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INTERVIEW: Ahren Stringer – The Amity Affliction

THE AMITY AFFLICTION have continued to blaze a trail across the heavy music world since their inception back in 2003. Following incendiary sets at major UK festivals including Slam Dunk, Reading and Leeds and Download, the Aussie post-hardcore/metalcore collective secured their third consecutive number one album back home with the release of 2016’s critically acclaimed This Could Be Heartbreak. Before the opening night of the Kerrang! Tour in Birmingham (read our live report of that performance here), we caught up with clean vocalist/bassist Ahren Stringer to reflect on the band’s success to date, the importance of emotional catharsis and what’s next for one of down under’s most exciting prospects.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to Distorted Sound. Welcome back to Birmingham. Have you and the guys in THE AMITY AFFLICTION had time to check out any of the city sights?

Ahren: No worries! And yeah, yesterday we had the day off so we got to check out the Christmas markets. We’ve been here a bunch of times before and it’s nice. We went to a couple of pubs last night – one of them was an Irish pub about three doors down. It was alright until fifteen policemen came in looking for drugs and had sniffer dogs – we did not expect that!

You recently hit the road with MOTIONLESS IN WHITE as part of the Graveyard Shift run in the US, then headed to Europe for a headline tour with CASEY, COUNTERPARTS and ALAZKA. How did those dates go?

Ahren: They (MOTIONLESS IN WHITE) just asked us! We had already done our own headline tour of America with the This Could Be Heartbreak run, and they just made us an amazing offer for a tour support which we could not say no to! It was a great experience. The European run was amazing – Germany is always incredible. The crowds just go off and the last two shows in Cologne and Munich were sold-out and utterly crazy. It was short, sweet, all great bands and super easy. We’d sit and just watch movies all night with the guys from CASEY – so we haven’t exactly been having a brofest or “bro’ing” down as such despite spending loads of time together. They’re all lovely guys and it’s a pleasure to have them on this tour.

Looking back on the dozens of festivals and shows that you’ve played to date were there any moments that truly stood out?

Ahren: For sure. We just did the European festival run and were playing for crowds that we NEVER thought we’d play in front of. The bill for one was MEGADETH, ALICE COOPER, MARILYN MANSON, BILLY TALENT and us. We were like “wow – but what are we doing on this?!” It was very humbling to be part of a bill like that, but to be honest it happened a lot. In Austria we shared a stage with CYPRESS HILL and bands that we grew up with. That said, I don’t ever want to meet bands that I grew up loving – I’d rather just have my own image of them and keep the mystique alive. That’s how it should be!

You’re gracing the cover of Kerrang! this week. Obviously, you guys are seasoned pros now. Has it reached the point where you can be more blasé regarding this kind of thing, or is it all still mind-blowing?

Ahren: We’ve had the chance to be on so many back home in Australia, so it’s got to the point where it’s become a regular thing for us. But when it comes to overseas magazines, it’s a whole different deal and we’re obviously still hugely stoked about it. The cover itself turned out great and I couldn’t be happier.

We’ve been witness to an increase in musicians struggling with mental health issues, and sadly lost two incredible artists this year to suicide. Do you think there’s still a stigma attached to the subject, with people being of the mindset that it’s a sign of weakness?

Ahren: I think that now, more than ever, it’s really championed to talk about your feelings. It’s good that more people are becoming aware of it. Obviously, there’s still a long way to go but when someone like Chester Bennington commits suicide, it’s like a huge wake up call. People who are feeling like that might suddenly say “maybe I should speak about that”, but I think a lot of that macho stigma is fading away which can only be a good thing.

As a band, THE AMITY AFFLICTION have always taken a firm stance on how musicians treat both fans and their peers. There’s been a lot of controversy lately regarding certain bands and their inappropriate conduct towards female fans. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Ahren: I was saying to my friends the other day that it’s a pretty well-known thing – back in the day with bands like ZEPPELIN and the groupie situation. And for some fucked up reason it was just considered to be no big deal. It was just what bands did. We find it disgusting and we don’t want anything to do with that kind of thing. We’d never allow ourselves to be put in a situation where our interaction could be misconstrued, but it does affect us. When someone in a band in our genre does something like that, it reflects on all of us and puts a question mark over everyone. As they say, it only takes one person to spoil the broth. It’s sad and makes me very angry.

Let’s talk about This Could be Heartbreak. It’s probably the most emotionally intense release from THE AMITY AFFLICTION to date. Do you think writing it served as a form of emotional catharsis for Joel, and that it needed to be made for him to put past demons to bed?

Ahren: I don’t think the cycle will ever truly end for him – like he said in the Kerrang! interview that I read today, when he’s depressed or miserable, it makes for great lyrics. Writing lyrics whenever he’s down is always going to act as a type of catharsis for him. He says that when he tries to write stuff when he’s happy, nothing comes out! I think it is always going to be an ongoing thing.

What’s been your most memorable fan experience following the release of this album?

Ahren: In Adelaide, this girl came to our meet and greet and gave us this teddy bear and asked if we could put it on stage with us. She then said it was her daughter’s who had passed away. She approached our manager to make certain that she could get it back after the show because it contained her daughter’s ashes – that was crazy and definitely the most memorable.

Tonight is the first date of the Kerrang! Tour which is now in its 12th year. On a scale of 1-11, how stoked are you for THE AMITY AFFLICTION to headline?

Ahren: It is incredibly cool that we’re able to play tonight, especially as it’s up against so many other tours – we were worried that the turnout wasn’t going to be that great! We’re so happy to be here and it’s a great way to finish our album cycle.

What can we expect from the set? Are you going to concentrate on material from This Could Be Heartbreak or delve into the entire back catalogue?

Ahren: We’ll definitely be playing a bit of everything – when we are on a certain album tour, we’ll always make sure we keep at least five or six songs from that (album) in it. Expect lots of energy, lots of singalongs and hopefully lots of crowd participation. That’s what we really feed off.

Will you be checking out the other bands on the bill?

Ahren: I would like to see VUKOVI. I haven’t actually seen any of these bands live except for CASEY due to us playing with them in the past so we’re hoping to check out at least a couple of songs from everyone.

And finally, can you give Distorted Sound the inside scoop on what’s coming up for THE AMITY AFFLICTION in 2018?   

Ahren: We’re going to have a bit of time to just finish writing the new record. We’re about halfway through, and have plans to record early next year – hopefully around March or April. We haven’t got any plans for touring yet, but after that album drops I’m sure it’ll just be “go go, go!” from there on in.

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Sophie Maughan

Friendly Northerner let loose in Birmingham. Known to get a bit wild after one too many tequilas. Heavy metal is my only religion. Sun worshipper. Also enjoying life as a music journo for Metal Hammer, Terrorizer, Prog and PureGrainAudio.