The Smith Street Band share their fourth record 'More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me', and it's their first release off their newly established label Pool House Records. It’s no secret that there is a real intelligence that goes with The Smith Street Band as they are known to capture music with a message. Rabbit Radio caught up with The Smithies very own Chris Cowburn the day before they release their fourth album ‘MORE SCARED OF YOU THAN YOU ARE OF ME’. Chris gives Rabbit a detailed insight of the bands recording process, being brutally honest and vulnerable in today’s society, a special Splendour surprise and the talk of a first ever Groovin’ the Moo Ashes cricket match and much more.
It’s no secret that there is a real intelligence that goes with The Smith Street Band as they are known to capture music with a message. Rabbit Radio caught up with The Smithies very own Chris Cowburn the day before they release their fourth album ‘MORE SCARED OF YOU THAN YOU ARE OF ME’. Chris gives Rabbit a detailed insight of the bands recording process, being brutally honest and vulnerable in today’s society, a special Splendour surprise and the talk of a first ever Groovin’ the Moo Ashes cricket match and much more.
You guys have your forthcoming album “MORE SCARED OF YOU THAN YOU ARE OF ME” out tomorrow, April 7 which will be the first album released by your very own record company - POOL HOUSE RECORDS. Wil said that this is one of the best and if not the best album you guys have recorded to date. Tell us a bit about that and why you think it’s the best one yet?
CHRIS COWBURN - Wil said that?
KRISTEN SMITH – Yes he did!
CHRIS – Wow, he’s really talking it up hey! I think most bands would agree you just grow and get better. I guess, more in depth at recording and writing songs as you do it more it’s kind of like anything in life that you do right? From that aspect we’re just kind of learning how to play with each other better as musicians. I suppose we kind of try to step up our game a little in terms of the recording process, giving ourselves a little bit longer, and going to a bit of a nicer studio. Getting more people that we really trust to help us out; that sort of thing.
But I think for Wil specifically, and I think why he would have said that is that I know that he’s said this in a lot of interviews so I don’t have any trouble repeating it. But the last few years for Wil - it’s been a real struggle. He’s had a real tough time with his mental health and has really been struggling and I know that this record for him both musically and lyrically, is definitely a piece of catharsis and he really had some shit to get off his chest and he feels really, really good about it. So that’s awesome, and it’s awesome for twofold because it means that we’re excited about putting out a record that we think is really great. But it also means that the vibe of the band currently is really great. The last few years we had some pretty dark times to be honest. With Wil struggling and being away so much it gets pretty tricky at times. But happy to report and say that he’s in a pretty good place right now. So it’s a really strong vibe among the 4 of us.
KS – Yeah I suppose that’s the true essence of your music and in the lyrics it pretty much portrays all of that itself.
CHRIS – Yeah it’s very much ‘heart-on-it’s-sleeve’ stuff. It doesn’t really leave anything to the imagination.
KS – Yeah, probably the best way to describe it!
CHRIS – Yeah totally.
So you guys went and recorded this album in what looks like to be an absolutely beautiful and kind of isolated location somewhere along the coast overseas. You have said that the process for this record was a little bit different in comparison to how you’ve recorded in the past with it being recorded live and tracking together as a band. Do you think that you will continue this recording process in the future?
CHRIS – Yeah I would think so, that’s the live recording set up. It is a real hallmark of Jeff Rosenstock who produced the record. That’s really one of his big things. This is the second record that Jeff has produced for us. And funnily enough we actually talked to some other bigger producers before we decided we were going to do it with Jeff again. Like Chris Walla from Death Cab for Cutie was one person we were talking to and a couple of others. I guess it was a bit of a constant theme that pretty much everyone said when we were discussing how we should do it and how they would want us to do it and that sort of thing. Everyone said you guys are a live band that plays off energy, so why would you try and cauterize it and make it mathematical. Which totally makes sense when you think about it? And I’m guilty of this too, especially as the drummer; you get so worried about recording and it’s quite a nerve-racking process. You get so worried like ‘am I gonna fuck up’ or ‘can we make this right’? Or I say Photoshop ‘cause I’m a graphic designer; we can Photoshop to make things line up and make it sound perfect.
Then you kind of realise that these guys are right. Jeff, Chris and John Agnello who was the guy who mixed the record and has done some fantastic stuff with Sonic Youth – they’re all really experienced at this and they are all right that its more about the vibe that you capture and the energy playing live than it is you making a tiny mistake or maybe not playing something that’s exactly how you would’ve wanted it. A really prime example of that is the fourth song on the record called ‘Song For You’ and the middle is classic Wil Wagner song writing technique. It goes to this really slow sad bit then the band kind of comes back in we build it up together. When we were recording that song we did this one pass of it, we did a take altogether and everyone nailed it, it was perfect. It was smooth, it didn’t speed up, it didn’t slow down, tempo was great - nailed it!
KS – It just meshed together so nicely.
CHRIS – Yeah but, the interesting thing is when we listened to it we were like ‘ugh it feels kind of rigid’. And then we listened to the one we did before and everyone was like ‘nah it feels too pushy and pulley, it speeds up and slows down here and there and it’s not good’. And then we listened to it and everyone was like ‘oh that suits the vibe better’. It pushes and pulls naturally around Wil’s vocals. So that’s a really good example of what Jeff is there for and the vibe that he’s trying to capture and that sort of thing. I guess I’m talking about it so passionately because it was a real learning curve for me as well and something going into this record I didn’t really notice as much.
KS – Yeah I suppose you guys did it over a fair period of time, you guys took it in and took the time to actually make it pretty much exactly how you wanted it with that real essence of your live energy. So that would have been a real special moment for you guys to get the record done and look back at that.
CHRIS – Yeah totally. I suppose you mention getting the songs exactly how you want and I don’t know, I sort of disagree that would ever be the case. It’s always gonna turn out a little different to what you expect and that’s the cool part about it. But yeah, we spent a decent amount of time tracking this one. We gave ourselves like three weeks which is longer than we’ve had before. It was great, we got to hone in on some parts that we wanted to focus on and I feel like every record that we’ve done, or even every piece of recording I’ve been a part of; you always seem to run out of time no matter how much time you have, you always run out cause there’s so much more you want to do. And it was totally the case with this record. I can’t remember who quoted this but I think it’s something like, ‘a piece of artwork is never finished, it’s abandoned’. And I think that’s totally true, there’s always something more that you could do. But we gave ourselves an ample amount of time in a beautiful location and you can’t really ask more than that.
There’s a real intelligence and there’s a real passion that goes with The Smith Street Band and that clearly resonates with your fans and listeners because they can really relate to the vulnerability and honesty that transcends from your music. I did read that the most honest song on the album is ‘KILLS ME TO BE ALIVE’. Tell us a bit about this one and why it hit’s so close to home?
CHRIS – I think that’s mostly Wil that that one hits home for. It’s actually pretty much the most stripped back song on the album and it’s mostly Wil’s solo and it’s only the full band for a very short amount of time toward the end of the song. So yeah that’s mostly a question for him, but I can say that that was sort of a big piece of catharsis for him. As I sort of said before, he’s gone through a lot of mental health stuff over the last couple of years and that song is sort of a turning point and a bit of a realisation that he can get through it I suppose. He’s never been as raw and as emotional about his mental health on a song before which is sort of hard to believe ‘cause he does throw so much of it out there in plain view for everyone to see and interpret it how they like.
His songs are very first person and this is very much singing in the first person. Like, ‘this is how I feel, and I fucking hate myself but I’m gonna get better’. And this is definitely something to be said about that which you can hear in the vocal take. I know that was one of the moments where we all had to just leave the room and leave him alone and let him do this, and you can hear it in the vocal take because he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve in that song. And I think he actually did the vocals once and that was it.
It seems that you guys are either backing some sort of worthy cause or standing up for those who don’t necessarily have a voice whether its asylum seekers, the awareness of mental health or drawing attention on the ongoing ticket scalping issue. You guys are actively being the change you want to see which is essentially how ‘DEATH TO THE LADS’ came about. What continues to drive you guys to put your foot forward about these issues?
CHRIS - I’ll answer this one in a weird way and say nothing continues to drive us forward, it’s just what we feel and that it’s just the right thing to do. Wil kind of touched on this last year, when we did the ‘Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face’ single and donated the money to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. We had a lot of interviews about that and there was a lot of traction around the press about it where Wil said a really interesting thing that sort of resonated with me that I hadn’t thought about previously which was that you don’t write these songs and you don’t push these causes like they kind of push you. And he meant that in the sense that;
‘I’m not going to write a song about a cause or about something that needs to be done that I believe in because if I feel strongly enough about it then I’ll just write it and it will happen regardless’.
Which I think is really cool and that’s kind of the way I guess I’m answering your question which is that these things like the Ticketmaster thing we’re furious about. We are getting ripped off and fans are getting ripped off. Asylum seekers, again; furious and it’s such a sad and horrible situation. So anything that we can do or anyone can do or help is worthwhile. These are things that just we voice because it’s just what we think and it’s what we believe. I would like to think that even if I wasn’t in a band that could get some attention from press or that people listen to that was popular ow whatever, that I would still care equally about these issues and do the same amount or as much as I could.
KS – Absolutely. And like you mentioned before you donated to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and I went through your band Instagram page and I found that you guys also donated some money to Headspace as well to promote them and to help them continue to do what they do which is really great.
CHRIS – Yeah absolutely. Yeah Headspace is a really, really important one. I mean all four of us in the band have had some mental health issues at one point or another. Especially Wil, as we touched on and I know that Wil has used Headspace and has used their support network and clinics and stuff. It’s hugely important and I guess the donation you are talking about is the $5 donated from our album for those who purchased the pre-orders of our record. There was a little screen print to go with the pre-orders and there’s a little stamp on the back that talks a little about the donation. I think in total it was coming up to $1,000 which is really cool.
The reason we did that was because that was so important to all of us, especially Wil and we were trying to think of what we could do with the pre-orders of this album to push something that we felt was really positive. And that was something that we wanted to do so that was really a no-brainer when it came to it.
KS – Absolutely loving what you guys are doing with that stuff it’s really great!
You guys are playing the Triple J One Night Stand, Groovin’ The Moo, and recently announced that you’ll be returning to Splendour in the Grass this year. For those who haven’t yet seen you guys play live yet, tell us what they should expect.
CHRIS – Well I just heard that Splendour in the Grass is already sold out which is crazy seeing as that tickets went on sale like 2 hours ago. That’s insane!
KS – Not surprised!
CHRIS – We actually have some special things in store for this album cycle. It’s always exciting to play new songs and it’s always a very, very humbling and crazy experience when you play new songs from a new album and the album only just came out or you haven’t played them live before, and people know the words and sing along. It’s kind of the same vibe that we’ve been talking about. Our band relies on vibe and relies on energy. We’re not the best musicians in the world and we’re not the best technical players. We’re there to have fun and try and entice the crowd into having an equally as a good of a time with us.
KS – Just doing what you love obviously!
CHRIS – Yeah absolutely. And hopefully that comes across. I’ve always said that this band is about positivity and inclusiveness and while these days it might be a massive stage I really feel that there’s no difference between me or any of the other dudes being on the stage versus someone being in the crowd watching. For me it’s a shared experience which is one thing that I have always loved about music. I guess punk music is what got me to be a music lover and a musician and that’s something that was really pioneered by punk music. That’s really important and I guess that’s the goal that we try and get across when we play shows. But in terms of actual specific things the people can expect – we do have some cool stuff in the works but I can’t tell you what it is!
KS – Not even a little hint?
CHRIS – Not even a little hint. It will remain a secret until it happens. But it will be cool, I’m very excited! But it won’t be for all those shows that you mentioned, but it will be for at least some of them.
KS – Can you at least tell us one of the shows?
CHRIS – Ahh… Splendour in the Grass!
KS – I’ll be looking forward to that one in particular then!
To end on a lighter note; what are the 3 main ingredients that make The Smithies?
CHRIS – Vulnerability, honesty and well this is 2 things but weed and beer! So 4 things, but I hope that’s okay.
KS – Classic! I mean 4 is better than 3 I suppose.
So you and Violent Soho posted a tweet about a friendly (or maybe not-so friendly) match of cricket against Architects and The Darkness while touring for Groovin’ The Moo. Is this going to happen and have you guys been training for it?
CHRIS – It’s so funny how many people, like how many interviews I’ve done and the percentage of people that have asked this question. Like nearly everyone! The answer to training is of course not, like absolutely not!
KS – That’s a given.
CHRIS – We’re all hopeless at sports. I hope it happens; it would be really fun if it did happen. Someone from Violent Soho tweeted about it at us, which was probably James. I really hope that they’re down for it. I guess maybe the biggest problem is I guess it was meant to be a GTM Ashes – AUS VS UK; Violent Soho and The Smith Street Band versus Architects and The Darkness. I know that Violent Soho and Smith Street are really keen so that’s one side but we don’t really know Architects or The Darkness. But both of them have tweeted back and shown interest in one way or another. But whether it happens or not, remains to be seen and where it happens. Maybe at worst, we could just do Violent Soho vs Smith Street Band?
KS – I mean even that would be epic to be honest.
CHRIS – It would be interesting, I’m not sure how much cricket will get played. It will just be a lot of talking shit drinking beer.
KS – Would you be fielding or the bowler?
CHRIS – Yeah I don’t know. I’m not very good at sport and have several bad injuries. If I try and bowl, my shoulder would probably just dislocate. I just might chill in the outfield and drink a beer or something.
KS – Just have one beer in one hand and have the other hand open in the field ready to catch.
CHRIS – Yeah totally!
KS – First ever backyard festy cricket match about to go down!
CHRIS – A couple of people in interviews have asked me where it’s going to be. And I’m like I don’t even want to think about that ‘cause no matter where we do it the other regions are gonna be really pissed off!
KS – Maybe you can do a little match at each one and bring up your game in the cricket area.
You can catch The Smithies at one of the many upcoming music festivals around the country. Head to their website for further details and dates - http://www.thesmithstreetband.com/.