Interview with Chris of the Smith Street Band

We met with Chris Cowburn, drummer and backing vocalist for The Smith Street Band, before their show with Elvis Depressedly and the Front Bottoms in Boston. Originally from Australia, the pop-folk-punk quartet have spent the last few years touring around the world and released their third studio album, Throw Me in the River, last year. Chris caught us up on life touring in multiple countries, fan tattoos, and the beauty of black bean pizza crust.

The Daily Slice: So I know you guys tour a lot, so what are some of your favorite places to go on tour?

Chris Cowburn: Oh, wow, God there’s been so many! Especially over the last 3 months, we’ve done Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and now the US and Canada. I don’t know, I kind of have fun everywhere. I really like touring around Australia. I kind of find that’s really the place where I have the most fun. Mainly because that’s our home, and we have so many friends there. That’s not to say that I don’t like going overseas, because I still love that too, but there’s so many new places in Australia that we still haven’t seen. Like, this trip in the start of October, we did a few places in far North Queensland, which is like very far northeast in Australia that we’ve never been to before–none of us–on vacation or touring. So it’s cool to see places like that and cool to go, especially in Australia, for us, I think that we’re really really lucky that we get to go to places and people come to shows in these places where most bands wouldn’t get to go to. So I really love that, but you know there’s so many places in the US and Europe that I love too. Like on the last European tour we went to Poland and and Hungary for the first time. It’s getting to go to places that you otherwise maybe wouldn’t have had a chance to go. And to have the band as a vehicle to do that and to be on holiday, essentially, with your friends. Even though it’s hard work and you move around a lot. But to be able to do that, we’re so lucky. That was a bullshit answer, I didn’t mean to say everything! [laughs] 

TDS: That’s ok, I like that you’re honest! I know you guys have a lot of fun when you go to these places, but do you ever get into really silly, stupid arguments while you’re touring because you’re all crushed into one place?

CC: Oh yeah. All the time. ALL the time. It’s like being on holiday with your siblings, you know, but you can’t necessarily leave each other. You’re like, glued together almost 24 hrs a day. So yeah, there’s horrible, stupid fights. Me and Wil [Wagner, vocals and rhythm guitar] had one the other day, and it was just like, over nothing! It was like, we didn’t talk to each other for a day. Then we were like, “This is stupid!” But yeah, it happens all the time.

TDS: Outside of that, do you guys goof around with each other? Are their tour pranks or any weird traditions?

CC: God, I don’t know if there’s any I could say! [laughs] There’s a lot of silly stuff that goes on. A lot of making fun of each other. I guess that’s like an Australian humor. Part of the Australian sense of humor is being sarcastic.

TDS: Oh, we do that here too!

CC: [laughs] I guess we really like to take the piss out of each other a lot and tease each other a lot. I can’t think of anything specific right now, but we definitely have a lot of fun.

TDS: That’s good. So I know right now you guys are finishing up a tour with the Front Bottoms and Elvis Depressedly. I remember a while ago you guys toured with the Front Bottoms in Australia. Is there a lot of difference touring with them in Australia, verses touring here? I know right now you guys are billed as the support act, but in Australia you headline.

CC: Yeah, like, when I met Brian Sella I didn’t know he was famous. [laughs] I guess we knew enough about the band when we toured with them in Australia. That’s why we asked them to come to Australia with us, because we really really liked the band. It was really cool for us to see in Australia because we’ve taken a lot of US and international bands to Australia now. We’ve been really lucky that we’ve been able to do that. But the #1 in terms of people’s reaction easily is the Front Bottoms. They have so many fans in Australia who were excited to see them. So that was really really cool to see. But then to come support them in the US is just mind blowing! It’s a whole different level! A couple different people on this tour, independently, have referred to it as Beatlemania. It kind of is that sort of vibe! There’ll be 50 people, if not 100, waiting outside the venue by the bus every night. Even the small shows, there’s people lined up around the corner when we arrive at the venue, which is like 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s crazy! I have ultimate respect for people who love music and love a band that much that they’re willing to do that sort of stuff. But yeah, to see the recognition, I guess it’s really well deserved, that the Front Bottoms are getting is phenomenal. It’s so cool. So yeah, to answer your question it’s a really huge, stark contrast to see them here. I love it, it’s great!

TDS: Well it helps that both of the support acts on this tour are really great as well.

CC: Well thank you. This tour has undoubtedly helped us so much. There’s so many new people seeing us every night. That’s so cool. You know, getting to do the whole country and like 40 shows or something. That’s something we never could’ve dreamed of doing just a couple of years ago, you know? So to be able to do that, and not only that, but to be able to play in front of 1000 or 2000 people every night, it’s like, “Wow!” Especially because the US is so much bigger than Australia. There’s all of these cities you can play! In Australia it’s only like 10 or 15.

TDS: I feel like in Australia things are so much more spread out.

CC: Yeah, that’s right. There’s so fewer people. Our population’s way less than it is here. So the cities are all smaller. So it’s really really interesting to be able to do this. And we’re coming back for a headline tour in March, so just the fact that we can announce that pretty soon, and say, “Hey, we just toured with the Front Bottoms. If you liked us, come see us.”

TDS: Are there any songs you wish you guys could play live more often?

CC: Oh, do you know what? One that I really really wanted to do actually happened! It hasn’t happened on this tour, but when we were in Australia a couple of months ago we got to do it, which was “Rooftops” from the first album [No One Gets Lost Anymore]. I guess we had a little break around June-July or something, and I sort of was just practicing drums and went back, and played through our entire back catalogue, which is something I wouldn’t usually do at all. It was fun to really jam along to all the songs and go, “Oh, I think one thing about this song in my head but it’s not actually the case. This is a rad song! We should play it!” And we did! And there are a lot of people who were excited to hear “Rooftops” in Australia, because we never played it before really. So that’s one, I’m sure there’s more, but most songs we’ve given a chance at some point over the last couple of years. We rotate them out fairly often. I really really like playing “It’s Alright, I Understand” off the new album [Throw Me in the River], which is one that we weren’t playing up until the past couple of months, when we started putting it in the set. It’s always awesome to keep it fresh. We’ve been playing a new song on this tour, a little bit.

TDS: A new new song?

CC: A new new song! And also, I should mention that it was awesome to play “I Scare Myself Sometimes”, the single with Lucy [Wilson] back in Australia because she, and her band the Sugarcanes, opened on tour, so we did that every night. And that’s a song that’s been around for forever, and it was only recently that we recorded it. So to be able to play that was really cool.

TDS: Are there any songs that you always play?

CC: Yeah, I guess “Young Drunk” was kind of that, but interestingly enough, not really by choice but just because we seem to be running out of time, we get to the end of the set and we’ve been dropping that off at the end. I guess that song, up until this tour, would’ve been played at every single show we played since that album [Sunshine and Technology] came out. So it’s fine for it to miss out every now and then. I guess “Surrender”, at the moment, gets played every night. I guess it was kind of the first single off the new album. That’s sort of the way I guess. We probably will play that song forever until it’s really old. And then maybe there’ll be something new. Maybe all the new songs will be shit, I’m not sure! [laughs]

TDS: I’ve noticed that, as you guys are gaining a wider audience, all the fans I’ve met have been very very loyal fans to the band. And I’ve seen a couple of people with Smith Street Band tattoos and that sort of thing. How do you guys feel about that?

CC: It’s so so rad. Like it’s so cool! Wait, do you have one?

TDS: I’m getting one next month! The elephant and the bear from No One Gets Lost Anymore

CC: Awesome! Make sure you Instagram it to us or something! There’s a few people I’ve seen now who have that and it’s kind of my favorite one. Like I’ve got the trees, it’s one of the first tattoos I got. It’s really sketchy [laughs] Like, I drew all that stuff. All the album art is mine, so it’s really really cool to see people with my artwork. There’s a couple people, actually–this trips me out—have got the No One Gets Lost… type from the front. A couple of people have got that tattooed on them and that’s just my handwriting. That’s crazy! The fact that anyone wants to get a tattoo of our band is really cool. I really really like it. And yeah, you’re right, our fans tend to be loyal fans, it’s really cool.

TDS: Yeah, I haven’t met any casual Smith Street Band fans, it’s always like–

CC: Diehards, yeah! It’s awesome. I’d prefer that than someone who’s just like, “Eh, take em or leave em.” Either hate us or love us!

TDS: Speaking of love, I’ve seen you guys posting a lot of love on social media for Side One Dummy, your label. What’s it like to work with them?

CC: Absolutely, overwhelmingly awesome. They’re the best people. Since day one they’ve looked after us so well and I can’t speak highly enough about them. I think there’s 7 or maybe 8 people that work there and all of them, in their own way, go out of their way to help us out. It’s a really cool atmosphere and family to be a part of. It’s an idea that, for us, started with Poison City, which is our label in Australia. But Side One Dummy is that but on a much bigger scale, I guess because the US is a much bigger place. It’s about being honest, and taking care of people, and helping each other out as much as you can, not about making big bucks and making everything slick and shiny. I think what is really important for us is that right around the time we signed with Side One, we had just been talking with Andrew Jackson [Jihad] about touring with them, Jeff [Rosenstock] was talking with Side One about signing at the same time, and we’d been talking with Pup about touring with them, we’d already been touring and been friends for a long time with Restorations. These are all people who are our friends, first and foremost, and have really really good things to say about the people who work at Side One Dummy, so that sort of bodes really well. We can’t complain at all, it’s really rad. Also really cool, Side One Dummy is a label I used to check out when I was a young kid. Like Gaslight Anthem more recently, but also Flogging Molly, the [Mighty Mighty] Bosstones, there’s so many bands that have been on the label. It’s an honor to be part of it.

TDS: So we’ve talked a little bit about some of the things you have coming up. There’s the US tour coming up in March, is there anything else you guys are working on?

CC: Well I think we’re gonna chill out a little bit, have a couple of months break over Christmas and whatnot. But then, we have a festival in Australia called Laneway, which is five capital cities. That’s at the start of February. Then we’ll be back here in March and April, which will be announced pretty soon. That’s gonna be us and Hard Girls supporting us from San Jose. Then at some point around there we’re gonna talk about recording a new album, which is exciting. We haven’t got anything locked in yet, we’ve actually just got the one new song that’s finished. Apart from that, we’re going to go to Europe in July. But apart from those three tours, we don’t really have anything planned, and we won’t really be adding anything else. Next year will just be those three tours and then record and work on the new album. We hope to have it out at the start of next year.

TDS: The very last question that I have here for you is The Daily Slice has sort of a running pizza theme–

CC: Oh, my favorite food!

TDS: Perfect! So I have to ask, what is your favorite kind of pizza and your favorite place to get pizza?

CC: This is the perfect question for me! It’s gotta be Vinnie’s, which is a place in Brooklyn. They have two stores. It’s gotta be just a cheese slice, or they have a slice that’s black bean base with fresh tomatoes, cilantro, feta, and it’s got sort of a Mexican vibe. It’s interesting, the black bean base is a pizza I’ve never had before. It’s smushed up, crushed black beans. It rules. That place in general, they do all these crazy specialty slices and swap them out every day. I follow them on Instagram and they always do pictures to go with it.

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