The Amity Affliction: Ghostbusters
In 2010 The Amity Affliction released Youngbloods. It was immediately hailed as a hardcore classic (gaining them the coveted Band Of The Year guernsey in this very magazine) with rave reviews, an ARIA nomination and an ARIA chart debut at #6. It wasn’t just a local success either: it opened doors for the band in the States and Europe and led to over a year of touring around the planet in front of increasing numbers of fans.
While that’s obviously fantastic, it does lead to a difficult question for any band: so, how do we top it?
“We were shitting our pants about it,” laughs frontman Joel Birch.
“It was a hard one to top,” admits bassist/co-vocalist Ahren Stringer.
“I had to stop thinking about it,” guitarist Troy Brady insists. “That shit will drive you mad.”
“It was a bit daunting to follow such a great record,” drummer Ryan Burt concurs. “The fans have always got expectations that you’re going to ramp it up on the next one.”
One of the reasons Youngbloods touched so many people was Birch’s deeply personal lyrics, exploring his own struggles with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
“I’ve been through it, and I still get anxiety a little bit from time to time – which is kind of hilarious because we perform in front of thousands of people and I’m OK with it, and then sometimes if I’m ordering food I’ll freak out and order something I don’t want and end up putting it in the bin and running away,” he laughs. “But because we’ve been through it and I’m noticeably happier in the band it’s not really a problem anymore.”
“Some of the lyrics were very deep and heavy, and if his lyrics have a dark theme I’ll try to put it to a heavy song, but it’s also fun to put a dark theme to a nice sounding song – like “Life Underground”,” Stringer explains. “It’s the easiest part about working with Joel: he always writes great lyrics.”
“I wrote Youngbloods about myself, and I’m probably still not finished with the topic of suicide but I wanted to write it from a different perspective. So there are some songs on there that are from the perspective of someone who has committed suicide, and I think it’s very important that the people that are left behind have a voice, so I give that voice to the kids who have friends who have killed themselves.”
“Joel’s personal life and emotions really come out in the songs,” Stringer adds. “And I think that’s a good thing for kids to connect with.”
“I’ve tried to hammer home that there’s a lot to be gained by discussing it and looking for the positives in life as well – because no matter what you believe, once you’re dead you’re dead, and there are people left behind,” Birch continues. “I don’t personally believe in Heaven and Hell, and people can believe what they want to believe, but the fact of the matter is once they’re gone, they’re not coming back. I think that’s something that a lot of people on the brink don’t think about enough.”
Having Stringer’s clean vocals as a counterpoint to Birch’s impassioned roar opened new narrative possibilities for the album – and also meant that Birch went over the themes of the songs with his bandmates more than ever before.
“I did discuss the lyrics with the others a lot more this time,” he reveals. “Usually I just write whatever I want and don’t talk about it, but I came up with this idea of having the two voices on this record and they thought it was a great idea so we pushed forward.”
The band pulled the album’s demos together in Stringer and Brady’s home studios before travelling to the US to work with producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette, who’s been behind the desk for the likes of Alter Bridge and Puddle of Mudd.
“Ahren and Troy wrote everything and we put it together,” Birch explains. “Like, Ahren would write a song in GarageBand, Troy would re-record it in his home studio and add to it, and I’d drive down to Troy’s and put vocals on it. Ahren sang his parts, and we went over to Elvis with a complete record – which he was actually blown away by.”
“We went over there with the entire record,” Brady growls. “And this is my new outlook on life: when you record a record, don’t trust anyone
The band all insist that they’re happy with the way Chasing Ghosts turned out, but it doesn’t take long before the qualifications start to emerge.
“It’s turned out well,” Birch insists, adding “but there’s a few things we would have changed.”
“We’re really proud of the record, I think,” Stringer concurs, “as a whole.”
Brady, however, is a good deal less sanguine about it.
“This whole record has been such a good…” he trails off, thinking. “I’m going to say ‘learning experience’: even though we’re happy with the record we wrote, we definitely got our arses kicked. We learned it the hard way, but we learned a very good lesson. If you’re going to put someone in a position of trust, make sure you trust ‘em.”
In fact, Brady would like to release the demos of the album down the track and invite fans to compare and contrast the album they released.
“We didn’t need anyone to make this record. If anything, I feel that a little bit of life got sucked out of some songs by a guy who was trying to tell us how our songs should sound,” he spits. “And obviously that isn’t gonna work, because only we know what those songs should sound like. We’re not kids, we’ve been doing this for a long time. I feel like if anyone’s opinion would be more valid, it would be our own – not an outside party.”
Without pausing for breath, he barrels on. “The bands that survive are the bands that do everything themselves. I can engineer an entire record myself, Joel can cover the imagery of the band ‘cause he’s a great designer, as a band we write our own music.”
So why get a producer at all?
“Well, exactly. I’m pretty headstrong – we’re all pretty headstrong – and even making the last record [with US producer Machine] there were times we thought, ‘Wow, that’s making it worse, not better.’ We just end up thinking if we’d done it ourselves with an extra three months to do the final tracking, would we have just made it infinitely better?”
He sighs heavily. “This feeling of having things unfinished – I think the only way around it is to do everything yourself, so at the end of it the only person you can possibly blame is yourself. At the moment I can blame a fuckin’ dozen people. I’d love to have just myself to blame, then I think I could sleep a lot better.”
It’s certainly not obvious when listening to the album – but then, only the band know what’s not there…
“There’s entire sections of music that we wrote missing from the album!” Brady declares. “We had a couple of songs that really copped a pounding.
“Some of our songs we had to mourn, that’s the words we put, that we feel that we created this song and someone just killed it. So we mourned a few songs and we went through the cycle, but everyone’s feeling good now because we’re getting ready to play the songs live and we realised we’ve written some fucking great songs and just because certain elements are missing it just upsets us more than the common ear.”
Is there a risk in saying this, though? Presumably fans are going to love the album for their own reasons, and they’re not going to hear the things that aren’t there.
“Yeah, but unfortunately every time I listen to it I’ll hear the stuff that’s missing,” he counters. “And that’s why I’m upset: not because I think I’ve got a bad album, just somebody else has tainted it for me when I was more than capable of doing it myself.”
He’s quick to add that he thinks the album’s strong, saying, “When I was growing up and I’d hear a band didn’t like one of their CDs I instantly didn’t like it, because I was like, ‘Well, if the band doesn’t like it…’” he points out. “And it’s not about not liking the song, but a song is made up of a thousand different pieces and it’s like looking at a puzzle with 50 pieces missing. If the picture still looks great, that’s great – and if no-one draws your attention to it you might not notice – but it’s all I could look at.”
He catches himself, and laughs bitterly. “That’s how crazy you have to drive yourself when you make a record. You have to obsess with it, you have to live and breathe those songs for months. And it does make you a bit crazy, and that’s half what making a record is. I feel like if you don’t lose it, you didn’t work on it hard enough.”
Birch shrugs. “We’re really, really finicky about our music, and hopefully that means we’ll go from strength to strength – and hopefully it means that next time we record we won’t have to fuck around with different people at the end of it, stressing us all out and giving us grey hair.”
Adding to the stress was the eleventh hour decision to get the album remixed by Will Putney, the New Jersey-based producer best known for his work with For Today and Upon A Burning Body. “We ended up having to get the record mixed in about five days,” Brady sighs.
It’d take that long for someone to get to grips with the multi-tracks, surely?
“That was half the problem! But we did our jobs the best we could’ve.”
“I’m definitely proud of it,” Stringer declares. “It turned out how I wanted it to, but not exactly. When I say there are things I’d change, it’s key sounds that got changed that shouldn’t have, or things that got taken out that shouldn’t have, but all in all that’s just nitpicking. I am really stoked about the record, and I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
“I’m not going to say anything about it,” declares a diplomatic Birch. “While I agreed with the change of the person who was mixing the record, it’s not my forte. It wasn’t until I played the new mix next to the old one that I could really hear the difference. So well played by Troy on that one!”
Whatever their reservations about the finished product, the band are united in their excitement about taking these songs on the road. For Brady, is there an element of presenting them as they were meant to be presented. “Absolutely: the songs are gonna be smokin’ hot live!”
“That whole tour is blowing my mind: every update we get, the new dates, the venues are getting bigger,” Burt breathes. “We’ve got I think what, 15 dates on our tour, then we go straight to the US for 35 straight shows. There’ll definitely be a little training beforehand. I get pretty worn out, but you have to do what you have to do.”
“There’s a lot of work ahead of us, touring-wise,” Stringer adds. “It’s hard to be away from home for long periods of time – but it’s exciting, of course. We’re up a notch on the bill for the next US tour – we’re second on the bill, but it’s a long way to the top,” he chuckles. “And we get to see the world all over again. Hey, it’s a great job.”
is out now on Roadrunner.