Despite ‘love’ being a recurring theme and source of inspiration for many musicians and songwriters, The Smith Street Band’s album ‘More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me’ is far more complex than any ordinary boy meets girl cliché.
The record, (out 7 April), is often dark, ferocious and heavy, all the while being joyful, cheeky and brimming with the band’s underdog spirit.
Now four albums deep, ‘More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me’ embodies a cohesion and growth shown by The Smith Street Band both musically and lyrically, pieced together over the past 12 months in between their famously frenetic, touring schedule.
Through 12 tracks, frontman and songwriter Wil Wagner tells the story of a relationship’s birth, body and demise, frantically delivering his iconic, heart-on-sleeve lyrics that embody three, core qualities: genuineness, relatability and emotion.
“Basically, to me, it tracks a relationship that was very tumultuous and quite tiring at times,” he says.
“‘Forrest’, the first song on ‘More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me’, was about the initial, romantic interactions with this person. That was such an exciting time; we were making this record and I was in love, and it was beautiful. Then from then on, it was a steady decline,” Wil reveals.
“In the middle of this record, I sing about having doubts, ‘maybe this person isn’t in it for the right reasons, maybe this person isn’t as into me as I am to them’. And then, towards the end of the album, the doubts are very much affirmed.
"It becomes quite sad. It rounds off with ‘Laughing (Or Pretending To Laugh)’, a song about the end of that relationship, though the beginning of another one.”
Despite peeling back his own layers and exposing so much vulnerability and raw emotion to audiences, Wil insists he trusts his fans and feels at ease expressing himself in such an honest light.
“The people that listen to our music, the people with Smith Street Band tattoos, the people who come up and say beautiful things, I owe it to them to be honest.
“There’s a song on the record called ‘It Kills Me To Have To Be Alive’, and it’s almost embarrassingly sad. It details what it’s like to have the struggles I’ve had with my mental health. I feel so much more comfortable singing about that on stage in front of 2,500 people than I do having a conversation with my best friend about it,” Wil explains.
“I’m quite happy not to paint myself in a positive light. I’m honest to the point that I’m poking at my own faults; I think that’s important and I don’t think that many artists do it.”
Even after releasing four studio albums in only six years, Wil is rarely short of inspiration when songwriting he says. While claiming “heartbreak always helps”, natural ability plays a big part in his aptitude at crafting such successful lyrics. “I write for therapy; it’s a catharsis, because I really enjoy it.
“We wrote 25 songs for this record, I’ve got a rap album written and a solo album written, and I’m even trying to write a big band album as well. I love doing it and I’m constantly inspired.
“I don’t have a job besides being in the band, so I feel like it’s my job to lead some sort of romantic life. If nothing’s inspiring, then I need to seek that inspiration by finding new music or seeing a show or seeing a play or a movie or catching up with someone,” he states.
“As soon as anybody says something sort of pithy, I’m always asking ‘I’m sorry, can I write that down?’
"Or I’ll have a conversation with someone and it will make me feel a certain way or remind me of a time that I had or a great night that I experienced. Then I start piecing it all together. I feel very lucky that I get to do my hobby as a job.”
Instrumentally, The Smith Street Band is evidently in no creative rut either, broadening their horizons and incorporating alternative instruments such as a string section, a ten-person choir, brass, synths and organs in ‘More Scared Of You Than You Are of Me’. “To me, this record is how The Smith Street Band has always sounded; at least in my head.Image © Ian Laidlaw
“This is how I’ve always wanted us to be; quite broad and diverse. To be honest, in the last few recordings we just haven’t had time. The first two albums were made in a week each, while ‘Throw Me In The River’ was only made in two or three,” Wil laughs.
“But even with all of these new sounds, we still wanted to track everything live. We’re a live band, we’re a touring band, we’re a band that you’ve got to see in person to fully appreciate the records, and we really, really wanted to capture that.
“All of the songs are simply the four of us playing in a room, live, more or less unedited and at times playing the wrong notes. It sounds like a band rather than it sounding like a computer making the band.”
Australian fans can grasp the opportunity to witness the band live in the flesh during their nationwide album tour throughout May and June. “It’s pretty crazy, but I think we’re ready. We’re going to be really well rehearsed, really tight.
“We’ve got a bunch of special surprises and a full, stage show planned. I feel like we’ve been playing in increasingly bigger venues over the last few years. And we’re about to take on these massive rooms with a crew who have been with us since we were playing in little rooms.”
Joyce Manor, Ceres and Allison Weiss will be playing support; Wil says there’s no camaraderie quite like one established on tour. “It’s like the shorthand to a relationship, because you learn to understand each other really quickly.
“You really develop these intense relationships and you really love each other, and then you might not see each other again for six or more months. But as soon as you do see them that conversation instantly reignites and you fall in mateship [sic] all over again.”
The Smith Street Band will be touring until, to quote Wil, “question mark” following the Australian run in 2017; he says the obvious difficulties in travelling excessively and being away from friends and family fail to hinder the pure joy of performing. “It’s tough, yeah, but I’ve had other jobs that have been a lot worse.
“I worked at a call centre, which was infinitely worse. I once had a job where I had to go into skyscrapers and go through the dumpsters and analyse how the residents were recycling their rubbish,” he laughs.
“I’m so fucking excited for the tour. I can’t wait to be playing these songs live and I can’t wait to listen to people sing-along, and I can’t wait to talk to people after the shows. I’m so proud of this album. I just want people to hear it.”‘More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me’ is available 7 April. The Smith Street Band play Triple J's One Night Stand (Mt Isa) 22 April, the Groovin The Moo April-May series and Splendour In The Grass 21-23 July.
The Smith Street Band In-store appearances
Fri 7 Apr - Vinyl. A Record Store (Melbourne)Tue 11 Apr - Clarity Records (Adelaide)Wed 12 Apr - Rocking Horse Records (Brisbane)Thu 13 Apr - Beatdisc Records (Parramatta)
* Wil Wagner will be playing an acoustic set at appearances
The Smith Street Band Shows
Thu 25 May - Odeon Theatre (Hobart)Fri 26 May - Enmore Theatre (Sydney)Sat 27 May - The Tivoli Theatre (Brisbane)2-3 Jun - Forum Theatre (Melbourne)Fri 9 Jun - Metro City (Perth)Sat 10 Jun - Thebarton Theatre (Adelaide)