Australia, home of the kangaroo and the boomerang. But these last years it seems that their main export product has been kick ass bands. The Smith Street Band are one of those bands that have been touring relentlessly and becoming the best ambassadors the ex-convict colony could wish for. During their stop at Groezrock we took the liberty to sit down with frontman Wil Wagner and discuss their latest album “Throw Me In The River” and much more.
- Hey, end of last year you released your latest album “Throw Me In The River”. How has the response been so far?
It's been amazing; almost surprising. We've put it out and then we toured in Australia a lot of the back of it. We've pretty much been on tour since it came out. People know the words to my songs. It's been amazing.
- The amazing Jeff Rosenstock produced “Throw Me In The River”. What led you onto the path of Jeff?
I find him amazing too. We toured with Jeff when he was Bomb The Music Industry, just him and his iPod in Australia. I like him and John K Samson pretty much, and Bruce Springsteen. When I was like fifteen or sixteen, I started listening to Bomb The Music Industry. They taught me so much about being in a band. Just like “Fuck it, you want to start a band, start a band.” He's so passionate, we did that tour and then we toured with Bomb The Music Industry full band in Australia and just became good friends with him. We basically got him to produce the album but none of us knew what a producer was. We basically just wanted to hang out with Jeff for a few months.He came down and he is so positive and his brain is so amazing. You're playing and he goes “That would go good with a flute.” He pulls out his computer and puts on a flute. Plays it back, oh my god, I never thought of a flute sound on a Smith Street song. Working with him was amazing. I can't believe I'm friends with him.
- You also embarked on a US tour with Jeff Rosenstock, Andrew Jackson Jihad and Chumped some time ago. How was it playing a full-on tour in the States for an Australian band?
It was awesome. We've done a few tours in the States. I love Andrew Jackson Jihad as well. I've never seen them. We've played with them once here in Antwerp. And then Chumped as well, the whole tour, every person was so nice. All the Jihad guys are so nice. All the shows were no ages and no barriers, making it a crowd-friendly experience. Doing that tour we learned a lot. Andrew Jackson Jihad, I love them and now they're like an important band. I tell people to get “Christmas Island”. His lyrics are so weird, so dark but so hopeful as well. I adore that band. I got to get a tattoo of that band now. I've already got a Jeff tattoo.
- Maybe one of Sean's (AJJ singer) drawings?
I really want to, he was drawing, he's just a genius. He'd be sitting backstage doing watercolours and then he'd be out skateboarding and be better than anyone else. He's just one of those guys, what can't you do.
- The band has been going for five crazy years, three albums out and numerous tours. Did you ever expect this when starting out?
I remember when we started we sold out a venue of like 200 people. I was like “That's fucked”. Anything that happens from here is just a bonus. I feel like we're tricking everyone, soon everyone is going to clue on and realise we're just some idiots from Australia. This is so unexpected. We've been on tour since January and we're so tired and I miss my girlfriend and my cats. And now we're waking up and playing Groezrock again, I try to remind myself to be excited about it. None of us takes this for granted. Whenever people show up we're like “This is so good”.
- The band’s name is based on a legendary street in Melbourne. Given your status today as international band and in line with The Beatles Abbey Road street sign antics, has there been an increase in theft of Smith Street signs in Melbourne?
Yes, people steal the Smith Street sign. I've got one at home. The first is hanging in our lounge room. A lot of people steal them and bring them to sign them. Parkway Drive are from Australia as well and Parkway Drive is a street in Byron Bay and we drove down there. And the street sign is like as high as those lights. You need to put a ladder up there because it's so high so no kids can steal it. When we drove by people were trying to steal it.
- You recently put up a new video for the song “Arrogance Of A Drunk Pedestrian”, a track of the new album. I noticed a Weed culture sticker on the guitar headstock and you also have songs like “Get High”, “See No One”. How do you stand on drug use in general?
Oh my god. I'm very pro weed obviously. Whatever people want to do, they can do, is my opinion. If people are like dominating other people, I don't like that. I've done most of the drugs that you can do in my life, they all have their benefits and their downsides. Marihuana should be legal, it's insane that it's not. We've toured all of America and then you go to Denver and it's beautiful and clean. That's because of weed. It's great. I think that marihuana should be legal. That weed culture sticker, I saw it on a window and just stole it and stuck on my guitar.
- You recently recorded a 7” for a similar cause. Can you tell us some more on what motivated you to do so?
That was amazing. We've put out a 7”. The Australian government has a very backwards policy towards refugees. It's basically not letting anyone in. A lot of people live like in detention centres for like five, six, seven or eight years. For really long periods of time, it's almost barbaric. I wrote a song because I was angry about it and it must have been a slow news day in Australia. Because the main newspapers of Australia are like calling us for interviews and a big photo of us in the newspaper on page six. We've donated like 85,000 dollars just from the 7” and then we put on a show that generated like 20,000 dollar that we donated for the refugee charity. We've got a lot of like angry racist people yelling at us. I can talk about it in every interview that I do. But that's good; you don't want these people to like your band. I've got lots of friends who do volunteer work and stuff but we can't do that since we're away. So it was the best way to give something back. That's my favourite thing we did as a band.
- When listening to The Smith Street Band, there's no hiding that you hail from Australia. Is it a conscious decision to sing with an Australian accent?
Yeah, unfortunately that's how I talk. For me you have to sing like you talk. The Australian accent is just so horrible. If you get singing lessons you get taught to sing in an American accent, because that's like the technically correct way to sing. A lot of Australian bands go out on stage and they're like “ G'day…” then they start singing and they sound very American. For me, I try to make everything very personal and very honest. Your lyrics and your singing should just be an extension of who you are. I always try to sing with my voice.
- You've encountered some strange things during your career. Like the ‘ampgate scandal’ when your amp was stolen at a show. Any other memorable facts that we need to know about?
Oh, the ampgate, that was really fun. I felt like a detective for a day. We've had many silly incidents. It all just adds to the hilarity of touring. You need things like that to keep it interesting. Every few days something bizarre happens that you could never expect. It's the good thing about being around the world. You have crazy experiences. Ampgate was fun, especially for me. I have things stolen before that I didn't get back and this one was great since I got my amp back. Personal victory for me.
- The Smith Street Band has gained a loyal army of fans over the years, worldwide. When you're playing it seems that everyone present knows the words and shouts along. How does it feel when you see the crowd respond so well?
It's the best feeling in the world. You can't even describe it. None of us has any money, we live in shitty houses. We're always fighting with our girlfriends because we're on tour the whole time. I dropped out of university and all that just to do this band. We sleep on the floor and drive all day. When you like get on stage and I sing about how I'm like a sad, weird idiot and people like clap and sing along. It just makes you feel so much better. Probably because I write about depression and anxiety, singing about that stuff and having other people get into it, makes me believe that I'm not crazy. It's the best therapy or drug or anything that there is. That's why we tour so much. There's nothing like it, it's the best feeling in the world.
– David Marote