[MUSIC: Interview] The Smith Street Band
The Smith Street Band
By Joshua Kloke
“I believe in everything/that don’t mean I’m not wrong,” proclaims lead singer Wil Wagner on ‘Sunshine & Technology’, the stirring opener on the album of the same name. “Cos if I was right, surely I’d be something/that I’m not,” he continues, with the kind of passion few are brave enough to display permanently on record. Live shows, fleeting by their very nature, offer performers an opportunity to speak their minds without much repercussion. But as Wagner has quickly discovered, when one sings with an open and honest enthusiasm, people take note.
Sunshine & Technology is The Smith Street Band’s follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2011 debut No One Gets Lost Anymore, and a lot of ears are beginning to perk up. Wagner and his band’s invigorating blend of fist-pumping punk and emotionally-charged folk is complemented by lyrics which are as much a call-to-arms as they are words to simply sing along to. On Sunshine & Technology, Wagner comes face to face with his own idealism. So what exactly does the 23-year-old believe in? “I don’t write music thinking anyone’s going to hear it,” Wagner admits from his Melbourne home. “When something bad or good happens, I’ll write as a reaction to that. It’s been interesting to play songs that are a bit opinionated, and seeing how people take it. I don’t think what I’m saying is all that controversial. I just think people should concentrate more on having fun and less on trying to become an accountant. I’d say that about sums up my ideology.”
Wagner’s penchant for enjoying and questioning life at the same time can be heard throughout Sunshine & Technology, which all the while avoids the trite clichОs that many in his age group fall into. Instead, his lyrics cut deep, pushing listeners to do a little soul-searching of their own. “I’m at that age where everyone around me is finishing their degrees, getting married, getting real jobs and becoming real parts of society,” he says. “And it all seems so fucking miserable.” That’s why Wagner has developed a clear plan of how he’d like to spend his life – and it’s one that’ll suit The Smith Street Band’s fans just fine. “There’s this weird pressure on you at this age where you can’t get away with saying, ‘Oh, I’m a kid, I’m just fucking around, I’m just being a kid,’ but you’re still too young to be taken seriously, so you’re still a bit of a whipping boy or girl. You’re just getting shit piled on you. People say things like, ‘Oh, isn’t this band thing something you did as a kid? Don’t you want to get a real job and a real life?’ And it’s frustrating, because this is exactly what I want to do. I’d be happy living in this fallen-down shithouse just playing shows for people for the next 50 years. This is what I have to do.”
There’s a determination within Wagner’s voice that belies his age. He takes compliments earnestly enough, but refuses to let them inflate his ego in the slightest. The Smith Street Band’s reputation as one of Melbourne’s most powerful live acts isn’t lost on him – he just wishes more bands would follow their lead. “I hate hearing bands turn down shows because they’ve got a headline [tour] in two months or something. I just wonder, ‘Why are you in a fucking band?’ Don’t you want to be in a band to play every night of the week and play in all kinds of places? I get frustrated when bands act cool up on stage. It loses the authenticity that’s always gotten me about music. I don’t know if we’re an especially hard-working band, I just wonder… shouldn’t this be the way every band is? We just want to keep on playing, regardless of where we are on the scale of Australian music. We love what we do so much.”
The enthusiasm on Sunshine & Technology is contagious, and that suits Wagner just fine. “I guess people relate to [the lyrics] because the people who come to our shows are exactly the same as the people in the band. We’re the same dickheads as the dickheads who like our band. We’re not trying to be above ourselves. We know how lucky we are that people come to our shows. But even if people stop coming, we’ll still keep playing. My greatest fear is I’ll look back on this and say, ‘I wish we’d done more.’”
“I can’t really buy into the hype,” he says. By believing the hype, Wagner might betray the person and songwriter he’s become. “I’m still on the dole, I still can barely afford my rent. I’m still bouncing between band interviews and Centrelink interviews.” The Smith Street Band’s upcoming American tour, for instance, was organised without the involvement of booking agents or managers. Throwing caution to the wind and booking a tour without professional help may seem like a death trap to many bands. Not for Wagner. “We were talking about it at practice last night: even if all the shows suck, which is a worst-case scenario, it’s still five of us, best friends, driving down the coast in America. We’re going to have a great time no matter what happens.” And therein lies the secret to The Smith Street Band, and what Wagner truly believes in.
What: Sunshine & Technology will be out on August 24, through Poison City Records
With: The Restorations (USA)
Where: The Annandale Hotel
When: Saturday September 8