The word fan is short for fanatic, which came into the English language in the 16th century, derived from the modern Latin fanaticus: “insanely but divinely inspired.” Amy Taylor knows something about that.
“Someone in Portugal got a knife and carved ‘A M Y L’ into their guts then posted a video of it,” the lead singer/human tornado fronting Amyl And The Sniffers tells NME. The Melbourne pub punk upstarts have only played Portugal once, for NOS Primavera Sound in 2019.
“That’s pretty turbo,” says Taylor through a high-beam smile. “Another fan painted their car bonnet with a picture of me,” she says, hanging her tongue out over her chin to recreate the image before NME can ask.
It’s ride or die with Amyl And The Sniffers: the band aren’t taking passengers, only fanatics. The latest destination: ‘Comfort To Me’, out today (September 10). It was announced in July by the single ‘Guided By Angels’, which is on track to becoming their biggest song on streaming platforms, YouTube and radio.
“‘Guided’ has got followings everywhere; little bushfires have started,” says Taylor via a full-band Zoom interview, taking a sip of wine and pulling her hood over a thatch of hair.
“It’s a little bit of a step up for us – which is what we wanted – we’re proud of it,” adds the song’s co-writer, bassist Gus Romer from his girlfriend’s bed. He winces with shooting pains in his side every now and then, recovering from a big night on the turps and perhaps other things (“I got pretty fucked up last night”).
“When I left my job at the local supermarket, I said, ‘I’m going to go start an empire’”
Amyl And The Sniffers’ story starts in Melbourne – sort of. The four-piece met in bar/venue Grace Darling in 2015 after growing up all over Australia. Romer was raised in Tasmania, drummer Bryce Wilson comes from Byron Bay and guitarist Declan Martens flew east after his formative years in Perth.
But Amyl And The Sniffers’ genesis can actually be traced to their frontwoman’s rugged upbringing in a shed in Mullumbimby, northern New South Wales. Says Taylor, “I shared a bedroom with my sister and my mum and dad, the walls were just split with a curtain. My parents were half-bogan, half-hippie. I grew up going to hot rod shows. It was a super salt-of-the-earth crew, like, wash your clothes in the bath water and then water plants with it.”
Taylor found her people at unhinged hardcore shows. The young teen witnessed circle pits, flying fists and utter mayhem. “I liked that it was honest… and lawless,” she told The Age in 2019. Before leaving Mullumbimby, Taylor toiled at the local supermarket. She references it on ‘Snakes’, the final song on ‘Comfort To Me’, with the tongue-in-cheek boast “Worked at the IGA / Now I’m famous, cunt.”
“Best time of my life; I loved that job,” she says now. “When I left I said, ‘I’m going to go start an empire’.”
Months after meeting at Grace Darling, the band found themselves all living together in a Balaclava sharehouse. Taylor was keen to honour her lofty ambitions and play shows, and the rest of the household were self-taught musicians, so in late 2015 they wrote and recorded their debut EP ‘Giddy Up’ in half a day and released it in February 2016. One of their loose mates came up with the band name during kick-ons (Down Under speak for ‘after party’). “In Australia we call poppers Amyl,” Taylor explains. “So you sniff it, it lasts for 30 seconds and then you have a headache – and that’s what we’re like!”
The group quickly acquired a reputation in Melbourne as a scorching live act. Just as The Divinyls’ Chrissy Amphlett had done before in the ’80s, Taylor infiltrated a male-dominated punk scene and kicked it square in the goolies. They dropped their ‘Big Attraction’ EP in 2017 with snarky, Sharpies-fused lead single ‘I’m Not a Loser,’ supported Foo Fighters and headed to the UK to tear new music festival The Great Escape a new one. They inked deals with Rough Trade Records and ATO Records overseas and Flightless Records in Australia.
Their self-titled debut album, released in May 2019, did the business (Best Rock Album at Australia’s ARIA Awards that year), but it also painted them into a corner. Their scuzzy rock was like a ’70s pub lunch – great for a while, but you’re secretly hoping the chef changes the menu. The ’Sniffers knew this. “We needed to make a whole new thing,” explains Taylor. “Higher production and all that, we wanted it to sound fucking awesome.”
“‘Capital’ is about how many people are left on the outskirts of society without any help – especially none from fucking Scott Morrison, the absolute tosser”
It was July 2020 and the band required somewhere they could cut sick, make demos and not worry the neighbours. Their manager gave them a sly tip: National Storage in Northcote, where he had a woodworking workshop. “You can make as much noise as you want,” Martens says. Very Breaking Bad.
Amyl And The Sniffers worked up 18 songs, 13 of which made it onto ‘Comfort To Me’. They then enlisted producer Dan Luscombe to help punch the demos into shape then record at Northcote’s Soundpark Studios. Luscombe, of The Drones and The Blackeyed Susans fame, calls them “a natural and fun crew to hang with very well-honed bullshit detectors”. He adds, “they rehearsed a lot and put serious time into their parts and arrangements. Come recording they were red-hot”.
It was when they threw the recordings to mixer Nick Launay (who’s worked with the likes of IDLES and Yeah Yeah Yeahs) that there was something of a clarity disparity: Launay wanted things cleaner and bigger, while Taylor was concerned the Sniffers would sound a bit too… nice. She had been getting into “big hip-hop vibes” – listening to artists like Slowthai, Junglepussy and Barkaa – and the band wanted more spit than polish.
“I actually struggled with it, mainly because Nick was overseas and I had a very specific idea about the sound,” says Taylor. “I just didn’t have the language.”
Files flew back and forth until both band and producer got their way. “I came full circle because the album’s neither here nor there… and that makes it something new,” Taylor concludes. “I think we found it.”
‘Guided By Angels’ slashes and splatters like Jackson Pollock taunting Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. And when Taylor sings “Energy, good energy and bad energy / I’ve got plenty of energy / It’s my currency”, it even serves as a mission statement.
Where the first album centred on power dynamics, identity and authority, ‘Comfort To Me’ sticks it to the man, specifically the conservative Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Written in the summer of 2019-2020, during Australia’s worst bushfires in a century, “‘Capital’ is about how many people are left on the outskirts of society without any help – especially none from fucking Scott Morrison, the absolute tosser,” Taylor says. “We’re all getting taxed to buggery and getting nothing in return. In bushfire season he gave nobody a helping hand.
“I’m not that well educated about politics, but during bushfire season all of the Indigenous people had advanced backburning set-ups and the government just ignored that. Also, Indigenous incarceration rates are off the fucking Richter scale.”
The mid-tempo stalk of ‘Knifey’ examines the darker aspects of the male psyche and how women feel unsafe merely getting home in the evening. “I carry weapons; I’m a really paranoid person,” Taylor explains.
“It’s a pretty hectic subject to talk about. It feels powerful when we play it,” Wilson adds.
Says Taylor: “When we play ‘Knifey’ the boys all get around it, it hits them up emotionally.”
Amyl And The Sniffers have a run of rescheduled Australian tour dates they need to honour – which likely won’t be until 80 per cent of the country is vaccinated – then the group can launch the album properly and satiate their growing audience at home and abroad.
As a band that must be seen live to be believed, Amyl and the Sniffers have, unsurprisingly, not been doing so well in this pandemic. “During lockdown I was asking, ‘What the hell is existence?” Taylor says, her smile dimming. “What does it mean? It means nothing. I’m so sick of [lockdown], this is our sixth one.”
But the high beam flicks back on as she remembers she’s Amy Taylor: fan of the people, leader of the one of the hottest rock acts in the world. “I love everyone and everything. I’m just down to go.”
Amyl and The Sniffers’ ‘Comfort To Me’ is out now via B2B Records