The Smith Street Band: Doing the hard yards

The Smith Street Band. Picture: Ian LaidlawIT’S not just the fans losing themselves at The Smith Street Band gigs, it’s the band members too. Whether it’s the drummer singing along with fans in the front row or a wayward bassist falling off the stage, the Melbourne four-piece are pumped for what each show might bring.
Shanghai night field

The Melbourne band – Wil Wagner, Lee Hartney, Michael “Fitzy” Fitzgerald and Chris Cowburn – formed in 2010. Named in a nod to a local suburban street, the band has released three albums and three EPs, including last year’s top 20 album Throw Me in the River and the 2015 EP Wipe That Shit Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face. Over the five years they’ve been together they’ve also done the hard yards touring Europe, America and Australia. Luckily for Newcastle punters, we’ve been treated to many shows from the four-piece over the years and the band’s popularity in Newcastle has echoed their nationwide and worldwide success.

“We’ve gone from a tiny little DIY sort of place which felt like playing in someone’s loungeroom to playing these massive shows at the Great Northern then to The Small Ballroom, which is a little bit bigger, and then The Small Ballroom to The Cambridge, which we sold out. It’s pretty wild because early on we played a show at The Cambridge and we walked into that room and we were like, ‘Woah this is so big.’

“There were like 50 people there so it was too big,” drummer and vocalist Cowburn said.

“To continually come back somewhere and have more and more people come to the shows is great … I can distinctly remember the last tour which was the Get High See Everyone tour, the show at The Cambridge was one of the best vibes of the whole tour.

“It was definitely the best live show we’ve had in Newy so we’re pumped to get back.”

Pumped they are. Addicted to the feeling of seeing the crowd go crazy and sing along to their songs and creating shared memories each night at each gig. How does it feel to look out and see a writhing mass losing themselves to a Smith Street Band song?

“It’s indescribable, it totally is. It’s a feeling that doesn’t get old. It just makes me smile from ear to ear. A lot of the time I sing along with people in the front row. I try not to get distracted because I’m having a great time but I’ve also got stuff to do up there,” Cowburn said.

“When I think about music and the music that I love and that I grew up with, it’s all about having fun. I like to see personality in music, whether it’s people making little mistakes or on a knife’s edge, it’s that stuff which is showing that they’re human.

“Stuff which shows they’re as affected by what’s going on in the room as the crowd.

“We try to make our music as communal as possible. We want that feeling to be part of our shows, that it’s not us up on stage playing down to the crowd, but that everyone is part of it.”

The Smith Street Band takes the same raw and real approach to their recordings. Cowburn agreed they’re wary of over-thinking or over processing their music when it comes to laying down their tracks in the studio. They want to keep the unpredictability and realness of their live shows at the heart of their records, whether it’s achieved by tracking completely live as they did for their 2013 EP Don’t F- – – With Our Dreams or very close to it as they did with the 2014 album Throw Me in the River.

“A lot of bands use a click track, like a metronome, to play along to but we purposely don’t to get that live flow, the natural flow of the song,” he said.

“I think any band would say the same thing, that they want to capture the live feeling and essence of the song on record. It’s a super hard thing to do, it’s really tough.”

Staying motivated on the road can prove difficult too. Cowburn admitted the band was “in a bit of a bad place” at the end of 2014 during a lengthy touring run. But this year, despite months spent away from their Victorian base, the band found their groove. Plus, as the drummer explained, they do have pretty awesome jobs.

“At the end of the day you’re on the other side of the world playing music, you can’t get much better. Anything you do is going to have bad points in life, so I just try and look at the positives and stay pumped on it.”

Other days, it might be memories from previous tours which will get them through or lighten the mood. Especially their last Manchester show when bassist Fitzy fell off the stage.

“It was the most memorable show for all the wrong reasons, we all might have had a few too many beers and didn’t play very well and one of us fell off the stage,” Cowburn said with a huge laugh.

“It was quite a high stage, he fell off the stage and was off and couldn’t get back on. It wasn’t so funny at the time, but we can all laugh about it now.”

The Smith Street Band play at the Cambridge Hotel on September 10 with Andrew Jackson Jihad (USA), The Sidekicks (USA) and The Sugarcanes. Tickets at Bigtix.