Ephemeral but blissfully euphoric, the buzz of inhaling amyl nitrite, the chemical compound for the party drug “poppers,” is short-lived but difficult to match. The aptly named Australian rock band Amyl and the Sniffers, headed by frontwoman Amy L. Taylor, manages to be just as explosive.
As the lead singer and lyricist, Taylor is certainly the center of the band’s charged energy — if she is the amyl, the rest of the band are the sniffers, poised to deeply inhale her intoxicating spirit and crest on it with every performance. With sparkplug individuality literally built into her name, “Amy L,” Taylor thrives on the scrappy, rough edges of the Australian punk rock scene.
“I like that I don’t have to have a normal job, and I don’t have to be a regular functioning member of society,” Taylor said, in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I can live outside of that, which is really lucky, because not a lot of people get to do that. But I don’t really want to fit into society anyway. So that’s worked out well for me.”
Taylor, recognizable by her bleach blonde shag and electrifying energy, has always been drawn to rock music’s sharp steel spine, unafraid to venture into its strident sanctuary despite her lack of pre-existing influences.
“I didn’t grow up in a musical family at all, but I remember when I was really little before I went to school, my mom volunteered at a nursing home playing flute for the oldies,” Taylor reminisced. “I used to go to hardcore shows when I was little. That was kind of my first introduction to live music, just any all ages shows I’d go to because I loved live music.”
The band rose in 2016 out of a shared house in Melbourne, amid the catharsis of the underground Australian punk rock scene.
“It was pretty organic,” Taylor said. “We just all lived together. We all would go to house shows all the time, loved music and stuff. So then we just started the band. It wasn’t really anyone’s idea in particular.”
Taylor, who writes the group’s lyrics and sings lead vocals, is matched in talent and cooperation by the rest of her bandmates: Dec Martens (guitar), Gus Romer (bass) and Bryce Wilson (drums). Their first EP Giddy Up was written, recorded, and released in the span of twelve hours, evidence of their collaborative chemistry, but also an example of true punk in all its gritty, unpolished rawness.
“I think maybe people censor themselves, or have higher standards for what they want to release than what we did at that point. We just were excited by it,” Taylor said. “We’re a bit better musicians now, and kind of go, ‘well, we’re not going to put out trash.’ But we were like, trash is perfect. And energy is perfect and spirit’s perfect. And that’s what we had.”
In their maturation, the Sniffers haven’t lost the true embodiment of the genre — instead, they’ve taken their sound to the next level. Their sophomore album Comfort To Me, released in late 2021, is a vibrant oxymoron of polished punk, a mastery of coarse, raucous perfection that appeals to a diverse fanbase.
“It’s a pretty big mix of different kinds of people. That’s what I really feel happy about,” Taylor said. “You get little kids writing you letters, and then you get like a sixty year old man coming to the show and you get a thirty year old trans person, so you get all different kinds of people. I’m happy, because I want to make them happy.”
After nearly three years of a pandemic induced break in touring, Amyl and the Sniffers are fresh off of a lengthy U.S. tour that culminated in a feisty Coachella set last April and are excited to be back out in the world. Most recently, they performed at Halloween Meltdown in Oakland on Oct. 8 — a garage punk festival hosted by American filmmaker John Waters.
“I was just remembering that last time we were in Minneapolis. I was walking along the street, and I started chatting with this person on the street,” she recalled. “And then out of the sky, this tiny little bird fell down and just died on his shoulder. We’re just like, ‘what the f—’ and then kind of had a bonding moment over that. So I guess that’s less about tour but more about just being exposed to more crazy life things like that.”
It is fitting that even on her days off, Taylor’s presence stokes chaos and nonconformism, her edginess a magnet for mysterious omens like birds falling out of the sky. While Amyl and the Sniffers are fundamentally earthy and coated thickly in eyeliner, there are moments of spirituality that elevate their latest album; the song “Guided by Angels” is a lyrical standout.
“I’m guided by so many different things,” Taylor explains of the song’s meaning. “I’m guided by myself and it’s not necessarily quote unquote, heavenly. And it wouldn’t be necessarily perceived as heavenly, how I navigate life and what pulls me in and what drives me, but it drives me nonetheless. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Maybe Taylor truly is guided by something unheavenly and otherworldly. Or maybe it’s also a profound talent and passion that propel her and the Sniffers forward, from gritty basement shows to sparkling festival stages and everything in between.