This interview was originally conducted on behalf of and published via Speaker TV and available here
Following a distant weekender in our mainlands and the lesser loved Tasmania, I found myself tired as I picked up the phone. It was a pleasant morning and an excitement had gotten the better of me, pacing back and forth before picking up the phone. Within three short rings, I was suddenly deep in discussions with Will Wagner; a name practically synonymous with the Melbourne music. Better known as the driving force and vocalist behind The Smith Street Band, Will and friends had recent been packing and traveling across Australia for their St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. Discussing plans for the music festival between shows, we found ourselves chatting about life off tour and the overarching sedative powers of FIFA.
So Will, when you’re not on tour what are your typical morning rituals?
Not much really, sort of hang out at home drink a lot of coffee play a lot of guitar, play a lot of video games. Nothing all that interesting when I am not on tour – I probably should get more of a social life but I am usually so fucked from the tour; day to day pretty much is just hanging out with my girlfriend and playing video games.
What are your favourite video games to unwind with?
I play a lot of FIFA – I find it really meditative in a weird way. That and Far Cry.
In the rare amount of downtime you do have, what is your favourite local venue to see bands at?
The Rev or Old Bar. I visit both of those like once a week when I am home. But again neither of them offer FIFA facilities so…
What is your favourite place to eat when you’re home in Melbourne?
Well, I live in Footscray, so there’s a real population of recent immigrants which means there’s so much good food. I love eating at The Rev they have some really good stuff. Sapa Hills is this really good Vietnamese place in Footscray. Smith and Daughters and Smith and Deli are two really good places in Fitzroy/Collingwood amidst that area just near Brunswick Street – they’re totally vegan and just incredible places – Smith and Deli opened last year and it’s like a New York style deli that does all vegan food. The first time I went there I bought a sandwich – the buffalo tofu chicken thing while I was doing a seminar thing across the road, and I just sat out the front and ate it and I was like I think I need to go buy this again to eat for dinner it’s so good. The whole aesthetic of the place is just so awesome, they really nailed it.
What are three things you cannot live without?
A guitar nearby at all times, I am quite a fidgety person and it’s pretty much the only thing I can stand still and focus on. Coffee at all times I seem to need like 15 cups to stay alive throughout a day and embarrassingly my Phone; I really like to listen to podcasts it’s another thing I would really struggle with if I wasn’t able to put my headphones in tune everything out and listen to two brattish people talk about soccer for an hour and a half. It calms me down in a way that music kinda doesn’t now. they would be my three things.
“I like listening to something that I have no idea how the fuck they managed to put this beat [and entire track] together…”
Evidentially, some of your Tasmanian fans have likened The Smith Street Band to likes of the Foo Fighters. Who would you identify to be some of your biggest musical influences?
Bruce Springsteen is kinda what made me want to start and Against Me both are probably like the biggest influences on my life and my music – Both bands continue to be amazing and inspiring in so many different ways. I also listen to a lot of hip-hop. I find good hip-hop that’s not just like “I’ve got guns, I’ve got cars.” Good hip-hop that’s got a story to tell is very fascinating, it gives a really cool insight into growing up in an environment where I didn’t grow up in. For this I love artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Run The Jewels – them and Kendrick are like my two favourite things to listen to at the moment. Astronautalis is also great. I find interesting storytelling hip-hop fascinating. I really like listening to that kind of music because I have no idea how it was made – listening to punk rock is sick but you can hear – oh, that’s this kind of guitar and that’s this kind of amp – but I like listening to something that I have no idea how the fuck they managed to put this beat together with this sample from an old soul song and how this old Knarl Rodgers guitar lick. All this stuff that they can smash together to make something so cohesive.
You were asked to sign a car a while back. What is some of the strangest things fans have asked to have signed?
The car was pretty good, I don’t know it’s always just like t-shirts and ads, I don’t know if anything can quite stick out as much as someone just asking if they can pull their car around the back. I’ve written things on people which they’ve then got tattooed on them which is pretty crazy Like written things in my handwriting and they’ve then gone the next day and got it tattooed on them which is pretty fucking insane – that would probably be the other thing that stands out.
I remember this one time a girl wanted me to write this big thing on her arm and the only thing we could find was a really big fat sharpie and i felt like I fucked it up- like aw fuck do you want me to do it again like we could wash your arm and start again – then she got it tattooed and it looks cool. It’s always a lot of pressure like halfway through writing something someone’s like I’m going to get this tattooed on me tomorrow, like fuck why didn’t you tell me this beforehand; what if haven’t spelt anything right?
Is there a mental process you go through in the lead up to such intense stints of touring such as your upcoming USA tour?
Not really, there probably should be, but it’s pretty much still just jam continuously. We’re writing a new album at the moment so pretty much every day we’ve been home rehearsing that and rehearsing for Laneway’s set. Trying to write songs for the album, we pretty much just try to do that everyday cause we all kind of organise everything ourselves; we’ll just spend too much time texting each other trying to get all this shit together and sort everything out, but we probably should go on some kinda like spiritual retreat before we go on tour. You know, not talk to each other for a few days before we spend every single waking second sitting in each others pockets.
With such lyric based music what are your means of countering any writer’s block you may face?
I think sometimes you can write and sometimes you can’t. Like my thing is I try to write every day even if it’s just generic and really crappy dribble – which I am sure some people say abut all my songs, but I try to just get something out every single day just so you have a bit of momentum when you do have a good idea. Once you start saying I can’t write anything you can’t write anything: then you actually can’t write anything. I’ll try and churn out lyrics constantly and then even if I write every day for two weeks and there’s one phrase in there that’s usable then cool; I got something out of that two weeks of writing.
While sometimes you write a song and it’s done in like five minutes – like ‘Surrender’, you know, the songs that got played on the radio that just fell out in 10 minutes – then you sit there with a guitar and are just like “where the fuck did that come from? Why can’t I do that again?”
What acts are you most excited to catch at Laneway?
Royal Headache and Battles are probably the two bands I am most excited to see but haven’t seen. Royal Headache are a band I like and have loved since their first record came out; I have never got the chance to see them and they’re supposed to be like phenomenal. I am also looking forward to seeing High Tension and Violent Soho, it’s going to be great to hang with them and watch them all across the country – they’re both some of the loudest, impactful bands in Australia so they’ll both be great to see as well as Fidlar and, of course, Purity Ring.
“At this point staying sane is pretty much my goal for 2016.”
How do you think 2016 will compare to 2015?
I think it will be a bit less hectic, we would have done nearly 200 shows, with lots of big chunks. We’d be on tour for like four months, doing Australia straight into America straight into Europe which was cool but we really needed to take a bit of time away from each other and a bit of time off. We’re just finishing that now and we’re going to try to write, record and release an album hopefully this year- if not at the start of next year.
We’ve got some more Australian and European touring in the pipelines for later in the year but we’re going really try and bunker down for a few months and go somewhere nice and spend a big chunk of time recording – that’s sorta my favourite part of being in a band and is something I’m really looking forward to doing. But yeah, hopefully in 2016 we’ll try to stay chill but knowing us we’ll probably just say yes to everything and end up playing a bunch of shows. At this point staying sane is pretty much my goal for 2016.
And finally – What can fans expect from your new album?
In my head, it’s like heavier and darker, but that’s what everyone says when they’re writing a new album like, “yeah it’s louder heavier and darker than the last one”, and then it sounds the exactly the same, so… probably it will sound exactly the same (laughs). But I don’t know – my goal for the record is that I want extra instrumentation, I want to work with a composer and have songs where it’s like no one in the bands playing and it’s just a string section and piano and work on that kind of dynamic. Just make it a bit more interesting and less like guitar driven by adding bits with string sections and horn sections and orchestras by themselves – knowing us however it will be like ‘Throw Me In The River’ again and hopefully people will like it.