Q&A with The Smith Street Band

 

The Smith Street Band frontman Wil Wagner talks about touring, friendships, and why you might want to get off of Facebook for a while.

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Wil Wagner of The Smith Street Band. The Australian pop-punk band has been touring on and off all over the world for the last two years since the release of their most recent album Throw Me In The River. Now they’ve just finished recording a new album and are back in the US for yet another tour.


So this is your second stop on the tour, correct?

Yeah.

But you’ve been here before, I saw you guys actually at the Royale last year, when you played with The Front Bottoms.

Oh, fuck yeah.

Yeah, that was a great show.

Oh, thank you, yeah they’re a really fun band to play with. Them, AJJ, and Frank Turner, I feel like we owe our whole American fanbase to those guys.

Yeah, for sure, I feel like genre definitely spread from America to Australia and it’s like coming full circle back here now.

Totally, even being here now, you know, last night we were in Philadelphia, that place is like a punk rock Mecca, you know?

Yeah, absolutely. So would say there are any major differences between touring in the US and touring back home and elsewhere?

I mean, for us, we’re on the radio and stuff in Australia, so we play a lot of bigger venues and that kind of stuff. But, I mean, it is definitely different because touring here you drive. But like Australia is so fucking big there’s only about five cities you can play in so you end up flying a lot more. It can feel a bit disjointed. But like, if you’re touring with other bands and other people, the easiest way to get to know people is spend a month in a van with them, whereas at the airport it’s different. That would probably be the biggest difference. And also, I love touring Australia, but like, we’ve done it. I don’t think it’ll ever compare to driving into New York for the first time, and driving into all of these big classic iconic cities. That’s something I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. Just the fact that we are something going on in Boston tonight is so fucking cool. We’re from so far away. It’s so exciting for me.

And so much of your music is tied to your hometown whether it’s your personal life or your political views. Does being on the road, especially so far from home, affect your songwriting and your performance at all?

Yes and no. I feel more and more every year, less connected to Melbourne. Which is really sad, you know. We’re part of a pretty tight-knit community, and it’s like any small community. There’a handful of venues and you’re always fighting to make sure they don’t get shut-down. There’s a handful of bands, everyone knows each other, everybody is signed to the same three labels, everyone dates the same people, you know what I mean?

Yeah I think you’ve said before that you can assemble the entire Melbourne music scene in 10 minutes.

Yeah, in like a tiny little storage room! So you definitely feel like there’s so many things I miss from spending like 7 or 8 months of the year overseas, but then also by doing that it just kind of opens that circle out too. And now, Austria we have friends, Poland we have friends, Utah we have friends. It’s just kind of opened all these little pockets all over the world. Like tomorrow in New York we’ll be hanging out with Jeff Rosenstock and all the “Bomb the Music Industry!” guys. So yeah, it sucks that I don’t get to go to my favorite pub in Melbourne all the time, and hang out with all my friends, but I have as good friends everywhere now as I do in Melbourne. So it’s a double edged sword.

So you mentioned Jeff Rosenstock, who produced your last album as well as your upcoming album. When you brought him on to produce Throw Me In The River, was it a big change for you guys, or did it happen naturally?

It was a big change that happened naturally. We as a band are very DIY and independent, so we can be very protective. We don’t always want to let people in on the thing because we’ve worked so hard to make the thing what it is, you know. But we’re a band that wants very much to always progress. I’d hate to finish a record and be like, ‘oh it’s nearly as good as the last one.’ Everything’s gotta be better than the last thing. So we thought it would be cool to bring in someone with fresh ideas. And we could have gone and got a big name producer, we could have splashed a bunch of cash. But there’s just no one in the world like that guy. We’ve toured with him three times, I know him as well as I know anyone. We had like three weeks off last year and I spent most of it back here for Jeff’s wedding. We’re really tight, so working with him just felt so natural and organic. I send him my demos anyway, so I might as well send him the full band ones, and he might as well give some feedback. I feel like we’d be just a nightmare for other producers who might come in and be like, ‘this is what my records sound like’ whereas Jeff just wants to help us make the best Smith Street record that we can.

It sounds like you guys are just a match made in heaven as far as artist-producer relationships go.

Yeah, totally, I’m like, trying to make him join the band [laughs] you know, he’s got this huge solo career and I’m like, ‘come play keyboard for Smith Street!’

So you’ve spoken before about how you’re not on any social media at all.

Right, yeah.

Does Chris [Cowburn] still handle the band’s accounts?

Yes, he does.

That’s really cool. As a music industry student, the importance of social media is stressed so much. Do ever feel like you’re missing out on something important, or do you think overall it’s a good choice?

I do feel like I miss out on stuff. There’s this level of social life I don’t experience, at all. And that’s definitely very strange. But like, for someone like me. I’m like, so sensitive. I think if I was on something like that, I would obsess over it and just spend too much time getting into it. And also, everyone in the band is still on Facebook, so if someone back home is doing something crazy or whatever I still know about it.

In a way it’s a like good filter so the positive and important stuff still gets to you.

Right, exactly. I especially feel like now, there isn’t anything that can be achieved by arguing over Facebook. I feel like there are amazing novelists and songwriters who are never going to make anything because instead they’re gonna spend all this time articulating the perfect argument over Facebook instead. And it’s like, seriously, get off Facebook and write a book!

So yeah, there’s definitely stuff I miss out on. I don’t know when people’s birthdays are, or what everyone’s second names are. But then, when I see someone like Jeff after not seeing him for a while, I ask him what he’s been up to, and I actually don’t know what he’s been up to. Whereas when you’re on social media it’s like, well I know what you’ve been up to. You’ve been doing this, this and this. You went to this place. You argued with this person. You ate this for breakfast and here we are!

And even then, it’s like, you know what they’ve been up to on the surface but you haven’t actually had a conversation with them about it.

Right yeah, you know what they’ve been selling about themselves, not what they really are. But you know, I wouldn’t be able to do it without Chris who does all the social media, and loves it. And he’s so good at it, you know, we balance each other out so well.

Well thanks so much for sitting down with me, this has been awesome.

Yeah, of course man, same here!