Amy Taylor is everything I wish I was. She has bleached hair and her mouth is always open. She takes up space and doesn’t apologise. She stands in front of people and screams from the soft centre of her heart and the angry pit of her stomach. And then she lands a Gucci campaign. As the frontwoman of one of Australia’s favourite young bands of the moment, Amyl and the Sniffers, she relentlessly demands beer, power and “to be treated right”. In our interview, however, she demands nothing. She talks honestly, ripe with contradiction, says she isn’t “heaps smart” (arguable!), and details the band’s self-titled debut album, which has been punching all of us in the head since its release in May.
Hayley Morgan: Is punk fantasy for you? I mean, when you were growing up did you see it as a sort of place where you could go and be exactly who you wanted to be?
Amy Taylor: That’s hard to answer because I’m not sure that there’s just one meaning of punk — it’s subjective, I reckon. For one person, it could just be a genre; for another, it’s rebelling against the government; for another, it’s the way they dress; for another, it’s staunch activism. It really can mean anything and it depends on who’s looking at it. I’m like a lot of people and I’m in a constant limbo of thinking nothing matters. As in: live free, do what you want, we’re all gonna die, so what does it matter anyway? Which is true, but on the other hand, I have the need to help people who have it worse than me, or who are getting fucked over worse than me. The world’s really crazy. But, to answer that, and it’s obviously just my opinion, I reckon the world can be anything extended from your mind. I think legit anything and everything is a fantasy — everything is a choice and just thoughts. That’s true to me at the moment anyway. I mean, the whole world is like a scam, or a fantasy, like a video game or something. I definitely think the music scene and going to live gigs was one of the places where I could be me. It’s a social setting, but you don’t have to talk to anyone. Everyone’s there for a common reason and has something in common, so there’s a connection, but you don’t have to be a certain way. You can just be as you feel and the energy of a song can let you be you. I’m influenced by a lot of different genres and different things, and what I love and what I want to be is always changing. So, it probably isn’t singularly punk music that has been a place for that, but it’s 100% one of them.
When I was a teenager, I ordered some kind of burnt DVD box-set about the history of punk off eBay and to be honest, it bummed me out — like I’d been born in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Do you ever feel like that?
I’ve definitely admired that shit, and really thought it was the coolest ever, but the grass is always greener. I guess that’s the fantasy you’re talking about, which you’d be right about. I think it’s cool that so much good music came out of different times, and living without phones or whatever, just the OG punk mentality too. But it’s something I’ll never be able to change and probably wouldn’t if I could anyway. I love being a part of this time — there’s so much coming out of our time that I like witnessing and being a part of. Cardi B is one example, and the Australian music scene is killing it right now. It’s super exciting to be a part of bands like Surfbort and Viagra Boys. Making music is more accessible too, which is good and bad because it means there’s more shit but also who cares. It’s sick that anyone can record something and put it online, or make their own video. I think this generation DIY is really doable — I can listen to music from any lowlife that chucked their EP on Bandcamp, it’s not exclusive to cunts with the right gear and the right connections. You can literally just record some stuff, do your thing and someone somewhere can listen. If you have something to say you can just say it… even if 80% of it is probably shithouse. There’s a power and lawlessness in that, even if it is a lazy, keyboard protected freedom. I’m excited to see what’ll happen next.
Were you angry as a teenager? Are you angry now?
I can be angry! I can be happy too. I think a lot of the time it’s subconsciously taught to internalise anger like it’s a bad way to feel, but I really have fun being angry. It’s an energy and a power. It’s a strength, but also a weakness. It’s a game [laughs].
What did your bedroom look like when you were in high school?
It looked different all the time. Sometimes it was covered in posters and shit. I actually can’t really remember. I always changed it around. Every couple of months, I would move the bed or rip all my posters off and put new ones up, or make clothing racks out of shit. We used to shop at second-hand shops, so I could pick up something and chuck something out pretty easy. At the time, it was boring when it stayed the same too long — I’m too hyperactive, and it gave me something to do and something to distract me.
What do you reckon it was about your upbringing that opened the gates to music? What gave you the guts to get up in front of a crowd and belt out what you’re feeling?
I don’t really know. It’s not like I was always confident — I couldn’t have done it when I was in high school. I first got into going to shows when I was about 14. There wasn’t much to do in the town where I grew up, other than go to the beach, which was nice, but I went to a hardcore all-ages show or some shit and I loved the anger and energy, and I was attracted to the violence. It scared me and also made me really excited. I’ve always felt comfortable just doing things that I like or wearing shit I like. I just felt comfortable being me — sometimes more than others and other times I feel like a fucking wanker. But when we started, especially around the boys in the band, it never crossed my mind what other people would think and I liked the challenge of trying something new. And, to be honest, it just doesn’t scare me. I really don’t give a shit if I make a mistake — I think mistakes are magic. It’s just nice to express energy, and I love music so it’s not really something that crossed or crosses my mind. That’s something I was never taught.
Would you say that being onstage grants you permission to do or say stuff that you normally wouldn’t?
Sometimes. I’m not heaps smart, but the music world and touring world has taught me a lot of shit. So because I know more, I’ll say more, whereas if I don’t know, I try to keep my mouth shut. I definitely feel powerful onstage — when I first started, and we’d play to not many people, it was sick. I could just nick someone’s beer and they wouldn’t complain. But I think saying stuff on stage is the same as talking behind someone’s back — you should always be able to say it to someone’s face. Anything I do onstage, I would want to feel just as confident to do it offstage. Not that I always do. I’m only one person in the end.
I read that it took you 12 hours to write, record and release your EP Giddy Up. It’s hard and fast and tickles the eardrums. This year’s self-titled record drives differently. Was the process more… professional?
It was, yeah. First two EPs we did, we did it ourselves in the house we lived at with our first bass player Calum. It was pretty low-key and we could just write around. This time, we wrote most of the songs back in 2017, at Flightless’ studios, which is our Australian record label. We recorded most of the album there with Joey Walker from King Gizzard, but it was rushed and we didn’t have the songs that tight then. It’s our first record, so we wanted to be proud of it, which I think we are. We played those songs live a fair bit, so they were practiced. We wrote three more songs a couple weeks before recording, and some of them I wrote the lyrics to in the studio. Those songs were ‘Control’, ‘Gacked on Anger’ and ‘GFY’. I wrote the lyrics for ‘GFY’ in the studio pretty much, same with ‘Control’. They’re all the angrier songs because that’s how I was feeling, whereas the other songs were all heart songs, because at the time in 2017 that’s what was going on. We recorded them in Sheffield with Ross Orton. He’s a professional and he knew what he was doing, but he’s also just a legend and a rough guy and somehow put up with my whinging. The studio was just a two-bedroom set up — the recording gear in one and the instruments and microphones in the other. So it was done right but also done rough; it didn’t feel too intimidating or foreign or wanky.
What’s your favourite song on the album and why?
Maybe ‘Gacked on Anger’ or ‘Some Mutts’. I like the way the instruments drive on both of them — I think the boys do a really good job — and they’re both fun to play live. I like staunch sounding shit, but that’s just my opinion. I like ‘Shake Ya’ as well, I’m not really sure why.
I’m so into ‘Control’. It’s so bratty in its list of demands — gives me the same feeling as Suicide Squad’s ‘I Hate School’ — I get so hooked on the line ‘I like being treated right!’ It’s so… female?
Yeah, oath. Well, I think anyone, in general, wants to be treated right. Workers wanna be treated right by their bosses, females wanna be treated right by their partners or by blokes, customer service people wanna be treated right by shoppers. But for some reason, it doesn’t always go like that [laughs]. Someone told me once: careful what lyrics you say because you’ll end up singing them every night and that’ll attract it to you. Sometimes I choose to believe that, so I like lyrics that state what I want. Something I want is to be treated right.
I ask this not looking for a feminist pull quote, but rather looking for a positive update: is being a woman in punk, onstage and in a crowd, still a bit shit?
Hmm, you know what? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Again, it’s never something that crossed my mind before I started and I never really let it get to me. I don’t give my energy to any of that shit. I don’t think you can control what people say or do or think. I think leading by example is better. I just focus on what I want to be doing and how I want it to look. I love taking up space with my femininity. But at the same time, I’ve definitely punched a few blokes for being too handsy while we’re playing, and people definitely talk shit all the time, but why would I give that power? There’s plenty of space for everyone and, even if not, I’ll still exist. Willie Nelson wore a shirt once that said: ‘Why teach a pig how to sing? You’ll annoy the pig and waste your time.’
Okay — fantasy rider — what’s on it?
I’m not fussed, just like a good cup of coffee. Maybe an espresso martini… I love those fucking drinks. And a good sandwich. And booze… just like any cocktail. Piña Coladas or something fancy like that. Cocktails are so yum.
Also — if you could have one song play every time you entered a room, what would it be?
‘Shattered Image’ by Dolly Parton, or ‘Doing It Again’ by Skepta.
Strong. Also — what’s next?
Bit of this and a bit of that. Spending time at home in Australia playing Meredith Music Festival, FOTS and Falls Festival, which are all good Aussie festivals. It’ll be summer. There are rough talks of doing some UK shows again before 2020, but that’s not official. Just spending time writing and being normal people.
words HAYLEY MORGAN, photography and creative direction WANDA MARTIN, fashion and make-up FABIAN KIS-JUHASZ, hair EMMA TIERNEY, production LUCY-ISOBEL BONER