The Smith Street Band, an iconic Melbourne rock band who have managed to captivate fans with their unique lyrics, raw sound and by just being a down-to-earth Aussie band. You either love them or you hate them. Luckily for them, many people love them. They’ve just finished up touring Europe supporting friends of theirs, The Front Bottoms, and they’re on the way to starting their own tour of Australia. You can catch them when they come to Canberra to play at the UC Refectory on the 23rd of March with support acts Bec Sandridge and Press Club. Their music is filthy good if you’re into notably Australian rock and dynamic instrumental sounds. Their on-stage presence is wild, sweaty and ridiculous, and you should definitely check them out while they’re on tour.
I recently caught up Wil Wagner, the lead singer and main influencer for the deeply personal and engaging lyrics of the band. Not only is he an amazing guitarist and singer, he is a truly passionate person whose music has inspired many.
I know you’ve often said this has been one album that you guys are super proud of and worked so hard to make it what it is. Has this been reflected in your performance of it? Has this album been the best one yet to tour and perform live with?
I hope so, yeah! I’m still really proud of the record and get a real kick from playing the new stuff! And yeah, absolutely. The shows we’ve done after releasing ‘More Scared’ have been some of the biggest we’ve ever done and we’ve been able to play some massive festivals and stuff too!
Some of the songs from this album have been so personal and raw. Is it hard to share these songs with the public?
I think this is the most personal album I’ve ever written, besides maybe my solo one from a few years ago. It used to be hard but I’ve just gotten used to it over the years to be honest! I just try and write the best songs I can and they always end up being the most personal ones!
What has been your favourite gig/festival you guys have ever performed?
There’s been so many fun ones! I love bringing our show to big rooms like The Forum and The Enmore and trying to bring that intimate, personal feeling to a big room! But I think the last time we played Splendour would be my favourite, looking out at the sea of people watching us play was such a surreal feeling and one that I never thought I’d experience.
Do you prefer touring overseas or back here in Australia? How do the crowds differ? Especially performing in smaller cities like Canberra.
I love travelling overseas, getting to see unfamiliar places and experience new things is always really fun. But then the crowds at home are just crazy now, having that many people sing words back at you is an incredible feeling! We play to way less people outside of Australia than at home and I appreciate that balance. It makes the theatres feel special still and keeps us working at being a tight band who can perform anywhere!
As you guys have been getting more successful, has it been harder to remain connected to Australia and the musicians back here?
Yeah, absolutely, but I don’t think that’s been a bad thing. The scene we came from in Melbourne seems pretty lame now, lots of backstabbing and shit talking and stuff. I’ve really enjoyed befriending bands from all over and finding likeminded people who believe in the same stuff as us. Melbourne can be pretty suffocating and I always enjoy getting a break from it!
I know bands like Luca Brasi and the Bennies look up to you a lot. How has your journey been starting off as a small Melbourne band to becoming a huge influence in Australian rock music?
It’s been a long and amazing road! We never set out to be anything more than a small Melbourne band so to be doing some of the stuff we get to do now is surprising and very special. I never really think about our influence but it’s always really gratifying when someone comes up to me and says we inspired them to start writing or playing music. I’ve done a bit of work running song writing classes and I really enjoy that, I’d love to find more time to work with young songwriters and give them some of the advice that really helped me!
‘Wipe that Shit Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face’ was a big political statement that was hugely powerful to listen to. Being influencers, how has music helped to express your opinions? Is this something you’d like to do more of?
I’ve always expressed my opinions through music, I find it easier to talk about what matters through songs than just with words! I used to try and be more political but I feel like the current state of music is over-saturated with people’s opinions. Like it feels like a band’s politics matters more than their music, which is a bit dumb in my opinion. I’m only interested in writing good songs and listening to good songs and if they happen to be political that’s great but not all art needs to make a statement!
You guys just ranked in at #21 and #49 in the Hottest 100 which is bloody awesome. Who are some other bands you’re excited to see in the next couple years really make a stance in Australian music?
Thanks! Yeah, it’s awesome! I’d love to crack the top 10 one day! I’m excited to watch Press Club blow up, I’ve loved working with and watching Jess Locke grow as an artist and performer and I can’t wait til next year when Baker Boy is in every festival line up cause that dude fuckin’ rules!
A topic that interests me with music is freedom of speech and whether music should be free from political correctness due to it being a form of art. Do you believe it’s time to change and start banning bands from making sexist, derogatory statements in their music?
It’s definitely time for society to change but I don’t agree at all that artists should be banned from saying things! I think banning artists from talking about anything is a pretty draconian way to deal with societies issues. People should be able to say and sing whatever they want, it’s up to us to decide where we draw the line and who we do and don’t support!
I think a problem a lot of our generation has is with knowing the difference between describing something and endorsing something. I listen to lots of hip hop that uses language I’d never dream of using, I read authors like Bukowski who describe despicable things, I’m fascinated by white supremacists and serial killers and things that exist in societies darkest corners. That doesn’t mean I endorse anything being said or done but one of the wonderful things about being alive is being curious and I’m so interested in learning about people who’s brains work in completely different ways than mine.
I think you can learn so much by at least attempting to understand where someone you disagree with is coming from than you can from just living in your bubble and only talking to people with the exact same beliefs. You can see the thought process that leads someone to think something and still find their opinions incredibly offensive. And when things come out that are offensive or upsetting to different sections of society it’s a fantastic learning moment and a chance for everyone to talk about why something upset them and start a conversation.
One of the main purposes of art, if not the main purpose, is to reflect society back on itself. I’ll listen to music made by serial killers for the same reason I watch Louis Theroux documentaries or read true crime books: Because the world is beautiful, terrible, fucked up, wonderful and more than anything else absolutely fascinating! And we shouldn’t lose our curiosity just because sometimes we don’t like what we find. Can you tell I think about this a lot?
And lastly, what is one gig/festival that you’d love to be a part of? My guess would be AFL grand final which I would 100% be all for you playing at.
It is absolutely the AFL grand final, yeah! That’s my number 1 all time dream gig now! But second would have to be Glastonbury! We’ve done a lot of the big festivals over here but never done that one!
You can catch The Smith Street Band play this Friday at the UC Refectory. Tickets are available here.