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On Why Punk Is Such A Difficult Style To Capture

18 September 2015 | 5:17 pm | Shaun Cowe

“It’s such a broad and ambiguous term these days."

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Having just returned from finishing their European tour with a show at Leeds Festival in the UK, The Smith Street Band returned to be the headline act for the Poison City Weekender. Drummer, Chris Cowburn, sees the band owing a lot of loyalty to the Poison City Records label and is quick to pump up their merits.

“Andy Hayden (owner/founder) and Poison City is just perfect for us," he says. "Just the way he operates things and the attitude he has to music he releases. While it’s a small operation, it’s perfect for us.

"We certainly did have offers with other Australian labels. That was quite a while ago now, before the second album. And there was a time where we did think we did want to go to a bigger label. Then I guess we just woke up to ourselves and were like this is the perfect situation for us.”

Of course, Poison City are probably quite happy with their clients too. The Smith Street Band’s EP Wipe That Shit Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face was seen as the encapsulation of alternative Australia’s angst with the current government - and now ex-Prime Minister - and made music headlines around the nation. Their newest single however, I Scare Myself Sometimes, featuring Lucy Wilson, has a decidedly more introspective tone.

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“I guess when you look at a lot of our back catalogue and a lot of the music Wil (Wagner) writes, it’s very introspective, it’s very inward. I suppose the Tony Abbott song - while Wil often touches on political themes quite often in his lyrics - the way we released that and went about it, I guess the decision of putting his face on the cover and making it a benefit single, that’s a pretty outwards way of releasing something.

“I would call I Scare Myself Sometimes, while the actual audio and the style of the music itself is stripped back, it’s back to Wil’s style of songwriting. With anything we release, there’s no conscious decision to release it in that way. The song gets written, it wasn’t a conscious decision to write a political song and it wasn’t a conscious decision to write a duet. They were just the songs Wil thought were better.”

While Wagner’s ballsy vocals are easily identifiable in I Scare Myself Sometimes, even fans would have a hard time considering it a punk tune. When asked about whether the band considered itself punk, Cowburn was fairly ambivalent about the nomenclature.

“It’s such a broad and ambiguous term these days. I guess if you want to think of it in the sense of a punk band being The Clash or Ramones or even someone like Billy Brag. You know, punk in the honest way, in the sense that you’re right and you’re not going to harm other people, you stand up for what you believe in and you’re not afraid to say it. Then yes, I would call us a punk band,” he says.

“But in terms of musical style, punk is such a difficult style to capture these days. All these genres as a whole in music are a bit irrelevant these days. There’s so many blended styles and bands. It becomes its own Frankenstein thing.”

Originally published in X-Press Magazine.