Weathering the vicissitudes of a never-ending touring/recording cycle, the Aussie rockers wound up delivering the album of their lives with Throw Me in the River.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Don’t be fooled by the innocuous moniker. Australia’s Smith Street Band may just be the best thing going in punk music right now. Through blistering, distorted guitars and the thunder of heavy drumming, Wil Wagner somehow manages to make his striking, often personal lyrics heard over the noise, like a modern day Joe Strummer forcing a message of defiance and perseverance in sweaty basements and crammed theaters.
The band may have held down the opening slot on a recent run of Frank Turner shows across continents, but they managed to convert his crowd about two songs in, night after night, city after city. They seem to be on a never-ending touring and recording cycle, having put out three full lengths and an EP since 2011, and are just about to turn in their latest album, Throw Me in the River, arguably their finest moment in the studio yet.
The record was produced by friend, labelmate and longtime DIY punk staple Jeff Rosenstock (best known for Bomb the Music Industry). It also marks their move from Asian Man Records to SideOneDummy.
Wagner spoke recently about the new record, writing on the road and future plans for world takeover.
BLURT: How did the move from Asian Man to SideOneDummy happen?
WIL WAGNER: Before we came to the States with Frank Turner we looked around for someone to put out our record and all wanted Asian Man to do it. I still remember the first time I saw an Asian Man logo on one of our records as one of the proudest moments of my life! Mike [Park, founder] at Asian Man always said they’ll put out our stuff but would be 100 percent supportive if someone bigger came along. He still helps us out with lots of stuff and we ended up being able to release two albums and an EP through them which I’m so happy about. Him and Bob who do everything there are two of the most fucking amazing people. But we ended up speaking to a few other labels for Throw Me in the River and we’re all totally enamored with SideOneDummy already because so many bands we love have done stuff with them and it was a pretty easy decision.
You worked with Jeff Rosenstock for this record. Did you know him from Asian Man?
We had actually toured with Jeff twice in Australia, once with his iPod and once with Bomb The Music Industry, and became really close over that time. We all really love his music, especially the way he creates soundscapes and layers instruments. He also has an amazing sense of melody. It wasn’t really that we wanted someone to “produce” the album, if Jeff hadn’t have been able to do it we probably wouldn’t have got anyone, but we just wanted Jeff and his ideas around while we wrote and he had a massive influence on the record.
He’s done some very cool things for DIY punk over the years. Did you guys ever talk about the current state of the punk and music industries or discuss philosophies?
Not really. We both have similar morals and ideas but those conversations tend to happen at three in the morning after a show rather than in the studio. We just spoke about music pretty much constantly, we spent five weeks living together first at a house in a tiny town called Forrest outside of Melbourne where we recorded and then at Miner Street Studios where we mixed the album and we were always just playing each other bands and talking about the songs we were making. We did lots of 10-12 hour days so when we were finally done it would just be dumb jokes and beers.
What was he like to work with compared to your other times in the studio?
Really amazing. I didn’t even really know what a producer was until we started working with Jeff, but now I want him to be there for everything we record. His ideas for the songs were fantastic and we were all super comfortable with each other after touring together so much. He also wrote lots of the strings, piano and harmonies on the record, he’s a fucking genius really!
I saw you guys tour with Frank Turner in the U.S. earlier this year and then you headed back home and toured some more. Was it tough to find time to write and record for this album?
I basically do all of my writing on the road now. I tend to just find myself a corner in the band room and scribble stuff down, try and record little bits and pieces as much as I can so I can work on stuff in the van and then do a bunch of demos when there’s an acoustic guitar around for everyone to listen to. Even for the next record I think I have 12 new demos to play the other guys on this tour and even if we can’t practice at least have the songs in our heads. We normally do our writing in big chunks before we record, like work on songs at rehearsals and sound checks then all bunker down for a few weeks and jam every day and finely tune everything.
There was a pretty strong theme of perseverance in last year’s Don’t Fuck with Our Dreams. Is there a general theme that runs through the songs on Throw Me in the River?
It’s probably a bit more of a break up record than the last two and that theme runs pretty strong. I guess lots of stuff about missing people and being alone, a fair bit about touring. I think this album is maybe a bit more internal than the others if that makes sense? A bit less about partying and a bit more about self-reflection and watching yourself and other people change.
What’s next for the band?
We have just started a European tour with The Menzingers and the Holy Mess, then head to the states for Fest and a quick east coast run with Restorations, then back home for our Australian album launch tour with The Front Bottoms and Apologies, I Have None. We’re booking a long tour through February ‘til May-ish next year that will see us go pretty much everywhere as well.