The Collapse Board Interview – Amyl and the Sniffers
Since forming and releasing their first EP in 2016, it’s been a couple of meteoric couple years for Amyl and The Sniffers. From BIGSOUND to winning the Levi’s Music Prize to signing with legendary British label Rough Trade. From Melbourne to Europe and recording in Sheffield with Arctic Monkey and M.I.A producer Ross Orton and being nominated for Best Breakthrough Act at the UK’s Q Magazine’s annual awards. From opening for Foo Fighters to supporting King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard across the US to playing a sold out Australian headline tour.
Ahead of the band’s performance at Wollongong’s Farmer & The Owl Festival, we spoke to drummer Bryce Wilson about what the band’s achievements so far and what lies in store for 2019.
Collapse Board: Originally you’re from Lennox Head? Were you doing much musically up there?
Bryce Wilson: Not really. I had like a shitty high school band but that was it pretty much, there wasn’t much else going on for me in music. We played a lot of Rage Against The machine covers, shit like that.
CB: What took you down from Lennox to Melbourne?
BW: Originally I came down to study Media and Communications but I did a bit over a year of that and then realised that studying is not for me.
CB: The band started off from you all being flatmates but did you know each other already?
BW: Me and Amy knew each other, because she’s from Mullumbimby which is not too far away from Lennox Head. We knew each other from high school, because we had mutual friends and kind of hung out sometimes. And I met Declan and Gus when I moved to Melbourne.
Collapse Board: Amy’s talked previously about going to hardcore shows in Byron, so you were going to those same shows?
BW: Yeah. I went to a few with her I remember. I’m not really sure if they do many of them these days, but when we were in high school there was a huge scene. They would have gigs at this community center, all ages shows, that hardcore bands would play. Sometimes they would also play at the Byron High School.
Collapse Board: And do you still live together?
BW: No, I’m only the only one that has a house at the moment. Our guitarist Declan is living with his mum and the other two are like all over the shop.
CB: So what’s the latest news with your album? I read last year that Joey from King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard was producing, but then I read recently that Ross Orton, who has produced acts like Arctic Monkeys and M.I.A, was producing.
BW: Yeah, that’s right. After the end of our last tour we decided we wanted to re-do all of the songs. We went from LA, which is where we ended out last tour, to Sheffield and recorded there for two weeks.
CB: Why did you want to re-record them?
BW: The songs were pretty old, so we had some new ones that we wanted to chuck in. We just thought that we could do better takes of everything and get a better sound, and I think we have.
CB: How did Ross Orton becoming involved happen?
BW: He’s friends with Jeanette from Rough Trade and a few people from Rough Trade, which is our UK label, and they suggested him. We didn’t know any producers at all so we just went with their advice.
CB: What do you think he brought to you and what did you learn from working with him?
BW: He was really great to work with. It was the first time we’ve ever worked with a producer, like an actual experienced producer person. He showed us lots of things, like lots of ways to make ourselves sound better. He was just like a really sick guy.
CB: Did the songs change much during the recording process?
BW: Slightly. He had some new ideas. He helped rearrange some of the structures of some songs and where certain parts should be played and how they should sound.
CB: How long do you spend in Sheffield with him?
BW: I think it was two weeks. It was good. Sheffield’s, a cool town. I really like it. It was bloody cold though, would’ve been end of October, November, when we were there. Probably not that cold to actual British people but for us it was freezing. We came from LA as well, where it was sunny and warm.
CB: Did you get much downtime in Sheffield or was it all just working in the studio?
BW: We didn’t really get a chance to go out and hang out that much at all. A few times we went out at night, just to go to some pubs. But most of the time we would just wake up and go to the studio. Then by the time we’d be done it would be like 10:00 or something so we’d go to the pub and have a few beers. That was pretty much it.
CB: How much do you think your song writing has changed since those first two EPs?
BW: We’re definitely trying to write longer songs, that’s something we’re working towards. We’re also kind of getting better. We were pretty shocking at our instruments when we first started. We’re not that much better now, to be honest, but we’re working towards a bit more complicity, making the songs a bit more complicated and more interesting, I suppose.
CB: You’re moving away from the short songs that made up your two EPs?
BW: We’ve got a few songs that are two minute straight up short songs but there’s few others that are kind of love songs, actually l maybe just one love song I think. But a few other ones that go for a bit longer, where we’re trying to stretch them out a bit more.
CB: How do you look back on that first EP considering how quickly you put it together?
BW: It’s really funny listening back now. When we hear them again they’re nothing like how we play them live now. It’s really strange and they sound terrible, they sound like shit. But I guess that’s what the appeal was then.
CB: And talking about ballads, because I think there’s only been one so far, ‘Caltex Cowgirl’, is that something that you felt you had to do or were leaning towards?
BW: I don’t think we felt like we had to do it, it just kind of happened pretty organically. We wanted to write a slower song, a bit of a quieter song. We never really play it live though.
CB: Given everything that’s happened in the last couple of years, do you think there’s more industry pressure and expectation on you now?
BW: Definitely, a hundred percent. There’s few things, like some decisions that we have to make that we don’t really want to have to make. There’s definitely a few more compromises. We can’t really fly by the seat of our pants anymore. Releasing songs, putting out photos, trying to organise tours, we can’t really just wing it anymore. But we have a huge team now helping us out, which is a really sick because we definitely wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing otherwise.
CB: Why do you think there’s been such a massive overseas interest in the classic Oz Rock sound you’ve got?
BW: I think it’s kind of like a fun novelty for a lot of overseas countries, the novelty of an Australian pub rock kind of band bringing back mullets, that kind of shit.
CB: Do you think there’s a danger in being seen as a novelty act?
BW: Kind of, but I think we present ourselves seriously enough to be taken seriously.
CB: Was it a surprise to win the Levi Music Award?
BW: It was a big surprise actually. The money they gave us is just all going to go back into touring. It’ll cover our flights, transport and accommodation for the next few tours coming up. It’s pretty unreal because it was a shit tonne of money.
CB: Last year you toured with King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard in the US. How was that experience for you?
BW: That was pretty unreal. The longest tour we’d done before that was probably like five days, maybe a week. So going from that to like 20, 22 shows in 24 days or something, was pretty full on. It was pretty overwhelming at times but really rewarding. We played some pretty crazy venues, some really iconic venues, which is pretty sick.
CB: Did you learn much from King Gizz about that intensity of touring?
BW: Yeah, definitely. Like it’s wise not to party every night. They’re all fairly conservative but they have their nights sometimes when they go and party, but most of the time they were pretty chilled, which is why, they play so well every night.
CB: And you supported Foo Fighters last year as well?
BW: That was pretty bizarre to be honest. There wasn’t a great deal of people there when we played, it was pretty early. It was in a stadium and it’s something like 16,000 capacity stadium, but it was only like a quarter full or something like that when we were playing. Mostly it was okay. I mean it wasn’t like my favourite gig.
CB: What has surprised you the most about the last few years?
BW: I think that people overseas know who we are and are aware of us. On our last European tour people were coming to shows in towns that I’d never heard of in Europe, like middle of nowhere towns, and we were getting decent size attendance and people singing the words and everything and I’m like, “Wow, this is pretty bizarre, how did you find out about us?”
CB: I find it really odd when I go back to the UK and I’ll go to places like Rough Trade in Brick Lane and look through the Australian and New Zealand section and it’s nothing that gets played on triple j. I was looking on J Play to see how often you get played on triple j and I think the only times you’ve been played is between about 10:00 at night and 4:00 in the morning.
BW: Yeah, it’s only been like a handful of times I think. It’s a funny thing with triple j though, because they have such a monopoly over Australian music and Australian festivals as well. They pretty much dictate who plays at festivals. I think there’s a counter culture to that, a huge counter culture just happening now, a very DIY thing, which is positive I think.
CB: What was your personal highlight of last year?
BW: I don’t know really. I think just the fact that we got to travel so much, it’s pretty unreal, particularly going to Europe because I would have probably never have gone there if it wasn’t for the band. So just being able to do that and playing shows everywhere and meeting new people all the time, probably that I think, just the whole experience in general.
CB: Did you have much time to explore or was it a one show after another?
BW: Occasionally we did. Like sometimes we would have to just leave straight after the show to go to the next city, which is pretty stressful. But every now and then we had a few days off, so we got hang out. I liked Amsterdam a lot, that was really cool. It’s beautiful. Berlin was cool. We played a really cool venue there called Bei Ruth. Just like some kind of DIY punk venue, like a underground kind of place. So that was sick.
CB: And what are you expecting from 2019?
BW: Hopefully to start getting paid, that’s the goal because none of us make any money off it ourselves yet, everything just goes back into the band. So hopefully we’ll start getting some money. But also just meeting more people, playing bigger rooms, playing to bigger audiences.
CB: You’re playing South By Southwest soon, are you looking forward to it?
BW: I’m kind of dreading it to be honest. I think we all are, because we’re doing five shows I think, one every day or a few in one day, something like that. I know it isn’t as many as what some bands do, some bands play like three shows in a day, which is pretty fucked up.
CB: When is the album out?
BW: I think we’re looking at May at the moment.
CB: And have you got to any new Australian dates planned yet?
BW: I think that’s kind of in the works now, just a few shows for a single tour when we get back from Europe. So in a few months.
Amyl and the Sniffers play Farmer and The Owl Festival at McCabe Park Wollongong, Saturday March 2nd 2019 with Beach House, Deafhaven, Snail Mail, J Mascis, Stella Donnelly, The Aints!, A Place To Bury Strangers, RVG and many more.
Tickets on sale now from Moshtix