The Smith Street Band can tell you exactly what they’re doing in 2015. For a band borne simply out of Wil Wagner’s need some five years ago to expand on his bedroom-dwelling ideas, it’s an especially peculiar thing to be booked out for the foreseeable future – and no-one is more aware of this than Wagner himself.
“Mate, there was a time where I couldn’t have even told you what I was doing next fucking week!” he laughs. “It’s totally unexpected – the success that this band has gotten is never what we set out to achieve. It was never the intention of the band originally to get to this point. I’m really happy about where we are – and, without meaning to sound too arrogant, I’m proud of us. We haven’t left Poison City [Records, the band’s independent label]; we haven’t done money grabs or anything like that. We’ve always stuck to our guns about being a really hard-working band, trying to make everything we release the best music that we can make and every show the best show we can play. It’s so great to see that paying off.”
2013 was easily Wagner’s busiest year on record as a musician. A solo LP, Laika, dropped in the year’s first quarter, while a five-track EP with The Smith Street Band, Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams, followed in August. Under both solo and Smith Street guises, Wagner lapped the country several times before heading to North America and Europe for his band’s most extensive international tour to date. From theatre shows with Frank Turner to club shows with Apologies, I Have None, the band explored a substantial portion of the world abroad, including some places it had never had the chance to play before.
“It was really cool to see the response we got over there,” says Wagner. “For the shows in the UK, we started out opening and ended up as the headliners after a couple of shows. There were a lot of people there – it felt like touring Australia a year ago or something. With the Frank [Turner] tour, it was really interesting. His fan base is very different in various places. In places like New York, Philly and Chicago, a lot of those fans had been with him since the first album. There were some places, though, that only knew the new stuff, given he’s just hit radio properly over there. So it was difficult to know what the crowds were going to be like. We went down really well in Florida, though, which was unexpected, and Salt Lake City was one of the best shows of the entire tour.
“Detroit was incredible,” Wagner continues, barely pausing for air. “That was the most inspiring city that we visited just because of all the shit that’s going on over there. The city is bankrupt and bits of it are falling apart, but the people that have stayed want to rebuild and they are proud of where they are from. They refuse to let the car companies take them down – they are here to drag themselves out of the wreckage. Apart from maybe [Florida’s] Fest, that was probably my favourite show of the tour.”
Through its touring, the band has managed to unlock a global community of like-minded punks and DIY aficionados. Wagner and co. have been able to return the favour several times to international bands, bringing over opening acts such as Restorations, Bomb The Music Industry!, Joyce Manor and Cheap Girls on their last few Australian tours. The set-up will continue for The Smith Street Band’s March tour, for which they have enlisted the help of Philadelphian act The Menzingers. Wagner feels it’s very important to keep this community circulating and travelling through one another’s cities, towns and countries.
“A lot of the bands that we’ve brought out to play on tour with us probably couldn’t do an Australian tour on their own, just because it’s so expensive to get here. They’re also bands that we love and are really inspired by – Bomb The Music Industry! may be my favourite band of all time. It’s a matter of opening up the Australian community to the world, and vice versa. We’ve been talking to The Menzingers about doing some stuff in different places now… it really makes me feel lucky that we’re able to do this. It’s never about expecting anything in return, it’s about wanting to help out bands that we dig and getting the chance to see them play every night.”
Wagner is reluctant to say whether we will hear any new songs on the upcoming tour, but he does confirm that both new solo and Smith Street material will be released in 2014. “We’re going to try and record around the middle of the year,” he says of the third Smith Street Band album. “With any luck, we’ll be able to have it out by the end of the year. We’ll be doing a few fun things with the album that we might not have been able to do last time. The material is nearly there, it’s just a matter of plotting out the time to get it down on record.” As for his next solo album? “Technically, I could be making it right now,” he says. “But I just wanna fucking sleep!”
Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams out now through Poison City Records.