The Smith Street Band are seen by many as Melbourne’s favourite sons (and, more recently, daughters). Their unique take on the indie rock genre has won the hearts of a growing fan base since their inception in 2010, when frontman Wil Wagner joined forces with guitarist/backing vocalist Tom Lawson, guitarist Lee Hartney, bassist Jimi O’Loughlin, and drummer/backing vocalist Chris Cowburn, to initially form Wil Wagner and The Smith Street Band – an allusion to Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band – before shortening it to The Smith Street Band ahead of the release of their debut EP, ‘South East Facing Wall’, in 2011.
Immediately following the EP, the band released two full-length records, in 2011’s ‘No-One Gets Lost Anymore’ and 2012’s ‘Sunshine and Technology’ via hometown label Poison City Records. Later in 2012, the departure of O’Loughlin and Lawson saw the bass guitar role filled by Michael ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald and the band playing as a four-piece from then on. Their new lineup put out the EP, ‘Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams’, in 2013, with the title track inspired by the near-fatal stabbing of the guitarist of The Bennies, who were touring with The Smith Street Band on their Australian album tour the previous year. Their third album – ‘Throw Me in the River’ – arrived in 2014, their last release with Poison City Records. Cowburn departed the band in 2017, shortly after the release of their fourth album, ‘More Scared of You Than You Are of Me’ on Pool House Records. The vacant drummer’s stool was taken by Matt Bodiam in 2018 after having been the touring drummer following Cowburn’s departure. The permanent additions of Jess Locke (guitar and backing vocals) and Lucy Wilson (keyboards, vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion) also occurred after both having initially been touring members through 2017.
The Smith Street Band have never shirked away from the issues, with Wagner openly discussing his battle with mental health issues on stage, as well as baring his soul and tackling difficult subject matter both in his lyrics and social media. Earlier this year, during an under-18 show on their album tour, a patron groped someone else and subsequently arrested. This caused the band to announce via Instagram that they were cancelling the next day’s show due to how personally it affected the band that such a thing happened at one of their shows. The band is known for promoting a unifying and respectful environment, and denouncing the ‘dickhead culture’ that live music events have often attracted, as evidenced in their song, Death To The Lads, among several other tracks in their repertoire.
That awful and unfortunate situation aside, the strength of the tour with the newly-expanded lineup shone through in the glowing reviews of their shows. The band not only rocketed through a massive 31-date national regional tour, but they kicked it off by putting together their own huge local festival in Melbourne with their label, Pool House Records. Nineteen bands across two stages took the usually quiet suburb of Coburg by storm, with The Smith Street Band closing the night with an explosive 90-minute set.
The band’s passionate connection with their fans is a direct result of their unflinchingly honest and emotional songs. This, along with the relentless energy pouring out of every member from start to finish, always guarantees a show that will resonate in your heart for days following. If you haven’t had the opportunity to witness The Smith Street Band live so far, then you need to make a beeline for their set when they hit the stage at Good Things Festival. And if you have had the good fortune of seeing them perform before, then you already know why you should check them out again. On a lineup bulging with international heavyweights, there is still no doubt that The Smith Street Band can and will hold their own. This is their home turf, after all, and there’s a bloody good reason why they’re the highest-billing Australian act on the lineup. You’ll definitely regret it if you don’t give them a go, because your mates are going to tell you all about it. And it’s not something you can experience second-hand.
*Feature Photo by Iain Laidlaw