"Try dealing with casual sexism all the time without getting a bit fucking aggro"
Amy Taylor may have a reputation for being a firebrand, but she’s actually looking fairly sheepish this afternoon. Gulping down the last of a bottle of water, she shoots me what can only be described as a regretful grin. “Sorry – too many bloody espresso martinis last night.”
Grabbing the attention of UK audiences with a string of shows and festival appearances last year, on-stage Taylor is almost the exact opposite of the friendly, polite women who’s sitting across from me at Rough Trade’s west London HQ. Watch Amyl and the Sniffers live, and you’re confronted by Taylor in full-on singer mode – a tirade of explosive energy, wild anger and profanity-laden outbursts. “Being the singer is so great for me, as I love power and I love control,” she tells me. “It’s like I get to do anything I want when I’m up there. I mean, I could fucking choke a guy out and people would love it!”
Based in Melbourne, her band have emerged from Australia’s east coast fertile punk scene with a love of hot pants, mullets, faded metal t-shirts and a sound that sits somewhere between AC/DC, The Runaways and Dolly Parton. However, while the band’s fashion sense and musical influences might recall the low-rent thrills of the 1970s pub rock scene, Amyl and The Sniffers mostly blow through any misplaced nostalgia with a Ramones-like commitment to playing punk rock that is loud, fast and razor sharp.
Due to release Monsoon Rock, their debut album, on Rough Trade in May, Taylor is the first to admit that the band is currently in the middle of a transitional period. Writing, self-recording and releasing 2016’s Giddy Up EP in the space of 12 hours, they’re trying to take a little bit more time in the studio these days. Then again, if the recently released title track is anything to go by all the added tea breaks have done nothing to dull the band’s relentless, breakneck energy.
“It’s kind of funny to listen to that first EP now,” laughs Taylor when we talk about how the band has developed from their first few releases. “I mean, I know it’s only been a couple of years but we couldn’t even play our instruments properly when we started. It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come.
“Then again, we’re all pretty hard workers, I suppose,” she continues, before opening a new bottle of water and taking a thoughtful sip. “I think we would have pushed it naturally. I mean, if I were working at a supermarket, I’d want to be the manager; and this is basically the same thing, right?”
“I grew up in this hippy town”
It’s called Mullumbimby, which is in New South Wales. For the most part, it’s pretty chilled, and there wasn’t really all that much to do there, but there was a bit of a hardcore scene. Most of the shows were all-ages, and it wasn’t like there was anything else to do, so I used to go down whenever I could and thrash around. I’d be like this tiny little girl crashing into all these big blokes.
For the most part the bands were all local and toured up and down the east coast. When most bands tour in Australia they just run up and down this one highway. There’s only so many cities in Australia, so almost every band plays a couple of shows in little small towns, and luckily enough Mullumbimby was a good place to stop.
I used to love being in the pit and thrashing around; I really liked the idea of being this little girl who could beat up all the big boys. I think my parents used to think it was a bit weird when they came and picked me up and what not, but mostly they were fine with it.
“My family is really Australian”
I don’t know how to say this without coming across like a bit of a dickhead, but my family are like, really Western Suburbs. Even though we lived in a really hippy spot, we were all about beers and cars. Basically, we were ‘us’ if you know what I mean?
My dad is a crane driver, so he gets to work all over. When we were kids, he used to work the tip, and I remember him bringing back all this cool shit; like stuff that he found in the skips or whatever. Mostly it was just random shit like couches, but I can remember him bringing back some really cool stuff like bikes and whatever. One time he brought home a billy cart, which was really fun, and I can kind of remember him bringing home a big carton of out of date Coca Cola for some reason.
My dad loves old cars, so our lives revolved around eating ice-cream and looking at fucking muscle cars, which, to be fair, I really loved growing up. I think that seeped into my parents’ music taste. I mean, they both have a great taste in music, but they’re not music nerds or anything like that. Mostly they buy records with titles like ‘20 of the best beer songs’. Y’know, like the ones with a picture of a beer can on the front that’s just old rock, like KISS and Toto and what have you.
“I love living in Melbourne”
I moved there when I was 18 or 19 or whenever and I absolutely love living there. I don’t get to be there all that much these days, but whenever I’m back home in Australia I try to spend a least a couple of days there. There’s always plenty of really good up and coming bands to check out and plenty of people who are up for fucking about and playing music.
When we first started, we all lived in the same house together. The boys all played in other bands, but one night, as I had a drum kit in my room for some reason, we started fucking around making music, and our group has started from there.
It was all pretty casual originally – we just wanted to play house shows and maybe for our friends from time to time. One thing’s for sure, there was definitely no ambition to do anything with it. Now, don’t get me wrong, everything is fucking awesome, and I wouldn’t change any of it, but we didn’t really have ideas of touring or playing massive shows or whatever. I can remember when we got offered an opening slot for the Foo Fighters, we were all like, ‘fucking hell; how did this happen?’.
“Our manager used to manage Chopper Read”
I absolutely love [convicted criminal, gang member and children’s author] Chopper; he was like the Ned Kelly of our time. So when we were looking for a manager and the guy said he used to manage Chopper Read he was instantly in.
He’s actually got this one really cool Chopper story. Basically, our manager was owed some money, and the guy kept ducking him for some reason. Getting really pissed off, he eventually calls up Chopper and was like, ‘Chopper, I want you to do me a favour’, and Chopper was like, ‘yeah, no worries – what do you need?’.
The plan was to call up this guy who owed them money and say that he’s just dropping by with one of his clients and bring Chopper with him. Now, I don’t know what it’s like in the UK, but in Australia, you’re not allowed to stand over a person – it’s illegal. Like, it’s against the law to intimidate people to get them to do something. Anyway, the next day they both show up to this guy’s place, and Chopper just walks in, sunnies down, arms folded and sits on the couch. Doesn’t. Say. Anything. Our manager is like, ‘look, mate, I really need that money’, and the guy looks at him, looks at Chopper and just goes, ‘yeah, no problem’.
“Punk allows me to get out my anger”
I’m an angry person. I’m not going to apologise for that, that’s just who I am. It’s a bit like being a champagne bottle; if you don’t pop the lid off every now and then, the whole thing will eventually explode.
Growing up, almost everyone I met was so calm and positive and shit. I don’t know what it’s like for dudes, but if you’re a chick and you’re angry all you get is ‘you need to chill; you’re being hysterical’. I never got that, as my life, in general, has a lot of things to be angry about. Without even getting into the whole state of the world, there are certainly loads of things that piss me off. For example, when people go, ‘you’re only up there because you’re wearing short shorts’, or when people don’t listen to you because you’re a girl or whatever. Like, try dealing with casual sexism all the time without getting a bit fucking aggro.
I think that’s why I’ve always been attracted to punk. I can remember the feeling of finding this space where you were allowed to be really gnarly and shit, and being like, ‘oh shit, this is what I need’. I mean, playing live lets me get this aggression out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I try to treat everyone with respect – like give people the benefit of the doubt or whatever – but if people are being an arsehole, I don’t kind of see it as fun. It opens up a new avenue for a bit of rage.