Australian metalcore standard-bearers The Amity Affliction have come a long way in a little bit of time. Their last album, 2012’s Chasing Ghosts, debuted at #1 in Australia, and was their debut album on Roadrunner Records here in the States. Currently on tour with Blessthefall, and with their new album, Let the Ocean Take Me, coming out on June 10th, we caught up with the band’s vocalist Joel Birch and bassist Ahren Stringer at Roadrunner’s office last week. They held forth on the Australian metal scene, what American stereotypes are actually true, and yes, koalas and Outback Steakhouses.
Let’s just dive in and start talking about the new record. You worked with producer Will Putney once again. What is it about him that you brought him back again?
Ahren: He kind of saved our ass on the last record by mixing it.
Joel: In one way or another we’ve worked with Will on our last three records.
A: He helped engineer and record the guitars on Youngbloods and then he mixed Chasing Ghosts – in 4 days mind you.
On his headphones, right?
A: Yeah. He was on the West Coast recording another band, Winds of Plague, while mixing us just before bed I guess every night. But yeah he’s a legend, we love him and we thought hey let’s just get him cause he did the recent Thy Art is Murder record as well, which sounds sonically amazing – and musically – so we thought ‘yep, he’s the man.’
Have you worked with anyone other than him on your records?
A: We worked with Machine on Youngbloods, and then Elvis Baskette. Before that, I don’t think there’s anyone worth mentioning (laughs)
J: No, no one worth mentioning.
We’ve only heard one song so far. How is the new album a progression for you?
J: I think that the songwriting has gotten better –
A: It’s just more professional and we know what we’re doing now, we’ve done this for so long that we know exactly what we want to do and we want to basically structure our songs properly. It sucks to compare the two, but when you hear a pop song and you hear – intro, verse, and chorus – it’s an unbeatable formula. We pretty much apply that to our songwriting in so many ways. It’s just how I would want to hear a song, and how we would like to hear a song. It’s easy listening –
J: It is, but it’s heavy. I think the guys have really focused this album for the first time on that exact thing, writing a proper song –
A: Instead of going ‘here’s a bit here and here’s a bit there.’
J: Piecing them together properly, linking everything properly. It’s just nicer to hear good music I guess – so we’re getting better at it.
You guys have been down a member for a while, right? How’s the tour been going?
J: Yeah Troy got done with some weed years ago, and his visa got delayed. He’s sweet now, but the tour has been incredible so far –
A: it’s been the best that we’ve done here for sure.
J: I’m having my mind blown every night pretty much. Last night in Philly was bullshit (laughs).
A: Yeah I think it’s cause we did Warped Tour last year we’ve got a lot of new fans and kind of spread the word and it’s finally catching on. People know the lyrics, it feels like we’re playing shows at home.
So you’ve noticed an influx of fans from the last few tours?
A: (Laughs) Yeah, definitely.
J: It’s a massive difference.
A: Yeah, like it was great the last couple tours, but yeah it’s been infinitely better every time we come here.
J: I’d been Tweeted by a girl that went to the show and had read about it – so that added to the fact that our tour manager came out and was like, “you can’t swear, you can’t sell that shirt”
A: Well, you can swear in your song but you can’t swear between songs. Even though we have the whole crowd saying ”Fuck the Reaper.” It’s like, what’s the fucking difference?
J: So I was aware, and I do stand up for gay rights. I think there should not be such a thing as “gay rights” ‘cause it makes no fucking sense. They’re gay, they should have the same rights as everybody. They’re just another fucking guy or girl. Who cares? There are straight and gay people fucking right now, and we don’t even know about it (laughs). It does not affect us in any way, so I don’t understand it; it gets to me.
Is Australia relatively conservative?
J: It’s going backwards ‘cause we just got our version of George Bush (ed. note Tony Abbott)
Oh I’m sorry. That’s a bummer.
J: Yeah he’s just fucking ridiculous, he’s just running that country into the ground.
A: Going to hell in a hand basket! (laughs)
J: He called loggers “conservationists,” he actually said he’s down with killing endangered species, does not give a fuck about the environment, thinks that gay people are from the Devil.
A: Trying to bring back corporal punishment and jails, caning. He’s Hitler reincarnate.
J: He’s a Catholic, but he’s a hard right Catholic.
A: He’s just a dickhead.
J: And our last Prime Minister was an Atheist.
A: But he fucked it up as well.
J: No not Kevin Rudd, but Julia Gillard –
B: I thought you said he?
J: Yeah he fucked it up
A: Kevin Rudd did –
J: Yeah, she was an Atheist.
You’ve got a few tours in America under your belt. How important is America to you?
J: I think it wasn’t important at the beginning, but it’s extremely important now. You can only take your music so far in Australia – it’s a small country at the bottom of the globe – but I feel like if you can sort of expand into America and get Americans to enjoy your music then you’ve got a base for the whole world. So it is extremely important.
B: It seems like with the Soundwave Festival, there’s a lot of bands that come to Australia. Is it like that all year-round?
J: No, Soundwave has a monopoly. We get along with AJ but he can do whatever the fuck he wants literally (laughs).
A: The Soundwave tour is just insanely huge. It’s got every band you want to hear.
Are there other American bands coming around the rest of the year?
J: Yeah for sure, but it’s not much.
A: Yeah it’s not as big.
J: There used to be more coming before Soundwave –
A: But now they just all come in one big lump.
J: And even as an over-serious band you can’t fuck with Soundwave. It’s like, “You’re doing Soundwave? Then you’re doing well.” That’s it. Here’s a guaranteed good time; it’s not a risk. You might risk all this money to get to Australia, which is really far away, really expensive. Soundwave is fucked and cool. Like really cool so you can see everything, but –
Even if you don’t pay attention you’ll know who played Soundwave just by looking at Facebook and seeing people holding a Koala.
A: (Laughs) Exactly! That’s fully it.
So koalas – you just don’t really care about them?
Well we don’t really see them – I’ve never actually held a koala.
J: I’ve never held one.
A: But I’ve seen plenty of kangaroos jumping around.
J: I see a koala every now and then where I live, but I live right near a national park so it’s not that out of the ordinary. They’re not common.
That’s a stereotype people have of Australia – what stereotypes do Australians have of America?
J: They’re all right (laughs). We get all our information from movies growing up as kids, but a lot of that shit is real.
A: And in the cliché areas as well like, “Alright we’re in Texas? Oh, there’s a guy with a fucking revolver on his hip and an anti-abortion sticker on his truck.”
J: Our first tour we saw a guy walking down the street in Texas with a fucking cowboy hat and a revolver on his hip.
A: And in Albuquerque we saw a guy walking a lizard (laughs) – what do they call those things?
A: Yeah, it’s insane! It’s all real. At least one stereotypical thing in every city is true about America.
What about the stereotypes that Americans have of Australians? Have you been to an Outback Steakhouse at all?
A: Most of them aren’t true; in fact it’s ridiculous. We haven’t actually ever gone to an Outback Steakhouse.
J: Troy went to one in Chicago and said it’s the worst food he’s ever eaten –
A: Well, there you go. We don’t have Outback Steakhouses in Australia, we don’t have anything.
J: No we do have one I think –
A: I’ve never seen one.
J: I think we’ve got one now in Brisburn.
A: Well there you go, one thing that’s true.
J: But it’s from America, so it’s American Outback Steakhouse in Australia.
A: We don’t have anything called a “steakhouse.”
J: It doesn’t exist.
A: You want a steak, you go to a pub and eat a steak and drink a beer.
It seems like Australia has a pretty healthy metal scene, there are definitely a lot of bands that are kind of starting to make their way over here or already have. Would you agree with that?
J: I think that Day of Contempt were the first heavy band to come over here, and then you had [I Killed the] Prom Queen, and then I think what really opened it up for all Australian bands was Parkway Drive coming over. I think they proved that all you have to do to “do it” is fucking “do it.” Just go on tour there.
A: Carpe diem – seize the day.
J: Do exactly what you do at home overseas, and it will work. And now more bands are just willing to take the leap and try and take it on.
A: I think it’s inspiring to see. Monkey see, monkey do, and kids go “I can do that too.”
Is there a point where a band has to reach critical mass in Australia before they decide to go somewhere else?
A: No, because now bands like Hands Like Houses and Capture the Crown just come straight to America and start becoming a touring band.
J: Well Hands Like Houses – I think all those guys moved here and started in America.
A: That’s what I mean, they just came straight here. I guess Australia is not a particularly hard market, but somehow it is. You don’t have to necessarily conquer Australia before you go overseas.
J: No, definitely not.
How long would it take to do a proper tour of Australia?
J: A proper tour – like getting all the regional dates in-between? If you want to do a proper city tour it’s going to take you two weeks and only because you’ve got to play Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then wait to play the next weekend (laughs). That’s it, that’s the only thing stopping you from doing it in 5 days. But when we tour now we do it in about 5 or 6 days.
A: No ‘cause we’ll be doing 5 shows – Thursday, Friday, Saturday – and then we have to wait and start again. So yeah – roughly two weeks (laughs).
J: But if you do a regional tour, you could tour for a month.
A: There’s just not enough cities – like we’ve got a big island we live on but no one lives in the desert in the middle.
J: 2% populated.