Amyl and The Sniffers: “Scott Morrison is fucking the environment and the working class”

Punk’s future torchbearers on politics, feminism and why Australians are “frustrated”

It’s 4pm in Hackney, London, and modern punk dons Amyl and The Sniffers are each embodying a different stage of hangover. The Aussie rockers like to party, but this weekend they’ve had even more reason to celebrate. It’s bassist Gus Romer’s birthday and from the way he’s bouncing around the room repeating the same drug-referencing line from gritty Brit drama Top Boy over and over again, it seems like he’s had a pretty good time.

“WHERE’S THE FOOD, FAM!” he bellows good-naturedly. “WHERE’S THE FOOD FAM!”. The band’s publicist looks a little weary after having the words bawled in his face for the 17th time.

It’s decided that it might be wise for one of the other band members to kick off our NME photoshoot. You know: give Gus a bit of time to calm down. Frontperson Amy Taylor is out getting a tattoo, so guitarist Dec Martens volunteers. After whipping on a Scarface T-shirt, he wastes no time in getting himself photo-ready – the Tony Montana way.

“Sorry, I just needed a little pick me up,” he sniffs.

Amyl and her aforementioned Sniffers are in town to play one of three sold-out shows at London’s Underworld and Studio 9294. Formed in Melbourne in 2016, the four-piece have had a mega three years in which they’ve journeyed from pub rock hobbyists – performing on the side of their supermarket jobs – to supporting Foo Fighters and, most recently, picking up a coveted ARIA for Best Rock Album for their punishing, spit-and-sawdust punk self-titled debut (which NME dubbed “snotty punk at its peak” in a four-star review).

Amyl & The Sniffers - NME Australia Issue 01 Cover
Amyl and The Sniffers on the inaugural cover of NME Australia #01

“I pissed myself!” says Amy of their big win. “I never would have thought that would happen. Even when we got nominated, I was like ‘What the fuck? When we were there, I was thinking, ‘Not a chance.’”

“If you look at who’s won it before,” Martens says, “It’s crazy. Tame Impala. The Living End. Wolfmother. Silverchair. I think we’re the smallest band to ever pick it up.”

Part of their rise has to do with their ferocious and hella fun live show: Taylor has harnessed Iggy Pop’s chuck-yourself-about-the-room-and-worry-about-the-scrapes-later energy. The band’s stage patter tends to involve calling the audience – and themselves – “cunts”, but in a way that feels almost… affectionate? The first time this writer saw them play live, I beamed from start to finish. The whole show was fun, rowdy, raw and felt completely authentic. Is it any wonder, then, that the accolades are flooding in as they approach album two?

“We’ve always just been doing our thing,” says Amy. “We’ve only just paid ourselves for the first time. But The ARIAs were really cool. We got to meet The Veronicas. Gus got kicked out of the afterparty. I don’t know why. Probably just for being fucked off his face.”

Growing up in Mullumbimby, New South Wales, Amy spent her youth at punk shows. She was the tiny blonde girl, thrashing about down the front, surrounded by dudes, giving as good as she gets.

“I remember being at shows and thinking, ‘I wanna do that and I wanna do it better than you’,” she says with a cheeky grin.

It’s that ferocity and fuck-with-me-and-you’ll-know-about-it attitude that makes Amy the perfect frontperson. Unlike her on-stage persona, though, the woman sat in front of me seems sweet, funny but a little unsure of herself. She follows up sentences verbals tics such as “But what do I know?” and “I don’t know anything”. Is there a need to project a tough exterior to survive in such a male-dominated industry?

“I think toughness is just honesty, really,” says Amy. “A lot of the time I might appear tough but really it’s the same way anyone would react to a stranger trying to be their mate and asking them questions. If you’re weak, you probably just lie and talk shit on everyone but if you can admit your faults and say shit to people’s face, that’s tough to me.”

She pauses.

“But also I’m tough as fuck because if anyone touched me I’d bash them up.”

She would, as well, you know.

Amyl and The Sniffers have come along at a time when it feels like the world is crying out for punk. Gone is the insipid chart indie of the ‘90s and ‘00s. The guitar bands making waves right now – the likes of The Chats, Fontaine’s DC and IDLES – are loud, raw and have something to say. The world is in turmoil. Our politicians are failing us and music, more than ever, is a vital force for change.

“I personally think like climate change is really crazy and cooked,” says Amy, suddenly quite serious. “Australia is literally on fire. Port Macquarie is on fire. Everywhere has burnt people losing their homes, koalas are burning, the air in Sydney… people have to wear face masks because there’s so much smoke. The sun is burning bright orange. It’s really scary, but the Government isn’t listening and it’s a frustrating feeling to not be heard.

“So it’s really important to have things to make you feel good like music and releasing some energy.”

Amyl and The Sniffers
Credit: Andy Ford

Does she think that that’s why music is getting angrier and rowdier? Because people are frustrated?

“I’m young, so I don’t know,” she says, thinking for a minute. “I feel like everyone in some generations has felt frustrated and I’m not saying I’m right because I think everyone always fucking thinks they’re right. But the government did make budget cuts to firefighters.

Months ago the head of [the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council] wanted to warn the government about how bad the drought is, but [Prime Minister Scott Morrison] was too busy. And now all these people are losing their homes with land burning and severe drought. He’s cut the budgets to the firefighters. He’s turned away global help, so basically all the people fighting the fire and working around the clock are volunteers. Not only is he fucking the environment; he’s fucking the workers and the working class, too.

Clearly riled, Amy checks herself momentarily, apologising for ranting. Then slightly more softly, continues: “All these people taking time off their work to fight the fires and then he makes a tweet about it [the PM was widely criticised for posting: “Going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our fire-impacted communities, I’m sure our boy will give them something to cheer for”]. It’s ridiculous. It’s like a joke. I don’t know, people are frustrated, working all this time for nothing and he can’t see that.”

If punk is the pill to ease the pain of the climate crisis and the outlet for the disaffected youth, then Amyl and The Sniffers are not just a very, very fun band – they’re also a vital one. So what’s next?

“We’ve got the skeleton for about 12 new songs and we’re just trying to flesh some stuff out,” Taylor reveals. “We’ve played one live. I was really nervous, we haven’t played anything new in a long time, but it was kind of exciting and it’s gone down good. It doesn’t have a name yet, though.”

Later, in the pub, before doors open, Martens admits to feeling some of those second album nerves. He references The Strokes – he’s a fan – releasing what is thought to be one of the greatest debut albums of all time, and wonders whether his band could ever achieve something so cool. Amy, on the other hand, seems a bit more blasé about it all.

Amyl & The Sniffers
Credit: Andy Ford

“There aren’t really goal-ticky things,” she says. “There’s always been an ambition to do cool shit, but I liked working at the supermarket and I like doing this. I’m just rolling with it.”

And as for the sound of album number two? Will it differ from their debut?

“I don’t think we even had a conversation about it,” Amy bats back. “We just went in there and all brought shit and if we like it, then great. We’re not too staunch about how we sound. We all like so many different types of music. But there are definitely five new songs that I feel really proud of.”

It’s mind-boggling to think that just three years ago Amyl and The Sniffers didn’t even exist. The band wrote their debut EP in just a few hours and, from the sounds of things, their next is well on the way. They’re leaving in the morning – if they can get hyperactive Gus Romer on the plane – to head back to Oz for a run of festivals and Christmas at the beach.

Amyl and The Sniffers
Credit: Andy Ford

“I appreciate people who are genuine more than I used to be,” muses Amy, on what the last three years have taught her. “I’m pretty stubborn because there are a lot of people who want to put their perspective onto me, but I’m like, ‘Fuck you, cunt, don’t touch my shit’.

“But really, I’m just figuring it out. I think I’ll look back at this time and think ‘Fuck, that was weird’. But I’m a good girl really. I like chill.”

Taylor’s chill is what makes her such a class act. Whether speaking eloquently about the climate crisis, battling everyday sexism or – as we see her later – chucking herself off stage and calling her audience a bunch of cunts, her shape-shifting isn’t an act, it’s the many complexities of a smart young woman, who’s found herself living an extraordinary life . As Gus bounds into the dressing room where we’re sat, shouting about “shoving a Gaviscon up his bottom”, it’s clear that she’s the glue holding it together.

“They’re good boys really,” she laughs. “They almost never annoy me.”

And it’s a good job. Because what are Sniffers without their Amyl, after all.

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