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Spotlight: Amyl and The Sniffers

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“There is no hope now,” says Gus Romer, bassist for Australian punk band Amyl and The Sniffers. He’s not just harping on some nihilist punk trope. Rather, he’s being a realist. The band’s plans over the past two years have been canceled, rescheduled and canceled again so many times that he’s given up hoping for a return to normalcy—which, in the band’s case, would mean heading back onto the road.

The truth is that he’s grown rather accustomed to being stuck at home. And, as the Delta variant tears through Australia, Melbourne has just extended its latest shutdown.

“Look, I’m either lying in bed or drinking at the pub. Those are my two happy places. I don’t really occupy much other space unless I’m required to, and then it’s reluctantly,” he says with a laugh while speaking over Zoom.

The fact that he’s had just one bed to lay in is new. It was November 2019 when Amyl and The Sniffers—Romer, singer and human stick of dynamite Amy Taylor, guitarist Dec Martens and drummer Bryce Wilson—decamped to a rented house in Melbourne to start writing their second album after several years of nonstop, breakneck touring.

And the band’s utterly infectious, riff-heavy sophomore album, Comfort to Me is the result of that rare break from the road. A clear product of the pandemic, The Sniffers manage to smash 13 songs into 35 minutes. Each tune is loaded with buzzsaw guitars, pummeling drums and, of course, Taylor’s standout shout-sung stories about getting sweaty in a circle pit, looking for love in a pub and encountering some good ol’ ultra-violence. It’s a sound that echoes punk’s golden era—one can imagine Amyl and The Sniffers destroying the stage on a bill with The Dead Kennedys or Circle Jerks.

The quartet started making noise in 2016—while the members of the group were still barely in their 20s—and, within two years, they were touring internationally, opening for Australia’s beloved psych-punk weirdos King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, who signed The Sniffers to their Flightless Records. By 2019, they’d dropped their self-titled debut on U.S. indie mainstay ATO and were scheduled to embark on their biggest tour yet—a European run opening for Fall Out Boy, Weezer and Green Day.

But after the apocalyptic brushfires of early 2020 and COVID-19, their plans went to shit. With nowhere to go, the band spent the quarantine together in a house that they’d expected to live in briefly while writing and recording.

“We’d just spent two whole years living on the road out of suitcases, together all the time. That was its own kind of lockdown,” Romer says.

“We’re pretty tight knit as it is,” Taylor adds. “On tour, we all share rooms and beds. So we’ve already seen everything there is to see. I mean, I was sharing a bed with Gus once, and the Band-Aid from his forehead was stuck in my hair when I woke up.”

Romer pipes in: “No one wants to share a bed with me; I’ve got rogue arms in my sleep. But we’re that comfortable with each other.”

Their six-month lease turned into a year as Australia’s various lockdowns were rolled back and then reintroduced. By the fall of 2020, they had an album ready to record— boasting some songs that, today, sound like pitch-perfect pandemic anthems.

“The feelings of frustration, of wanting to get out—I always feel that. I have too much energy; I need to dart around all the time. So songs like ‘Guided by Angels’ sound like pandemic songs, but I wrote those lyrics beforehand,” Taylor says. “These are just my normal feelings.”

That song—the first single from Comfort to Me—is an absolute blast of raw power.

“I’ve got plenty of energy/ It’s my currency/ I spend, protect my energy,” Taylor hollers with white-hot intensity, a whole thunderstorm of guitars and bass exploding beneath her words. “I traveled, and what did I see?/ I see I don’t like misery.”

On “Security,” which begins with a drumbeat that would make Tommy Ramone proud, Taylor sings, “Security, will you let me in your pub?/ I’m not looking for trouble/ I’m looking for love.”

Punk rock can be snide and snarky, sure, but it’s also historically genuine. And that’s where the hidden appeal of Amyl and The Sniffers lives— these songs are ready to spark a moshpit. But Taylor’s sneer can’t hide her honest, heartfelt lyrics. By the end of “Security,” after the guitars have been thoroughly shredded and her voice has been fully blown out, Taylor says, almost in a whisper: “I’m not that drunk/ I’m just looking for love.”

There isn’t a formula for the singer’s mesmerizing performances. “I just open my mouth and say stuff loudly,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve never been classically trained to sing, and I lose my voice constantly. I had a vocal cyst removed this year from singing too loudly. I couldn’t talk for months.”

These days, her voice is back and the band is ready to hit the road—by late summer, they’d already managed to get through five local shows. But, with COVID-19 still raging in Australia, a tour felt presumptuous. For now, Comfort to Me will have to do.

“I want people to feel something while hearing this album,” Taylor says. “Maybe it is the feeling of walking down the street and punching the air—the feeling that they can do anything or the feeling that everything’s fucked up, so you just celebrate the rankness of society. Or maybe they’ll just feel hopeful.”

Some momentum builds in her voice, before she shakes her head and says, “Honestly, I don’t care. We made this to express ourselves and have a good time.”

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