“My near-death experience kicked me up the ass”—the Amity Affliction’s Joel Birch on their new album

March 05 2014, 1:45 PM EST By Dan Slessor

Lyrically speaking, Chasing Ghosts was your most positive record. Is this building upon that?
I have got some songs that are like that. I’ve also got songs I’ve written about the sometimes overwhelming burden of being the guy who opened up to kids, because now it’s almost opened a dialogue between myself and the fans. I do appreciate that, but every now and then it becomes quite the weight to bear. I’ve written about that, and hopefully it doesn’t offend them, because that’s not what I intended. I also had a very close call with dying during the U.S. Warped Tour, which has obviously given me a lot of content for songs. We downplayed it while we were there, but it was a lot more serious than we let on. It was years and years of heavy drinking and prescription drug abuse catching up with me. You name it, I put it in, and it all kind of came to a head.

When we talked before Chasing Ghosts came out, you were in a much more positive mindset. Did you lose that somewhere along the way?
I had a massive panic attack at the end of recording Chasing Ghosts. I was with Ahren and we were in a shopping center somewhere in Orlando, which was packed, and I don’t deal well with crowds, which is ironic, I know. [Laughs.] I had a massive meltdown, and instead of taking the time to address it I just pushed it under the rug, and handling things that way started becoming far more frequent. When we go on tour I usually drink quite a lot, and alcohol doesn’t help anxiety or depression at all, and it was like I was sinking my own ship for the better part of 12 months.

Was it a cumulative effect or did you just go way too hard one day?
Well, Defeater are my favorite band on Earth, and they joined Warped around that time. We were hanging out with them so I was super-excited, and I was drinking beer and then whiskey, snorted a little coke, and I kinda forgot to drink any water that day. I woke up the next morning, and I was drenched in sweat, and I couldn’t stop vomiting. I had three bags of saline put into me, and I was still spewing. In the midst of that I had five or six panic attacks, had a seizure and stopped breathing and went blue and my heart stopped. I’d say it was a culmination of everything, but the night before it happened it definitely went further. But, the near-death [experience] kicked me up the ass. It made me realize what I’ve got at home, what I’ve got with the band. I hate using the word “fans,” because I feel like it distances us from them, which is wrong, but I do feel like we have great fans, and we’ve built quite amazing lives through music. I felt like I was pissing all that up against the wall and saying, “Fuck you everyone,” instead of having a good hard look at the way I was living.

And presumably you’re in a much better headspace now?
Yeah, I haven’t been drunk since it happened, and like I said recording has been a great and really positive experience. In fact, everything with this record has actually been going smoothly, which is uncanny! I feel like the studio needs to burst into flames or something, because it’s all been too easy! [Laughs.] ALT