Words by Natalie Blacklock
When this reviewer isn’t writing for Good Call Live, she’s at the front of a classroom teaching English to a bunch of high schoolers. One might say it’s an interesting intersection of life and art, but I think it’s exactly the reason that explains why The Smith Street Band’s music hits so damn hard – that connection between life and art which the band creates so well. Since their formation 10 years ago, The Smith Street Band have built their reputation on deeply personal, heart-on-the-sleeve lyricism teemed with incredibly powerful and intensely passionate live shows, which has seen their rise and rise over the years both here and overseas. Frontman Wil Wagner, the son of authors himself, doesn’t rely on complex linguistic mastery in his songwriting but writes in such a way that allows the listener to feel like they could have written the words themselves; making every line feel personal to a bunch of different people all at once. Put simply, The Smith Street Band know how to make you feel something – even if you didn’t know it yet.
The Smith Street Band are:
Wil Wagner – Vocals / Guitar
Lee Hartney – Guitar
Michael “Fitzy” Fitzgerald – Bass
Jess Locke – Guitar
Lucy Wilson – Keyboards / Percussion / Guitar
Matt Bodiam – Drums
Since the release of their 4th studio record ‘More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me’ in 2017, The Smith Street Band have been extremely busy! They’ve built their own studio, Bush House Studios, which operates entirely off-grid, located in regional Victoria where they’ve already worked on two separate full-length albums (the 2nd is set to be released this year too!). In addition, Frontman Wil Wagner headed out on a solo tour last August to ‘roadtest’ a bunch of new TSSB material, Lucy Wilson tackled first time parenting head-on and even took daughter Helki (along with husband Jules Rozenbergs from The Bennies) out on tour with the band late last year! More recently, TSSB put out their first ever live release, recorded at the second show of two-night sold out run at Brisbane’s The Triffid in September 2019. Aptly titled Live At The Triffid, it was released exclusively on Bandcamp to raise funds for the band’s crew who found themselves out of work due to the current Coronavirus pandemic. To top it off, last week The Smith Street Band made the surprise announcement that they’d brought forward the release of their 5th record ‘Don’t Waste Your Anger’, produced and mixed by none other than TSSB Bassist, Michael “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. In light of the Coronavirus outbreak, the band said that “instead of sitting on these songs for who knows how long, we’d release it now”. The album is available digitally today – April 17th, with the physical release date slated for June 5th via the band’s label, Pool House Records.
‘DON’T WASTE YOUR ANGER’ TRACK LISTING:
- God Is Dead
- Big Smoke
- I Still Dream About You
- Dirty Water
- The End of The World
- Losing It
- It’s OK
- Heaven Eleven
- Don’t Waste Your Anger
Opening the album is God Is Dead and it’s clear that honest and stripped back is the order of the day with this one. With hard-hitting lyrics which tear at the heartstrings of the listener, Frontman Wagner alludes to his personal battles of the last few years, even going as far as referencing his thankfully unsuccessful suicide attempt. Although on the surface, the song speaks of pessimism, it offers an air of hope through Wagner’s narrative style of songwriting. Like many Smith Street Band songs, Big Smoke is a genuinely personal one; inspired by Wagner’s indulgence in Melbourne alt-country outfit, Big Smoke, fronted by the late Adrian Slattery. The track about “…moving to the bush, falling in love, living somewhere it snows for the first time, only owning one pair of nice pants, smashing a telecaster on stage when I wasn’t dealing with things very well and being insecure” was a fitting first single from the record – and if the combined guitar sounds coming from Wagner, Jess Locke and Lee Hartney are anything to go by, we’re in for a treat.
I Still Dream About You, is the second and most recent single to be released from the album. The song has been a staple of the Smith Street live set for about 18 months or so, making it a familiar and welcome addition to the record so early on. While on the surface it sounds like a song about unrequited love and heartbreak, the song examines Frontman Wil Wagner’s recurring dreams of rolling and smoking cigarettes long after he quit the habit – a marker of a true Smith Street track, where the listener can really take what they need from the lyrics, creating their own haven. Dirty Water opens with the familiar sound of Lucy Wilson on Keyboard and is one of the slower tracks on the record. Dreamy and thought-provoking, the lyrics speak of falling out of love. Brought together by the mesmerising drums of Matt Bodiam (ex- A Death In The Family), it is the welcome change-of-pace at the mid-point of the record.
The End Of The World sees Bodiam own the circa 2004 Eskimo Joe style drums, which encourages a bit of a headbang from the first listen. The combination of guitars, percussion and even a little bit of synth sound on this track definitely make it one that you would not want to miss in a live setting. Up next is Losing It, which is probably best described as ethereal yet heavily guitar driven moment that you cannot stop listening to. Starting slowly, the song builds upon Wagner’s dulcet and dynamic vocal range, with beautiful three-part harmonies taking over as Locke and Wilson enter the fray. Profiteering offers an interesting commentary on the world we live in right from the opening lyrics, proclaiming “everything’s fucked”. As true as those words might be, as the song progresses, the mood changes as the song closes with a message of hope – even if hope does take time. It’s OK, was originally was to be titled It’s OK If You Don’t Love Me Anymore but was changed because it sounded too ‘passive aggressive’, is at its core a ‘positive breakup song’. Wagner’s soulful and poignant lyricism speak of the acceptance of a relationship ending because the love that once existed simply isn’t there anymore. Having experienced this very situation myself, less than a year ago, I can say wholeheartedly that this song normalises the feelings that come with such a significant part of one’s life ending. I think back to a conversation I had with Wil after his solo show at The Outpost in Brisbane last August, when he told me that I’d find what I needed to get through that breakup on the new record – and I did in this track – a testament to the power of songwriting and knowing your audience!
Heaven Eleven is somewhat of the surprise packet of the record. From the outset, the track exudes a jangly disco vibe before the chorus kicks in and takes it to a much heavier domain. The backing vocals – particularly from Lucy Wilson and Jess Locke are outstanding and provide a depth of sound which complements Wagner’s vocal sensibilities perfectly. Closing the record is its title track, Don’t Waste Your Anger. I first heard this live just under 9 months ago (at Wil’s solo show at The Outpost) and it still stands up. I remember that night Wagner told the crowd about the to-be-released ‘Don’t Waste Your Anger’ and went on to say that the point of the record was that “there are people my age and under who could be writing great novels and making great music but they spend all their time fighting in comment sections… and it’s a fucking waste of time and energy”. To me, this track is almost a call-to-arms – that at a time where there are so many things to be angry about, it’s more important than ever to channel that passion, anger and contempt into making meaningful change in the world. The extended outroduction of Wagner’s repeated lyric ramblings of “don’t waste your anger on me” tie the song together and end this record in the most beautiful and emotive way possible.
The Smith Street Band’s propensity for turning thematic fodder that some may read as tragic or melancholic into anthemic belters, evoking the listener’s innermost feelings is a clever approach to conventional punk rock that has seen Smith Street build a dedicated legion of fans over their 10 years as a band. ‘Don’t Waste Your Anger’ is another example of this, with the Smith Street crew creating music that offers that much needed space of deeply seeded catharsis, that sees the record sitting comfortably alongside their previous efforts. With the upbeat frankness seen on their early records ‘No One Gets Lost Anymore’ and ‘Sunshine And Technology’ to the outpouring of pure emotion that came with ‘Throw Me In The River’ and the expanded instrumentation and depth of sound explored on ‘More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me’, The Smith Street Band’s latest offering is a confronting, honest and deeply emotional shining light at a time when the world needs something (cc: anything) to brighten the darkened edges of self-isolation days.
With thanks to Little Giant Agency