Taking Punk by the Jugular with our Australian Rose AMY TAYLOR
creative direction and stylist KURT JOHNSON
hair and makeup ROSE LETHO
assistants ALEX MCCOMBE, CLAUDIA HAYMAN
Amy Taylor has become one of Australia’s true-blue icons. She is one of a kind. As the front-woman of Amyl and The Sniffers, she stands firmly at the forefront of the emerging punk scene. With her powerful, take-no-prisoners, take-no-shit attitude and intense openness, she’s revolutionising what it is and what it takes to be a woman. Catching up with Amy, another side of her character emerged—the freedom-fighting powerhouse was smashed open. to Be takes you backstage for a moment with the real Amy Taylor.
Hugh Rebeck Hey Amy, what’s up!
Amy Taylor Nothin’ major, just hangin’ out!
HR So I first want to wind back a bit a little. Can you tell me how Amyl and the Sniffers started?
AT We were all living together, including our old bass player, Callum Newton. He did a bit of recording so we always joked about starting a B-52s cover house band. We would all get home from work and study and start fucking around with it. I was literally studying music and business at TAFE because I wanted to get on Centrelink. I was working for BOC, a chemical company I didn’t want to work for. Everyone was doing shed shows at the time and we wanted to get involved – I really wanted to sing because every time I’d get drunk I’d rap or take the mic, because I fuckin’ love freestyling. We got home one day, wrote four songs, then recorded and put them out the next day. Listening to those now, they’re clearly more demos than real songs, but I really like the simplicity of them and that it was honest to that time.
HR Sometimes artists go back to their first ever recordings and they’re so simple that they become some of their favourite work!
AT Yeah! We didn’t know fuck all. We were all bad musicians, never played an instrument, so it was really fun and chill.
HR Do you ever have bad experiences with fans? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve encountered?
AT I get heaps of creeps and unwanted groping and shit like that, which I really don’t tolerate and fuckin’ hate. It’s probably really common for most females [womxn] in the music industry, or any industry for that matter. People have also gotten my face tattooed on their arm, which is very flattering. This one time, someone sent me a photo of someone else who had carved the word ‘amyl’ into their stomach, which was pretty out there!
HR On that note, how have you experienced being a female in this industry?
AT I get treated differently all the time – people don’t make eye contact with me in meetings and sometimes only comment on what I’m wearing. I’ll be in meetings where they’ll tell me, “Oh, they’re probably looking at your short shorts,” when members of the public are staring at me. Every second gig someone will grope me, grab my tit and grab my arse. Someone will be drinking in my green room, in my rider, and people will be like, “Oh. I don’t really like female singers, but I like the way you’re moving on stage.” I love that I’m a female and pissing on a lot of bloke bands. Not because I’m better or because they’re worse, but because it’s satisfying. It’s empowering to have this power and I strive for respect and want control really badly over that space. I’m super grateful for people like Wendy O. Williams, The Runaways, even Cardi B and Dolly Parton! They would have all copped it a hundred times – we have to work 30 times harder [than our male counterparts], which we do to be respected. There’re a million shit bloke bands, but power to them I reckon; I definitely have respect for all the ones doing it well. Growing up seeing shows at home, I’d never see females on stage, to be honest!
HR You’re from Mullumbimby hey, I’m from just up the road! There were never any female-fronted shows around. Did you ever go to YAC?
AT I’d go to the YAC all the time [laughing]. That’s where I saw all my first bands!
HR Love that. So I want to touch on your work with Gucci and how you got involved with them?
AT Gucci hit up our management and I remember getting a message saying, “You’ve been asked to be in the Gucci campaign.” We got flown like fuckin’ ‘business claaass’, everyone was really friendly and the clothes were insane! We were taken to this island off Sicily, they rented out these ancient ruins – ancient, fuckin’ ruins – which are usually a tourist destination, and they blocked them off just for us, it was fucked up. I can’t even describe what it was like – I’m removed from the fashion world completely to the tenth degree. We’ve always been the weirdos and the ugly kids, and I have no problem with that …
HR Yeah, and now you’re in Gucci ads and on billboards in New York!
AT Yeah, we even walked their fashion week runway in Milan. To be honest, I was very scared of that world. In the punk scene, morals are at the forefront and fashion can be seriously unethical. I am also staunchly feral and proud of where I come from, which is working class. It was a bit of an identity crisis because I was like, “Bitch, what the fuck are you doing!” It’s very easy to get lost. However girls gotta eat, but we’re absolutely not sell-outs! I do believe Gucci actually give a shit, so nothing but respect to Gucci, love Alessandro!!
HR You have really nailed it by staying true to yourselves –that’s rare, it seems, once you break through a certain threshold of fame.
AT It would be easy to lose your head and take all the jobs. It’s fun to say, “No, we actually don’t need you.” Fuck, now I go to the dentist and think I’m a yuppie because I get one filling!
HR Have you met anyone who has monumentally changed your views of life, not only in the punk or music scene but from any facet? Biggest lessons from those people?
AT I’m learning as I go along, as I came from a pretty small-minded perspective. In terms of the music industry, meeting bands like Coppin, Surfbort, Sleaford Mods and Georgia Maq has been really helpful – even though I’m really stubborn and advice is hard to swallow sometimes. You don’t really know shit until you know shit. And you can’t know shit until you’re offered that perspective. 2020 was the most formative year of my life in so many ways. The best roses, you’ve literally got to put shit on to fertilise – it makes them grow better.
HR How about your other band members, have they had a similar experience?
AT I’m a big fuckin’ overthinker whereas I don’t think the other three are. They’re just livin’ and are all so smart, they grow as life goes on.
HR As the band grows, do you look at old and new friendships and relationships differently?
AT I’m a really private and deeply paranoid person, a bit psychopathic and I struggle a lot socially. I’m also so busy, but I love hanging out with people who inspire me and are unapologetically themselves, whatever that looks like.
I think they’re the best kind, people who love talking about what they do. I also like people who can think critically and are self-aware, who lift other people up, who are supportive of me and accepting of who I am, but aren’t afraid to tell me the truth. It’s easy to be around people who are scared to be honest but in turn, you never grow. I love the raw shit! I’ve learned to listen to people, but to trust my own instincts. Because you’re the only one who knows what’s best for you. Even if this renders you an outcast, if you’re patient … you’ll end up surrounded by people who are right for you.
HR Do you have a good music collection at home? What have you been listening to recently?
AT I do, but to be honest my record collection at home is piss weak, I’m not really a record collector. Truth be told, I don’t know a lot about music, I don’t intensely collect records or know facts about fuckin’ anyone. I’ve been listening to Quincy Jones, Viagra Boys – who just put out a new album – and I’ve been dipping my toe into Burial, Slayer and Warthog this morning, too.
HR In terms of your own writing, how do you choose what you write about?
AT To me, it’s kind of mathematical. When the boys play a song it feels like an equation and my lyrics are the answer – and there’s only ever one type of answer. Sometimes the best thing for me to do is to put on music, like rap, and that will help me form ideas, which are kind of half-baked. I then spend time thinking about words going together, playing word games in my brain. Regular life is crazy enough as it is, and the listener will always rearrange it to be relevant to them anyway.
HR Some musicians are informed by dreams and others are informed on the spot, every process is so different and you have your own unique one that works exactly for you.
AT Yeah, and I’m really staunch and protective, I would never let anyone else write any of my lyrics. It’s the one thing I contribute and I would never let anybody fuck with that.
Did the MELT Festival turn me into a festival person?
words Hugo Scheubel
Harpist Mary Lattimore Sings Without Words
words Rachel Weinberg
Classically Contemporary: Luke Howard and Simon Burgin discuss their upcoming performance at Melbourne Recital Centre
words Rob Feher
Moments with Hugo Costin
words Annabel Blue
words Val Dechev
Stepping Out To See Within
words Hugh Barton