Australian metalcore quartet The Amity Affliction are heading into the studio to make their fourth album, the follow-up to 2012's powerful Chasing Ghosts, and it marks a period of transition for the band. Not only are they celebrating their 10th year of existence in 2014, frontman Joel Birch has recently sobered up following some disturbing health issues on tour. We sent Joel some questions—about the new album, his life changes, his visual artwork, and more—via email, and his responses are below.
Your last album hit #1 at home and helped you break through in the US somewhat. Do you think it’s a case of the wave finally catching up to the boat, or your music evolving to a point of greater accessibility, or both?
Ha ha ha—Have we broken through in the US? I don't know about that. It's definitely stirred up some interest, but I really don't think we've broken through over there yet, so to speak. I'm confident we will break through over there, though; we're writing music with a lot of passion behind it, and I think that shows through. There's a lot of bullshit out there at the moment, a lot of people singing for the sake of singing; there's a lack of substance, and I think that's a big part of our band.
What’s your vision of album #4? Will it be as thematically focused as Chasing Ghosts, or are you planning on making the subject matter more diverse?
I had intended on diversifying the lyrical content a great deal, but that hasn't really panned out. When I wrote the lyrics to Chasing Ghosts I was in a great place mentally; I hadn't been on medication for a little over two years prior to the recording, and had only really had a few breakdowns/anxiety attacks, nothing to really write home about though. During recording, however, that all changed; I'm not sure what the exact combination was that caused it, but I think being in a car accident that very nearly killed or crippled me, along with heavy drinking and the stress of recording, came together, and I had a massive panic attack towards the end of recording. I still remember it vividly. From there it was a downward spiral until I finally went back on medication to level myself out, but I never really reached that level when I very nearly died on Warped Tour in the US [ed: Joel was rushed to the hospital after suffering from extremely dangerous dehydration]. I woke up in an ambulance instead of dying, thanks to our tour manager Eric whose fast thinking really saved me. Anyway, the last year and a half have given me ample fodder that I couldn't just sweep under the rug, so whilst I'm still tackling a familiar subject, it's really, really close to home in regards to the content of the songs. I've been through a lot; I think that will show in the songs.
How does the band typically work on music? Are the songs complete before the lyrics are written, or does it all come together gradually?
It's like a puzzle; everyone has their piece and they all come together in the end. The lyrics are written completely separate to the music, the music is written individually by Troy, Ahren and Dan, and then we all get together and hash out the small changes that we all need to make. This time around has been great for that, it's the first time we've all really sat around and had a positive discussion happening within the band. Prior to this record there has always been some sort of discontent, some uncomfortable tension in the camp that's been impossible to ignore; this time around it's all positive, and productive.
At what point do you present a set of lyrics to the band—when they’re complete, or when you’re sketching an idea and seeking feedback/input?
I don't ever actually present them to the whole band; in fact, I think aside from the demo process, Troy and Ryan don't even see the lyrics until the whole album is done, ha ha ha. I send them to Ahren constantly during the writing process and he fits them to songs. Sometimes they fit perfectly, sometimes he'll give me certain parts that I have to re-write, but for the most part it's a fairly organic and flowing process. This time around has been great, he actually sang a few parts with total nonsense just so I knew how to write it, and it's worked out well.
You’ve recently embarked on some lifestyle changes—how has that impacted your creativity? Were you someone who wrote sober before, or have you had to adjust in that regard?
Ahh, look: I don't think I've written anything sober since joining the band in 2004, so this time was a learning curve for sure. I've always been drunk/hung over prior to this, and I think it was interesting to see how I went about writing when I first started this time around. I definitely felt like I was forcing it out as opposed to having the words just flow, but that was something that eventually gave way to a far more coherent expression of ideas, not just a chaotic burst of words, which is how it sometimes worked prior. I will say though, that the way I write, I can't force it. If I'm not feeling like writing and I do it anyway—which I tried to do at the start of this writing process—it comes out shit. I hate the first five or six songs I sent to Ahren. I think I only sent them to show I was actively doing something, but they were horrible. They were contrived, boring pieces of shit; I set out to write something really personal this time around—I mean it's always personal, obviously, but this time around was more for me. I spent a lot of time when I was writing Chasing Ghosts writing specifically for other people, not myself. There are a few songs on there that I wrote for myself, but this record, this is a really cathartic experience for me. I feel the release already when I'm in the vocal booth, and we're only in the demo phase, it's going to be so good to get it all out, record it and then play it live—the ultimate release.
You’re doing a lot of photography and painting in addition to music—are those creative pathways all separate for you, or do they bleed together? Do you find yourself using more imagery in your lyrics, for example?
I've always painted, I can't say the same for photography, but it's something that I have taken up with a little more than a passing interest in the last couple of years, and I've really been enjoying it. I think I reignited my interest for photography when I needed to find something to do to replace the drinking on Warped Tour, with varying levels of success. Art is the mainstay in my life: I've always been creative, ever since I can remember. There hasn't been a period in my life, ever, where I haven't been involved in something creative, so I think it's inevitable that the imagery bleeds over from one thing into another. Most of my imagery comes from living near the ocean though, I must say, and I don't feel bad about the amount that I reference it either. I have a deep connection with the ocean, and it plays a very important role in my life. I feel most at home, and the most at peace, when I am by the ocean. When we're on tour I almost pine for the dates where we are near the ocean, just to see it.
The Amity Affliction will be on tour with Blessthefall, Silverstein, Secrets and Heartist in April and May; find a show near you!