East Coast Aussie punk darlings Amyl and The Sniffers have been picking up quite a bit of steam since releasing their second EP Attraction in 2017. The group has been steadily touring the country, jumping overseas to the UK, supporting King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard in North America, and capping off 2018 with their very own headline tour with support from New York’s Surfbort in Australia. Both bands indulged KAVI GUPPTA in a game of Twister and sat down to talk about friendship, maintaining individuality, and the “punk image”. Photos by Zev Weinstein.
Amyl and The Sniffers, along with Surfbort, are starting to get frustrated with the game of Twister I’ve made them play.
I figured it’d be a good way to loosen things up before our chat and their gig later in the evening. Both bands indulge in my request; that is, until all parties get to the point of Twister where tangles and knots make for butts in faces and cramped legs.
“I hate this, make it stop,” says Surfbort guitarist Alex Kilgore.
Lead singer Dani Miller is all smiles, with her wide gap tooth showing prominently, as she stretches right hand purple across a bandmates left foot green.
Sheepishly, one member for each group has quietly left the room to avoid the entire debacle.
Dec Martens, guitarist in Amyl and The Sniffers, announces that his black jeans have ripped at the crotch. We call it a game and start our chat.
What takes place is a rapid crossfire conversation between some of Amyl and The Sniffers (vocalist Amy Taylor; bass guitarist Gus Romer), and some of Surfbort (vocalist Dani Miller; guitarist Alex Kilgore; and drummer Sean Powell). I try to keep up as both groups rattle off their musings to my questions.
There’s clearly a sense of friendship between Amyl and the Sniffers and Surfbort. Can you describe what that friendship is like?
Dani: The truest friendship I’ll ever know. I knew there was cool shit out there, that people were doing crazy shit like I was, but we just didn’t know about it. And when I discovered Amyl, I was like, “Oh hell yeah. This is gonna be so much fun.” Best friends forever.
Amy: Yeah, it was like looking at yourself in the mirror.
What do you define as “cool shit”?
Dani: People just being themselves, and freaking out, and not being like sheep, and standing up for what they believe in.
Is this the first time Surfbort has come to Australia?
Sean: Yeah. Fuckin’ love it. It’s glad to be let in. Don’t wanna go home.
Dani: Sean’s walking around really smiling, laughing, really stoked. He doesn’t wanna leave.
How are you feeling about the crowds in Australia so far?
Dani: They’re raging. They’re really fun. They’re just letting loose. Yeah and when they let loose, they really let loose. First step into the bar, they’re ready to have fun.
I’m really keen to understand if the latest Surfbort release (Friendship Music) is really all about friendship. Is it?
Dani: Yeah, a lot of it is just a reaction to all the crazy shit happening. Our first reaction, lots of anxiety, and like, “Ah!” I don’t know, being fed up with the government. And then, the second part being about everyone having that feeling as a collective and coming together and learning how to spread more love under the hate, and understand each other on a human-alien level, and not just die.
Do you feel like some of the topics like anxiety and depression were in punk music back in the 70s and 80s? Or do you think these are modern topics that you’re addressing?
Alex: I don’t think we’re saying anything new. I don’t think anybody is. There aren’t any new movies, there’s no new anything going on, as far as I see. People learn stuff throughout their life from watching and listening to stuff, so we’re all under the same influence. That’s my personal belief.
We grew up on the same shit. What it really comes down to is: you have those influences your whole life and then it comes through your being in your own special way. Like watch that band play. You can tell that’s their music. And you can also hear their influences inside of their music. That’s fuckin’ awesome.
Amyl and The Sniffers and Surfbort are both bands that are fronted by fantastic women, who are just wilding out. What’s it like being at the forefront of that? Because I don’t think there are many other groups that are really getting that exposure, and that level of visibility…
Dani: I mean I guess I’m used to it ’cause it’s every day. But it’s exciting to inspire other people, and then I get inspired by other people, too. That’s what the cool part is, meeting new people, and all getting together, being like, “Let’s fucking go!”
Amy: I think it’s sick. We’re not women doing it, we’re just people doing it. I think that a lot of young girls, and even older women will come. And they’re, “Fuck yeah, this is sick. Thanks for doing this.”
Dani: Yeah, I always get shocked. When people are like, “Oh, you’re a woman, doing-” I’m like an alien, dude. But I feel like the common denominator, if you’re a male or female, is not getting so trapped in the everyday, of not being able to be yourself, and I don’t know, whatever job you have, or just what you’re doing, not holding back.
Amy, what have you learned from Surfbort? Because you guys are now starting to put out more material and it seems like with each release, there’s a bit of growth there.
Dani: (Laughs) You sound more and more like Surfbort!
Amy: I really admire everyone in the band. But I really like the way they can put out music that’s political, and they have fun doing that. Because for us, I guess from my background, I didn’t really come from much like that, political activist standing, but I listen to their songs, I learn a new thing and I think that’s really important. When I was younger, I didn’t even open my ears to that kinda shit. And now it’s just like, “Fuck yeah.”
Dani: Don’t be afraid to be hot. That’s what Amy taught me.
In a way it seems like you’re all putting empathy into punk music. Can there be empathy in punk music?
Dani: Oh yeah, there has to be.
Sean: There has to be. 100%. Punk music was based on empathy, I mean it was a reaction to shit, but really, what it devolved into is out of empathy.
Dani: That’s the main problem right now, is crazy, evil, monster robots who have no empathy for other humans. That’s what’s going wrong.
Kilgore: Please don’t hug the robots.
You folks have definitely cultivated and curated a look for yourselves. At what point is it performance, and at what point is it just who you guys are all the time? How do you divide the two, or is it just on always?
Kilgore: Some days you ham it up a little more than others, maybe. But I’ve kind of been wearing the same uniform for a long fuckin’ time.
Dani: I think it’s all about comfort. People will be like, “Oh, you don’t shave!” And I’m like, “Dude, I’m just so comfortable this way.” If I shave, I’ll be itching and…
Gus: But the performance part of the question, that’s as much as you’re doing every night. You make a song, and that’s where the magic happens, when you make it. And then from that point on, every time you do it again, you’re doing a reenactment or something. So when you’re doing that live, you’re doing your best to reenact some magic thing that happened when you’re jamming with your friends.
Well for Amyl & the Sniffers, you guys are definitely calling back to a time in the 70s and 80s in Australia, right? Really paying tribute to Sharpies?
Amy: I really love the way they sound, I’d like to sound like some of that music, and to see whatever pops out of the other side, I guess.
Gus: It’s all different for us. For me, I didn’t even fuckin’ know what Sharpies were. I was like, “Fuck yeah, this is sick, I really like this.” And all of us, with the image, it’s not necessarily a conscious thing in terms, as a band, as a whole, “Oh, we did this.” Have this image … we all fuckin’ take influence from different places, in our own different ways, and it comes out. We’ve all got fuckin’ mullets in the band, but we all look different.
Can both bands describe for me your worst environment to be in ever, and what does it bring out in you?
Dani: Oh, aggressive, agro bros fighting. Anyone physically hurting each other in an evil way, is my worst one. And then I get really pissed off and start screaming at them.
Both bands are high energy, how do you maintain that idea of “get pumped up, but don’t hurt each other”?
Amy: Consensual energy. It’s not consensual violence, because it’s not violence. Consensual shoving. You know when you’re at a gig and everyone’s shoving each other, and at any other time and place, it’s like “Well, let’s calm down.” But it’s consensual, let’s just get sweaty together. And it can be angry little hugs and not hurt each other.
And it’s good at gigs, cause there’s a rowdy little bit, there’s people on the outside that can bump, but not hurt each other, and then further out, you stay away from the slugs and enjoy it. There’s a space for everyone, so you don’t even have to get involved, if it’s not your thing.
Alright, last question, I promise. We’ll do one band each. In 2019, Amyl & the Sniffers will blank? What comes to mind?
Amy: Hopefully not break up and not die.
In 2019, Surfbort will blank. What comes to mind?
Dani: Wait, we’re not gonna just snack, no we’re not snacking. Okay, we’re gonna just travel the world and hang out with everyone.
Sean: And snack.
Dani: Ok. And snack.