If you're an American and you haven't heard of The Amity Affliction, you're in good company. Although the band has enjoyed 2 tours in the last year with bands such as Miss May I and Asking Alexandria, they have yet to really catch on over here until now. If you're from Australia or the U.K., you'd have a much better time remembering them - in fact, the band's brand new album Chasing Ghosts hit #1 overall on Australia's ARIA charts.
I spoke with vocalist Joel Birch inside one of my favorite Portland establishments, Pepino's, right outside of the Hawthorne Theatre. The band just wrapped up tour with Miss May I, The Ghost Inside, among others.
First off Joel, how has tour been for you guys so far?
It's good, we're just past halfway and it's been really good. The response this time around is way better than previous tours, so we're stoked.
How about compared to a year ago when you were here at this same venue with Miss May I and Pierce The Veil?
Oh WAY better, definitely. The shows haven't been bigger, but it's just been better for us.
This isn't your first tour with Miss May I or The Ghost Inside - what can you tell us about Miss May I?
We've toured in the U.K. with them before, as well as toured with them here. I wouldn't say that we've learned anything new about them, but they're mates in a great band.
You just came from Australia on your own headliner with The Ghost Inside. What's it like over there doing your own headliner, and then coming over here and being under them as a support band?
It's good, they're friends of ours as well, it's nice to see them in their own country. They're fucking killing it, so that's good.
What kind of response do they get in Australia?
It awesome, they killed it. They're quite well known out there as well.
Is it similar to what you're currently experiencing over here?
Way way bigger.
What's one thing about those guys that you've learned over the past 2-3 months?
Andrew is one of the funniest people ever, he should probably quit the band and go to Hollywood. They're a whole band full of intelligent legends.
What's one song that's not on the setlist that you wish you were playing right now?
Bondi St. Blues. We played just once for one of our friends from Deez Nuts, and that was it. That's my favorite song.
You just put out your new album Chasing Ghosts out on Roadrunner and it's absolutely smashing it across the board. It hit #1 on the ARIA charts in Australia, and it's been getting a great response over here as well. If I'm not mistaken, this isn't the first album that's charted in Australia - Youngbloods hit number 10?
You've been well received in Australia over the past 4 or 5 years, is there anything that you'd like to do over there that you haven't done yet?
No, we've done it all. We've been touring for the past 7-8 years over there.
So ultimately your goal would be to headliner over here in the States then, yeah?
I don't know, I don't really have a goal for over here. I'm just stoked to be able to travel around see the world for free, it's a pretty great life.
I think something about you that a lot of people don't know is that you're also an artist, and you're skilled at photography and graphic design. That being said and with also keeping in mind that you've traveled all over the world, what places do you find the most intriguing and beautiful?
Actually, I love Oregon. Just driving though the state today, it's a really beautiful state...America as a whole is really beautiful. As far as people go, New York is really interesting - being able to watch people and hang out. Apart from that shit desert drive in Texas and Cali, it's pretty awesome.
What about your hometown? What do you find most beautiful there?
The ocean, which is why I write about it so much. I dunno, I love home, it's a really beautiful place. Here, let me show you a quick picture real quick and show you what I mean...
(Shows me an absolutely breathtaking picture of his balcony at sunset at appx. 6pm)
Wow, that's incredible. It really doesn't get much better than that, does it?
Nope, not really.
The new album Chasing Ghosts has a lot of serious lyrics, a lot of lyrics pertaining to your lack of faith in God, about what's really important in life - friends, family, etc.
I don't really have a lack of faith in God, I just don't really believe in it, that's all.
But I mean, you're not a huge fan of God though at the same time, because of last time you came here...
Oh, the beer pong incident? [the last time the band was here in Portland, Pierce The Veil set up a beer pong table and played in the middle of The Amity Affliction's set].
Yeah, but also right before you launched into "Fire and Knife". Can you explain that a little bit?
I've just gone through a transition from being a Christian to an Atheist, and I grew up being indoctrinated by my mother and being forced into it. I'm pretty vehemently anti-Christian, I think it's an absolutely disgusting practice to force that on kids - I'm happy for other people if they'd like to be Christian, as long as they find their own way there. When it's being forced on you, I think it's disgusting.
Do you feel like if people were to abandon Christianity or any other faith system we'd see more advances in science and technology?
Well, at the moment I think it's opening up. For sure if Christianity didn't have such a hold on world politics in general then I think there would be way more progress. I think Christians like to think they're the "ethical backbone" of the world, and I think that's a load of shit. I think that morals exist outside of religion, 100%.
Let's talk about a few of my favorite songs off the album. Coming back to "Bondi St. Blues", if I'm not mistaken it's about family and friends back home, right?
Actually no, Bondi St. Blues is about our friends in Break Even. I'm not sure if you've heard of them before...
I have, I wish they could come over here...
Yeah, they broke up, so they ain't coming. They live on Bondi St., at a place they just call the "Bondi House". They wrote the song "November 18th" [from the album The Bright Side] about their friend Rowan that was in the band that killed himself. And after I had went to the hospital, they sent me that track before it came out as an uplifting kind of thing. So I got to write a song to say thank you, and it was very powerful for me.
"R.I.P Bon" is also another one of my favorites as well, I'm excited to hear that tonight.
That's more of a fictitious story. But I wrote that as a story, and then I had a kid write to me and say that it had a literal meaning for him. That's kind of what I had intended, having that conversation for people that are contemplating committing suicide, and others that have had friends commit suicide, that kind of thing throughout the album
Is that something that happens to you a lot, where you have people come up to you and mention that your lyrics have saved their life?
How do you deal with those types of situations?
It's a bit of a blessing and a curse. I don't mind when they're telling me that, but I have a lot of people asking me for help, and that kind of gets me, because I can't actually help them - I'm not actually qualified, I don't know what to say.
It's tough I'm sure. How would someone go about getting help then?
We support an Australian organization, Headspace.org. I'm not sure what your American counterpart is, but I'm sure you have them.
But you're doing something though - you're not just listening and saying "see ya later"
Yeah, we always point them in the right direction. We just don't help them directly, because I feel like that would be irresponsible.
What is one book that would help people understand you and the band better? Perhaps maybe a Richard Dawkins book?
No, I'd probably say personally Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As for the band, we're all vastly different people, so that's a bit of a tricky question. As a collective, we have a common ground as far as music goes, but other than that we're all vastly different people.
What's an Australian band that you feel is going to break out here sometime in the near future? Maybe a band like Miles Away?
Well, they've toured in America like 5 or 6 times.
Definitely not been to Portland before, which I've always found odd. It's definitely not a name that you hear every day though...
Yeah, they're my friend and I love them. As for a band, maybe Northlane?
Yeah, they're doing well right now, I can see that.
You guys will be back here in America in the summer. What can you tell us about those plans?
They're loose at the moment, but it'll finally be nice to tour here and not need a fucking jacket, I hate the cold.