Wil Wagner is in high spirits. He’s in Perth, Western Australia, having just begun a 10-date Australian tour. The touring van has become a second home for Wagner and The Smith Street Band and he’s happy to have the focus of the band restored. Just days earlier, after a show at Melbourne’s legendary Old Bar (which the band were performing to help benefit the bar in light of recent financial struggles), Wagner had his amp stolen. It was a gutting loss for the Melbourne-based 23-year-old Wagner, whose livelihood depends solely on the band.
It didn’t take long for friends and fans of The Smith Street Band to rally around the four-piece. Heavily entrenched in Melbourne’s punk community, The Smith Street Band are part of a family of like-minded musicians and artists whose influence and tangible enthusiasm towards their craft stretches far and wide. And, as Wagner proved, you don’t fuck with family.
“I didn’t want to go through the cops, so I put it out to the community instead,” he says on the phone from Perth. “I figured if these guys hang out in that bar or that area enough someone might be able to spot them. The next thing you know, everyone around us was getting involved. We realized on [the security video posted online] that one of the guys involved was wearing a fedora and a lot of people were making jokes about that.”
He created the hashtag #ampgate which began trending in Australia and the perpetrators quickly bowed to public pressure.
“I got an email that simply said: ‘I’m the fedora-wearing scumbag, mate.’ He ended up leaving the amp somewhere and I took a taxi to go and pick it up. It was pretty crazy to see the reaction from the people around me.”
With the support of a community that clearly has their backs, The Smith Street Band have seen their emphatic punk stock rise steadily, most recently with the powerful five-song EP Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams. But with the kind of attention the band have been garnering, it’s inevitable others will try to exploit the band. Wagner believes the title of the EP is more of a statement than simply a title.
“Especially the song ‘Bigger Than Us,’ it’s a reaction to the kind of people that come into our world and try and tell us what to do and what direction to take the band in. Once you get to a certain level as a band, people want to start getting stuff out of you and start trying to cash in on you.
“Just let us fucking do what we want to, because we work really hard at what we’re doing,” he asserts. “We love playing music and we’re not going to stop at anything to play. I mean, that’s why you start a band! We get asked that all the time, ‘Why do you guys tour so much?’ Well why wouldn’t you tour?” he laughs. “Why do you start a band if not to play shows all the time?”
They’ll soon get their wish, supporting Frank Turner, who handpicked the band, on a mammoth 43-date tour across North America. That’s only after lengthy tours of Australia, Europe and the U.K. immediately beforehand.
The tour is, as Wagner calls it, “…one of the best things that’s ever happened to the band.” Yet it likely won’t be enough to keep them sitting still for long.
“We try to create a positive environment where people can be inspired. That being said, I don’t think I’m ever going to be satisfied.”
The Smith Street Band hit up the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday, October 20.
By Joshua Kloke