The Smith Street band on the Pool House Party lineup and why Wil Wagner needed some country air
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The Smith Street band on the Pool House Party lineup and why Wil Wagner needed some country air

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It’s hard to imagine anyone meeting The Smith Street Band’s Wil Wagner and not walking away completely smitten. He has a larger-than-life personality that is also totally relatable; five minutes in and you can already imagine backyard hangs at four in the morning, talking profound nonsense.

Lately though, the band has been discovering a more disheartening side to success. While Wagner talks excitedly about the awesome scope of Pool House Party, he also speaks of his reasons for moving to the country.

“Getting this lineup, it all happened very quickly,” he says. “We wrote a list of bands we were already friends with and that we respected, and straight away we had 50 bands we needed to ask. For us, putting [Pool House Party] on meant getting in some of the smaller bands, who we really wanted to give their first festival experience. We wanted to shine a light on them.

“And for the bigger bands, Ceres, The Bennies, Tired Lion, people we’re mates with, it’s as much a chance for us to get the gang together and hang out as it is anything else. It’s probably booked quite selfishly at the end of the day. We’re just lucky that we’ve got such talented friends,” Wagner laughs.

It’s an ethos we have long seen across the band’s promotional efforts. They’re often sharing shout-outs and links to other musicians in their orbit, and in a sense, Pool House Party is the culmination of that community. There is still, however, room for growth.

“When we were coming up as a band, there was a lot more effort in the community and everybody was in it together. But I feel like in the last couple of years the scene has really changed, and it’s a lot more competitive and there’s a lot more shit-talking going on, which we’re trying to combat by finding people who have similar morals to us, who are into making good music and sharing it with other people,” Wagner explains.

“That’s the best thing about music, it’s making it with your friends and watching other friends succeed and grow, and get good support tours and then headline big rooms. It’s the most satisfying and fun part of this whole thing. We wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in today if it wasn’t for heaps of leg-ups, so the fact we have this little bit of success now means that we can share it around as much as we can. It means a lot to us.”

No matter the successes or the encouraging intentions, there will always be a culture of jerks out there happy to casually lambaste complete strangers. In Melbourne, it proved so pervasive that Wagner shifted lifestyles completely, and the relocation seems to have worked.

“For me, the big thing about moving out of the city was that I started to feel quite stifled by living in Melbourne. There’s people coming up on the street and asking for photos, but we’re also a [certain]-sized band now that people want to hate us. I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic, which I’ve spoken to a lot of bands of our size about. A lot have similar things, where you walk into the pub you’ve gone to for the last five years, and now someone walks past and says ‘Fuck off.’

“It’s maybe that tall-poppy syndrome,” Wagner explains. “But it’s something we’ve had to unfortunately deal with a bit lately. The only way that we can all keep supporting ourselves and surviving is through me and the [band] writing together, so it makes sense for me to be in an environment that’s conducive to that.”

He sighs, but quickly the colour returns to Wagner’s voice.

“I’m writing more, I’m working on more. I’m generally happier and more relaxed. There mightn’t be as much angst on the next record, now that I’m not living in a share house and hating everything,” he says.

“Just having time and space to work on stuff – and this sounds like a silly thing – but I’ve always been in share houses where I’m a bit scared to sing loudly. And now, our nearest neighbour is about a kilometre away, so I can belt it out as loud as I want.”