Amity Affliction: “We’ve finally found the right lineup”

JODY MACGREGOR catches up with Amity’s “clean” vocalist Ahren Stringer to talk about the new album Let The Ocean Take Me, extreme reactions from fans, and that “cop killer” controversy.

The Amity Affliction don’t make music for well-adjusted adults. Their songs are loud and angry, crashing violently between self-hatred and railing against the world outside. It’s music for the misunderstood and depressed and those who worry they’re not in control of their own rage. The last time I spoke to their bass player and “clean” vocalist Ahren Stringer, he mentioned that while they were on the Warped tour some of their fans started sending them razorblades with notes saying “Because of your music I don’t need this anymore.”

As a well-adjusted adult it can seem baffling that a band who, while being technically accomplished and thoroughly competent, are still basically just another group of angry young men with guitars who’ve listened to Bullet For My Valentine, can have such an effect on people. It’s baffling to them as well. They confront this on their new album Let The Ocean Take Me in a song called ‘Don’t Lean On Me’. Stringer sings “Don’t lean on me cause I am falling/Please don’t fall with me.” Worried that the sentiment might be taken the wrong way, their lead singer and songwriter Joel Birch he wrote a lengthy open letter to their fans, explaining his own concern at receiving letters – some of them from people considering suicide. “I don’t feel equipped to properly handle some of these notes. I’m not professionally trained to give the necessary advice, and so a lot of the times I’m left scrambling for words to stop people from feeling so down.”

It’s fitting that The Amity Affliction make music for the misunderstood, because they seem just as likely to suffer from that themselves. The songs on Let The Ocean Take Me seem like attempts at clearing things up, being even more honest than they’ve been before. First single ‘Pittsburgh’ is inspired by Birch’s collapse due to acute alcohol withdrawal while in the US on that Warped tour, and ‘FML’ is about trying to find something good in his life to focus on after that. We’ll see if it works, or there’ll be another round of explanations afterwards.

I was listening to Let The Ocean Take Me and it feels really tightly connected. Is that something I’m imagining or is that how you feel about it as well? It’s almost like a concept album.

We’ve always tried to conceptualise loosely our albums. I think this one is definitely the tightest in that aspect. We’re super proud of it and definitely set out to write an album like this and I think we nailed it.

The way I understand your process, the lyrics start with Joel and then he sends them to you to fit with the songs. Is that right?

Yeah, so I’m basically the choreographer of his lyrics. There was a fair few songs that he sent me that I couldn’t fit with anything, I’d say “Write something more like this” and he would. A lot of his lyrics, he doesn’t mind – he’s like “If you don’t like that one then I won’t use it.” He’s very easy to work with like that. Because I’m not very lyrically minded whereas he is, he’s the master, but I need the perfect set of lyrics to paste to the song.

“Joel’s a much happier person now”

What was your reaction like to these lyrics when he started sending them to you?

“These are amazing. They’re great!” I get asked that question a lot. I’ve known Joel for a very long time and I’ve never really feared for his safety. I know he’s a much happier person now, even though there are those demons that lie deep within him that he lets out on paper. That’s how he gets it out and to get sent dark lyrics like that it almost makes me not worry about him, because I know he’s getting it out through this medium.

‘Pittsburgh’ in particular is a very personal song. Were you surprised when he sent you that one?

I particularly love those lyrics and was like “Wow, these are intense and strong and hard-hitting.” Instantly wanted to put it to one of the best songs and it fit perfectly. Those ones I was like, wow, this is a very heavy song.

And ‘Don’t Lean On Me’ as well. I read the open letter that he wrote about that song. Did he show you that before he put it out there? Did you know?

He sent the whole band that and said “This is what I’m gonna say because the song, it could be taken negatively I think, in some aspects.” He just wanted to clear up any confusion, which there was none to begin with, but just in case there was anyone who didn’t fully understand what he was trying to say he thought it best to write a full explanation that the lyrics couldn’t themselves do for him. Because it could have been open to interpretation. Some kids might have thought he was saying “Piss off, I’ve got my own problems!” in a nutshell but it was much deeper than that.

Have you heard back from fans about that song?

I don’t read our messages on Facebook or anything but just from tweets kids have really responded very positively to it and think the lyrics are amazing and they love the song. I think it went down very well.

“I’m not sure I understand why fans want to give us razorblades”

I spoke to you after you guys did the Warped tour and you mentioned getting some really heavy stuff from some of your fans – one of the things you mentioned was people sending razorblades with a note saying “I don’t need this anymore.”

It’s a bit upsetting but at the same time it’s positive in the way they’re saying “I don’t need this.” I’m not sure I understand why they want to give us these razorblades, or to tell us this is what they’re doing in their lives. They’ve been in trouble and we’ve been helping them and it’s a very good feeling to know that. Just through the medium of music and words, that you can relate to kids and help them see the positivity in life and help them through anything they’ve been going through.

This album, you recorded the last couple in the States but this one you recorded here, right?

It was in Coolum Beach. It was because Troy [Brady, guitarist] has started up a studio where he lives in Coolum – Evergreen Studios – and we thought we can just do the drums in a drum room in Byron Bay, fly out our producer, who would be skipping the bitter winter of New Jersey, and it all worked out for everyone. Me and Dan [Brown, guitarist] were the only ones who had to fly up from Melbourne, uproot our lives, but Troy and Joel and Ryan [Burt, drummer] got to stay at home, which was the majority of the band. It was a really relaxed vibe. In this day and age especially the technology used to create records is far beyond what it used to be with analogue desks and stuff like that, which is what we recorded Chasing Ghosts on. We paid a lot of money to fly to Orlando and use this high-tech studio and it just wasn’t necessary because at the end of the day we didn’t like the mix. Sounded too rocky and analogue and we opted to get Will Putney, the same guy who produced our new record, to mix the last one in four days. We were much happier with that mix than the previous one from Elvis [Baskette, producer], it just seemed like a no-brainer.

How is Dan settling into the band? Was it very different working on new songs with him around?

It was so much easier than any writing process. I think me and him especially we really click and want exactly the same things out of the songs, it’s a really smooth process. We rarely disagree and I think he brings the missing piece of the puzzle that we’ve always been searching for with so many different lineup changes. I think we’ve finally found The Amity Affliction.

This is the lineup for good?

This is definitely the lineup for good. I couldn’t see anyone leaving by any means, for any reason.

What are your plans after the album comes out? How soon are you heading out on the road?

We fly this weekend to do the signings, then we go straight over to Europe to do the Download Festival and play another festival in the Netherlands, and then we embark on the Australian tour I think a month later, or two months later, and then go back to Europe. And then back here again.

What’s Download Festival like? I’ve never been.

I’ve never been either but it’s one of the biggest festivals in Europe. I think the headliners are Aerosmith and Linkin Park. It’s a three-day festival and it’s gonna be absolute chaos. I’m not even sure what day we’re playing. I hope it’s the same day as Linkin Park.

Another thing I remember you saying after Warped was that you got to meet Chester Bennington and you got your photo taken with him.

I did. I was actually too scared to ask him but I was with [a friend] and he goes “Fuck it, let’s go” and so I did. He was unbelievably nice and I was like “Of course he’d be nice. I wouldn’t be a dickhead to someone asking me for a photo.” As a kid I was scared shitless of people in bands and I could never just go up and ask for photos. Even now I’m still scared but I think the youth is changing in that way. They’re fearless, these kids.

So I have to ask you about the “”cop killer controversy. On Instagram when you were explaining yourself you wrote “I’ve felt personally victimised by police.” Can you go into some detail on that?

There’s probably too many to really count but I remember one particular event where I was in the Valley and someone stole my wallet. I was chasing after them to get my wallet back, probably with some profanity, and the cops grabbed me and locked me up. I was held there for 24 hours. That was just one particular instance. Another, I came out of my Valley apartment and my car had been stolen and I didn’t have a phone so I didn’t call the cops and – well, I did have a phone but I didn’t call the cops. I got my friend to pick me up, take me to work, and in the afternoon I reported it stolen because I wasn’t sure it had been towed or what. Then I called the cops and said “My car’s been stolen” and they basically treated me like a suspect straight away even though I didn’t have insurance or anything to gain. Then they found it burnt and stolen somewhere in the suburbs and I got a $300 fine from the fire department for putting out the fire in my car.

They made you pay for putting out your stolen car’s fire?

Yep. Justice, huh?

I think Queenslanders have a different attitude to police than the rest of Australia. Brisbane in particular is a place where the police aren’t well-respected.

They just abuse their power. I’m sure there are good cops out there; I’m yet to meet them. I’m not saying we should get rid of the police force and kill them all, that’s more of a metaphor for saying, hey, there’s something wrong here. But I think there should be much harder screening to become a police officer. They’re killing people all the time, and using excess force. What about that guy who got tased to death by the police after stealing some biscuits from a 7-11 in Sydney? I think this stuff happens too often and it shouldn’t. It could be prevented by getting not bullies and anyone with the lowest IQ who wants to become a cop, just give them a badge and a gun.

The Amity Affliction will head out on their biggest tour to date in August with support from Architects, Issues, Stray From The Path, and Deez Nuts. Check out the tour dates here