Interview: The Smith Street Band

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Words by Caitlin Trindall

The Smith Street Band are indisputably one of Australia’s biggest punk rock exports on the scene right now. Over the last couple of years they’ve been around the world and back again, smashing into 2016 with a slot on Australia’s favourite touring festival Laneway and bringing their third album Throw Me In The River to the live stage in front of sell out crowds.

Staying true to their Aussie roots the boys have managed to fit in home performances on all spectrums of the scale from Splendour in the Grass to their own smaller I Love Life Festival as a way of saying thanks to their fans.

FINNs Mag was lucky enough to catch up with lead singer Wil Wagner this week in between rehearsals for their upcoming Australia and New Zealand tour to talk big festivals and intimate shows, fanboy moments and making music for a great cause.

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The Smith Street Band

You’re about to launch into an Australian and New Zealand tour to farewell Throw Me In The River, can we expect to see some new stuff coming our way after a bit of time out?

There is new stuff, we’ve been writing a bunch at the moment. It’s a big band debate if we’re going to be playing new songs on this tour, it’s a hotly contested topic so… that’s what I want, there’s two new songs and it’s like ‘they’re finished guys come on, let’s play them’. But yeah, we’re recording again in September.

You guys went pretty much around the world last year, I’m going to ask you to throw someone, and maybe yourself even, under the bus now. Who has the worst travel habit in the group?

Oooooh, we all have our own ways of annoying the shit out of each other. I mean, it would probably be me, I just can’t think of one of about seventeen travel habits to throw myself under the bus for. Shit! We’re actually all pretty good now, we’ve done probably 40 or 50 tours so we’re really good at looking at the other person and being like ‘I should not talk to you right now’; we’re quite good at that stuff. We’re pretty nice to each other.

It seems like you really just haven’t stopped at all. Have you had much down time and what have you gotten up to in between shows around the globe?

Not really. I’ve done solo shows, which for me is pretty cool. It’s like I get to go back and play all the old venues and hang out with all my cool punk friends.

The ‘I Love Life’ Festivals in Sydney and Brisbane were obviously a great success. What was it that made you want to do a small-scale, intimate festival kind of gig in amongst everything else?

For us it’s just time to mix it up. That’s one of the really good things about traveling around the world, you know like shit in Australia right now is pretty crazy for us, the shows are pretty big and you kind of rely on people coming and it’s just kind of nice to go and play in… you know probably 70% of the shows we play are in little punk clubs, so we don’t ever get big headed. We kind of have a little best of both worlds thing. For me I love… all the venues around Australia that put us on when no one was coming and gave us our start, I love getting back and playing them now where we can sell it out or get a bunch of people down and we get to hang out with all the old crew.

You played the Reading and Leeds Festival in the UK last year, which is huge. They had big names from all genres, Metallica, Mumford and Sons, Kendrick and so on, did you get a chance to rub shoulders with or even catch the set of anyone that was a big ‘woah’ for you guys?

Yeah, I had two. I lined up for catering behind Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit, but I didn’t talk to him! I had two kind of incredible things from Reading and Leeds, but I sort of purposely didn’t look at the line up because I’m obsessed with Kendrick and a few other people that I knew I wasn’t going to get to see so I didn’t really want to torture myself by looking at the line up. But I was walking to go and get food and beers and heard a song and I was like ‘oh I recognise this song, this is American Football, oh cool, I love American Football!’ and followed the sound of the song and then opened the tent and walked onto stage and it was like ‘oh shit!’ and I’m side of stage of one of my favourite bands who I had no idea was playing and I’m a metre away from them. I’ve literally walked out and been like ‘WOOOOAAAHHH’ and made the dumbest noise. It was so cool. So, that same day was the last day of a two or three-month tour and Run The Jewels played and El-P and Killer Mike are two of my favourite rappers and I got to watch them from side of stage and run out and steal a set list, and a friend of mine working at the festival is like ‘yeah they’ll totally like smoke and hang out with you if you want’. So me and Chris (from Smith Street Band) spent twenty minutes like ‘should we go talk to Run The Jewels?’ Then we just didn’t because we were too scared like ‘I don’t want to be a fucking idiot in front of Killer Mike!’ It was amazing. We’ve had a few chances actually, people who are our heroes have tweeted us and been like ‘hey come and say g’day we’re here backstage’ and every time I just spend 45 minutes thinking about what I say and then it’s like ‘oh it’s too late now’.

Last year you released a single that took a cheeky stab toward the government’s policy on asylum seekers, which included donating all profits from the song towards the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. That’s pretty incredible. How did you find the response from fans?

The response from people was fucking amazing. Obviously we had some pretty angry emails from Herald Sun readers and stuff, but if you’re not pissing those people off you’re not doing the right thing I reckon. The people’s response to that was so cool. We raised a lot, it was really appreciated by ASRC. That’s probably my favourite thing that we’ve done as a band. I can’t spout facts and figures but I was trying to think from an emotional level, that’s what we were trying to do. Anyone can read a study that says here are four thousand reasons why detention centres shouldn’t exist but I think for a lot of people our age and of our generation it’s a lot easier to relate to emotion than it is through that.

It seems that the rest of the world is looking at Australia in a lot of ways when it comes to the music industry from all angles, regardless of the genre. As a homegrown band that’s made a name for yourselves, where do you guys see the Aussie rock scene heading in the next few years?

Shit, it can probably do anything it wants. Even looking at Poison City, everyone is doing really well. I think that we’ve been very lucky to be able to say ‘fuck it, let’s go to America, fuck it, let’s go and do Europe and see what happens’, but I hope that a lot more bands realise that the world is a lot smaller than you might think it is at first. All these things are achievable if you quit your job and commit kind of thing, which is hard for a lot of people to do. I think that more and more people realise how easy it is basically if you’re willing to do the work. Even the work is just like playing, which is really fun. The world’s a lot smaller than it seems when you’re down the bottom of the map.

Not surprisingly almost all the shows on The Smith Street Band’s upcoming Australia and New Zealand tour next month with label mates Luca Brasi plus MC Joelisitics and Melbourne based Jess Locke Band are sold out. If you’re lucky enough you can grab a ticket to their newly added Perth show or any of their New Zealand stops over at thesmithstreetband.com.

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