An incredible night with an unfortunate fight- Smith Street Band Review and interview with frontman Wil Wagner
It was Halloween of 2014 when The Smith Street Band released their third studio album, Throw Me in the River, on Poison City Records, once again captivating fans with their insane instrumental precision and Wil Wagner’s unique lyrical style, combining heavy issues with brutal honesty. Flash forward almost twenty months and the Melbourne folk rockers have toured Europe and the UK, including performing at Reading and Leeds Festivals and Belgium’s Groezrock, as well as touring North America not once, but twice, having recently returned from their first headline tour of the states.
Performances at Australian festivals Splendour In The Grass and Laneway have topped off a remarkable period for the band, and to celebrate, much to the delight of their passionate fanbase, they announced a final hurrah for their incredibly successful Throw Me in the River album. Throughout the month of June, the band are performing around the country before crossing the Tasman for shows in New Zealand. With their first show in Perth on a Friday night at Capitol rapidly selling out, they announced a second show at the same venue for the night before. With Tasmanian punk rockers and label mates Luca Brasi touring in support of their brand new album If This Is All We’re Going To Be (you can catch them again back in Perth in late August), as well as producer and multi-instrumentalist Joelistics and the enchanting Jess Locke Band, music fans were in for a treat.
After an eager wait, The Smith Street Band finally kicked their show off with frontman Wil Wagner moving to the front of the stage, illuminated like the bearded angel he is. With guitar in hand, he proceeded to play a charming acoustic rendition of the opening verse from their last song in the Throw Me in the River album, I Love Life. Then, as the other band members joined Wil on stage, in classic Smith Street style, they masterfully transitioned into their heavier style, blasting the chorus to their excited fans. Next, another Throw Me in the River favourite, Surrey Dive, captivated the audience, with the whispering of “I’m running scared…” building up with each repetition, before culminating in one of the most satisfying propositions in music history; “so whyyyyyy… DON’T YOU FUCK OFF?!”
The night didn’t slow down from there, with the band playing a couple old favourites, Ducks Fly Together and Postcodes, before performing Tom Busby, a song from their Sunshine and Technology album that was actually named for Luca Brasi’s guitarist, Tom Busby! Appropriately, they were joined on stage by Luca Brasi singer Tyler Richardson, who briefly took over the mic for the song about his bandmate.
One of the most successful songs out of the Throw Me in the River album, Surrender, was next, before the band played a new song (which we might expect to find on their next album, although that is complete speculation!), but not before frontman Wil Wagner delivered a speech about the importance they place on creating a positive, loving atmosphere at all their shows. Encouraging everyone to have an awesome time, whilst ensuring that your awesome time isn’t negatively impacting on the enjoyment for others, dedicating the next song, Death to the Lads, to all the people here for the right reasons. The majority of the crowd seemed to agree, but it only takes one or two ‘lads’ to ruin it for the rest.
It was at this point, that the night took a sour turn. The irony was impossible to ignore when two idiots though it’d be a great idea to start fighting early on during a song written specifically with the intention of avoiding such people attending the show. Wil responded with abrupt fury, dropping his guitar and running over to intervene in an explosion of passion and resentment, screaming at security to kick them out. The crowd loved it, roaring in support of the band, but this positivity quickly subsided when Wagner returned to stage frustrated, declaring “I just fucking want to play one show, without fucking idiots.” Fair enough, right? But then he broke the hearts of all the tru Smith Street fans at the show with the following statement; “you wonder why no fucking bands come to Perth.”
Naturally, the unfortunate event affected the atmosphere of the evening, and Wil himself never appeared to fully recover mentally from the ordeal, once again lecturing the crowd on ‘gig etiquette’ a few songs later. Yet any moans and groans presumably came from the casual fans in attendance. For the true fans, any negativity was outweighed by the chance to see our favourite band in action. When I was a Boy I thought I was a Fish picked the night back up again, and the momentum didn’t dwindle from there with Throw Me in the River favourites Get High, See No One and I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore.
The band closed with the song Throw Me in the River, a suitable decision considering the tour is somewhat of a last hurrah for the album in Australia and New Zealand, with Wagner leaving the stage. But as a chant for “ONE MORE SONG” ensued, he returned to finish the night off with Young Drunk. However, they concluded twenty minutes before the scheduled finishing time, to the great disappointment of fans.
Any time you have the opportunity to catch your favourite band live, let alone review their show and interview your favourite Australian artist, you’re bound to have an amazing experience, even when a couple dickheads try to ruin the fun for everyone else. Whilst Wagner’s reaction has invited some criticism for his attempts to deter violence with violence, Smith Street listeners are a passionate fanbase for good reason; because Wil and the band are passionate people themselves. And if they were to respond to similar events in the same way each time, you would expect their message to get across, and for ‘lads’ to eventually learn that Smith Street shows aren’t the place for them. In the end, one can only hope that it doesn't discourage the band from future Perth tours.
We love you Smith Street! But hey, while you’re here, you may as well check out our interview with Wil Wagner!
Q; How does it feel to be what Bruce Springsteen and your other music idols are to others? It must be surreal when you meet starstruck fans who are nervous and overwhelmed in your presence, considering your own experiences meeting your favourite artists and heroes?
Yeah dude it’s crazy, it’s something I’ll never really get use to. I’ll never not just be like smiling and looking at my shoes when people say that stuff you know. It is kind of overwhelming but it’s also very positive reinforcement, I really, really appreciate it, we put so much work and time and love and care into what we do with the band; the way that we run the band, the way that we tour and the way that we make music and stuff. To have people come up and relate to it in any way is just fucking crazy and to have some of the people that have tattoos and stuff it’s just amazing.
Q; You have a very dedicated, passionate and rapidly growing fanbase, how would you describe your relationship with your fans?
I hope that it’s good! I try and be as approachable as I can be at shows and stuff, like sometimes I can be a bit nervous at shows and I’ll hide backstage but I’ll always try get out and talk to people and always have photos and be nice and stuff. Whenever I speak to anyone that likes the band I never really feel even like a fan dynamic kind of thing it’s just like we probably have pretty similar experiences growing up. If we grew up in the same neighbourhood I’m sure we would be friends, but you grew up here, you grew up there, we haven’t met until now but yeah I never really think look at all these adoring fans, I just think here are some more of my friends that I haven’t met yet.
Q; Why do you think your fans are able to relate and identify so much with your music? Is it because of your authenticity and vulnerability that so many people are able to find meaning in your music?
As the bearded, drunk german dude said; “I do not know what you say, but I know that you fucking love saying it.” That’s my favourite thing anyone’s ever said to me! It was so good, I gave him the biggest hug after that, he was so confused. I mean, I hope its a combination of both those things really, like I am very, very, very passionate about what we do with the band and what I’m singing about and stuff and in order to be that passionate and be that committed I guess you really have to believe what you’re saying and so I try only write songs I can really commit to and I’m really passionate about and things that really matter to me. Even when I sit down and think I’m going to write a song about this, I’m going to write a song about this, it always sounds exactly like I’ve sat down and said I’m going to write a song about this. For some reason I can get like eight songs out of one drunken night that didn’t seem that important to me at the time but in hindsight was really important.
Q; How does your music and songwriting help with your personal experience battling anxiety, bipolar and depression? Is it therapeutic for you? And how does it feel knowing your music has been able to help many people struggling with mental illnesses?
Yeah it’s incredibly therapeutic, that’s like what got me started in music and what got me started writing songs to try and find a way to express myself. It’s sort of the best and worse thing that you can do if you have a brain like mine. I get to play music and I get to express myself and I get to yell about all these things that I’m really upset about and then they like clap me at the end and it’s like oh I’m not alone. But also at the same time I never get enough sleep and I’m always travelling and it’s hard to get a good support network and it’s hard to like feel at home anywhere. Even when I’m back in Melbourne I just constantly want to leave because I just feel like I gotta get back sort of chasing that momentum and always keep moving. It’s kind of a fine line to walk but I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences for the world and knowing that we have been able to help people in any sort of small way is the best. Whenever people come up and say I went through this, I went through that, and I listen to Smith Street and it helped me out it’s like cool well you’ve given me another six months of wanting to be in the band. Every time someone says that it’s like sweet well now I just wanna keep going, now I wanna write a song about this. It’s the most inspiring thing for me.
Q; My friends and I have noticed a strange phenomenon in regards to your music, despite it being quite heavy we all find it fantastic for helping to fall asleep! Have you heard this before and if not does this come a surprise? Can you potentially explain this phenomenon?!
Really?! Whoa, that’s very interesting, maybe it’s just because I’m always singing about sleep! I don’t know, no one’s ever told me that! Wow, that’s amazing, I wonder if that’s like a selling point!
Q; So this tour is somewhat of a last hurrah in Australia for your incredible Throw me in the river album before you focus on your next album. How does it feel to be able to do 4 nationwide tours for the one album? Is it difficult to say farewell to it?
Yeah it’s crazy. People’s response to Throw me in the River has been pretty fucking nuts. You know, I do love touring it, we have probably played something similar to this set 3 or 4 hundred times now, so part of me is like let’s never play any of these songs again! It definitely adds a bit of pressure working on the next record where it’s like I want it to be better than Throw Me in the River but you know it’s fucking awesome, I feel like of everything we’ve done this album’s kind of made a bit of an impact. It’s certainly going to be hard to top, if you do then the next album is going to be something pretty special! We’ve got to top it man, there’s no point, you know, you always gotta try make something better.
Q; On that note, how is the next album progressing? What can we expect from the new material and what direction can you see the band taking?
It’s going really great! We’ve been working on it for the last sort of few months around tours, I’m standing out front of our rehearsal place right now about to go in, and yeah we’ve got maybe like 14 songs I think written for it and maybe another 10 or 14 that we’re going to write and then whittle them down and try and get, you know, 10, 12 songs we can all agree on but at the moment I feel like it’s a bit like, maybe a bit poppier than the last stuff without intending to be. It’s just like how the songs are kind of coming out, but I dunno there’s already a few songs that I’m like, I can not fucking wait to play this song live or that song live, which is always an exciting thing. But you know it’s the same with Throw me in the River and the same with everything, like I know right now I’ll listen to all the demos and be like fuck yeah this albums going to rule and in an hour I’ll listen to all the different versions and be like I’ve got to write a new album! And that was the same with Throw me in the River and I’m the same with everything we’ve released, I really go up and down. It’s like yeah we’re doing a good job or it’s like oh my god I’ve got to quit all music!
Q; You recorded Throw me in the River in a log cabin in the forrest in a town called Forrest, do you have any more grand plans for where you’ll be recording this next one, I heard that you might be heading back to San Francisco?
Beach house on the side of a cliff. We’ll be recording there for six months. Yeah just like an hour or so north of San Francisco, I can’t remember the name of the town but yeah it’s called like panoramic house or something like that I think and it’s yeah just like a big ole beach house with a bunch of recording gear. Like it’s genuinely on the side of a cliff so we can hopefully do some sweet November rain film clip style guitar solos just like, you know, shredding on the side of a cliff while the wind blows behind our backs.
Q; There is also a national election coming up, you guys are known as a politically vocal band, so what are your thoughts on the current state of Australian politics?
It’s just all so sort of embarrassing really, Australian politics seem to be very childish and kind of meaningless. A lot of rich people arguing about things that will only effect like them and their mates. But in all honesty because we’ve just been America I’ve been like far more interested and terrified by the current state of American politics. I haven’t really been paying attention to what’s happening here. Being over there this time was really fucked up, you could almost like taste the kind of fear and paranoia in the air. It was very different to any time we’ve been there before so I’ve just been reading about you know, Bernie and Trump and Cruz and the whole gang more than I’ve really been focusing on the lack, depressing Australian politics. It’s kind of like a soap opera you know, Australian politics is like uh you’re just awful and everyones so uncharismatic.
Q; The Smith Street Band’s music doesn’t quite seem to fit into any one music genre. You’re often described as rock, indie and even punk but I’m interested in how you would define your own music?
I don’t know, I always kind of struggle to do that you know, whenever an uber drivers like what kind of band is it its always like uh… dunno. I guess just like rock, sort of borrowing from folk a bit, but in my head I’m just writing rap songs. Yeah let’s say that, let’s say it’s instrumental, not hip-hop, rap!
Q; You’re also a big fan of Hip Hop, including artists such as Kendrick Lamar and ASAP Rocky. Is there any chance you could experiment with the genre in the future?
Dude, I write more rap songs than I do anything else. I’m just, I’m never going to release any of them, but it’s all I wanna be!