It ain’t easy coming from Down Under.
While the post-Parkway deluge of Aussie metal bands continues to show that the nation’s scene is in extremely rude health, the fact that many bands from that country will have lived hours and hours apart, often based in remote towns with little in the way of, like, anything, makes it something of a minor miracle that there’s been any kind of a ‘scene’ at all, let alone that the likes of Thy Art Is Murder, Northlane, I Killed The Prom Queen, Hellions and more have made it out of Australia and across the globe
Take the steady but unstoppable rise of Queensland’s own The Amity Affliction, for instance. In the decade-plus they’ve spent together, they’ve managed to become a major concern without having to rely on any real red-alert media hype or, crucially, riding the coattails of any of their compatriots. While Parkway were down in Byron Bay busily refining a metalcore formula that’d see them smash their way across the planet, Amity founder Ahren Stringer was tucked away 200 miles up the coastline in Gympie, a rather nondescript town once known as a goldmining hotbed for eastern Australia, but in recent times renowned for high death rates, poor public transport links and, um, flooding a lot (there have been five major floods in just over 25 years, and in 1999 the town was designated a natural disaster area). Given that his hometown was serving as creative kryptonite, it’s no wonder Ahren was desperate to abandon ship as soon as possible.
“It was a pretty depressing place to grow up,” laughs the bassist, who also handles clean vocals for the quartet. “There was just nothing. It’s a small hick town, a closed-minded place. So many people die there all the time – car crashes, accidents and whatever. You could count the people into rock on one hand. It’s a goldmining town that stayed after the gold dried up, and we wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.”
“Yeah, everyone called it Hell Town,” cuts in his compadre and Amity frontman Joel Birch, who lived “45 minutes inland” from Gympie, but was all too aware of the town’s rather lacklustre reputation. “People that lived there would have bumper stickers that said, ‘HELL of a town!’ on them.”
Back then, Ahren was simply another frustrated teenager in a dead-end place, miles from anywhere and looking for something to do. Determined to have a project to throw himself into, he formed the blueprint for what would become Amity in 2003 with a few schoolmates, naming the band after a tragic car crash that took the life of one of their close friends. That was a “grieving process” for the young musician, but it was when Joel joined a year later that things really started coming together.
“We were very young,” smiles Ahren. “I was 16 or 17 when Joel and I met. It was at a bar where I was singing and screaming with another band. He was there, this cool [older] guy with tattoos, and he came up and said, ‘That was a great show!’ I was like, ‘This guy likes my band? This is cool!’”
“It wasn’t difficult for us to hit it off!” offers Joel. “We got along from the get-go, pretty much, because we like to drink. I thought he could sing really well and was a bit of a legend; a really cool guy. Since then, he’s become my best friend.”
The meeting sparked not just a creative nucleus that the rest of the band – today completed by guitarist Dan Brown and drummer Ryan Burt – have formed around, but an unbreakable friendship that, as Hammer soon discovers, led to some rather interesting situations in Amity’s early years. As it turns out, Ahren wasn’t the only Stringer that Joel made a remarkable first impression on…
“I made out with his sister,” shrugs Joel. You what, mate?! “It didn’t bother me!” insists Ahren with as much nonchalance as his brother-in-arms. “She’s older than me, so I don’t have the protective thing. I don’t care who she likes!”
“I actually pissed in her bedroom at their parents’ house when I was wasted,” adds Joel by way of afterthought. “That was the first time I was at his parents’ place. Afterwards they kept teasing me for how pissed I was. They’re actually coming to stay at my house with my wife and I soon.”
Even aside from winning over each other’s families, talk to the duo today and it’s evident that without Joel and Ahren’s friendship, Amity would have never got into the position they’re in right now. Last year’s anthem-filled fourth album, Let The Ocean Take Me, not only landed just outside the US Billboard Top 30, but hit Number One on the Aussie ARIA charts. They also pulled huge crowds on this year’s Warped tour, and will be headlining the likes of London’s Koko on a hot-selling UK tour next month. Ask the band what they put their ongoing global success down to and they’ll matter-of-factly point to “touring, touring and touring. Oh, and putting out the best record of our career!”, but it must feel like they’ve come a long-ass way from dicking about in nowheresville, Australia, to playing to packed-out crowds on the other side of the planet. How has that affected their friendship along the way?
“We’ve just grown up,” shrugs Joel once more. “We’ve learned a lot of life’s lessons the hard way, on the road. We’ve had the shittest times together and the best times together. Everything that was bound to happen over 10 years
in a band together, has happened.”
Asked to elaborate on just how shit those “shittest times” have got, and it suddenly becomes clear that the dynamic between Amity’s power duo has meant far more than simply keeping a great band in shape. It may just have saved Joel’s life.
“I’ve got chronic depression,” explains Joel. “I’m medicated, so I’m pretty happy most of the time, but when I’m down, I’m all the way down. I used to threaten to leave the band all the time, and when we were recording [2010 sophomore album] Youngbloods, my confidence was at an all-time low, and I did think of quitting for real.”
Sadly, things got a lot darker for the band around that time.
“When Joel was really at his lowest point, he attempted suicide,” Ahren adds quietly. “Everything just weighed up and it all fell to pieces. That was especially hard for me. He’s gotten through it now, and is in the best place he’s ever been, but when something like that happens to a close friend, you’re kinda lost; you don’t know what to do or say to help them through it. But [after], he was talking about quitting, and I was the one saying, ‘Don’t be an idiot.’”
“Yeah,” sighs Joel, the hint of a weary smile in his voice. “I told him I wanted to leave and he just said, ‘Shut up’, and we moved on. It’s always him picking me up. It’s definitely good to have him around.”
And that sums up everything that’s brought The Amity Affliction this far. From bored schoolkids to globe-trotting metal stars, they are emblematic of the level of dedication, support and camaraderie that bands – regardless of location – need to survive. It’ll serve them well as they wrap up the final chapter of the *Let The Ocean** Take Me* era and get started on album number five next year – an album that, judging by their current trajectory, could see them make a leap into metal’s big leagues. But before all that, some quickfire questions to see just how on the same page these two lads are. Firstly, who has the worse touring habits?
“I snore really badly,” offers Joel straight-up, before shooting back at a laughing Ahren: “Well, he always wakes up and pisses really loudly, with the door open!”
Alright… who gets the most female attention?
“I’m pointing at Ahren,” laughs Joel. “Yeah, I guess it’s me,” admits his bandmate, before hastily adding, “We never get chicks coming up to us because we’ve always been very laidback!”
Finally, would either of you consider continuing Amity without the other?
“No,” comes the flat, unified response, before Ahren concludes, “It’d all be over. I’d probably pick up a tattoo gun and start inking.”
Judging by life in the Amity camp right now, that won’t be necessary for a long time yet…
LET THE OCEAN TAKE ME *IS OUT NOW VIA UNFD. THE AMITY AFFLICTION HEADLINE THE IMPERICON NEVER SAY DIE TOUR NEXT MONTH*