The Smith Street Band Celebrate 15 Years Of Not Having 'Real Jobs'

The Smith Street Band tour Australia March-April 2024.
Jade has been working as a freelance music journalist from the wilds of Far North Queensland since 2001 and loves nothing more than uncovering the human side of every stage persona. You can usually find her slinging merch with a touring band somewhere between Mackay and Cairns, or holed up with her pets in Townsville watching Haunt TV.

As far as quintessentially Australian rock bands go, it doesn't get more Aussie than The Smith Street Band.

Hell, they're named for a street in their home town of Melbourne. However, after a decade and a half of relentless touring, hundreds of shows (some of them for the history books), five EPs and six studio albums, nobody is more surprised by the band's longevity than TSSB themselves.

"It's quite surreal," admits frontman Wil Wagner, reflecting on the band's 15-year milestone. "Fifteen years feels like a very long time, and it also feels like twenty minutes ago that we were playing that first show."

Wagner, who founded the band as a teenager, acknowledges the profound impact The Smith Street Band has had on his life. "I couldn't imagine what my life would've been like if we broke up six months after starting," he says.

"I've completely grown up in this band and with these people and in this world, it's just been such an amazing and important part of my entire adult life."

A plus side, he jokes, is he hasn't had to get a real job. "I feel very proud that we're still doing it, that we're still able to make a living and not have to have real jobs," he says.

"I struggle a bit to say like, 'oh, we were great at this and we're great at that', but just that we've been able to do it for so long. We're still playing, touring to a level that we don't have to work real jobs and that everywhere we go, we've got friends that we've been friends with for 10, 15 years now, and it's just special."

Relentless touring has, in some respects, given Wagner – who at times suffers from "debilitating" social anxiety – a safe space away from home. "I always feel safe when I'm around shows and music, and music people we're all kind of weirdos in the same way, so I feel like I've found my people," he laughs.

"A lot of my favourite memories are onstage playing big shows and supporting amazing artists and playing festivals and stuff, but even more so some of the things I remember forever are people I've met off stage that I talk to every day and really love."

Now in his 30s with a young family at home, Wil jokes that being a touring musician prepared him for having children like no other career could have – with many of the friends he has connected with over the years also in a similar position.

"Since we last toured, I've gotten married and had a baby and we're all kind of at that age now where a lot of my friends are doing that and seeing these people that's like, 'I remember watching you throw up in the van in Berlin and now you've got two kids'," he says. "Touring really prepared me for baby life. Lots of vomit and sleep deprivation."

Wagner says in his 20s, touring at times became a form of escapism. "Sometimes it was like, 'oh, thank god I've got tour so I don't have to stay here and pretend to be a real person'," he says.

"Particularly overseas where you're doing daily shows over six weeks or whatever, it's so relentless; there's so much momentum and whether you feel good, bad or indifferent, the show is happening.

"So you have to show up and you've got to retune your guitar and you've got to play. Like, I didn't pay tax for years because I was travelling – I didn't have to worry about that – and then all of a sudden it's like, 'oh f..., now I owe all this money in tax'."

By living such a frenetic lifestyle Wagner says, where the immediacy of the next show is all you can focus your energy on, is great when you're in your 20s. Now, he says, the band is all grown up, and play shows for three or four days before taking a break at home, which is much better for everyone's mental state.

"You can only keep up that relentless energy for so long," he says, "and then normally, because touring is so relentless and so fast paced, when it stops, I would come home and just be sick for two weeks with every possible sickness, you know what I mean? I'd have a sore throat, I'd have a sore tummy, and it all catches up with you so quickly. So it's kind of nice not to be travelling so hard anymore."

Open about his struggles with mental health, Wagner admits he has had some debilitating moments overseas, with panic attacks in particular.

"There are times where you do just lose your mind, particularly because someone like me, with mental health issues, you can disappear so much into yourself that you're not really enjoying anything," he says.

"I'm bipolar, so my moods can be quite cyclical and sometimes I don't have a huge amount of say in whether I'm feeling good or bad. Sometimes it just happens to me, and so those times where I have had manic stages or I've had really depressed stages can be incredibly difficult if you are travelling and with people all the time, and we have had to pull out a few shows where I just physically can't manage, I can't do it."

Wil says he is often asked what advice he would give to younger, sad people about touring, and he finds it difficult to answer. "It can be the best thing in the world and you are forced to go out and experience things, which if you're someone that can become quite insular is actually super helpful," he says.

"Then with anxiety, it's like sometimes you feel anxious about something, you go and do it and you conquer it and you feel great, and sometimes you feel anxious about something, you show up and feel more anxious and it compounds in and makes the whole thing worse."

Wagner says it's a double-edged sword: "So is everything when you're a sad person. It's not like if I worked in an office, I wouldn't have all these feelings," he adds. "At least I get to be depressed in New York City, rather than depressed in a call centre."

With a 17-date headline tour on the horizon, plus their first European shows since before the pandemic, Wagner reveals he has been writing "a tonne" (though considerably less since the birth of his daughter, thanks to sleep deprivation), and the band plans to hit the studio again towards the end of the year to start working on the follow-up to 2022's 'Life After Football'.

"The plan right now is come [next] summertime to be back out in the studio and record and hopefully release something this time next year, but these things always get shifted around and moved around," he says.

"I feel like you go through phases as a writer where sometimes I'm just churning stuff and sometimes it's like three months since I've written anything that I felt was worth keeping; and the last maybe six months, I feel like I've been writing a lot and I'm really proud of a lot of the stuff that I've written.

"So yeah, hopefully there'll be a new [TSSB] album in the not so distant future."

The Smith Street Band 2024 Tour Dates

Sat 9 Mar - South East Beer & BBQ Fest (Mt Gambier / Berrin)
Thu 21 Mar - Dicey Rileys (Wollongong / Dharawal)
Fri 22 Mar - Factory Theatre (Sydney / Eora)
Sat 23 Mar - King St Bandroom (Newcastle / Mulubinba)
Thu 28 Mar - Solbar (Sunshine Coast / Murukutchi)
Fri 29 Mar - The Northern (Byron Bay / Cavanbah)
Sat 30 Mar - The Princess Theatre (Brisbane / Meanjin)
Sat 6 Apr - The Gov (Adelaide / Tarntanya)
Sun 7 Apr - The Gov (Adelaide / Tarntanya)
Thu 11 Apr - The River Hotel (Margaret River / Wooditup)
Fri 12 Apr - Freo.Social (Fremantle / Walyalup)
Sat 13 Apr - Indian Ocean Hotel (Perth / Boodjar)
Thu 18 Apr - Theatre Royal (Castlemaine / Dja Dja Wurrung)
Fri 19 Apr - Northcote Theatre (Melbourne / Naarm)
Sat 20 Apr - Torquay Hotel (Torquay / Wadawurrung)
Fri 26 Apr - The Basement (Canberra / Ngunnawal Country)
Sat 27 Apr - SS&A (Albury / Wiradjuri Country)

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