Interview: Lee Hartney of The Smith Street Band talks new album, tour and podcasts

Credit: Ian Laidlaw

Beloved Melbourne rock quintet The Smith Street Band have a knack for crafting equally personal and uniting music. After Don’t Waste Your Anger debuted at #1 on the ARIA Album Chart in 2020, their sixth studio album Life After Football is out 25 November via their own label Pool House Records.

We caught up with guitarist Lee Hartney to chat about the new album, current tour and more.

“The way the album sort of began, the writing process to what it turned into, was completely different,” he says of the record. “We didn’t stick to the exact plan that we had 18 months ago when we started doing stuff. We had a few simpler, fun rock songs and said, ‘why don’t we just do an EP?’ Like six fast two-minute songs. You end up starting to write longer ones and then other ones come in, so we were like, ‘why don’t we just do an album?’.”

Life After Football as a whole is very upbeat and fun, something that the band had in mind from the beginning. When listening to the record, the first thing you notice is its urgency and rawness. The lyrics are still as poignant as ever, yet almost every track is one that you can dance to. We asked Lee what he thinks they did differently this time around.

“Go simple, which is the opposite of what I am. I’m the guy who wants harmonised guitar solos or lead lines all the time and really layered stuff that people who are recording the album will go, ‘no one’s ever gonna hear that, there’s no point recording eight guitars’. So I just played the chords and made it simple.”

We also asked what he’s most excited for people to hear on the record. For those who are well acquainted with the singles that have been released, it seems like you’ve already heard what the new album has to offer. But most importantly, how GOOD it is.

“I feel like those three singles that have come out represent the record quite well. I Don’t Wanna Do Nothing Forever is just a straight rock song. Everyone is Lying to You for Money has this weird robot voice over the song and it became a strange rock song with an industrial sound. The last song Life After Football is a bit more epic. So hearing those songs, you’ve got a good vibe of what the record feels like.”

The album was recorded by bassist Michael “Fitzy” Fitzgerald and mixed by Anton Hagop (Silverchair, Powderfinger, Missy Higgins) at their home studio in Melbourne. The band also wrote and produced it entirely themselves after having learned some tricks along the way when working with producers prior to their last album, Don’t Waste Your Anger, in 2020.

“We’ve got our own studio so we don’t have that pressure, we just say ‘hey, do you wanna record next week?’ We were still writing everything in a room together. Because the songs are all stripped back, 90% was recorded live with us all in the room. At least for me, there wasn’t a lot of going back and adding things. If the take was good, we were done.”

The title track addresses recent events of the pandemic on a personal level. While the literal meaning is about frontman Wil Wagner being picked up at a football field after a severe storm at their studio, it also translates well in a broader sense of the album’s themes.

“The album was gonna be called Everyone is Lying to You for Money, then someone changed their idea about the artwork and when the lead single should come out. Within a day, the album had changed to Life After Football. It still makes sense if you want it to, whether it’s a pandemic or football season, it’s what happens after it falls to pieces and you lose everything.”

The Smith Street Band are currently on an eight-date national tour (five of which will be Wagner solo), with a standalone show at The Tivoli in Brisbane on 24 March as part of its ENCORE series. Of course, we asked if there will be a proper album tour following the album’s release in November – and it’s looking very good.

“Yeah, Feb/March next year is loosely locked in. I love The Forum in Melbourne and we played the Fortitude Music Hall in Brisbane a couple weeks ago and that was incredible.”

For one last question, we asked Lee what he’s been jamming lately. While his response was unexpected, you’ve got to give it to him for being a legend.

“This is a terrible answer but I feel like I listen to podcasts all the time now. Half the time I’m in the car, I’m with my daughter and she’s sleeping. If you’re listening to music, there’s not much point in having it so low that you can sleep through it.”

It seems that The Smith Street Band is all grown up now, but they still know how to have a lot of fun. Life After Football – out 25 November – is a stellar example and some of their most affecting work to date. Follow the band on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates.