Joel Birch On The Amity Affliction’s Heavy New Album & The Unspoken Issues Within The Music Industry That Inspired It AllWritten by Brenton Harris on February 20, 2020
Brisbane behemoth The Amity Affliction have been on a seemingly endless rise since dropping Severed Ties back in peak MySpace era of 2008. Having more than earned their place on the metalcore mantle, with five records filled with anthemic bangers, the band took more than a few left turns on 2018’s Misery inspiring both applause and anger within and outside of their core fanbase. Irrespective of what side of that divide you fell on, the band is back at their raging best on their upcoming seventh full-length Everyone Loves You…Once You Leave Them.
As lead singles ‘All My Friends are Dead’ and ‘Soak Me in Bleach’ hinted, Everyone Loves You…Once You Leave Them is a heavier and more aggressive record than its predecessor. A band that has always been open about the debilitating impact that poor mental health has had and continues to have on their own lives and the lives of those around them, The Amity Affliction have long provided a source of personal empowerment for their fans, by acting as a voice for their struggles, struggles that are far too often ignored in the modern world. As such, it’s not uncommon to see Amity fans singing choruses at their shows with the passion of a televangelist preaching the good news.
In the lead up to the release of Everyone Loves You…Once You Leave Them, vocalist Joel Birch reveals the very personal nature of the musical and lyrical narratives of the record, while taking time to dish out some much-deserved dirt on some of the less, celebratory, elements of the music industry.
MF: Hey Joel, thanks for talking to Music Feeds, how are you?
Joel Birch: I’m good, man, just eating a sandwich how are you?
MF: I’m good! Now quality sandwiches aside, it’s a really exciting time in the Amity camp at the moment, with the new record Everyone Loves You…Once You Leave Them dropping on Feb 21! How are you feeling in the lead-up?
JB: Really good, really good. I think it’s a good one and I’m excited for everyone to hear it.
MF: As the singles ‘All My Friends are Dead’ and ‘Soak Me in Bleach’ show, this is a much heavier outing than Misery? Is that a deliberate move?
JB: More than anything, when we were touring Misery, we had more fun playing the heavier songs and the heavier stuff. So we figured we’d write more of it!
MF: People tend to lose themselves a little more to the heavier stuff too, so that has to help with the onstage vibe as well?
JB: You definitely feed off of the audience, so if we can inspire them to move a bit, it’ll help.
MF: I feel like the experimentation of the last few records though has really helped you to land where you are on Everyone Loves You…Once You Leave Them, in the sense that this record, to my ears anyway, takes elements of all the previous releases and packages them together in a way that’s peak Amity!
JB: Yes, well thank you. That’s nice man! I think we got to a point in our career where we felt stagnant and wanted to try something new, we tried it, we did it, we’re proud of it, we learned from it, but at this point now, Misery feels more like an album for people to listen to at home, rather than for us to get out there and perform. So it’ll be fun to get out there and play some of these newer, heavier ones again.
MF: On a personal front, your vocals have gone to a whole new level on this release, as have your lyrics, what was the inspiration for you, on a personal level headed into this album?
JB: This is going to sound harsh, but a bit of hatred of music media.
MF: Hahahaha, that’s alright man, let’s talk it out!
JB: It’s not everyone man, but there are some people out there in the industry who I don’t think have any place in the industry. I don’t know why they are there, why they say the things they do, but it’s pretty frustrating. We had several people in the last cycle getting online and pushing this narrative saying that we only do it for the money, and that I’m not suffering from a mental illness and that that whole aspect of the band is a front. That’s really frustrating, because the fact is I have bipolar, and I struggle, relatively regularly with depressive episodes. That’s why there are lines on there like, “I’ve got everything to lose or everything to prove”, that’s a direct stab at people saying that kind of thing. Then there was another incident, after one of my friends killed himself, that left a bad taste in my mouth.
In addition to that, I have addressed how I feel on the record, I have some pretty severe episodes and my wife has to deal with them. It was just really frustrating.
MF: That’s a completely rational human response! I’d be pissed as well. Most people would be.
JB: The thing that triggered a lot of it for me, in particular, that line I referenced, is the realisation that a lot of the people who are out there pushing that idea that I’m not mentally ill, that I don’t have issues, those are probably the same people that if I was to die, would be out there trumpeting and eulogising me saying how I was such a great advocate for mental health and conversations around mental health. That just pissed me off. I don’t understand the purpose of either side of that. I don’t get what people gain from attacking someone in that way. I have bipolar, there’s nothing that changes that fact. I mean we’re successful, but success doesn’t negate anything.
That’s something that goes unspoken in the music industry. One thing that really stuck with me throughout the aftermath of [Linkin Park lead vocalist] Chester Bennington dying, is that some people were out there saying “this guy is rich and entitled” but it doesn’t stop anything from being a problem. It can temporarily alleviate it, playing shows really does help alleviate the personal suffering that I go through, being on medication helps with the logical processing, but it doesn’t go away. Nothing makes it go away. I have a beautiful family, I have a fantastic relationship with my wife, I’m constantly surrounded by friends, and that’s not enough. So certainly success in a band is not going to fix anything. As fulfilling as that all is, and it is, don’t get me wrong, my family plays a more fulfilling role in my life. So if they can’t fix it, then nothing will. I just hate that idea that you get to comment on someone else’s misery and agony, that just pissed me off, so I wrote about it.
MF: It could be an opportunity to open up a long-overdue conversation. That being successful doesn’t fix everything. Despite being shown repeatedly by so many of our heroes suffering or leaving this world early, that realisation doesn’t seem to sink in, perhaps this record can help in some way to start that conversation?
JB: Hopefully. It’s definitely part of a bigger issue in the music industry, that people think that if you’re in a position of success, that you’re living a life that is painted in gold, but that’s just not the reality of it always. We’re still people.
MF: It’s a valid point and I hope that your fans or our readers might be inspired to think twice before they judge someone’s actions or think they know the whole story, because the truth is they can’t ever really know.
JB: I certainly hope so, I really want this conversation to be driven forward in the music industry. As much as the stigma about discussing mental health is kind of dissipating, and people are getting more comfortable, I think within the music industry with everyone’s touring and rehearsals and press schedules and the expectations of fans and agents and labels and managers and other elements of the industry, and all of the other external pressures, a lot of musicians are really suffering under the weight of it all. That’s something that goes mostly undiscussed because everyone assumes that because they’ve had some form of great success, that nothing could possibly be wrong. It’s definitely possible for that to change and it needs to.
MF: I genuinely hope it does. This feels like an important conversation for us as a whole industry to have. Speaking of conversations, you’re also an outstanding Twitter follow because of your willingness to just openly speak your mind about things and support others speaking there’s!
JB: I think in one of my first-ever interviews, just after Youngbloods I said that if I’m given this position, this pedestal then it’s my responsibility to use it to push conversations in the Amity community about human rights, gay and trans rights, indigenous rights and these other issues that I address and continue to address. I feel like I have to speak about them because otherwise, I wouldn’t be being true to myself. While the band itself is not political. I am a very politicised person and you definitely get a sense of that when I am speaking from my own personal profiles.
MF: One way that the band has flexed its muscle for good, is that stacked charity show you put together in response to the bushfires. Did it feel good to be able to do that much good for others?
JB: It’s amazing. It’s amazing that all of the bands came together. Asking Northlane, they said yes, right away, even though they were mid-tour, they flew down to do it, then Tonight Alive were on a hiatus, but they agreed immediately as well, it’s pretty amazing that you can get bands together, that quickly to do something genuinely helpful, especially when politicians at the time were doing basically nothing to aid the recovery effort. Even when they do something, initially, it was just redistributing funds they’d agreed to give in a previous budget. As well, the Red Cross, which is great, but they were looking at something like 11 million in admin costs and then only dispersing a small percentage of the funds to the bushfire relief and recovery effort. So while that’s all good, we wanted to focus on giving to a few indigenous Go Fund Me [appeals], because we feel that their communities have been deeply impacted and yet have gone mostly ignored by the mainstream relief efforts. They’ve been especially impacted by fires and now the floods, I know the Corner also donated 5k to one of those. It’s just really nice to see that type of direct action and everyone in the music industry, no matter what genre or status, coming together to do some genuine good. Overwhelmingly, musicians are pretty left-leaning.
MF: The amount of funds all of these benefit shows and benefit efforts raised, really makes a lie of the idea that music isn’t a valuable industry hey? As a community, we were immediately, directly and impactfully responsive.
JB: Absolutely, there’s this misnomer in Australia that the arts aren’t valuable. It’s just not true. But they’ll remove the funding from arts programs or music programs because they aren’t profitable or valuable or whatever but then they’ll give 500k to an elite school rowing team while pulling 100k from a creative space in Western Australia, that was specifically set up to help disadvantaged young women break into the arts. I don’t understand when much of our society is built on the arts, that the arts are treated as just a hobby, that can be thrown away. A lot of great philosophy, a lot of conversation, a lot of social movements, activism and change has come through art, a lot of education, and of course a lot of escapism has come through art, and a lot of healing too, yet we see it endlessly being pulled apart by people who don’t value it and want you not to value it too.
MF: We could have that conversation for hours, you’re very much preaching to the choir so to speak on that issue, but we do need to wind it up, so I’ve got a couple of quick q’s for you before you can finish that sandwich! First up, you’ve just finished a regional Aussie run, then it’s Europe with Beartooth and the US for their spring, what about local touring, when might we see Amity on the new record cycle?
JB: We’re trying to run Heaven and Hell again, so if that gets up and running, that’ll be the focus of our touring in Australia this year, and then yeah, it’s looking like 2021 for the rest of the cycle as far as Australia goes.
MF: I’m stoked to hear Heaven and Hell is returning, that was a hell of a time! Now my final question is a lot of Amity fans are passionate, you’re their ride or die, so I want to know who is your ride or die, musically and personally?
JB: Nick Cave. Musically and personally. I just think he’s such a champion of the arts and a beautiful, powerful musician and lyricist. He’s just so talented. He’s a brilliant composer. A lecturer in English, just a real purveyor and an example of what it is to be a true artist in my opinion. So yes, Nick Cave is my ride or die!
The Amity Affliction’s new album ‘Everyone Loves You…Once You Leave Them’ is out this Friday, February 21.