The Amity Affliction’s Joel Birch | Behind The Lyrics

Birch guides us through 10 key lyrics, from the band’s early career through to latest album ‘Not Without My Ghosts’.

First emerging in 2008 with their ground-breaking debut ‘Severed Ties’, Aussie trailblazers The Amity Affliction have spent a decade and a half setting the scene alight with bone-crushing breakdowns and brutal honesty. Merging brilliantly heavy sounds with equally heavy lyrical subject matter, the four-piece have become known for their deeply personal songwriting, largely courtesy of vocalist Joel Birch.

Delivering lead vocals for the band, with bassist Ahren Stringer handling cleans, Birch’s intense diary-like storytelling about his struggles with depression, anxiety, mortality, substance abuse, and suicide, has allowed The Amity Affliction to forge a deep connection with its fanbase that few other bands can lay claim to. Documenting his own unique struggles in visceral style, whilst allowing each song to tell a thousand different stories to help whoever needs them, Joel’s words have offered solace to heavy music fans all over the world.

A songwriter unashamed to wear his heart on his sleeve, as the release of The Amity Affliction’s eighth studio album, ‘Not Without My Ghosts’ looms, Joel talks Rock Sound through ten lyrics that define The Amity Affliction’s story.

“I’ve forgotten fifteen years // And I promised fifteen more to you // But fifteen times a day is going to be hard to get through” ‘Aloneliness’ – ‘Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them’ (2020)

“I don’t remember much of my childhood, but I had a rough upbringing. My wife heard me getting beaten on the other end of the phone, and my close friend who I’ve known since I was six years old recently told me that he wished that I could have gone and lived with his family when I was younger. I don’t remember much of it, but when he said that I realised that it sounds pretty bad, so that’s where the first part of that line comes from.”

“When I wrote this song, my son Boey must have been around three years old, and I was struggling a lot mentally. I made myself promise that I’d at least make it to his eighteenth birthday, but those fifteen times a day were going to be hard to get through. That’s a reference to how many times I was thinking of killing myself every day, and it was probably less or more depending on the day, but I promised him fifteen years.”

“Have you got time? ‘Cause I ain’t running out of problems // But they say smoke ‘em if you got ‘em // Have you got time? ‘Cause I am scared of how I’m feeling // Everyone loves you once you leave them” 'Baltimore Rain’ – ‘Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them’ (2020)

“I’ve always wanted to use the phrase ‘smoke ‘em if you got ‘em’, but I haven’t been able to because Parkway Drive used it years ago and it’s been off limits since. With this song, I decided that it had finally been long enough for me to say it and get away with it.”

Around this album, I struggled to stay alive for quite a while, and this is where it all came out. On ‘Misery’, I wrote ‘The Gifthorse’, which is about a friend of mine that killed himself. After that, I saw a lot of people come out of the woodwork who probably hadn’t seen him since high school, especially at his wake. Everyone loves you once you leave them, and there were people at his funeral who I know for a fact weren’t tight with him at the end and had been shit-talking him. It’s like, ‘What the fuck are you doing here?'”

“Take me down, this time I’m done // Into the river and out of the sun // Under the water, it’s all out of love // I’ll drown alone, who gives a fuck?” 'Beltsville Blues’ – ‘Misery’ (2018)

“I got obsessed with the movie ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, and there’s a gospel song in that called ‘Down to the River to Pray’. I really liked the whole feeling of it, but I wanted to flip it on its head. Instead of being taken down to the river to be baptised and have your sins washed away, it’s more like going underwater and not coming back up.” 

“Take me down, this time I’m done // Into the river and out of the sun” is about being pushed to the bottom, and then “Under the water, it’s all out of love” is about running out of breath. “I’ll drown alone” speaks for itself, but the “Who gives a fuck?” was just put there because we needed a line and Ahren loves swearing in parts like that. Every time we’re in the studio and there’s a breakdown he’ll be like, “Yeah, we could say something like ‘fuck’ here!’”

“There’s subtle voices on the wind // Asking me the same old things // They don’t wanna be there for the comedown // But they sure do wanna see it” ‘Kick Rocks’ – ‘Misery’ (2018)

“This song is about the music press. I’m very open about my political views and how I feel about certain things on Twitter, and I don’t give a fuck that people read it, but I do care when people twist what I’ve said and create something out of nothing. That’s happened quite a lot, and so I wrote this song to say, ‘Fuck all of you’.”

“There are people viewing my life from the outside with no personal context, and it’s almost like a parasocial relationship they’ve got with the online version of me. That version of me is completely open to interpretation, and no one can see or hear what I’ve posted in my tone, so they’re applying their perceived tone to it. Because of that, a lot of the things I’ve said have been completely taken out of context and flipped. As musicians, the very people we rely on to prop up our livelihood are sometimes the same people who will spend days of their lives constantly trolling and being quite abusive, but because of my position I can’t really do it back.” 

“Well, don’t lean on me ’cause I am falling, please, don’t fall with me // I really need you here, yeah, I need you, so don’t leave // And don’t count on me ’cause I am drowning, please, don’t drown with me” 'Don’t Lean on Me’ ‘Let the Ocean Take Me’ (2014)

“I give Ahren a fuckload of songs before each album. Either they work in one go, or he pulls them apart and sticks them back together again. When he does that Frankenstein process, 70 percent of the time it requires a rewrite, but often he pulls from songs that are written one after the other, so I’ll be talking about the same things. That’s what happened for ‘Don’t Lean on Me’, but he didn’t have a chorus, and all he had for me was a melody.”

“Ahren doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about in songs a lot of the time, so he had no idea what to do with it. I wrote “Don’t lean on me, ‘cause I’m falling, please, don’t fall with me” and he didn’t like it. I asked him to trust me because I could hear it in my head, and he didn’t like them until he sang them. Once he did, he was like, ‘Okay, that’s pretty catchy’. Sure enough, it turned into one of our catchiest songs.”

“All my life I have been trying to understand myself // It seems like my own reflection is just somebody else” 'My Father’s Son’ ‘Let the Ocean Take Me’ (2014)

“This was written before I had met my dad. My father and mother split when I was two-and-a-half, so I had no idea who he was, and all I knew was my mother’s perspective. Although she didn’t shit-talk him, she didn’t speak highly of him, and she didn’t really explain what happened surrounding him leaving. It turns out that she started going to church, and the church bought him a one-way ticket to New Zealand.”

“He was an alcoholic, I’m an alcoholic, my mother is an alcoholic, my grandfather is an alcoholic, my grandmother on my mother’s side is an alcoholic, and so on and so forth. I know from personal experience that being in the depths of alcoholism makes you a little bit pathetic emotionally, and it’s hard to stand up for certain things or drastically change things because you’re living in addiction.”

“I had nearly died on Warped Tour 2013, and so when we were recording ‘Let the Ocean Take Me’ I wasn’t drinking. I was grappling with the knowledge that I’m an alcoholic because I nearly died from stopping. I had an alcohol withdrawal seizure, and I remember the doctors at the hospital in Pittsburgh asking me how many drinks I had each day: ‘Six?’ ‘Nah, more.’ ‘Ten?’ ‘More.’ ‘How much?’ ‘A bottle of Jameson and half a carton of beer a day.’ ‘You are going to die’. With my mental health issues, death wasn’t going to stop me. I wasn’t really scared of drinking myself to death, I think if anything part of the drinking was a slow suicide. It was a very reckless way of living that I knew might kill me, but I didn’t care.”

“That line is about how I’m not like my mother as much as I’ve come to discover I’m like my father. I have struggled my whole life with my identity, and especially when I was younger, I spent a lot of time wondering why I was so at odds with my own mother. We seemed to be diametrically opposed a lot of the time, and so the line about my reflection is realising that I must just be my father.”

“Oh, it’s tearing me apart, all this pain inside // Liquor in my veins, panic on my mind // Tearing me apart, all this pain inside // Searching for the peace I will never find” Tearing Me Apart ‘This Could Be Heartbreak’ (2016)

“During this album, I was fucking wasted. I don’t remember recording it. I was turning up to the studio with a carton of beer every day, so 24 beers, and leaving with not many. Then I’d be drinking a bottle of Jameson and some wine, so I was not in a good way. During the recording of this album, I called the hospital and asked them to send someone because I thought I was going to jump off a balcony. It’s funny to look back on because the nurse I was speaking to was so rude and condescending that it snapped me out of it. I wrote ‘Tearing Me Apart’ during that time, and I was screaming towards rock bottom.”

“It’s all quite literal, and I was really fucked up. I was extremely unpleasant to be around, and I was alienating people because I was extremely angry all the time. I couldn’t really deal with life, and I was having lots of panic attacks because I was waking up with alcohol withdrawal. That gives you anxiety, and then I was drinking to calm that down. It was very much a rinse and repeat process.”

“My heart will keep on searching // I heard your name sail on the breeze // I turned my head to catch your shadow // But there was nothing there for me” 'O.M.G.I.M.Y.’ ‘This Could Be Heartbreak’ (2016)

“This is a sad song, because at the time I was pushing everyone away. My wife was included, and she was pregnant with our kid at the time. With the alcoholism and being quite pathetic, even though she was pregnant, and I should have been stepping up to the plate as a partner and being more responsible with my drinking habits, I was deep in alcoholism and wasn’t doing myself any favours. I was on tour, and she had rightfully had enough, so there were a few days without her talking to me. When I wrote these lyrics, I was alluding to the fact that it felt like one-way love, with no perspective on how she would be feeling. It’s a sad song but it’s also quite selfish because I was so in the depths of it that I wasn’t even considering the position she was in.” 

“Show me your god // Does he come with a clip? // Are his teeth made of steel? // Is there death in his grip?” 'Show Me Your God’ – ‘Not Without My Ghosts’ (2023)

“I don’t often get political in my lyrics, but gun violence in America is no good. I was reading something the other day about how many American children have died over the last 60 years, and nine kids have died from guns in America every single day for six decades. That’s crazy, and I wrote this song after hearing about another mass shooting because I was pissed off.

“If I grew up in America, I’d be dead, because I would have had access to a gun. There are so many suicides that could have been prevented just by not having a gun in the house. Not everyone that kills themself is even depressed, and a lot of the time it’s due to something that happened in the last two weeks. That whole line is just straight up talking about a gun, and the impact they have. I think even most Americans agree it’s an issue, and when they have 40 percent of the world’s mass shootings, how can you not think that?”

“Wherever I may go, it’s not without my ghosts // Their bodies drag behind me chained to both my wrists // No matter how I fight I’m never done with it” 'Not Without My Ghosts’ – ‘Not Without My Ghosts’ (2023)

“This is about how you drag your trauma behind you, or your ‘baggage’ as some people say. Wherever I go in life, in whatever situation, no matter my successes or failures or anything like that – it’s not without my ghosts. I’m quite literally dragging every piece of my past behind me, and there’s only a certain amount you can do. No matter what happens, you’re going to travel through life, and you’re going to drag these things behind you. That’s what I’m doing now.”

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