“As soon as you start analysing stuff and you start thinking ‘should you change certain stuff?’ the honesty in the song starts to go away,” admits Wil Wagner on writing The Smith Street Band’s most recent record Sunshine & Technology.
“I just really try and let the songs write themselves, I try and keep it spontaneous and keep it the way the idea first comes into my mind,” he affirms when questioned on the obvious and sincere honesty that runs throughout his lyrics.
It’s something Wil Wagner has had plenty of time to consider. Despite his age, he is no stranger to the Melbourne music scene, having grown up playing acoustic shows at house parties, performing on community radio as a solo artist and now beginning to enjoy some not insignificant mainstream success with The Smith Street Band.
“We actually just went and got our flights for China and America, which is pretty exciting,” Wagner announces proudly, a hint of excitement worming its way between the calmness in his voice.
“Yeah, we dropped a fuck-load of cash” he says with a laugh, “but it will be great to get overseas and get out of our comfort zone, almost like a band starting out again, having to play every show and win over the crowd, it should be really fun” the singer admits.
And he has every reason to be excited; on the verge of the band’s first international tour, their second record is already being hailed as one of the best Australian albums of the year. Having finished a string of dates throughout the country in September and now with an overseas tour thrown into the mix, it’s a not a bad time to be part of The Smith Street Band.
Speaking from the backyard of his self confessed “shitty falling down share-house” in North Melbourne, Wagner appears to take the sudden success of the band with typical nonchalance, professing rather coyly that the five Melburnians are “really just a bunch of idiots.”
“I mean, I don’t even really have an amp that works for anything, so I am still finding it a little hard to think to myself: ‘oh, we are actually kind of a successful band’ because to be honest – I’m still just a total idiot” Wagner confesses with a snicker.
“It is weird though, getting a message from my mother or my grandma saying ‘hey we saw you in The Age’ or ‘hey! You’re in Rolling Stone’, it’s kind of like… Holy shit! I don’t know what to say to that!” another warm laugh in losing the words to describe the band’s constantly growing reputation.
“I really don’t know how to take it, I guess I just say thank you and keep on working as hard as I have been.”
The summation seems to effectively represent the sum of Wagner’s parts, as both an individual and as a songwriter. Wagner’s honestly and injection of personality into every song he writes has been the formula that has contributed so heavily to The Smith Street Band’s success in the folk/punk genre.
On top of this, Wagner possesses a genuine love for playing music, having begun his career playing shows for next to no one, he affirms that he would have no problem doing so again, as it’s simply playing music that he loves the most.
“It’s all a really happy accident, I mean, we didn’t go out to get all this stuff, we just went out to play shows, we’d still be playing just as much if we were out playing to five people or five thousand, it really doesn’t matter to us, we just love playing,’ he affirms.
The band’s success has seen them garnering attention from major record labels and scoring festival spots as a result of the significant success of their first LP Nobody Gets Lost Anymore, which saw the band have to make a decision on what label they would release Sunshine & Technology on, which Wagner described as a decision the band didn’t approach lightly.
“We took the attention seriously, we didn’t want to say ‘oh we’re a fucking punk band we don’t want to speak to anyone’,” admits the frontman. “we spoke to a lot of people we really respected but as soon as we set down and let everything sink in it ended up making a lot more sense to stay where we can continue to be ourselves” Wagner acknowledges.
“As soon as you are on a bigger label there are constraints that naturally come with that; like we don’t get to decide when the record is released or how many shows we play, and that’s sort of just the band that we are”.
The approach has certainly paid dividends for The Smith Street Band, as their constant touring and releasing of music has seen their reputation nationwide continue on a steady incline, particularly in the past year.
Despite this Wagner is not afraid to admit that aside from international tours and record label contracts, the band and his own motivation is purely a consequence of his love for playing music for other people to enjoy, a subject he highlights with obvious sincerity.
“You don’t really know a song until you have seen people react to it, playing for people is really our bread and butter, we played in Tassie the other weekend and within about ten seconds of getting on stage I just felt like; oh that’s right, this is what we fucking do!” the singer/songwriter declares.
“We do a lot of press stuff and phone interviews, which is fine and fun, but you sort of forget a bit about what it is you’re actually doing, and then you get onto a stage and it’s this totally elated feeling… ideally we would try and play live every single day for the rest of our lives if we could.”
And here’s to hoping they do.
The Smith Street Band are producing raw, honest and competent folk punk with a degree of musicianship and care they defies its genre signifiers, but speaking to Wagner, it’s easy to see why he is making no attempts to fit a mould, and no apologies for what it is that The Smith Street Band are creating.
As their popularity continues to grow, and Australia exports them overseas to conquer foreign shores with their notorious live performances, it seems that Wil Wagner and his four bandmates are in it for both the long haul, and for all the right reasons.
Sunshine And Technology is out now through Poison City Records. Read the Tone Deaf verdict here. The Smith Street Band are also supporting Lagwagon on their upcoming Australian tour, details here; then Pyramid Rock Festival for New Year’s. Full dates and details here.