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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wil Wagner of The Smith Street Band Got Wasted Last Time He Was In S.F. — Wonder What Will Happen This Time...

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 12:35 PM

click to enlarge IAN LAIDLAW
  • Ian Laidlaw
One of the last times Wil Wagner — front man for The Street Smith Street Band — was in San Francisco, he saw a Dead Moon cover show at Bottom of the Hill and pretty drunk.

So, when the band’s booking agent said they were playing a show at the same venue on its current tour, Wagner was excited.

“I’m like a local,” the 25-year-old joked to SF Weekly after sound check at the band’s tour stop in Chicago. “I’ve had the tater tots there, I know what’s going on.”

Wagner grew up quite far from San Francisco, in Box Hill, an outer suburb of Melbourne, Australia. But he says that despite the distance, Box Hill is rather culturally similar to San Francisco.

“It’s a bit obsessed with arts and sport,” Wagner said. “Which are like the two things that I care about…It’s one of the few places where all the hipsters and band people are — and you’ll also see them at the football.”

The Smith Street Band got started in 2009 — the current lineup includes Wagner on vocals/guitar, Chris Cowburn on drums, Lee Hartney on guitar, and Fitzy Fitzgerald on bass — and since then has released three albums: 2011's No One Gets Lost Anymore, 2012's Sunshine and Technology, and most recently, 2014’s Throw Me In The River. Self-described as “rock, folk, [and] punk kind of stuff,” Wagner struggled to place the band's sound in any specific musical category.
Except in one regard: Wagner was quick to mention bands that have inspired the group. He’s very influenced by lyrically-driven acts, like The Hold Steady and The Weakerthans, and said that these are the groups that he tries to sound like.

“It’s all very long and wordy kind of stuff,” Wagner said. “I’m just trying to really portray a message in every song and get lots of words and hopefully some nice loud, heavy guitar parts in there, too.”

Wagner also cited two other influences you don’t hear from punk bands every day: rap and hip-hop. Calling them a “modern day form of poetry,” Wagner said he can relate to artists who place the utmost focus on words, lyrics, and the story they are trying to tell, above everything else, even the music. In other words, he likes his lyrics to “look good on the page before we sing them.”

And it’s probably fair to say that Wagner’s way with words runs in the family. Both of his parents are authors — and his dad is also a musician with a band of his own— so music and books were always in the house.

It was also his parents who made him start taking guitar lessons when he was five: something he at first hated, then grew to love. He thinks he was about 10 or 11 when he started writing music (or, as he put it, “trying to make words rhyme"), but either way, music and word-smithing are two things that are, quite literally, in his blood. (Said Wagner: “I was never going to be a mathematician or anything.")

The Smith Street Band is currently in the process of writing a new record that it hopes to record in September — just north of San Francisco — and Wagner said he's more concerned about what his parents — not the label or anybody else — think of the record. 

But the lyrics he pours out aren’t just for others. The song-writing process is something that has been a real-life crutch and coping mechanism for Wagner throughout his life. 

“It’s like the best therapy I’ve ever found in my entire life,” Wagner said. “And I’ve been to most forms of therapy.” 

While some bands or songwriters deal with writer’s block or struggle with having to come up with material for new albums, Wagner quite enjoys — and is always looking forward to — writing more.

“I really, really love writing,” Wager said. “I’m very lucky in the regard.”

In the seven years since they formed, The Smith Street Band has traveled all the way from Melbourne — selling out venues across Australia — to the U.S., Europe, and the U.K, including a 40-date tour with Frank Turner.

“To get up in front of a room of people and sing about how I’m sad and stuff and have people reflect that energy back up to me…there’s nothing better in the entire world,” Wagner said. “Relating to people on that level and being able to yell about my feelings and have people justify it by clapping is a really, really great feeling.”

The Smith Street Band plays the Bottom of the Hill on April 18, 7 p.m. Tickets are $12. Hard Girls and Lee Corey Oswald open.

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Willie Clark


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