by JJ Powell
Where: The Fox Cabaret
When: March 19
On “Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled),” Amyl and the Sniffers cut right to the quick, declaring what could be their thesis in one gleeful, defiant snarl. Inside two-and-a-half-minutes of Raw Power-esque proto-punk boogie, you get the message: rock ‘n’ roll ain’t done with you yet. And although comparisons to the Stooges spring to mind, these Melbourne punks are an Aussie kind of dog.
“Definitely ACDC is my favourite band,” says guitarist and songwriter Declan Martens. “Bon Scott-era ACDC. I love all that ‘70s stuff, I think it’s amazing. Lobby Loyde, he’s like the godfather. He sort of set the style of Australian rock that made it that real tough-sounding thing we have going on over here. Rose Tattoo as well – they’re not anything like they used to be, but I listen to their first album a lot.” As for contemporary groups, Martens cites fellow locals Civic and Orb as stand-outs. “Melbourne’s just got the best scene. There’s always so many things to do and you’ve got to fit them into one night. That’s the problem everyone complains about: there’s too much going on.”
The band formed over their mutual love of ‘70s Australian music and culture three years ago. “Me and Bryce (Wilson, drums), our original bassist (Calum Newton), and Amy (Taylor, lyrics/vocals), all lived together on a street in St. Kilda. It was one of the party houses – the one that everyone goes to after the pub – so we were like, we should start a party band and play house parties.” But as the guitarist explains, it didn’t work out that way: “I got home from work and all this recording gear was set up, and we just jammed four songs, it took four hours. We were like, ‘Let’s put it out tomorrow,’ but then we got too excited about it. So we put it out (on Bandcamp) that night, and by the next day we had three gigs booked, and we never played a house party.” Those takes are what you hear on the band’s debut EP, Giddy Up.
In the following year, ginger-mulleted Tasmanian Gus Romer joined on bass and the band played their first gig as headliners. A second EP, Big Attraction, was unveiled to further acclaim, propelling them into the world of high-profile tours with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, as well as appearances on foreign continents. 2018 saw extensive touring with the likes of American freak-punks Surfbort and the release of a 7” single, Some Mutts / Cup of Destiny.
As with the songs on the debut, these subsequent bursts of riff-heavy pub-rock are splattered with references to the city they know and love. Landmarks like the Westgate Bridge are immortalized in Amy Taylor’s guttersnipe-songbird singalongs, with choruses happily echoed by audiences who don’t always understand what they’re singing about. “People send us tattoo photos where they’ve got this balaclava, for ‘Balaclava Lover Boogie.’ We’re like, ah shit, do we tell them that it’s a suburb? But everyone’s thinking it’s a balaclava you put on your head.” When I ask Martens about “70’s Street Munchies,” however, I learn that Taylor’s lyrics are sometimes open to interpretation: “Amy’s dad used to get a magazine called 70’s Street Machines, and she accidentally read it as ‘munchies.’ I think she hates it when I tell that story.”
Speaking of Amy Taylor, Martens’ partner-in-crime is known not only for her brilliant wordplay, which veers between hilarious and disturbing, but also, like the best punk frontpeople, her abilities as a chaos-inducing agent of Wildness.
“We put a massive emphasis on our live shows,” says Martens. “It’s not girls to the front, boys to the back, it’s everyone side-by-side and let’s have fun.”
With Amyl and the Sniffers, the style is specific but the sentiment is eternal. The mutt that can’t be muzzled is probably just the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll itself.The Fox Cabaret