THE SMITH STREET BAND
Written by Chris Langenberg
The Smith Street Band has been a huge part of my life for a very long time. So when they accepted the invitation to take a disposable camera around the country and overseas I was so overly excited. I recently had a chance to talk to Wil about the recording and motives of upcoming album, More Scared of You Than You Are of Me, as well as being able to touch on The Smith Street Band’s newly founded record label Pool House Records.
I have always wondered, In ‘Death To The Lads’, who exactly is the “lads”? Are you singing about masculinity as a cultural thing or do you mean the people that wear bum bags, etc.
I’m singing about everyone, in my head “the lads” are us, society and maybe men in society I guess. I think people just have to grow up a little bit, and with growing up people become more empathetic and understand people a bit more and you can treat people a bit better. I think the song is more about growing up and changing, maybe not so much about punching a lad, people will take lots of different meanings from it I guess. But it is also a jab at overtly masculine culture and that sort of Mucho man ideal that none of us have ever bought into or been a part of. But on the whole its about men in society need to be doing a bit of changing and growing for the betterment of the rest of society.
I saw the photos of where you recorded and it looks incredible, but was there any other motive to record the album in California or was it purely the location?
Yeah it was basically just that place, when we did the last record called Throw Me In The River in 2014 we rented out a holiday house in rural Victoria and set up a studio in it. It was incredibly beneficial to be living where you’re recording I guess. You’re constantly in it and constantly thinking about it and constantly making music with a lot less outside distractions. So basically we wanted to replicate that experience except instead of setting up our own studio we wanted to do it at a proper studio with a big nice Neve desk. Jeff Rosenstock, our producer found Panoramic House in an ad on the back of Tape Op magazine and it all kind of went from there. But it was such an amazing place.
That was the first record you had done outside of Australia, how was it compared to the last record which was recorded at Forrest?
It was very isolated, recording in Forrest we were in a small town but the house we recorded in was in the centre of town. Whereas, we recorded this record at Stinson Beach which is about an hour drive North from San Fransisco and yeah, there wasn’t a lot of stuff around, you kind of had to wait until the next day to drive to the Whole Foods 45 minutes away because it was in such a remote location. Also being in America, the thought of being able to make a record in California.. I don’t know, it kind of makes you think you’re a cool person and it adds a bit of excitement to it all. But yeah, it sort of felt similar to how I think the record is. It felt like a natural progression and we wanted to do something a bit more ambitious. We always want to grow as a band every time we release something because we wanted the latest thing we release to be the best. But yeah, it seemed like the perfect place to do it and it was, I am so glad we worked there.
How do you ever find time to write songs with the band? It seems like when you go on tour it is a huge tour followed by another huge tour, do you write much in the studio or is it write as you go?
It is very much pre-written, I am constantly writing songs and lyrics, I just love writing I guess, so it is never hard for me to come up with stuff or write something new. So for this record we basically got home from a tour and took a couple of weeks off then booked a rehearsal room for 5 weeks or so and jammed every day. From mid-day onwards every day we would be in there writing and re-writing and rehearsing and getting everything up to scratch. We kind of packed it in to a short amount of time. But at the same time, because we tour so much we have soundcheck at every show so we have like 45 minutes if you want once you are plugged in and set up. So if I have been sitting in the van writing something I am really stocked on, I would start playing the riff in soundcheck and say hey, these are the chords, lets try write a verse and a chorus while the drums are setting up. So yeah, you can always find time to squeeze it in, and we all love doing it so it is easy.
So from reading the bio for this album, it sounds like it is very dark and touches on lots of personal details. Your songs have helped so many people including myself get out of horrible mental states which is incredible, but how are you feeling prior to this particular release? are you nervous to put yourself out there?
I’m not to be honest, it feels quite selfish but to me music is a very personal thing and when we make the record I just want to like it. It sounds like a lie but I really don’t think of anyone else when I am making music, and I do that because if I started thinking about other people I think a lot of the honesty and immediacy of my music would go away. I think if I can help people with my lyrics by singing about mental health then I can help other people, but if I sat down and said “I am going to write a song right now that sums up anxiety perfectly” then it would just sound shit and forced. I mean it is kind of daunting, there are some songs on the record that are pretty embarrassing, but I also know that if I have felt things then I know a lot of other people out there have felt them too and I am very lucky to have been gifted this opportunity to be in this band. As much as it is daunting to say some of these things I am very lucky that anyone is hearing me talk at all. So I will always try to say things that might help other people even if it is a bit difficult for me to say it.
Did you work much with the artist who has done all of the artworks for the new releases? Is there a meaning behind the no faced character?
Yeah that is our friend Stephen Baker he has done lots of great stuff for us, he is a fucking genius. He is a very, very talented successful artist in Melbourne. He helped us out with the Sunshine and Technology cover and I think the No One Gets Lost Anymore cover too. Chris (our drummer) and him got together for that. But yeah, the character on the front can mean a lot of things I guess, originally it was going to be a photo of me naked, I guess. To try and convey how raw and emotional the album was and we just thought, well that is a pretty fucking obvious example of the album through the cover. So we took lots of really awkward photos of me sort’ve covering my junk with my hand and then naturally after spending about an hour of doing an incredibly embarrassing photoshoot no one wanted to use that photo and I was like well fuck sake why did I have to go through that. So then we came up with the idea of the photo of me where Stephen has just painted over me. So I guess there is a kind of theme because the album charts a relationship but there is another theme running through the record and there is a line at the end of the record talking about the building of a person and how with this album and all the other albums it is about the things I have gone through and all the things that have happened to me, be it good or bad but it has all gone into making who I am. So that is the painting on the cover to me, I think it means a couple of different things to different people and I know it means something totally different to Steve. But to me it is all the different colours and the misshape and the lines are like a stained glass that comes together to make a person. Also the little gaps and holes within it can represent your flaws and also your good side and whatnot, it all gets smashed together to make a person.
Where did the idea for the Birthdays video originate from?
That was all Neil! Neil is just a talented guy who does all of our film clips and we had a meeting with him and said we needed a bunch of different video clips for the album and that was when we came up with the idea of having our mums for the Death To The Lads film clip and we were talking about that and it was so exciting. Then he basically said I have got this idea about a robot character who is sort of like a surrogate parent but it is kind of vague and it is up to audiences imagination a little bit. But yeah he basically explained it really well and sold it to us. We were all pretty stoked to let him go for it.
Yeah, that film clip is great and that song is so incredible, I love it so much. It is also really awesome that Jess Locke is singing on it as well.
Oh thanks man! Yeah she is the fucking best, she has been getting up and singing it with me live when we play solo shows and she would sing at the Melbourne shows. She is so awesome and is such a lovely, talented person. Also, she just finished recording an album and it is really fucking good. I have been lucky enough to have been able to listen to the mixes and yeah it is just awesome.
How has it been running your own label?
Ah, yeah it has been good, it has been stressful but it has been kind of everything we expected it to be. You could never imagine how many little things go into doing a label, you know? We have to pick what kind of plastic goes on the outside of record covers, like do you want it shrink wrap, do you want it dust plastic, this one will be slightly cheaper but it doesn’t protect it as well… Just things like that where I am like, fucking hell I never thought I would have to spend an hour thinking about this. We are constantly busy it is very much a full time job. But yeah the first time holding the record and it has our little logo on the back, it’s a pretty cool feeling. And seeing people I don’t know wearing Pool House Records shirts and I just want to go up to them and hug them and say “how did you know about this?! Thank you so much”. It is pretty special and it is something that we have talked about forever, halfway through this record we decided that this would be the best time and we all believed in what we were doing and believed in what we were putting together. But yeah it has been exciting it is like a life after touring thing as well. We have been playing pretty hard for many years and I think we have lot of good years in us, but we will have to slow down eventually and I would love to help discover and promote talented people and our talented friends. There are lots of people that I know around Melbourne- I mean, Jess Locke is the perfect example of someone that doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit for the music they do and that is like a role that we would be filling. I would love to use some of our success to promote people that really deserve it.
Are you planning many more releases on Pool House? What kind of music are you looking to represent?
Yeah we are absolutely planning on doing more stuff! We have made one singing (Jess Locke) and we have been talking to some other bands. Smith Street has kind of taken over in the last few weeks, we haven’t been doing a huge amount of shopping around. But I would love it to take more of a focus in 5 or 10 years and make it a full time job for all 4 of us. When we were on Poison City, especially in the early days for us it was a really special time when Poison City was a new thing and we got to grow with that label. Watching Andy (from Poison City) work and the way that he works and generates a community around music is hugely inspiring for us. It would be pretty amazing to have this roster of 10 or 15 bands and everyone could play with each other and tour with each other, it would be pretty special.
But we are not trying to be particularly genre focussed I guess, from the bands we have already spoken to. For me, I have a rule where I am not interested in a band that has done more photo shoots than tours. But yeah, basically we are interested in nice hard working people. Bands that are going to work and are going to tour and are enthusiastic and friendly and stuff, that is as important as the music to me. We were talking to one band and I think they are going to be huge but we just didn’t quite click on a personal level and that is a lot more important to me, even though I know in one year they are going to be fucking massive, but I just think they would click better with other people and that is completely fine, all power to them. We offer a quite different specific and I think if people get that, then that is fucking awesome but if people don’t get that, I completely understand. We just want to work with likeminded people, you know?
Thanks so much Wil!
My pleasure, thanks for talking to me!
The Smith Street Band's new record 'More Scared of You Than You Are of Me' is released April 7th through Pool House Records.
// THE SMITH STREET BAND //