Despite perpetual touring at home and now making inroads overseas, The Smith Street Band have managed to put forth a steady stream of recorded material, harbouring potent ammunition for their raucous live performances. Recording for latest LP Throw Me In The River saw the boys retreat to a secluded location in rural Victoria, accommodating their most spacious recording yet, and imbuing frontman Wil Wagner’s penchant for shout-along anthems with potent fresh air. Ahead of the band’s European run of dates, Wagner speaks on the album’s genesis.
Even with the success of The Smith Street Band’s 2013 EP Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams gaining an influx of new followers, it’s difficult for Wagner to place Throw Me In The River as a follow-up to that release or its full-length predecessor Sunshine & Technology. “I’ve never really thought about it like that,” he says. “We recorded Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams live in a couple of days. It was all quite immediate, with recent songs all about the same topic. That was because we didn’t have time to make a record. That seems like a fun thing we can do – an album one year, then a live-recorded EP the next year when we don’t have time to make a record. I think this is the first full-length we’ve made with the band we’ve had for the past couple of years, where we’ve been a four-piece. We haven’t actually made a record like that. I wouldn’t consider it a follow-up.”
The thematic elements of Throw Me In The River often touch on darker territory, but are imbued by a perspective of past tense – with triumph winning out both lyrically and in songcraft. “I have quite bad anxiety and depression, and I’ll write when I’m in a bad state as a way of dealing with it, like a therapeutic kind of thing,” says Wagner. “I guess a lot of the darkness comes from dark times. There are a few things I might not have been that comfortable talking about on past records – sadness and depression – but I feel I should talk about it, because I’d like to make our music honest. Maybe other people can relate to it. It’s definitely darker. There are things on the record about a specific break-up, so that might be a case of looking back. I’m older and more experienced, so you’re writing about past experiences more rather than about going out and getting fucked up with your mates. There is more sadness on the record, but that also comes from being on tour so much and away from home.
“I’m someone who needs to be alone sometimes, otherwise I can be an arsehole to everyone around me for no reason. I grab those chances on tour where I have ten minutes to myself to pound something into my phone or scribble something on a serviette. Some of those darker lines might come from when I’m desperate.”
Maintaining a steady prolific streak, Wagner manages to write whenever the opportunity arises, even under duress. “I definitely struggle with writer’s block,” he confesses. “I try to write every day, a portion of a song, either a verse or a chorus. But even if I’m writing something and it’s shit, it’s still good to keep up that habit so when something good does come, a riff or a chorus idea, I can make better use of them. Like stretching before a game of footy, you need to have those muscles ready when you have that moment of inspiration where it’s like, ‘Fuck, I need to get these lyrics down now.’
“I tend to write quite maniacally. A lot of the songs on the record started out as fucking ten-minute stories with two chords underneath them and then I’ll whittle them down. There was one song that was so long I split it into two things. Every idea I have I try to write down. I’m always trying to figure out new ways to play chords; there’s always a guitar within arm’s reach all day. I would write as much as I did even if I wasn’t in the band. It’s my hobby as well as my job. I fucking love everything about playing guitar. I’m lucky that I enjoy it all as much as I do.”
Recording in an idyllic Otways hideaway in the Victorian community of Forrest, the band relished the surrounds, bringing along fully realised songs to record. “We actually did the drums before we went out to Forrest. You can do everything in a temporary studio except drums – you need a lot of space and microphones. We did the drums at Sing Sing in Melbourne, which is a really nice studio, then took those tracks out to Forrest. All the songs were written, maybe a few lyrical changes happened. But the environment and amount of time we had was a massive thing. You could fret over a guitar part for two hours, then you could just walk up a hill, look at a kangaroo, then think, ‘Fuck, who cares?’ instead of freaking out at 3am in a studio about a guitar part you know you can play but can’t at that moment for some reason.
“Recording is so fucking stressful if you let it be so fucking stressful. It was such a beautiful space – the whole town was incredible, giving us baked goods, letting us ride on the local fire truck. It was just crazy; it couldn’t have been a better country town experience. I think we’ll try and record everything we do now in that house,” Wagner says. “It was perfect.”