There are few artists that are as self-deprecating and authentic as Allan Smithy. Coming from Sydney’s inner city, the music maestro blends Australiana with nostalgia to sing about real issues that affect people like you and me.
I caught up with Smithy to talk music, housing affordability and what makes him tick.
Your latest EP, I See a Palm Tree, comes out November 4 and I love it. How would you describe it for fans?
I’m going for an Australiana sort of nostalgic vibe, so hopefully you’ll hear some familiar soundscapes — I’m just dealing with things I know and that people are dealing with.
What are these things that people are dealing with?
I think money is a huge thing and housing affordability; and then you have uni debts — all those things are pretty common issues that people are dealing with at the moment, so that’s what I’m singing about.
Tell me about the song Four Letter Reason — what inspired you?
I just try to sing about what I know, real events that I’ve experienced. You know, you’re looking for a house and finally find a place — I’ve got a dog as well — that’s meant to be $800p/w and then someone’s suddenly offering $850. It’s like ‘what the hell?!’
I was living around the corner from the Rozelle fire that happened in 2014. I remember going outside to see what was going around — everyone was running around and it was really frantic. I was like ‘well this is something I’ve experienced and it’s a rarity,’ so that’s what I try to capture.
You know how on the news you see a bombing on the other side of the world and it doesn’t really translate? Well this gave me a perspective on that, a pretty limited one at that, but I really felt the panic and fear.
Alright, I’m gonna get a bit meta here — what makes Allan Smithy tick?
I don’t wanna sound too goofy here, and I don’t wanna get too political, but if I can say one thing that bothers me is the way people are either really left or really right-wing here. It’s so hard to find people in the middle, and there are so many similarities between the two and yet we focus on the negatives.
Fair point. So is expressing your thoughts and concerns the best things you get out of music?
I think a lot of people sing about these incredibly vague concepts that are out in the ether and are about nothing. There are so many songs out there about nothing and that makes me tick.
There are a lot of people out there that wanna sound like “this” — they go out on a limb to create a persona (which is pretty rich coming from me who performs with a pseudonym) — but I try to see what has affected me, but at least if it’s mundane I know that it’s authentic.
A lot of inauthenticity is annoying and rife in music.
If you’re at a crossroads and you have to choose between selling out with Top 40 music and guaranteeing success, or sticking to your guns and risking it all, what do you do?
I’ve been in projects before where you try to appeal to people. I think if you write music that you’re happy with that does well then that’s great, but if it doesn’t do well, you’re still happy with it. But there are lots of instances where people make music that does well and yet they’re miserable with it.
At the end of the day, if you’re making music that you’re happy with, it doesn’t matter what others think. As the creator, you first and foremost wanna be happy with it and if anyone else is happy with it then that’s great.
If I’m not on the Top 40 or not selling out the Hordern [Pavilion], it doesn’t bother me because I’m proud of and happy with the music I’m putting out. And I think if I was to change the music I was doing, to sort of cater to that music, I wouldn’t be happy with it.
Tell us about your national tour — are you excited?
Yeah, definitely. It’s the first time I’m doing headline shows. When you play supports, you play a specific style — you just have half an hour so you wanna play your stronger songs ‘cos you’re trying to win people over.
But when you have a headline slot, it’s different. Firstly, you gotta step it up a notch — it needs to be as good as it can be. Also, though, you’ve got a longer period of time to play for so you can have a variety of songs and add stuff to the set. Plus, you can play around with demos and tweak them a bit.
I See a Palm Tree comes out November 4. You can purchase tickets to his national tour here.