FEATURE // THE AMITY AFFLICTION

December 5, 2014

Being in a band is not as glamorous as fans and media can make it out to be. Bands, as well as their individual members, constantly go through hardships, and the guys of The Amity Affliction are no strangers to this notion. While releasing four albums and touring the world, this metalcore group from Brisbane, Australia, has persevered time and time again, despite the numerous challenges it faced within a demanding, ever-changing industry.

The band first formed eleven years ago, when clean vocalist and bassist Ahren Stringer and former guitarist Troy Brady were still in high school. A year later, Joel Birch joined the duo so that he could incorporate the screaming while Ahren focused on the singing. The choice for them to utilize both clean and unclean vocals was an easy one. The formula behind their decision consisted of their love of heavy music and their desire to create catching songs. At the time, “lots of bands were doing it, and we enjoyed the sound of it,” Ahren explains.

Musically, they are influenced by “old school bands,” such as Poison the Well, Alexisonfire, and Trivium. Typically, Joel pens the lyrics of the songs before sending them to the rest of the guys so that they can compose the music. According to Joel, the lyrics are almost completely independent of the music. “I might write five songs, and they might not have even one song. Then they’ll write a song and Ahren will immediately remember some of the lyrics I sent, and they’ll fit together. It’s rare that lyrics get written to the music, to be honest,” he admits.

Ahren agrees, and adds, “Unless I have a certain pattern in my head that I can’t shake and I need it to be exactly like that… In that case, I’ll send it to Joel.”

During their time as a band thus far, the music industry has changed in drastic ways. One major change is the level of interaction between the fans and the artists; it used to be unheard of to meet a band member casually before or after a show. Now, it’s almost a custom for fans to wait outside venues to talk with band members and share their stories. In the past, fans would generally compliment the artists or their performances, whereas now it has become common for them to begin conversations with, “You saved my life.”

The Amity Affliction are no strangers to being open about sensitive topics. Their most recent release, Let The Ocean Take Me, holds some of Joel’s more personal lyrics to date–about his struggles with anxiety, depression, and suicide. Many fans are able to relate to these lyrics and are impacted in positive ways, and they feel as though they owe it to the band to let them know. “When people say that to us, it’s crazy. It strikes a chord with us. These kids have real issues,” muses Ahren.

Joel attributes this newfound ability for artists and fans to connect to the presence of social media. “Growing up, you would never, ever meet a band. Ever. It was like a big cloak of mystery. You would take whatever you wanted from their lyrics,” he remembers. “Music has saved people for a long time, but now it’s just easier to connect and speak up. People just get to tell you… It’s very intense,” he continues.

Sometimes, brutal honesty and openness in song lyrics can cause a mix of emotions in fans. One song in particular is “Don’t Lean On Me” from their latest record. The song details Joel’s feelings about the pain he feels when he reads letters detailing fans’ experiences with depression and anxiety. By posting a scanned copy of a handwritten letter clarifying the meaning behind the song, he made it clear that he and the rest of the band care deeply about their fans.

To echo this sentiment, Joel explains in the letter that he is just a regular person who wants to help in any way he knows how, namely by baring his soul in his lyrics. Through his words, Joel shares the pain he feels from being physically unable to help each fan and to offer the advice they all seek when they write to him about their struggles. Although they affect him and sometimes bring him down, he wants their fans to know that he doesn’t put all those letters and feelings aside. Instead, he remembers them, and he hopes that fans can eventually find the strength to take those words and feelings to someone who is qualified to help them. Still, despite the touchy subject, this letter is not meant to be taken negatively. Instead, it should be seen as an outlet for his thoughts and feelings about recurring situations.

Another emotional song, “Open Letter,” is about Joel struggling with his own issues and finding hope even in the darkest times. He stresses that fans who are struggling should find something that they love and can turn to when times get rough. Joel makes it clear that he found that through making music when he sings, “I’m not searching the sky for a reason to live, ‘cause I found beauty right here and the passion to give. So let me give you my heart, let me give you my tears. Let me give you my life, let me give you my fears.”

Overall, the song itself has yielded many positive reviews. Its video counterpart, however, has not been as widely accepted. Even today, many comments point out that the video doesn’t fit with the song’s message about how Joel finds the band to be a cathartic experience and how he hopes their fans understand that the songs affect the band the same way.

The reason behind this incongruity stems from problems that arose amidst the production company. “I had a complete script written for it. The people who produced it fucked it up. It was meant to be lighthearted. People always say, ‘It’s such a meaningful song. Why does the video only have partying?’ Well, that wasn’t really the goal,” Ahren discloses.

Throughout the process, the message of the song was lost in translation between the ideas of the video’s producers–who have a final say in the direction of the video–and the ideas and intentions of the band. Joel stresses how “we were acting and doing things similarly to our real life portrayals, in a lighthearted way. [The producers] took that idea and shadowed it. All of a sudden, we were having pillow fights with chicks with blue hair. They had a problem with Ahren and I because we kept saying no to their ideas,” he finishes.

Ultimately, the guys didn’t want to release the video, but it was used as a bargaining chip between the label and the band. Joel describes the situation as the label saying, “You can have this if you release this,” and, evidently, they left the band with no choice but to put out the video. Even amongst the bad reviews and confused fans, Ahren and Joel are able to positively look back on the situation. They understand that they have to learn and grow from the experience.

Unfortunately, dealing with producers and negative critiques is not the only difficulty that comes with being involved in the music scene. One of the greatest lessons The Amity Affliction have learned in this industry is to “not trust anyone outside of the band,” which is something they had to learn the hard way. Joel elaborates by explaining that they had a situation in which their manager at the time was paying another band. They ended up firing the manager, but the group spent four years recovering from the turmoil. They only recently sorted all the issues out.

Still, no matter the challenges, the guys of The Amity Affliction have thus far proved their resilience and their ability to overcome obstacles in order to continue making music adored by thousands of fans worldwide. Recently, co-founding member Troy Brady announced his departure from the band for undisclosed reasons, but, despite the loss, the rest of the guys have no plans of slowing down. Already, they are working on new material for their fifth album, and their touring schedule for the upcoming year will be their busiest yet. The Amity Affliction affirms that 2015 will hold bigger and better things, and that “the boat sails on.”

PHOTOS: LORI GUTMAN
WORDS: LEAH DICKERMAN

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