Interview: The Amity Affliction

Published in Drum Media (WA) | 20.09.12 | Issue # 306

CHASING DREAMS

 

Once upon a time you’d find The Amity Affliction passing out and throwing up on stage in front of only a handful of people in regional Queensland. With the release of their third album looming and upcoming national tour selling out faster than they can add dates, vocalist Joel Birch tags out of the chaos to chat with Daniel Cribb about their controversial cover art and other hiccups faced when churning out Chasing Ghosts.

It’s 5am and The Amity Affliction awake in New Zealand after two hours’ sleep. The previous day the quartet was in the middle of nowhere shooting a video for the title track off their new album, Chasing Ghosts. Throwing up on set and passing out, one might think that these boys have been partying all night. Partying is, after all, one of the tags commonly associated with the Queensland metalcore four-piece. In ’07 and ’08 they embarked on two separate tours dubbed The Drunk And Disorderly Tour, and their 2008 debut album Severed Ties contains the tuneFruity Lexia. But, as mainman Joel Birch assures, they’re all “getting on now” and “usually go to bed” after they step off the stage. The sicknesses suffered during the video shoot are not party related – rather, they’re from working too hard.

Flying home from New Zealand, they managed to squeeze in some rest time to power up before embarking on their biggest national tour to date, supported by US band The Ghost Inside, UK boys Architects and Buried In Verona. “For some reason that still follows us around,” Birch says of their publicly perceived party personas. “We do party, but not like we used to. We’ve got a lot more respect for what we’re doing these days. I think it’s pretty important that we be on our A game and not be too drunk before we play,” he continues.

It was around the time Severed Ties came out that they had an epiphany of sorts. During their Severed Ties Tour (a name perfectly fitted to their realisation) they discovered people actually started coming to the shows. “I guess we saw that we maybe had a crack at doing this for a living and not just getting out bank loans that we can’t repay because we’re touring. We’ve been touring for eight years now and If you’re touring for eight years and you’re not making a living, it’s probably time to give up, but we’re luckily enough that we’re… we’re not rich by any means, but we don’t have to go and work a nine-to-five between tours and stuff like that, which is great.

“I think a lot of our success is to do with the fact that we’ve never changed our sound either, not drastically anyway,” he explains. “I think it’s always just been a natural, organic progression rather than any wild sort of jumps. I think the craziest thing we’ve ever done was add a keyboard and I don’t even think that was unwarranted. We’ve still got keys on the new record and I think they add a nice warm sound to the songs, but apart from that, we’ve kind of just been doing the exact same thing. I guess we’ve just hammered it into kid’s heads,” he laughs.

With that in mind, it’s surprising to hear that the band jump from one producer to another. Their sophomore release Youngbloods (2010), which debuted at number six on the ARIA charts, received a wealth of praise worldwide and was recorded and produced by Machine (Bullet For My Valentine, Enter Shikari) in New York. Although he was somewhat of a perfect match for the band, they felt the need to mix things up and keep it interesting. Enlisting producer/engineer Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette (Story of the Year, Falling In Reverse), they flew to Florida to begin work on what would be an album that would produce a few hiccups along the way.

“We wanted to do something different, so we went with Elvis and, you know, it worked in the studio, but the mixing didn’t work out and we had it mixed by Will Putney (Four Years Strong, Suicide Silence), who actually engineered a lot of the guitar on Young Bloods,” he explains. Which begs the question – what went down out of studio? “Well, we were getting the mixes and they kind of sounded like shit. They sounded like a rock mix. It was really flat and not really dynamic, and then I think Troy [Brady, guitar] just had enough and called everyone in the band and said, ‘Our songs sound like shit, we need to fix it’. And so he got in contact with Will Putney and he pretty much saved the day. [Troy] had to cop it from Road Runner; they were really pissed off and Troy copped the brunt of it. He pretty much said, ‘If you want a good record then you’ll let this happen, otherwise you’re going to have a piece of shit and you’re going to have to explain to people that we tried to change the mixes and you wouldn’t let us and it’s all your fault’. And they were like, ‘Alright, that’s scary’, and yeah, we went with this guy Will and he fuckin’ saved the day.

“It was a fucked situation,” Birch admits. “I mean, they’ve got this guy that they’ve used before for other bands and it’s been fine, it just didn’t work with us. Every band’s different. Sometimes that’s going to happen and it happened with us and we did something about it. I think a lot of bands might be scared by their labels, but we don’t really give a fuck, so Troy just went in with guns blazing and we came out with a much better record.”

It was obviously important for them, and would be for any band, to ensure their album was the best they could make it. For Birch, though, it meant all the more. Chasing Ghosts is a platform to voice his strong views on suicide and start conversation in the public arena. The cover art for the album did just that; backlash was plastered all over the internet the day it was unveiled to the public. The artwork depicts a suicide victim, hanging by his neck from a tree.

“I’ve been writing anti-suicide messages since 2006, and it just didn’t cross my mind that people would take it the wrong way,” he contemplates. “Some people did and I said some pretty harsh stuff [see sidebar] and obviously had to rescind it, because it was pretty mean. But, yeah, I dunno, the message on the CD is a very positive one – I don’t think people have a problem with it after they’ve actually read the lyrics. The cover’s the cover – it’s full on, but it’s going to get people opening a discussion about suicide and I think that’s a positive thing. It needs to be discussed. It gets swept under the carpet too much, in Australia especially.

“I’ve been through it, I got through it, I’m really happy now and I’m dealing with it. I have anxiety issues every now and then, but for the most part I’m happy. I think a lot of people who kill themselves forget that when they’re dead they’re leaving behind a lot of people who have to deal with that shit… I really want to affect people in a positive way and I feel like we’re on the right path, despite the extremely brutal cover imagery.”

TCHY TRIGGER FINGER
The problem with social media being largely a one-way street for a lot of musicians, celebrities and high profile individuals (Ashton Kutcher has more than 11 million follows and follows less than 1000) is anything said on the tubes can spiral out of control or leave them sharing a little too much to too many people. With a smartphone in their pocket, someone might get pissed off about something and vent his or her rage in 140 characters or less without fully comprehending the audience about to read their spontaneous post.

When The Amity Affliction released the cover art for Chasing Ghosts, they were bombarded with a slew of negative press. Frustrated, Joel Birch took to Facebook, saying, “Let me explain how you DIDN’T TRY TO KILL YOURSELF AND WEREN’T DEPRESSED BUT I DO WANT TO HEAR YOUR OPINION.”

The next day, after cooling down, Birch returned to Facebook with “I just wanted to give you my apology for being insensitive and indignant with my initial comments that I aimed at those who were upset about the album image… I feel really awful about that. No one deserves to be berated about their emotions, and I feel I was far too offensive, and defensive.” Although his apology was fairly prompt, by the time it was released, his previous comment had spread like wildfire.

Whether the feedback of his posts and the artwork itself were positive or negative, they definitely got the issue of suicide in the spotlight, which was ultimately Birch’s plan from the beginning. Once the album is released and the imagery is intertwined with the lyrics and themes throughout it, Birch and co can be assured that it will do well.
If you need help dealing with a situation or want to talk to someone, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or head to lifeline.org.au.

Daniel Cribb

http://themusic.com.au/interviews/all/joel-birch-the-amity-affliction/

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