The Amity Affliction Pop Goes Punk

THE AMITY AFFLICTION // ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ Pop Goes Punk Cover – Behind the Scenes

Sprawled across hills are the imposing old buildings of Sunbury Lunatic Asylum. They’re filled with grim reminders of the horrors that used to befall patients. Through a crush of autumn leaves, a horde of zombies rush to what seems like an abandoned building. They beat the doors and windows as dead bodies lay around them. It’s a bright sunny day, but there’s an eerie atmosphere as Hysteria enter the asylum. Well, what used to be an asylum, then became a Victoria University campus, and has now been largely abandoned. No wonder The Amity Affliction have chosen it as the backdrop for their black humour take on The Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face.

Watch: Behind the Scenes with The Amity Affliction below

Video by Cale Rodriguez, Cinematographer

Surrounded by abandoned blueprints (we have a feeling that Vic Uni won’t be putting in a new roof anytime soon) we speak to director Simon Harvey Smith in an abandoned office. “So it’s Can’t Feel My Face by The Weeknd. I think we’re doing a playful twist on that sort of theme,” he says after being asked about the original concept behind the clip. “The concept went through a few rounds and a few riffs. The band wanted something funny so I put together something funny, and then they said ‘too funny’. So no problems, I came back with another treatment. They said ‘too serious’. So I thought ‘Okay, let’s find some middle ground.’ So Joel [Birch, vocalist] took a swing at a more detailed brief and he put together influences of Riverdale—the TV show—and Warm Bodies. He sent that over, I massaged it all out and made it work with the song and that’s what we’re filming.”

Speaking to Joel Birch, near what will eventually be the stage they’ll take for their performance, he laughs at attempting to change the song’s original substance matter. “The song is about cocaine but you can’t really make a film clip about cocaine if you’re us! We always do darker film clips so I wanted to have a bit more fun but keep it sort of dark. What better way to do it than a dark comedy zombie clip? I like the aesthetics of Riverdale and Warm Bodies as well. I think they’re really nice to like at.”

Joel Birch // Photos by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

Smith, it turns out, hit the jackpot with the location. “The idea behind the asylum is to make it look like an American high school,” says the director. “I mentioned Riverdale beforehand and that’s highly referenced. I was so surprised when we got this location—I thought ‘this is perfect’—and even the finishing on the windows and blinds is pretty much exactly like the art direction of the show. Sometimes you get lucky, and we got lucky with this one.”

Unsurprisingly, the location has its own horrific backstories that filter through the director’s shots. With padded cells and lobotomy rooms still standing like the day they were built, the location is creepy to say the least. Thankfully, we’re not privy to the morgue just down the road. “If you believe in this sort of stuff, this place is meant to be haunted. We’ve been warned not to come back at night,” laughs Smith. Thank god we’re here in the middle of the day then right? “Old buildings have a real creepy vibe about them, which makes them a lot of fun. Hopefully some of that eeriness and apocalypticness [sic] rubs off on the clip.”

Photo by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

We ask what’s stood out particularly about the venue so far. Besides the whole ‘we can’t believe this place still exists in the 21st century’ vibe of course. “I really like the hallways in these places. They’re quite wide and have a lot of depth so I can light them to have a lot of texture. The fact that this place has been abandoned for a while now … you get the natural textures that come from misuse like the dust, the pigeon crap sometimes. Texture is essential for music videos and what really makes them pop.”

Birch is of the same mind about the location, and stares in wonder at the room in front of him. “I wrote the treatment and it was adaptable to different places. If we kept the core of the story we’d be good for anywhere. They came through with this and it’s exactly what I had pictured in my head. So it’s fantastic … They showed us through the school hall where they were shooting before. It all looks perfect. It’s such a sick place, I can’t believe it exists actually. Plus it’s abandoned; it’s batshit crazy.”

It all looks perfect. It’s such a sick place, I can’t believe it exists actually. Plus it’s abandoned; it’s batshit crazy.
[ Joel Birch ]

Taking us through what they’ve filmed so far, Smith is slightly giddy with excitement over the morning’s takes. “We did one cool zombie killing scene that was a fun thing to do. There was heaps of blood and stuff going everywhere … we did a lot of practical effects with the lead zombie girl sliding off a stake and a nice gory scene of a zombie hunter getting ripped apart. That was fun to do. The challenge is to make it all from the zombie point of view; my aim is to have it semi in the background because the idea of these two zombies is that they’re in love and in the search for each other. It’s about their journey and they’re kind of oblivious to what’s happening around them.”

Photos by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

So since he drew up the original concept for the video, Birch must be a fan of horror films then right? We couldn’t be further from the truth. “I hate horror,” laughs the vocalist. “I never go to horror movies, don’t care about them. I’ve seen maybe 10 in my life? But it’s fun; zombies are fun. The Walking Dead sucks—sorry everyone—but it’s still fun. It’s gotta be the more comic subject of horror.” That seems at odds with the entire day of filming that’s taking place, but he further explains that to make horror his style, the humour has to come through. “I think you just have to go over the top. Anything’s funny if you go over the top. Look at hair metal in the 80s—over the top, very funny. It’s pretty easy, you just have to make sure it’s shot properly and Simon’s making sure we do that. I saw some shots while we were getting makeup done and it looks amazing already. I trust him and he understands the vision. You can’t see it right now but the scene in front of me [the performance area] is pretty amazing; it’s spot on.”

Photos by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

From the shots we’ve seen, both Birch and Smith make an impressive effort to make the location believable as a high school. The outfits are classic American varsity jackets and backpacks, and our leads fit the teen movie vibe to a tee. Well, that is, if the teens had been dead for God knows how long. Walking us through the storyline, Birch says it centres on “two people have become zombified and they’re still sort of human enough to know they want to find each other.” The singer continues, “If anyone’s seen Warm Bodies, the main character falls in love with the female lead and his heart starts beating. He turns back into a human and I didn’t really want to do that. I thought it’d be funnier if they get to the end, try and talk so they just kind of [imitates zombie] errrr. It’s a really weird awkward ending and I just wanted to do something fun. As much as the song is about one subject it’s also a love song. So I figured it’d be cool to have them face some trials and tribulations throughout the film clip and have this weird awkward anti-climax where nothing actually happens. So I guess nothing happens in the clip at all?” he laughs.

Photo by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

As a compilation, Punk Goes Pop always has some stiff competition for bands to make their mark. “Anyone growing up in this sort of music knows what Punk Goes Pop is,” says Birch. “It’s always been cool even back when it was actually punk like New Found Glory and that sort of ilk doing it. It was just a cool fun thing back then and it’s really awesome to be a part of it. I didn’t think I’d have much to do with the clip since it’s fun and I’m usually taking care of the serious side of things. But nothing was coming up in the way of clips and I jumped to Warm Bodies after listening to the song a few times. All we agreed on was lighthearted but dark at the same time, so that was a perfect reference point. I think the clip will end up looking super cool; a simple idea is often all you need for a music video.”

Onto the musical side of things, we sit down with the band’s clean vocalist/bassist Ahren Stringer whose zombie makeup has just been freshly applied. “I’m a bit under the weather as you can see,” he winks. Hysteria ask what drew him to making a song for the record, and the singer responds, “As a kid Punk Goes Pop was always cool. I always used to listen to them. We love doing covers. Well, I especially do, I don’t know about the others,” he laughs. “I really wanted to do this song because I thought it was a cool song and it has similar chord progressions so it seemed fitting.”

Ahren Stringer // Photos by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

Fans of the band will know of Stringer’s penchant for covers. So far they’ve tackled Pat Benatar’s Love Is A Battlefield and Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die (entitled Too Legit To Quit), but it’s been a while since 2012’s surprise cover. “We haven’t really done many,” laments the singer, “and I guess it’s because as a band doing studio albums you don’t really get a chance to do a fun cover every now and then. We did [Born To Die] because we thought it was similar to what we would already write. A lot of kids that didn’t know who Lana Del Rey was thought it was just our song, so [in that aspect] it worked out perfectly. For this one I jumped at the chance to do a cover cause I always have a lot of fun doing them” When discussing his favourite Pop Goes Punk covers, Stringer says, “Bands like Me First And The Gimme Gimmes doing a whole record of covers really impressed me. Lagwagon did a bunch and all the Fat Record bands doing them. Just hearing bands I like doing covers, I thought was cool.”

Photo by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

Choosing Can’t Feel My Face may seem like an odd choice to those unaware of the band’s back catalogue of covers. Even with that information, it’s not the first fans may think of. Stringer says he chose the track due in no small part to its popularity. “It was the first one that popped into my head,” he explains. “I checked online and it had close to one billion views and it was such a huge song. Obviously Fearless liked it as well since it’s the second single! [When choosing a cover] we’ll pick a song that’s similar melodically to what we do. The chord progression is a major factor in why we choose a song. We’re not going to pick Barbie Girl or something. We want something that’s cool that you can morph into an Amity sounding song. It jumped out at me as a really obvious choice.”

Were there any difficulties in making a funky pop song loved by pretty much everyone around the world fit into the Amity vibe? Apparently not according to Stringer. “It ended up being easier than the range I sing some of our own songs in. It was a perfect midrange for me with the high falsettos and the low lows … After doing it we thought it’d be cool to write some of our original songs in this key because it’s perfect for me to sing in. Honestly for me it worked out super easy. It was an eye opener and a happy accident actually.”

After doing it we thought it’d be cool to write some of our original songs in this key because it’s perfect for me to sing in. It was an eye opener and a happy accident actually.
[ Ahren Stringer ]

Upstairs in another of the asylum’s creepy ‘incredibly miscellaneous rooms’, guitarist Dan Brown tells Hysteria that, for him, it wasn’t too much of a challenge to mould it into his own style either. “Straight away I knew I could double time all the snare hits and make it more of a breakdown kind of vibe than funk like it originally is. Ahren left me with it so I sat at home with it and masterminded it to try and make it sound like us. Adding melody was a big thing because it’s already so melodic and it’s quite funk with a lot of major vocal runs. We don’t do that but we tweaked our way around it and made it work.”

Dan Brown // Photos by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

The guitarist had similar thoughts on the song choice as Stringer, noting its explosive popularity as their main reasoning behind making it their own. “We chose the song because we thought ‘what’s the biggest pop song in recent years?’ I think they wanted something a little more recent but the song was so big that we could still use it … It was massive at the time and everyone knows it. They kind of use similar chords to what we use and it’s a bit left of field. I guess any choice is going to be unexpected. It worked for us, it works with Ahren’s vocals and we thought we could do something cool with it … Some people were saying we should add a breakdown but I didn’t want to wreck the song structure. I knew we could always change it into us and it just took a week or so to figure it out. It came together pretty easily actually.”

Photo by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

Brown is stoked on having the chance to be featured on the record, saying “Pop Goes Punk has been going for years [so] we’re happy to be on it and happy to be asked honestly.” He first became aware of it during the early days, and loved some of the very first covers that began coming out. “It started back when I was listening to punk rock bands like NOFX, Lagwagon and all those guys. Then it turned into that pop-punk vibe and I think that’s where it all came from. Bands like The Starting Line and Rufio were all on the Punk Goes Pop early editions and that’s where I first heard it. I thought they nailed it so I’m happy to be on one as well now.”

Pop Goes Punk has been going for years [so] we’re happy to be on it and happy to be asked honestly.
[ Dan Brown ]

Ryan Burt // Photos by Pees Lehman @xpeesx

Wrapping up the day, it’s freezing in the auditorium. The band are performing over and over to get the shots just right. Even though they’re zombified, they’re still willing to make sure the final product is exactly to their liking. “This is our fourth time with Simon as our director,” says Brown. “We’ve been drowned, set on fire and he joked ‘we’ll throw you out of a plane next!’ A few months later some friends of ours Parkway Drive did that and I was kind of stoked we didn’t have to jump out of a plane!” he laughs. “This is my fourth clip I’ve done with The Amity Affliction and I really love working the guys,” responds Smith. “They’re creative, and even with this clip they’re really willing to put themselves into it. I’ve drowned them almost; they stayed under water and held their breath. I’ve put them on fire—that was real fire and they were into it—and I’m gonna douse them in crazy amounts of makeup for this one. That’s what I love about The Amity Affliction: they’re all in there 1000% guys, they do it for their fans and give it hell.”//

That’s what I love about The Amity Affliction: they’re all in there 1000% guys, they do it for their fans and give it hell.
[ Simon Harvey Smith, Director ]

Pre-Order: Pop Goes Punk Vol. 7 now on iTunes >
Listen: to Ahren Stringer on Hysteria Radio this week >
View: more behind the scenes photos here >

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