The Smith Street Band on stripping things back on new album, Wagner’s lyrical prowess and touring regionally

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The Smith Street Band on stripping things back on new album, Wagner’s lyrical prowess and touring regionally

Credit: Ian Laidlaw
Words by Alex Callan

Wil Wagner & co have kicked off their regional tour, taking to Torquay, Ballarat, Macedon and more with their energetic stage show and some killer tunes.

Things that are entrenched in Australian pub rock culture: Drinking Melbourne Bitter Tinnies at The Tote; knowing to respond ‘No way, get fucked, fuck off” to the Angels ‘Am I Ever Going to See Your Face Again’; and The Smith Street Band.

Over the last decade, The Smith Street Band haven’t just dominated the pub rock circuit, they’ve defined their permanent spot in the history books. After touring relentlessly and constantly releasing albums both under The Smith Street Band and in varying solo projects, the group haven’t just embraced a hard-working DIY ethos, they’ve truly lived it.

Keep up with the latest music news, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

With the group currently hard at work on album number six, which is being recorded at their home-grown studio in regional Victoria in between a string of tour dates, we thought it would be the perfect time to catch up with the group’s guitarist Lee Hartney to find out how it’s shaping up and in particular, if the new material is headed in the same synth-orientated direction that their previous album Don’t Waste Your Anger took. Peaking at number one on the ARIA Charts, Don’t Waste Your Anger featured more electronic elements than the previous albums, showing the band’s departure from their previously Punk rock sound.

“Nah, this is actually kind of the opposite,” laughs Hartney.

“I’m sure if you spoke to the different guys in the band, everyone would probably describe the songs in a different way. But for me, this album has gone way simpler. In a lot of ways, it’s gone way back to the sound of our first or second album.”

The band’s debut album, No One Gets Lost Anymore was released in July 2011 via Poison City Records, and received critical acclaim in Melbourne, hailed as one of the best Aussie albums at the time due to their infectious sound melding high energy punk-rock, elements of 90’s indie-rock and a distinct story-telling style of vocals. The strong debut was followed up by the thought-provoking, fist-pumping Sunshine and Technology merely a year later in 2012.

“We are more just trying to have some fun with it, rather than stressing and trying to make this, you know, amazing album in a way. We are more like, let’s just sort of go, strip it back, have some fun, just do what we used to do.

“We just do what feels right at the time. I don’t see why any band really ever should have to think that they have to do a certain sound. This record can sound like this, the next one can sound like something completely different.

“You can do whatever you want really; you shouldn’t have anyone over the top of you telling you that you need to sound a certain way or do a certain thing, you just do what feels right, and what you’re having fun with.”

When asked about why Hartney feels The Smith Street Band are constantly changing their sound, he put it down to one thing: Wagner’s poetic and earnest lyricism.

“Our band is so strongly lyrically driven. I think with the lyrics that Wil writes, he could do that over the top of any music. And that’s the thing that people really relate to,” he explains.

“From the beginning, we’ve always had slower songs and heavier songs on all of our albums, but I think the thing is that it all ties it together through the lyrics. So, even if we did something that was musically an electronic song or something like that, it’s not going to it lose fans because I think just the lyrics are the thing that connects with people so much.

“I don’t think we’d really lose people that much if we drastically changed our sound, but even if we did, I don’t think we’re ever going to really change anything too crazy.

“It’s always sort of going to be us, it might just be a trumpet playing a guitar line instead of a guitar, that sort of vibe.”

Off the back of their newest digital single released late last year, a live version of ‘I Still Dream About You’ recorded with The Brisbane Symphony Orchestra, The Smith Street Band will be setting off on a Regional Victorian tour.

With a show at the Palais in Hepburn Springs already under their belt, the band are set to return for a second show on Friday, April 22, before heading to Macedon, Torquay, Ballarat, Traralgon, and Frankston before capping off their tour in San Remo with a massive show at Westernport Hotel on Friday, May 13.

Going from playing house parties, storm drains and pretty much anything in between to being one of the most energised and talked about punk-rock bands in Australia over the past 10 years, the tour will see the band stopping in at a handful of venues that they haven’t previously played. This time around we will be lucky enough to catch them in venues such as the revered Torquay Hotel and the Railway Hotel in Macedon.

“We hadn’t played that side of Victoria as much, and we had some free time in our recording schedule so we thought, let’s just do it. Let’s try it.”

The Smith Street Band Victorian Regional Tour

Friday, April 22 – Palais, Hepburn Spring

Saturday, April 23 – Railway Hotel, Macedon

Friday, April 29 – Torquay Hotel, Torquay

Saturday, April 30 – Volta, Ballarat

Friday, May 6 – Kay Street, Traralgon

Saturday, May 7 – Pier Bandroom, Frankston

Friday, May 13 – Westernport Hotel, San Remo

Tickets are on sale now via the band website