The Smith Street Band, relentless purveyours of shout-along rock that feels both giddy and cerebral all at once, just can’t seem to stop killing it. After a raucous and politically charged set at Splendour in the Grass, they’re now on tour in Europe, and once they’re back they’ll be debuting their very own mini-festival, I Love Life. Liz Ansley spoke to drummer Chris Cowburn a few weeks ago, in the very brief break the band had before jetting over to the EU.
Congrats on your set at Splendour, it was such a highlight! I really appreciated the “Real Australians Say Welcome” banner that you unfurled partway through, it’s a cause close to many of us at Blank’s hearts. Can you tell us a bit more about your views on refugees and asylum seekers?
Oh, thanks heaps! We had such a fun time.
The current immigration policies are something that we’re not happy with. It came out recently that the government are potentially paying people smugglers to turn their boats around. I guess they did say they would stop the boats, but it’s just become a bit of a shouting match now, it’s such a hyped thing in the media that there’s sorta no real winner anymore. I think the thing that gets forgotten with all the political banter that gets thrown around is that, at the end of the day, these people that are risking their lives to come here are in a great deal of danger. The main thing is looking after those people and trying to take care of them. The absolute least that we can do as artists is to use that to express our views if we feel strongly enough about something. Obviously, we did the Wipe That Shit Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face single at the start of the year and that got a lot more attention than we thought it would. We were just going to use the first banner that we had at Splendour, but it was a few days beforehand and Wil had this idea and we thought, “Oh, that’s too good not to rush and try to get it done”. So we got in touch with Peter [Drew, creator of the Real Australians Say Welcome campaign] and he was really stoked that we were going to use it, so we got it done and made the point that we wanted to make. It was nice that Wil got to say a few words and dedicate that song to asylum seekers, because it is something that is super close to all of us. It’s a cause, if you wanna call it that, that we really believe in fighting for.
You guys are fairly vocal about a lot of socio-political issues that you care about – have you had any particularly nasty backlash?
Oh yeah, totally. It’s that classic “don’t read the comments” thing. It does happen a lot, and some of it is intelligent, but unfortunately a lot of it is pretty nasty and there’s not a lot of intelligent debate going on. Which kinda sucks, but it’s water off a duck’s back when it comes to offending us, and we’re still gonna stand up for what we believe in. I think the most important thing is creating discussion and awareness around things like this – especially with young people, 18-30 year olds, I feel like we’re the sort of people who can make a change and it’s our responsibility to do something. Not to get too preachy about it, but it’s pretty important to say to politicians or whoever that we’re not happy. So we’re fine if someone disagrees with us, and thankfully the large majority of feedback we get is of love and support. All we want in this particular case is for asylum seekers to be better looked after – that’s something the Australian government can do, and I think it’s something we have a responsibility to do.
How was your Splendour experience overall? I know Wil said it was the biggest crowd you’ve ever played to…
It was, and that alone made it incredible. Like Wil also said, he’ll remember it for the rest of his life and I feel exactly the same. We all came offstage and hugged and high fived – I can’t reiterate enough what Wil said, how special it was to us, how much it meant. So obviously that part of it was really cool. But the festival overall – aside from the mud, which I know everybody talks about – it was rad. Got to see so many great bands, meet cool people, get dirty – good times.
Who were your favourite acts that you got to see?
I had a few. I really, really enjoyed The Church, they were fantastic. Dune Rats were really cool. My top three, though, were the last three that I watched, on the Sunday. It was Jamie T, who I loved, then definitely – this is probably from bronze to gold – Royal Blood, who I’d never seen before and stylistically I’m probably not hugely into, but their live show and that sound was just phenomenal… and then Tame Impala. I really love that band and that set just blew me away, they sounded so good, there was so much going on, the way they interpreted the new songs… it was pretty flawless.
There are so many great bands on the rise at the moment – how are you feeling about the Aussie music scene overall?
It’s pretty crazy. I think it’s really healthy, and obviously we came up from a little world out of Melbourne with Poison City Records, and we’ve grown from there with The Bennies and Clowns and Apart From This who are all doing great stuff from that angle. But then, because we’ve been lucky enough to play these festivals and bigger shows, we’ve had the chance to meet a whole different side of bands who we wouldn’t have mixed with. Like at Splendour, getting to meet and play alongside The Grates, DZ Deathrays, and Ecca Vandal… I think it’s great, all those bands are awesome. You can answer this question so many ways, there are so many different facets to the Australian music scene now, there’s so much in the way of awesome stuff going on. It’s so great.
Your festival, I Love Life, is coming up soon. How did that all come together?
It all fell into place with a great deal of work from myself, Andy who runs Poison City Records, and Chris, our booking agent. I suppose what we’re trying to do is take the Poison City Weekender in Melbourne and do a one day version of that in Sydney and Brisbane. We’d already worked pretty hard to get Andrew Jackson Jihad and The Sidekicks, who are two US bands coming out to support us, and then Iron Chic who are from the US too were already coming over and they expressed interest in joining in. Then, Modern Baseball came in at the last minute, and they’re the final US band playing. So we just sort of sat there and scratched our heads and said, “Wait a minute, we can put all this together in Brisbane and Sydney and just make it one huge awesome show”. So we figured out how many bands we could have on, and got Oslow and a couple of local bands in each city involved. It’s gonna be awesome, I’m really pumped about it!
Don’t miss I LOVE LIFE when it comes to Brisbane, 13 September at The Tivoli