The Big Read – Amyl and The Sniffers: “It’s rough, raw and anything can happen”

Amyl and The Sniffers are THE MOST exciting live band on the planet right now. On the day of their biggest UK show to date, Thomas Smith meets the Melbourne misfits to talk about their pub-punk revolution, breast milk shooters and hitting out – literally – at gropey fans. Pictures: Andy Ford

“I drunk breast milk last month,” says Amy Taylor, the firebrand frontwoman of Aussie punks Amyl & The Sniffers.

Wait, what?

“I didn’t have it straight from the breast,” she explains. “I was with a woman who just had a baby [and had it in a bottle]. She said, ‘You should try that, it’s good for you’, so she poured a shot and I ended up having it. Afterwards I asked what she thought of it, and she goes, ‘Oh, I’d never fucking drink it’. That cracked me up.”

Catch Amyl and The Sniffers at the right moment and you could probably get them to do just about anything. The Aussie four-piece party hard, but, somehow, play even harder. They’ve become an unmissable live prospect, resurrecting the energy of the snotty, trashy punks of years past. The result? Riotous gigs at which you might end up bruised or spat on, but you’ll probably have the night of your life.

When NME meets them, midway through their UK tour, they’ve already been leaving chaos in their wake. Shortly after arriving in London, a gobby pre-teen shouted at Amy, calling her “ugly”; in response, she offered to fight him and delivered a stinging putdown: “Fuck you mate – bet you’ve never even had a blowy”.

Their London show, at Heaven, falls midway through the UK run, and the partying is taking its toll. Having hammered Nottingham’s Bodega the night before, the band – Amy Taylor (singer), Declan Mehrtons (guitar), Gus Romer (bass) and Bryce Wilson (drums) – arrive at the pub opposite the venue with sore heads and sunglasses. As they sit down, the couple sipping wine in the next booth take one look at the band with their mullets, flares, double denim and thousand-yard-stares and move elsewhere.

But they’re nothing to be scared of. In fact, they’re great company: during the hour-long chat, Amy and Declan synchronise their belches, talk shit about each other’s hometowns and joke about who in the band they’d most want to spontaneously combust (it’s red-headed bassist Gus, it turns out).

So striking is the Amy & The Sniffers image that Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson said this of the band; “at least they look like they’re scum instead of pretending they are.” Amy is still trying work out if it it’s a compliment. “I don’t know if that quote was a good thing,” she says. “I don’t look like scum! They’re still one of my favourites, they don’t have to like us.”

At every turn, Amyl and The Sniffers ooze the odour of something different. Their self-titled debut album, released on Rough Trade Records (home to the indie holy trinity of The Smiths, The Strokes, The Libertines) showcases their take on what they call “pub punk”, across 30 relentless minutes: check out the righteous ‘Cup Of Destiny’ and the blistering ‘Punisha’ for the best examples of their sonic shock therapy.

The label partnership is something of a dream come true – especially for Declan, who has a Smiths tattoo. “The Smiths and The Strokes defined the decades they were in,” he says. “When we signed, I was hoping we could recreate that ourselves in this era.” Fitting, then, that tomorrow (May 25) they’re playing London’s All Points East festival alongside the Strokes, and present-day Rough Trade stablemates Parquet Courts and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker.

But what’s the term “pub punk” all about, then? Is it a riposte to the commercialisation of live music? Is there something deeper in play? Nah. “I don’t know much about genre, but I know we spend a lot of time in the pub,” Amy says, tucking into an avocado sandwich. “The spontaneous and practise parts of the music are the ‘pub’ bit. Mistakes are what make everything good. I like it when its rough and raw and anything can happen.”

If you’d have told the band a couple years back that they would be considered one of the hottest new bands on the planet and releasing the most fearless debut of the year, they’d not have believed you. The initial aim for the band was simply to play in backyards and at their mate’s parties. And obviously, their story begins at a pub.

The group grew up all over Australia – Amy and Bryce are from tourist town Byron Bay, while Gus came from Tasmania and Declan from Perth. Bryce and Declan had been in bands before, and Gus would join the band a bit further down the line, but this was Amy’s first foray into music. The band met at a pub/venue called the Grace Darling in Melbourne’s Collingwood district. There was no fabled “moment” they say – Declan just recognised Bryce from a recent club night and introduced himself. A connection was made, and soon after, Declan had moved in with Amy and Bryce. No-nonsense, then.

They bonded over mutual influences like AC/DC and cult hometown punks Cosmic Psychos and Drunk Mums. Fitting then, that they adopted a similarly brilliant band name: an amalgamation of lead singer Amy’s name and Amyl Nitrate, aka party drug poppers.

The idea for the band came up at some “wasted kick-ons,” Declan says. Kick-ons means after parties, apparently. “We only made the first EP so we could get gigs” Amy says. The result, ‘Giddy Up’, was recorded in their shared house in 12 hours and runs for a grand total of five minutes. “The bookers never said we needed 15 minutes worth of music until we got off stage after eight,” Amy laughs. Following their instincts and making the EP as quickly as they could was the key to its magic. “The more you think about something, the less you know,” Amy says, gnomically.

The band put the release on Bandcamp in 2016, and followed it up with the similarly haphazard – though slightly longer – ‘Big Attraction’ in 2017. The opening song to that second release, ‘I’m Not A Loser’, may well detail the band’s creative manifesto: “I’m not a fan of traditions, I just wanna get pissed here in my kitchen”.

Living in Australia might previously have left bands isolated, but the unlimited possibilities of the Internet means that small punk bands like Amyl can build bigger communities and side-step gatekeepers like national radio station, Triple J, they say. “It’s such a sick time for us to exist because you can just put music on the Internet and go fishing,” says Amy. “We don’t have to cater it to radio or anyone else. Now it feels really nice to have authentic fans that like us for being the shitty pub rock band that we are.

Melbourne has long had a scene that’s the envy of the rest of Australia. Its venue circuit scene has produced international successes including The Avalanches, Courtney Barnett and King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, while Camp Cope, Cable Ties and Amyl keep the underground flame burning in 2019. What is it about Australia’s second city that keeps the creativity flowing? “It’s just our culture,” Declan says. “Why do people in England like football? Making music is just what we do in Melbourne.”

Despite a set length so brisk you could miss a show queuing at the bar, the city’s music community quickly embraced Amyl. “Pretty much every band in the city is really supportive, Declan says. “They all push each other to collectively get better than just having the same dynamic. Everyone is so fucking smart. Not us, but everyone else.”

Last year, they headed out on a 22-date tour across the US with King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, the city’s prolific psych-rock heroes. They imparted wisdom onto the band and Joey Walker, one of the Gizz’s many guitarists, took them under their wing. “They’ve really shown us what it takes to take this band to the next level. They’re a really hard working band,” says Declan. Any chance of reproducing their prolific 2017, where they released five albums in 12 months? “We couldn’t do a fucking five-minute EP,” Amy laughs.

The band demoed the debut album with Walker too, but they “weren’t completely happy with it”, so sessions moved onto Sheffield with producer Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys, MIA) at the end of last year. The band recalibrated their focus, cracking out a song every day at the start and finessing it after, but retaining its edge. The results are empowering, ferocious and funny. There’s ‘Angel’, a love-song shrouded in noise and confusion, and the brilliant ‘Control’, in which Amy warns that she “likes being a big bad boss,” but admits that it probably is the reason she’ll “die alone”.

Keeping it real is the only mode that the band can operate in, and it’s the scene around her that brought that side out. “In the punk world, it’s about supporting every band and I like that – competitiveness is a sign of insecurity. The weakest person in the room is a fucking liar. The most brutally honest is the strongest – saying how you feel right in the moment when performing is brave as shit,” Amy says.

When stage time rolls around later that evening, the hangovers have either disappeared or been topped up: they’re on devastating form; Amy struts and writhes like Iggy Pop, whipping the mic lead across the stage like Indiana Jones after a few too many. Energetic and bombastic frontpeople may seem like an endangered species in rock music at the moment, but Amy’s the antidote to every dweeby non-personality you’ve ever seen moping behind a mic.

She also tussles with the space between the band and the audience, spending just as much of the gig in the crowd as she does on stage. “I hate it when singers are like, ‘Look at me, look at me’. I want it to be a fun thing for everyone,” Amy had said earlier. The energy of the hardcore shows she watched growing up is something that Amy looks replicate in their performances. “I want someone to push me and give me a fucking black eye and get covered in beer. I want to be a part of the crowd and I want them to feel a part of this band.”

That respect isn’t always mutual. At the start of the month, a commenter on Instagram claimed that they “grabbed [Amy’s] butt” while she was performing in Seattle. Amy went on to call them out on it and offer support to any fans suffering similar abuse. “I’ve had people touch my arse and tits and shit, but I just hit them, because I’m sick of it,” she says. “They think because what I wear, it’s an invitation. Every now and then I hope someone touches my arse so I can punch them in the face.”

“It’s upsetting but this is my fucking life, this is my world, I have to live in my body. I’m stronger and more powerful than anyone who’s going to touch my arse,” she says. “They’re just some bloke at a show and living a boring life. I’m living my dream.”

These are isolated individuals, she stresses, and she had proof of that at the last gig before our chat. “In Nottingham, there were two 14-year-old girls right at the fucking front getting battered and having fun, but everyone looks out for everyone. 99.9% are sick cunts that just want to hang out and listen to music.” Note that in Australia, sick cunt is high praise, of course. Some fans (cunts) even have the titular lyrics to ‘Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)’ tattooed before the band do, “I’m not that real,” Amy laughs.

We march over to the venue for an acrobatic shoot, as Amy and the boys high-kick and swing their way across the cavernous building. At one point, Declan finds a discarded pint of yellow liquid under the stairs, presumably from last night’s club night. It takes a millisecond of persuasion from the band for him to have a swig, pull a non-plussed face and announce that he can’t determine exactly what it is. At least it’s not breast milk.

A squabble erupts when we’re trying to shoot some video with Amy and Bryce upstairs and Declan and Gus are thrashing away on stage. We need quiet, they need noise. There’s shouting back and forth but a compromise is met – video first, soundcheck straight after. Minutes later, they all apologise and it’s like it never happened. The gang are back together and it’s all smiles as they rehearse a beefed up cover of cult dance-punks Le Tigre’s ‘Deceptacon’ that they’ve been airing in their sets. It sounds bloody mega.

Word that the must-see new live bands are in town has spread. Aussie expats, teenage-punks and indie royalty (Ellie and Theo from Wolf Alice and Slaves’ Isaac are spotted) populate the crowd. The room is buzzing with match-day fever.

When the band tear onto the stage, they dip into ‘Giddy Up’ and ‘Big Attraction’ for rollicking cuts like ‘Mole (Sniff Sniff)’, the ramshackle ‘Balaclava Love Boogie’ and ‘I’m Not A Loser’, as well as airing the new album’s strongest moments, ‘Cup of Destiny and ‘GFY’. Amy tangles herself up in leads like she’s unpacking Christmas decorations, and the show teeters on the edge of chaos at every minute. It’s a back-to-basics rock’n’roll onslaught with flying beers, writhing limbs and a crowd full of outcasts finding familiarity with a band of misfits. It’s not big and it’s certainly not clever, but it’s a riot.

This summer gives ample opportunity to catch Amyl yourself at Europe’s festival scene. The competitiveness of that circuit is something we touched on earlier in the afternoon – is there a desire to outshine the same bands you play with every Saturday afternoon? “Well, it’s not a competition if you’re winning,” Declan says semi-jokingly. Amyl and The Sniffers have swapped grotty pubs for fields across the globe: we’ll chalk that one up as a victory. They might need to rethink that ‘pub-punk’ tag pretty soon.

Amyl and The Sniffers

Amyl and The Sniffers, an album by Amyl and The Sniffers on Spotify

Amyl and The Sniffers’ debut album is out now via Rough Trade. The band play at London’s All Points East Festival tomorrow (May 25)