Though you may not yet have heard of The Smith Street Band, the Australian quartet recently released what is, without a shadow of a doubt, their magnum opus, in the form of the Jeff Rosenstock-produced More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me. Spanning twelve songs, the record describes a tumultuous relationship from which frontman Wil Wagner recently extricated himself after realizing how damaging it had become.
“It tracks that relationship from the very start through all of the peaks and troughs — mainly troughs — and then we break up towards the end of the record,” Wagner told me over a Skype call after we were able to organize ourselves around the nearly twelve-hour time difference. “Then the last song on the record is me meeting someone new. I actually had been writing all of these songs as these things were happening. So another cool thing about the tracklist on the record is that it’s basically the order that I wrote the songs in, which I really like.”
The record’s title is taken from “Passiona,” its fifth track that sees Wagner viewing his relationship from an external perspective. It’s also a reference to the way that his physical appearance might lead people to believe that, should there be an abusive member of the couple, it would certainly be him, when in fact the exact opposite was true.
“People say that about sharks and bears and snakes, something like, ‘Well, they will attack you, but they’re more scared of you than you are of them…'” he explained. “I may seem like an intimidating person, but often times I’m infinitely more scared of people than they are of me.”
Despite the fresh wounds left by his ex-partner, Wagner speaks casually about this time of his life, and is very forthcoming with the details of a less-than-ideal situation that allowed him to craft The Smith Street Band’s masterpiece. “I really enjoyed the whole process of making this record,” he said. “There were some really cathartic moments and some really therapeutic moments and some moments of joy and feelings of accomplishment. It was really a beautiful process and something that I didn’t even quite realize how much I needed to do until a month ago when we got the masters back and I was like, ‘F**k, I was in a bad place! I really needed to get this stuff out.’ In hindsight especially, I realize how important this was for me.”
To help familiarize people with More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me, we asked Wagner to run through key lines from the record’s tracklist and discuss the their stories and inspirations.
She yelled, ‘Tell Jesus he’s a f**king loser / The wedding went better than the party with the city boozers.’
When we were making our last record, we were going down to the local pub [in the little town of Forrest just over two hours outside of Melbourne], The Wonky Donkey… Then on the last night we were in Forrest, we ended up playing a show there and all these kids from the city came up and it was a really fun night and a great show. The woman who owned the pub used to call my best friend ‘Jesus’ because he had this big beard and long hair. They had this ongoing joke argument because she held a wedding at the pub, and she said that the wedding was going to be the most money that the pub would ever make, but my friend said the show was going to break the record for bar sales. Then at the end of the night [of the show], when she counted up all of the money from the bar, she just yelled, ‘Tell Jesus he’s a f**king loser!’ because apparently the wedding made more money than our show. As soon as she said that, I wrote it in my phone, thinking, ‘That’s the first line to the next album, thank you so much.’
We are more than future housewives / More than the sum of our past lives
That line came out of a conversation with a friend. We were sitting at the pub and we were talking, and she’d been on a few dates with this guy –- or maybe it was like a Tinder thing –- and she said they’d gotten in a fight, and he’d said, ‘You are nothing but a future housewife.’ And we were a bit drunk and sat there working ourselves up into a frenzy, like, ‘That is such a f*cking horrible thing to say!’ And it’s amazing how many people that one statement can belittle, like people who stay home and take care of kids, which is a f*cking hard job! So we basically sat and talked about this for ages, and then about a week later, we were walking around the city of Hobart late at night and it was this beautiful, romantic kind of thing and we were talking about it, saying, ‘Yeah, f**k that. We are more than future housewives.’
3. “Death To The Lads”
If you mastered the art of flight why would you spend half your time choking?
That line is super simple, actually. I just don’t understand how flight attendants and pilots can smoke. What are you doing?! I used to be quite a heavy smoker, and I quit about 18 months ago, and flying overseas was torture! Going 24 hours without a cig was horrible. So I don’t understand how people who do that as a job can still smoke cigarettes. And also there’s something amazing about how incredibly intelligent you’d have to be to learn how to fly a plane, but there’s something so fascinating about human nature that you can be so intelligent, but still do something that is so obviously detrimental in all ways.
4. “Song For You”
Little murmur runs through the audience the first time he calls / You hang up and a sinking feeling falls amongst the crowd / Someone whispers to their wife, ‘My god, what’s she doing now?’
That whole verse is a metaphor that my relationship was being played out on a big screen for people to watch, and how easy it was for her to turn the narrative against me. She was dating this guy from this underground band, and then they broke up, and then she started dating me. So I felt like the bad guy in the movie, you know?
I’m having panic attacks on German TV / This is not work ethic, it’s survival technique
That’s basically what happened. We did a big German TV show, then shortly afterward I had a panic attack. Then a few days later, I had one onstage and had to walk off during a set, and that’s the only time that’s really happened to me. We get a lot of props and praise for being a hard-working, hard-touring band, which is very cool. But I think that so much of the amount that we tour and the amount that we work is due to us being insecure. We’re thinking, ‘Let’s do everything we possibly can right now because this isn’t going to last forever.’ And also, especially for me, if I’m just at home and sitting around, that’s when all the bad thoughts happen. I very quickly can spiral into serious bouts of depression. Anyone touring as hard as us is running from something.
6. “Run Into The World”
It’s like I’m running for the train that will hit me / Stayed up all night for a sun that won’t rise
This one is basically about self-destruction, and that weird thing where you realize it, and then you still do it. I’ll know that I’m making a bad decision, and still go through with it. Then I’m trying to hold out hope for something that I don’t quite believe is real. That last line is sort of about all of us: The band, and my friends, and our general social circle treating each other poorly, and people not being nice to other people. It’s quite frustrating when shit inside your head is going so bad and you’re feeling so f*cked up and sad about stuff, but you’re on tour so you’ve gotta put on a brave face and fake a smile for the guys and the crowd. But some other people just don’t try, and will succumb to bad feelings instantly. And there’s something selfishly frustrating about that. I’m trying this hard to be happy, and you’re hungover, and you’re going to be this much of a sh*thead about it?!
The sun will rise in the same place every day / It would be arrogant to think that we could change anything / Except maybe block its rays but who would wanna do that anyway
The whole song is basically about forgiveness and about self-esteem. It’s this weird thing when you’re going through something emotionally tough, where you sort of wake up one day and you’re like, ‘Wow, I feel okay. I feel like the worst of that has passed.’ That song is trying to encapsulate that feeling. And the idea of the sun is being okay with people that I don’t like and benefitting from things that I’ve done. It’s sort of about the scene in Melbourne — and in Australia as a whole — that’s benefitted from how well we’ve done, which is f*cking awesome. But then there are some people who I really don’t like, and who are incredibly mean to me, who are writing songs that are complete rip-offs of my songs, and they’re doing quite well from them. And that can really piss you off. But also, I should be happy that I’ve had this effect on people, so it’s a bit self-reflective. Even if some people aren’t benefitting from the good I’m trying to do in the world, and even if some people I don’t like are benefitting from it, I should still try to shine and rise above this sh*t, try to always be good, always be helpful, always pushing what I believe forward, even if I’m scared to do it.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to complete what other people do each day without noticing
It’s this thing where my friends who have real jobs will say, ‘How can you get on stage and play?’ and I’ll be like, “How can you get on a train and not f*cking panic? How can you go to an office and handle it?’ I’m envious and incredibly proud of my friends for doing these things. They signed a gas bill, and now they have gas. But for me, I would take three days and panic the whole time. Sort of really basic things that, for some reason, I just find myself unable to do. Like, I don’t have a driving license. But I’m completely able to drive, I’ve driven a lot! But there’s something about the organizing of it all that I just can’t f*cking do! I can’t get my head around it!
9. “Kills Me To Be Alive”
I do not feel that I am loved but I do not reach out enough
That line is basically about the constant self-scrutiny and self-criticism that comes with being mentally unwell. That whole song is about my head, and the idea that I don’t feel like I am loved, but then I’m blaming myself for that. Even if a situation completely isn’t my fault, I’ll still make it seem like my fault because that’s just how my head works.
Go forth and suffer for your art / If it’s all you look for you will always find the dark
This is a very angry song, probably my angriest song so far. It’s about people in bands who just constantly focus on all of the negatives of it. Specifically the ways that bands deal with crowd violence and incidents happening at shows. It’s become a thing now where it’s almost a badge of honor for bands to complain about that stuff. It’s something that I’ve been confronting quite head-on for the last five or six years, but then in the last year, it’s become almost cool to make huge public statements about how everyone in the crowd is f*cked. To be honest, that line is about a specific band who I know lied about it, and said there was this horrible incident of violence at the show last night… And then my friend who runs the pub was like, ‘Literally nothing happened.’ They didn’t say anything throughout the whole set, there’s videos of the whole show, and literally nothing happened! Then after the show, they posted this whole thing and got all this love and everyone was talking about how brave they are. Please don’t do that. Don’t use it as a way to sell records.
11. “Young Once”
If I could remember the name of everyone I’d kissed does that mean they’d remember mine? / Was there something in that momentary bliss? / Such a beautiful waste of time
This is about regretting things like hooking up with people and waking up in the morning like, ‘That was probably a mistake.’ Or missing people that I wish I’d spent more time with. The whole song is quite nostalgic and thinking about those moments where, for three weeks, I was head over heels in love with that person, and now I can kind of picture their face, but f*ck I have no idea what her name is. Things which at the time seem so important and so life-changing and important — and they really are at the time — but then you move on and they pass.
12. “Laughing (Or Pretending To Laugh)”
Half-smiling, half-flying, half-asleep, half-awake
This is about a very specific time with a girl in New York on the first tour I went on after this breakup, and I was feeling all f*cked up. Then this girl I’ve always had a crush on from Australia was at the show, and then we ended up sleeping on the roof of her apartment building in Brooklyn, and I felt like I was in an episode of Girls. It was just so cool and romantic and fun, so I was sort of trying to describe that giddy, delusional feeling of exhaustion when you’ve stayed up all night with someone and you feel like this could be the start of something so cool. You can’t stop thinking about them, and your t-shirt smells like what they smelled like, all those beautiful things. I literally wrote that song sitting in the van looking in the rearview mirror as this girl’s apartment building disappeared behind me.
More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me is out now via SideOneDummy Records. Pick it up here.