Interview: The Smith Street Band

The Australian Folk-Punk Band around frontman Will Wagner (singer, lead-guitarist, (keyboarder)) is well-known in the Punk-Rock scene.

Musicwise somewhere in between typical Australian Pub-Rock and folky Punk sounds, The Smith Street Band impresses with deep, personal and authentic lyrics. However these four guys -Will Wagner, Lee Hartney, Michael Fitzgerald, Chris Cowburn- form a special bond to their fans with their unique sensibility and topics in their lyrics and music. The mutual understanding between band and fans build an affecting phenomenon, which makes visiting a concert even better.

From Pop-Punk sounds, like their song ”Young Drunk”, to calmer songs like “The Belly of your Bedroom” or “My Little Sinking Ship” to more rockier songs like “I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” or mixes of all of those different sounds in songs like “Throw Me in the River”, The Smith Street Band construct a colorful sound-carousel.

It’s personally important to me to say, that the guys behind this band seem to be absolute musicians from the bottoms of their hearts. Passionate, down to earth and close to reality, these guys, especially Will, share their deepest feelings, thoughts and attitudes with the world.

We met frontman and inspiration Will Wagner and chatted about social projects, loneliness and sex on Rock-Festivals.


An interview which – like The Smith Street Band itself – shares all sites of Feelings


Did you enjoy the tour so far?


Will: Yes it’s very fun, we’ve been on tour for like 3 months. Tour has been awesome!


Yeah you seem to be very passionate about touring around!


Will: Yeah, it’s hard to not have fun except when you have days like yesterday, when the f*ckng Van breaks down. But apart from that it’s just all fun.


Well you already have a big name in Australia, how was it to start all over again in Europe?


Will: I really love it! It’s really good because it keeps everything interesting and you don’t get too used of something, you don’t only play big shows. I still love playing little club shows with no barriers and just like right up in people’s faces. I mean I’ve been to Europe, I think it’s my 5th time here in the last couple of years and three years ago I never would have thought I’d be able to go anywhere on holiday beside like an area out of Melbourne. Even just being here is incredible and playing shows so far away, even if there is just one person singing long, it’s just amazing. Such a great feeling!


L: What was your favorite place in Europe?


Will: I really love Berlin, I love Germany a lot. I have got some family here, so I have a bit of a connection I think. We didn’t do it this time but I love playing in Switzerland, Switzerland is beautiful and always playing in London, Manchester and Glasgow are always very fun shows as well, they feel a bit like playing in Australia.


Yeah the home stretch… Your music is unique and you combine special sounds, where do you get your inspiration from?


Will: Lots of different places! I listen to a lot of Hip Hop mainly. I don’t really like Punk-Rock Bands or anything. Don’t get it wrong, I like all the bands on this Festival and stuff, (but) a lot of the time bands everyone I know listens to, I don’t really know NOFX or anything like that, I never really listen to that kind of stuff. I listen to a lot of hip hop and I love Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg and an Australian guy called Paul Kelly. Just anyone that tells a story with lyrics, I really like that.


So you know Bliss n Eso?


Will: Yeah yeah yeah, they’re from Australia, they’re great!


They have great messages as well.


Will: Yeah they’re awesome! We tweeted each other once, but that’s as far as our relation got (laughs). But I did a song with this guy Joelistics who is an Australian rapper he was in a crew called TZU and they’re all friends so we did a song together and one of them tweeted it us, so yeah (laughs).


Woa great (laughs), cool! With “Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punshable Face” you did a huge project for the „Asylum Seeker Resource Centre“, are you thinking of doing a project like this again?


Will: I would really love to, the only thing is … like for example I think that gay people should be able to get married and I think it’s ridiculous that they can’t. So Stupid! But I don’t wanna like “force” a song. I can tell if you sit down and you say „I want to write a song about this“, and you write it, it’s never really good. I especially things I care so much about, I wouldn’t want to be like: “here is like… whatever”. There are things I really care about but I wouldn’t write a song. If I can write a song I’m proud of like the punishable face-song again, I would love to do it again. I don’t want to fuck it up, you know what I mean? Things like this, especially the sounds kind of thing is so so so important to me, I want to get it right. I’m very proud of the way we did punshable face and I would love to do something again, but we not gonna rush it or force it or anything, ‚cause you wanna do a good job when you’re talking about issues that you care about.


How would you say did you develop personally and musicwise in the last five years, what has changed during the years of the Band?


Will: A lot! I’m more confident than I was before, I’m a quite sad, anxious person. This has helped this a lot, I can talk to people now and don’t feel very scared and want to walk away. And for me it’s the best drugs and the best therapy and the best everything! All our songs are about quite personal things and some songs are about how I’m sad and having people (fans) singing that back at you, makes me feel like I’m not alone, you know? I don’t know, I think I get as much out of it as the people who know all the words (lyrics) and buy the records. When they do that I get really excited as well, because it means a lot to me. So I do definitely feel a lot less alone than I did before we started playing shows and I have made friends all over the world. I have friends in Philadelphia and friends in Wiesbaden and all those places, and even if I see them only for one or two nights in the year, that’s so easy. You just pick up conversations where you left off and you miss things like I miss my girlfriend a lot, I miss my cat a lot and I miss my mum, my dad and my sister, but with missing things, I get to see so much of the world and meet so many beautiful people. And like fucking play the guitar is really fun! (laughs) That’s the other thing! It’s always like, we come here and we play shows and we played in Switzerland to like three people and everyone is like “oh man that’s sucks” but I’m like no “I saved up heaps of money and played this really nice guitar“, and even if there is like no one here, I would get to play with my three favorite musicians I really fucking love, so that’s really fun!


What’s the biggest challenge in your everyday life as a band?


Will: That’s a good question! We get along very well, but we also spend a lot of time together, so it’s finding that balance when it’s like you ask someone a question and you go “Okay I’ll come back in two hours”, do you know what I mean? But we have that kind of bond… Just living together, you sit in the van together all day and you play together, the you sit in another backroom all day and then all sleep on the floor like in a pile next to each other , you have gotta be very tolerating about the people. So I guess that would be the biggest challenge, but also now I have three or four -with my “tour-assistances” as well- brothers. We all know each other like forever, we could fight for a week and would still know we love each other. Its just like this incredible bond! All the shit we have been through together, you know, it’s amazing. But sometimes it’s just like “alright fuck off, I wanna be in a room by myself, that’d be awesome”.


But you have that pleasure to meet all those people!


Will: Exactly! And sometimes it’s hard to (thinks)… you wanna talk to people, and after playing 15 nights in a row, someone just comes up and wants a photo and everyone is just like ”aww but I look like shit”, but then you’re just like “no”, someone has made the effort to see us and now wants to take a photo with ME -for some reason- that’s amazing. It’s very easy to get tired and grumpy but then it’s way easier to be like “oh shut up, this is great, this is awesome! I should never complain about my job. The Job before this I went through garbage for a little while.




Will: Yeah I analyzed people’s recycling.


That was actually my next question. What would you do if you weren’t a musician?


Will: Probably not going through garbage anymore! That was horrible. I like writing a lot! I’m trying to write a book, I’m trying to write a TV-series, I’m trying to write scripts… I would write books, maybe. I would write something. I think if I wasn’t doing this I would sit in a room all by myself, all day and chain smoke and drink coffee and just write! That’s all I would do!


Have you got any advice for young bands or young musicians out there?


Will: Yeah don’t worry about anything except playing! Don’t worry about a label or a manager or the radio or a film clip or f*cking anything! Every time someone asks you to play a show, say yes. And every day not having a show, have band-practice, and everything else will take care of itself. Everything is bullshit, except music. And a very easy way to never wanna be in band again, is to meet people who manage bands, cause people in the music industry are just bullies and f*cking ars*****s. So avoid that as much as you possibly can! (laughs) That would be my advice. And if you find good people, stick with them forever!


Have you got specific dreams or wishes for the future?


Will: I’m doing it already! I don’t know, just keep doing this! My girlfriend plays – her name is Georgia Maq– and she is awesome! I toured with her in Australia but I wanna bring her here and tour America with her – that would be a dream of mine. We (The Smith Street Band) get to play Leeds&Reading Festival this year, so that is pretty good (laughs excited), I can’t really think of any other shows I wanna play now. I just wanna keep going and be able to keep playing shows forever and keep making records.


So what was the funniest thing that happened on your tour so far or in general?


Will: To be honest the whole is a blur for me, it all just feels like one really long night. It wasn’t that funny, but getting the Van breakdown and have to cancel a show is a bit of a bummer – that’s one thing that stands out, but yeah. (Thinks) I walked into lots of people having sex at a Rock Festival- like more than one person having sex, which I felt was quite… weird. It was just like a lot of doors that you could lock, (but) no one locking any of them, just having sex everywhere (laughs). So that was good, especially when I haven’t seen my girlfriend for a few months (laughs). Ääähm, but that was both really funny, I saw someone’s- from some very famous bands – penis. It’s just all fun, there is nothing that really stands out (during this tour), it’s just all one long high-life.


So if you could have a night out with any band or artist dead or alive, who would that be?


Will: Bruce Springsteen would be fun! I feel like all you need to do is to be like “So Bruce, what happened here” and he’d be like “Well” and just tell me all that and I just sit there. I just wanted to sit there, I wouldn’t even care if he knew I was there, I just wanna be there while he told stories, that would be good! Hanging out with Wu-Tang Clan would be pretty fun. My friend sold w*** to Method Man and Raekwon and hung out with them in their Hotel room. I’ve heard that story like six times, he had the best time. I would like to hang out with them, that’d be fun. Yeah Wu-Tang and Springsteen, let’s say that.


You’re not the first one to say Bruce Springsteen, have you heard of Tim Vantol?


Will: Sure! That doesn’t surprise me. We played with Tim last year somewhere. He’s a really nice guy, I try to do some shows with him if I come over here by myself.


So you’re planning to do a solo thing?


Will: Yeah, I’m planning to but I don’t know when. In the next year -if Smith Street ever has more than two weeks off- I’ll come over here and do solo shows.