Amy Taylor: “Music should be accessible to everyone.”
The seriously brilliant singer of Amyl & The Sniffers speaks to us about getting into punk, favouring energy over playing skills and why people should lean in to the dark side - and Dolly Parton.
Amyl and the Sniffers are the Melbourne band who sounds exactly like their name would suggest: a potent liquid-gold brain-pop of a band, playing fast and lean to deliver raw power right into your widening pupil. They do punk extremely well, but it’s not simply that which has been causing such excitement over the last couple of years (well not last year, thanks to the obvious, but you know what we’re saying)…no it’s the certain charisma they carry, with the wit and ideas and energy that separate great bands from good ones. Much of this is down to singer Amy Taylor, whose whip-smart lyrics and Iggy-meets-Dolly stage performances are an absolute joy in their uncompromising spirit. Amy features on the track ‘Nudge It’ on the Sleaford Mods album and as part of their guest edit we were able to speak to her in Melbourne on the old Zoom…
How are you, you must have had a frustrating time as a hard-touring musician?
It was pretty fucked. We were touring non-stop and then last year happened – I think Melbourne had the longest lockdown in the world. It was hard to do nothing. I was living with the band members for about four months, but also it’s the first time I’ve had to make friends and do personal life shit, which has been nice – sad but true. It’s been strange and daunting because the future’s up in the air.
When you were with the band, did you make the most of it and write songs?
To be honest, we could’ve, but no…!
But we worked on an album. We had some songs we’d already written that we got recorded, and we’re proud of them and excited about them coming out this year depending on…diseases.
But honestly we didn’t really do fucking much at all. The boys got an Xbox and played that.
Did you just take the opportunity to have a break from it all?
Yeah pretty much. I started doing some painting, which was fun. I really struggle to slow down, so I learnt how to do slow shit like painting and reading. I’m going to get really smart.
How was developing a personal life?
That was a challenge too – what do humans do? I feel like I’m an anthropologist but not a human one. I kind of remembered one of the reasons I loved getting into music was because you can socialise and not have to actually do anything. You can be around people but it’s not this intense thing with vulnerability, you can just hang out. But I’ve realised I need a community and friendship.
How was it working with Sleaford Mods – how did you hook up?
I was a bit of a fan girl. We played this festival and everyone was like you’re going to love this band and I was walking around watching them going, ‘What the fuck is that?’ And then I found myself at the front of the stage having a good time. It turned out we were on Rough Trade together. I don’t know how working together came about, but at some point Jason went, ‘I’ll chuck her on a song.’
They came to Australia and we saw them play a bunch so I guess we’re mates. In every interview when they asked who my favourite band was I’d kiss Sleaford Mods’ arse so…I think that did me a favour.
How was the recording?
We did it during lockdown, I had a little microphone set up over here and I’d go for it. It was real strange for me because I’d never done a collaboration before. I’d do a million takes and be like, ‘I don’t know what the fuck they want!’ And question it. It would have been different if I’d been in the room and they could have shown me the vibe…but instead it was like an endless void for me. I wanted to do a good job so I over thought it a bit as well. In the end I got a couple of friends to record it with who could tell me if it was piss weak and after that it was easy.
Their new album looks at childhood, so what were you like as a kid?
Up until I was nine I lived in a shed and me, my sister and my mum and dad shared one room, and we all self sustained. We’d use the bath water to flush the toilet and use the washing water to water the plants, all that kind of shit.
I was a bit of a feral child – can you tell? – and we were in northern New South Wales where it was really hot. It was a 15 minute drive to the beach. I was pretty similar to now, full of energy. I loved running around and being a silly bitch. Loved nature, loved swimming, loved playing in the mud. I was a little bush kid.
At what stage did you think you quite fancied doing music?
When I was a teenager I used to go to loads of hardcore punk shows – local bands doing small gigs. I really loved that because it was all ages. And I really, really loved that everyone was bashing and trashing everyone around, and it was really angry and powerful.
I only saw males on stage and the punters were mainly males – there’d be a female selling merch. So I though maybe I’ll sell merch for a bit, that’d be sick. But I started looking at the people on stage and thought, ‘No I can do that, I want to be on stage, that’s for me. I don’t want to be in the pit I want to be up there.’
Then when I moved to Melbourne I moved in with a couple of boys who played music who I knew from back home. I’d go to gigs five nights a week cos I love live music heaps – the boys would play gigs too and at some point I’d jump on the mic and rap. Because when I get drunk I freestyle rap. Eventually one day we all got back from where we were and just recorded an EP.
We’d tossed around the idea of starting a house band for ages so we could play parties. Everyone was doing these backyard gigs, so we were like, ‘let’s record some stuff and that way we can get booked.’ We came home, made the band, recorded the four songs, and put it out the next day. And here we are.
Did you instantly hit the style and the humour of what you do now?
I guess, to a degree. But listening back to those first four songs its like ‘Fuck, we’ve come a long way.’ Which is good, I’m glad we’re evolving. I was listening to the radio the other day and there was a bunch of local bands and they were all really good and I thought, ‘Ah that’s probably why we’re really annoying,’ because if you were to play the first EP, you’d hear we’re all terrible at our instruments.
That’s what it should be like though, especially in punk…
Music should be accessible for everyone. Not everyone can afford fucking music lessons, or to own a guitar all their lives. It should be for everyone, it’s more about the fucking vibe. If you can play that’s impressive but I think the main thing is saying what you wanna say and doing what you want to do. It’s always been about the energy for me. When I watch bands its not like, ‘oh that guy hit the wrong note.’ Or ‘that bitch has got vocal nodes…’
Is it about stripping things back to get straight to the point?
Yeah I like that stuff a lot, I like the simpler stuff. And I really love lyrics so if I’m listening to a band I’m listening to the lyrics probably more than anything. I honestly don’t’ care that much what the instruments are doing. If theres something really catchy and hooky, I’m down, or something really weird that makes you question things.
The guitarist and bass player and drummer in our band are all self-taught and have come a long way, so probably in the next stuff they’ll be showing more what they can do which from my perspective is sick, but even if they were shit, I’d still play in it.
Andrew from Sleaford Mods told us he’s not interested in going off to big studios because you might lose what you have, the thing people like about you might disappear. Do you fancy a big fancy LA studio?
No I don’t really give a fuck at all. Before I was in a band the biggest show I’d been to was for 200 people, and I didn’t read magazine or interview or blogs. I wasn’t like, ‘Ooh The Beatles’, I don’t know anything about anything. So it’s really exciting because it’s all really fresh – I’m like, ‘What is this world?’ It’s like being in a band in outer space. But I also don’t give a fuck. If I ended up working back at the supermarket, I’d be like, ‘Sweet.’ I loved working at the supermarket. Not that I want to, I want to be famous and shit.
You have been releasing some music – your cover of disco classic Born to Be Alive is brilliant, although I’d never heard the original before…
How have you never heard that? I think I heard it five years ago, someone played it when they were drunk at my house. Now I play it every day because it’s the best song ever.
I’ve got it tattooed on the back of my arm. Well, I got ‘Born to Be’ I didn’t get ‘Alive’ put there. I thought that’s exactly what we’re here to do, we’re just here to be alive and that’s that.
It’s the kind of tune that we all need to hear right now.
Exactly. It funny though, the day we recorded it was the day of the US election and Trump was in the lead at the time. Everyone was in the recording room going this is going to be fucked. I was singing, ‘Born to be alive’ but thinking, ‘we’re so fucked. This world is hell.’
It’s just good to hear that shit. I’m an over-thinker, so I like that kind of song that’s says don’t take things seriously just have a good time.
When we’re living in such fake times, certain bands can cut straight through the heart of the matter with music and tell the truth – is that the way you try to approach things?
Yeah I’d like to, I just want to be as authentic as I can because I don’t want to sell something that’s not real. But I also want to be fun.
I was watching a Dolly Parton documentary – she’s my favourite cunt ever. She is insanely authentic, she’s herself and very positive but she also dresses up and there’s an element that isn’t authentic – but it’s authentic to her.
Just to be slightly self-conscious isn’t a bad thing. I tend to say things without thinking and then read something back and be like, ‘Bitch, fucking hell…put a plug in it.’ Being slightly more self-conscious might be a good thing.
Have you missed being on stage? Have you been working out to deal with the excess energy?
I have been work-ing out. I have a resting six pack! I do You Tube workouts – there’s this one called MadFit and I yell back at it. I can run 5 km now too, which I’m pretty proud of, and I’ve started doing a boxing thing. I have to work out for my mental health.
With your mental health, how do you look after yourself with the gruelling touring, do you get a moment to regulate yourself?
Truth be told, I struggle on tour. I love playing gigs heaps and I love meeting new people – there’s so much I love about it, but it’s really hard for me, sitting in a van all day. I like eating healthily and I love working out – that’s stuff I need for my brain – but instead I’m eating bread all day. I love a cheeky party but I can’t party likes the boys do. I’m a pussy. I struggle with it sometimes on tour – I haven’t found a proper rhythm for it yet. Also, I fuck my voice up all the time and it’s my favourite thing to have a chat with people, but I’m constantly losing my voice so I can’t fucking meet anyone, I’m stuck in my shell of a body.
That’s why this year’s been kind of sick. Our touring schedule has been so gnarly for so long, with four months away from home, things like that. But this year I’ve been in one place instead of couch surfing.
Now I have a room where I can put posters up, and I can like buy nice things for it. I hate consumerism but I can get shit. Look at this [holds up large ceramic elephant] it’s an elephant bong. I don’t even smoke weed, I hate weed, but I can buy shit.
Has being around the band also been a chance to re-evaluate what you’ve been doing and plotting things for the future?
Oh yeah it’s been pretty existential. Less so about what the band’s going to look like and more that it’s been formative year in terms of who I am – I think the band will be different in some ways but not insanely different because the core will remain. I guess lyrics and what kind of music we listen to has naturally evolved and will evolve forever.
Have you thought about the first gig back?
Yeah it’s going to be weird. I’d love to do one but we haven’t practised at all. I constantly have these dreams where we’re playing and I’m like, ‘I can’t remember the lyrics,’ and then I’ll look at one of the boys and they’ll say, ‘I don’t know what I’m playing.’
So that’s probably what’ll happen.
But everyone will be excited anyway because it’s a gig. I’m looking forward to doing it again. Even if we could just practice with the boys it’d be such much fun. I don’t know when it’s going to happen.
Who would you really like to have as a collaborator on one of your songs?
I’ve never thought about that, that’s crazy. Who would I get? I mean it would never happen but imagine if Cardi B did a rap-rock verse? It’s never going to happen but I’ll put it out there.
What have you personally learnt from this last year?
Probably just patience and resilience. Keep persevering. Things can feel fucked but you have to lean in to feeling fucked, you have to do it. Humans naturally stay away from the dark side of themselves, the dark side of their brains, which is fair enough but the healthiest thing, and the way to navigate it, is to just lean into it. When things are hard, when things are bad, then just sit in it and think your way out. Instead of being, ‘Nah, nah, nah things are fucked, I can’t handle it,’ dive into the deep end and be like, ‘Things are fucked, I’m fucked – yeah baby!’ And celebrating the rankness of it.
Is that the way you approach the band as well – to push things into a dangerous space?
I think so. It was the same when I was a kid going to hardcore shows, I felt I hadn’t done anything unless I got myself covered in bruises. The intensity of it was the release, and I guess it’s the same with performing. I’ve got so much energy and its really hard for me to get rid of it, but it’s got to come out – I have so much rage and resentment it’s straight up just an important release. And I think it’s the same for the people coming to the gigs. If I wasn’t on the stage I’d be the cunt at the gig on someone’s shoulders thrashing around, so I get it. Music is important.
Is it a good release from the daily life frustrations?
Yeah its really nice and really nice to have a place where I’m powerful and I have control over everyone. To an extent. It’s nice and refreshing, especially as a female because in a lot of places the dynamics are that we are the subordinates in the room. Not technically but that’s how its seen – to get up there and say, ‘This is my space, you’re all here to see me, and even the security work for me…’ I like that, that feels good to me.
It’s a dynamic lacking in other areas, and even if it’s just in my head that’s good enough for me. It’s about that feeling where we’re on the same level, do you know what I mean?
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