It’s a grey, dreary Friday afternoon in London, the two hands slowly making their way to beer o’clock (5pm in real talk). Over The Pond in Worcester, Massachusetts, however, it’s approaching midday... which is when we accidentally wake up a bleary-eyed frontman with our phone call. His name is Joel Birch and for the past decade he’s been a part of the Australian powerhouse The Amity Affliction. You might think 'powerhouse’ is a strong term for a band who only play to a few hundred people in the UK, but Down Under their past two albums have reached number one and they are routinely selling out arenas. Now, though, as he struggles to pull his mind out of sleep mode, he’s on the other side of the planet, but not necessarily out of his comfort zone.
“I love it,” Joel instantly replies to the notion that Amity play considerably more intimate shows outside of their homeland. Coming from a predominantly hardcore background, crowd interaction is something the band thrive on. “I love people getting onstage, I love stagediving – it’s fucking cool, man,” he says excitedly. It’s due to that energy and response from fans that he believes every show from DIY gigs to arenas “has its merits” and that “as long as people are as passionate as we are, I don’t really give a fuck.”
It’s the passion from both the band and their recently discovered legion of fans that has led to their previous two full-lengths (Chasing Ghosts and Let The Ocean Take Me) reaching the coveted number one spot in the Australian charts and both achieving Gold status on those shores. Which, regardless of your opinion of Amity Affliction, is no easy feat for a record full of harsh vocals and heavy beatdowns.
“Obviously I’m proud of it, but it’s not too much of a big deal for me,” Joel freely admits. But he’s not being modest here; instead, the frontman sees ticket sales as a bigger accomplishment. “Selling out the last tour, now that was huge… I think that’s more of a true reflection of success. Some bands come out and sell a lot of records, but no one is going to their shows. I think the shows themselves are a much better indicator of how well you’re doing.”
It’s an interesting outlook on their career and one that harks back to their DIY days. While they’re playing to thousands in Oz, it’s the importance of seeing the whites of their fans’ eyes rather than their webstore’s stocklist that drives them forward, and is probably the reason they’ve embarked on a mammoth tour spanning three continents in three months.
“We never even thought we’d get as big as we have back home,” Joel reveals. “It wasn’t really on our radar to tour anywhere else in the world.” But there was one band that helped not just Amity, but every Aussie metal band of recent times to get some international footing…
“Parkway Drive really opened Australia’s eyes up to the rest of the world and the possibility of making it happen. We were in a generation of bands where it wasn’t important to be overseas and then Parkway came along and crushed the world,” Joel laughs.
Although Amity aren’t quite at crushing-the-world level yet, they’re not letting it get to them: “We played to 30 kids in Belgium but we still got to hang out in Antwerp, so who gives a fuck? It’s awesome!”
There’s a chance things may get lost in translation as you go further west from the south-east hemisphere, as Joel states mainland Europe’s metallers are “very particular about their music,” but it’s probably just a matter of time for the AA crowds around the world to become synonymous with each other – something Joel is very much looking forward to. “Everyone from football players to standard emo kids turn up [in Australia], then there’s the metal crowd coming too – it’s crazy. We haven’t quite found that diverse crowd in Europe yet but I hope we will.”
It’s no secret that Australia has a faithful hardcore scene that many of their metallic exports are born out of, and while Joel describes the band’s influences as “extremely far and wide,” he points out the likes of Atreyu and Poison The Well as the heavier end of their influence spectrum. And, while Amity aren’t at the same level of brutality as the aforementioned, they know what makes them stand out from the ever-growing metalcore crowd…
“We’ve got more passion than a lot of bands,” insists Joel. “I can only take bands on face value as I don’t know every band, but some of the stuff I do hear sounds pretty contrived. I grew up in the hardcore scene and I think you’ve got to have a certain degree of passion involved in your music for you to deserve to do what you’re doing. But there are people following trends to make money and that’s fucking disgusting.”
This over-saturation and jadedness among fans and, indeed, bands often leads to the question about the subgenre’s longevity in 2014. While the likes of Bring Me The Horizon have lifted themselves from the 500-cap venues to Wembley Arena, Joel believes in bands like Of Mice & Men, Pierce The Veil and Buried In Verona to keep the scene alive and well. He also knows, however, that to stay relevant, you’ve got to change with the times.
“Music is constantly evolving,” he says with authority. “If you look at the days of Shai Hulud, when that was the standard for metalcore, then you move on to bands like Poison The Well – they took a snippet of Shai Hulud and changed it. Music is an evolving beast and anyone that says any genre is dead is a fucking lunatic.”
That might be the answer. While everyone is so obsessed about the ‘next big thing’ and making sure your music taste is ‘on point’ so your Instagram followers know you go to cool gigs, the reality is that serious music fans couldn’t give a fuck. The Amity Affliction have been cultivating their sound for 10 years in a supposedly spent scene and are showing no signs of letting up. Like Joel says, music evolves and that’s because it has to. So what is there left to do?
“You can only get bigger, can’t you?” he opines. “You’ve just got to keep doing it. The real goal is to keep writing good music, to write music that ensures your band’s success. If we can keep that up, then we’ll be looking good. Obviously, when you’ve had this as your job you don’t really want any other! Ha ha!”
Let The Ocean Take Me is out now via Roadrunner. The Amity Affliction hit the UK later this month.