown, living with her bandmates and "get[ting] smarter by fucking up"

Music Features Amyl and the Sniffers
Amyl and The Sniffers Aren’t Afraid of Mistakes

Amy Taylor logs onto Zoom in a black puffer jacket as winter winds down in Australia, a stark contrast to my cracked-open windows that let in the warm summer breeze of my city. We come from two different realities in the midst of a global pandemic that ebbs and flows. Taylor and her band, Amyl and The Sniffers, are in their sixth lockdown as their home base of Melbourne hits record-high cases. However, none of this stopped them from releasing their raucous and rowdy new record, Comfort to Me.

Written primarily in the middle of bushfire season, where masks were already a part of the band’s daily reality prior to the pandemic, the project was fully crystallized within the confines of a small three-bedroom apartment that the band moved into together, and the tin walls of the storage unit they practiced and recorded demos in. Taylor, the frontwoman and primary lyricist of the band, reached a point of catharsis as she was confronted with the boredom of staying home after several years of constant touring. As a result, she and The Sniffers crafted their most personal album yet, exploring issues of sexism and authority with the witty down-under edge and riffs enviable by the heaviest garage-rock records of our time. Where their self-titled debut was full of a quick-fire rage, Comfort to Me digs deeper into life’s daily antagonists with a thoughtful precision.

What makes Amyl and The Sniffers special is that their world is far from black-and-white. Taylor’s ability to address her shortcomings and contradictions in her ever-evolving lyricism is reflective of growth, rather than indecision. Her ability to confront listeners with a bloody-mouthed snarl on “Choices,” when she asks, “Does my opinion really make you that sick?” and have it exist alongside the grotesquely cheesy “I like who you are / To me you’re incredibly hot,” on “Maggot,” is a sign of the band’s evolution from pub-rock provocateurs to a worldwide act with endless potential, without losing sight of the regional charm and punk crust that underscores their crisp brand of garage punk. When the world opens up, Amyl and The Sniffers are ready to tear up the stage and fill the pit. For now, their energy is brewing.

Below, read our conversation with Amy Taylor. You can purchase tickets to watch the band’s livestreaming Oct. 5 performance of Comfort to Me here.

Paste: You were recently signed, so congrats! What was that process like?

Amy Taylor: When we first started, we were pretty DIY, so we self-released our two EPs. For our first album and for this album, we’ve been with Rough Trade in the world, ATO in America, and with a label called Flightless in Australia, although we aren’t with them anymore.

It’s been crazy. It’s not as intimidating as a lot of people in the punk community feel like it is. Our labels are a bunch of of people who love music and they’re pretty open to whatever we want to do. No one says we have to write an album about anything and there’s no pressure, just support. Rough Trade, in particular, always looks after us when we visit and makes sure we’re fed.

Paste: It definitely helps that these labels, although bigger in terms of budget, still have a DIY ethos.

Taylor: Exactly! We wouldn’t be happy, or maybe we would because maybe we’d be rich. It would be difficult to have all of your songs meddled with. Maybe it would sound better, but I’m so stubborn.

Paste: The dreaded word in punk is “sellout.” Have people taken issue with your journey?

Taylor: Not to my face, but I’m sure they’re talking. We’ve got lots of pushback from the music community and some of it is warranted. I really do love bands that are DIY, that are activists and that aren’t fueled by money, so I get what they’re saying. I’m not going to sit under this illusion of jealousy, even though some of it probably is.

I used to think that way before I was in a band, but now I’ve got more perspective on it. We live in capitalism and live under consumerism, and I don’t have the luxury of never being able to work. If this band wasn’t my income, I would be working in a supermarket or something. I like doing this and I want to do this, and I’m going to have to do things that are slightly uncomfortable and bizarre to get money and survive as a band. That’s like with any job, like working at a cafe and taking the bins out. There’s good parts and bad parts of being a musician, and sometimes a bad part is that everyone thinks my business is their business.

Paste: Punk is this utopian thing as a kid, but then you grow up and realize it’s way different.

Taylor: It can be limiting. I’ve had people fucking in my house sniffing speed going, “Yeah it’s so fucked up that people sell out.” Sure, but what are you doing, bro? People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Paste: You’re going to get back into the grind of touring overseas soon! Australian slang can be seen as offensive overseas, particularly your usage of the word “cunt.” Have you ever had people be taken aback by its usage?

Taylor: Peripherally, yes. I’ll say it and later on they’re like “Why did you say that word so casually?” I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the U.K., but it reminds me of how they always say “you right?” to say hello, but in Australia, that means you want to have a go at someone.

Paste: Another big cultural difference is drinking in America compared to Australia. The drinking age being so young may contribute to why the culture is so different.

Taylor: Yes! In Australia, all the shots are super-regulated, but in America, the shots are pretty much the full glass. A vodka orange juice is mostly alcohol with a splash of orange juice. When I first toured there, I’d have a couple of drinks and realize it was hectic. I believe the drinking age here is 18, so it makes sense that by the time you get to 24, you’ve been drinking for so long that you’ve gone past the binge drinking, vomit everywhere stage.

Paste: Australia has been on strict lockdown and restrictions throughout the pandemic. I bet you’re eager to get out and perform these songs.

Taylor: I’m currently still in lockdown. This is our sixth, and we have a 9 p.m. curfew and at least another month of it, so we’re still very much in it down here. 2022 will be a big year if it all goes accordingly. Prior to 2020, we were on the road for almost two years touring constantly. Because we are so far away, it takes us longer to get over there so we have to stay longer to make it fruitful. With travel exemptions, you can get them if you have to work, so technically we fall under that umbrella. We’d just have to quarantine when we return.

Paste: You are in an interesting spot with releasing an album while in a more intense lockdown than in other parts of the world. Did you have any reservations?

Taylor: Not really, because we were thinking about putting it out even earlier in the year! Naturally, it came out now and we’ve had the time to fuck around with it and make it how we like it. In the past, all we did was rush. We had reservations but were still itching to put it out because, realistically, this is the world we’re in. We just have to adapt to it. If it flops, it doesn’t matter. It will be fine. We’ve been substituting gigs with interviews instead.

Paste: You can definitely hear the time you put into this album. Was the slower approach a conscious decision?

Taylor: We returned from touring in September of 2019 and we all moved in together, so obviously this was before COVID when we had intentions to write an album. Half was written before COVID, but there was a bushfire in Australia that was really bad. We felt heartbroken about that.

So we were living together and wrote the album in this place called National Storage, which are storage units. It was right down the road. We’d go there between lockdowns and just try to write some shit and have some fun with it, but it wasn’t conceptual. We still focused on having a good time, and what felt and sounded good. Everyone stepped up their craft as a result of touring so much. But I definitely put more time into the lyrics, and I’m pumped and proud of that. On the other albums, we would write a song and play it live while it was half-cooked. Then we recorded it. We recorded Amyl and the Sniffers after four months of tour in the U.K., but for this one we got to record in Australia, which was great. None of these songs were road-tested and we had more time with it. We even did demos for the first time! Now I can see why people do that, because it’s so good.

Paste: Living with your band must’ve been interesting.

Taylor: It was sweet! We’ve lived together before at different times, plus touring and sharing hotel beds. We’ve seen everything about each other. I remember this one time, Dec and Bryce were sharing a room and Dec came home to find Bryce naked, crawling away from the bed. Dec saw everything of his rear end! So yeah, we know a lot about each other. I think the only weird thing about moving was that we saw, smelled and tasted the same stuff, so there’s literally nothing to talk about. We spend so much time together and I’m easily the most annoying, so it’s fun for me.

Paste: Speaking of being annoying, you’re basically the de facto boss of the band, right?

Taylor: Yeah, I’m bossy and I’m always telling us to write and asking if they’ve written anything. I just want to work all the time! I’m also very loud, so I’ll be yelling and just being excited about life.

Paste: Has this lockdown taught you anything about you or your artistry?

Taylor: Last year changed me in lots of different ways because it’s been a busy four years for me. I’m still pretty young, and I had to reflect on things in my life that were pretty fucked up. It changed my way of thinking, but not in an intense way. In turn, my songwriting changed because I felt more passionately about stuff like female issues. Realistically, it has been a different experience for me compared to the band, and some of it has been positive and some of that stuff is annoying and nasty.

Paste: How is that dynamic with the band?

Taylor: With them, it’s sweet because they’re family. They’re my brothers and I’m their sister. I have never been in any other band so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but the dynamic is I’m equally the annoying sister as I am the drunk auntie and bossy mum. The song “Knifey” on the album made the boys emotional. We’re all still learning a lot together, but they listen and that’s enough.

Paste: Aside from “Knifey,” “Choices” was very charged and based on your personal experiences.

Taylor: I didn’t intentionally have gender in mind when writing it, but I get so much unsolicited advice and have people telling me what they think I should and shouldn’t do. They try and restrict me or question my intelligence, which might be valid, but I personally just want to learn by myself. I can get smarter by fucking up, but if someone tells me all the time how to live and what to do, unless I trust them, it’s going to be detrimental and slow me down. I won’t learn anything. I just want to fuck up, make mistakes and learn as much as I can.

Paste: As women, we are offered less grace to make mistakes and learn. Are you still categorized as a “female-fronted band?”

Taylor: It’s frustrating. I’ve always had a strong sense of feminism but I’m still learning so much about it. When I first started, it bothered me because I’m just a musician. I never saw myself as a female musician. I just want to sing in a band! I want to be turbo and hectic. When I was put in those boxes, it was patronizing.

Now, sometimes it’s sweet that they acknowledge that I’m female and acknowledging my feminine energy, because I want that! It’s awesome. We don’t have to dress like blokes if we don’t want to. I don’t want to dress like a man to be respected. I want to be feminine and wear makeup and clothes, as shallow as that may sound. I’m not aware of what I am and how I sit in the world, and that’s when I feel best. Not when I’m aware that I’m the only female in the room, but I’m comfortable in this room.

Catch Amyl and The Sniffers’ livestreaming performance of Comfort to Me at 9 p.m. ET tonight, Oct. 5. Tickets for all time zones can be found here.

Jade Gomez is Paste’s assistant music editor, dog mom, Southern rap aficionado and compound sentence enthusiast. She has no impulse control and will buy vinyl that she’s too afraid to play or stickers she will never stick.

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