The Smith Street Band

The Smith Street Band Say Welcome

It was in the wee hours of the morning in 2011, when I was drunkenly YouTubeing at home. At the time, myself (and basically the entirety of Europe) were obsessed with an internationally acclaimed folk/punk singer, Frank Turner. I was watching an interview with Frank when the interviewer asked him, ”So what have you been listening to lately?” Frank replied in his drunken English accent with great proclamation; ”The Smith Street Band! Have you heard Wil Wagner & The Smith Street Band!? They’re the best band I’ve heard in years!” I immediately looked up The Smith Street Band based on this recommendation. Frank Turner was absolutely right.

The Smith Street Band are a Melbourne quartet that originally began as an extension on solo work by lead vocalist/guitarist, Wil Wagner. The band plays a style of rock music that is hard to define, but is gritty, poppy, dynamic and lyrically intricate, with a distinctly Australian energy and feel.

After releasing an E.P in 2010 (South East Facing Wall) and an album in 2011 (No One Get’s Lost Anymore), the band began selling out shows in Melbourne and other cities around the country on a regular basis. They developed a strong fan base and quickly gained much attention in the media, as well as punk rock scenes around the world. Stu Harvey (long time host of Triple J’s Short.Fast.Loud), went on record saying, ”The Smith Street Band need to be heard”, Beat Magazine wrote, ”Happily one of the best albums in recent history” and leading punk news sight, Bombshellzine, voted No One Get’s Lost Anymore as the number one album of the year.

The band certainly had no intention of letting these accolades go to waste. 2012 saw them release their second L.P, ”Sunshine & Technology” and begin to seemingly attempt a  tour to every corner of the globe. The album solidified TSSB sound further, with songs such as the title track ”Sunshine & Technology” and ”Young Drunk” becoming staples in Triple J’s daily rotation as well as gaining popularity overseas.

After touring relentlessly to country after country and putting out record after record, the band definitely deserved their new found success. TSSB reached number #69 in last years Hottest Hundred with their track ”Surrender” from their most recent full length album, ”Throw Me In The River” and still remain on regular rotation.  TSSB have since been embraced with equal enthusiasm by audiences world wide and continue to tour relentlessly.

Their latest release, ”Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face” sends an ambitious, political message to our current Australian Government. It is an intricate example of how music is one of the strongest forms of media and the E.P has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, as well as a bit of controversy.

It’s been almost five years since my drunken YouTube introduction to TSSB. Since then I’ve acquired countless vinyls and CD’s, two signed shirts and what I’ve been suggested could even be the first Smith Street Band fan tattoo. Understandably, it was with great trepidation that I spoke with TSSB drummer Chris Cowburn, about playing festivals, going viral on social media and touring regionally. He certainly wasn’t afraid to have a bit of a chuckle.

Wil: You guys just played Splendor In The Grass. How was it?

Chris: Dude, it was unbelievable. We had such an amazing time. It our first time ever. Everyone talks about how big it is and how well run it is and aside from the crazy amounts of mud, it pretty much lived up to its name. It was the most amount of people we’ve ever had watch us play a set before. Just that in itself is a pretty special feeling. Everyone was really, really stoked on it.

Wil: The photo of TSSB playing in front of the ”Real Australians Say Welcome” banner has basically gone viral.

Chris: [Laughs] Yeah, it sure has.

Wil: You’re pretty open with your political views in general. Have you ever had a punter at a show react negatively?

Chris: Thankfully, to date that hasn’t happened. Well, at least not at a show specifically. Obviously online, what we do generates a lot of conversation. A lot of the conversations are intelligent but unfortunately a lot of them [laughs] just aren’t. I guess that’s one of the reasons we do those things. For us, it’s important to use your music as a voice to stick up for your political beliefs, or any beliefs really. The immigration policy in Australia is something that we definitely don’t agree with. It should be at the forefront of discussions, especially amongst young people. Our audience is made up mostly of younger people, so it’s the least we can do really.

Wil: I definitely agree. It’s a very ”punk rock” thing to do.

Chris: [Laughs] Thank you very much.

Wil: Let’s touch on that. You seem to be particularly popular in the ”punk rock” scene, both here and overseas, even though you don’t sound like what most would consider, a ”punk rock” band. Is that accurate and do you guys feel as though you fit into that genre?

Chris: Well I guess that term gets used pretty loosely these days. If I was explaining our genre of music to somebody, I wouldn’t necessarily call it punk rock. But if you’re looking at our ethos, our beliefs and morals and stuff, as in the way we stand up for what we believe in, than yeah I think we would fit that category. It’s the way we all grew up. We listened to punk bands, even though our style of music might not necessarily align with the stuff we listened to, like Fugazi, Nirvana or The Clash or whoever… I think a lot of the reason we fell in love with those bands was because of the way they went about things. I think we just do what we do and if people think that it’s punk, well then that’s pretty sweet.

Wil: The Godfather of D.I.Y, Jeff Rosenstock (Bomb The Music Industry, Kudrow, The Arrogant Sons Of Bitches) worked on your last two records and…

Chris: [Cuts me off] So you know a bit about Jeff!?

Wil: Jeff is an absolute innovator and an amazing musician! How was it working with him, specifically as a producer on your last LP, ”Throw Me In The River”?

Chris: He is definitely the Godfather of D.I.Y. That’s absolutely true. I totally feel that way and Wil (Wagner, vocalist/guitarist) certainly does as well. We first met when we toured Australia with him in 2012. He toured as Bomb The Music Industry but it was just him playing solo with his iPod. It was us and him traveling around together and I think we fell in love [laughs]. We couldn’t have asked for anyone better to tour with. It felt like we had grown up together, even though he was from so far away. You know when a vibe just clicks? From there on we just stayed in touch, He toured again and brought the full band back. We stay with him and his wife when we’re in New York.

We had never had a producer before. I think we were a bit naive and didn’t know exactly what a producer even did. We were talking about who we would get to produce Throw Me In The River and when his name came up, we all just agreed on it. It was basically the first time he had played producer as well.

Wil: Next you’re off to play Redding and Leeds festivals.

Chris: Yeah. Fitzy and Lee just left. They just flew out of the country a few minutes ago and Wil and I leave in a few days. This year we’re doing more tours, to different parts of the world. I mean, by the end of the year we will have traveled to Europe twice, the USA twice and done Australia twice. Including regional areas.

Wil: What made you guys want to tour all the way up to Cairns?

Chris: We’ve tried to do regional Queensland shows before, through big promoters that were doing festivals. For whatever reason, they all eventually fell through. I guess recently, friends of ours in Clowns had played there and gave it a really good wrap. It was really cool to hear from those guys that Cairns has good local promoters as  well pretty strong scene going up there. Everyone has heard great things. I think  friends of ours in The Bennies are talking about going up there soon as well. I reckon the more bands that can get up to places like Cairns the better. Especially punk bands, if that’s what you want to call it. [Laughs] I’m so stoked to be coming up there.

Wil Carroll

The Smith st Band play the Grand Hotel in Cairns on Saturday the 26th September. Limited tickets available so act fast. Tickets available for the Cairns show at the venue or HERE. Our Townsville readers can catch them at Flinders Social on Sunday 27th Sept, tickets for the Townsville show HERE

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