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Interview with Warwick Smith

Don't blow your budget on expensive kit, it's not going to make your shit song good

Homemade from Newcastle, Australia, Warwick Smith is an alternative singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer.

At the beginning of Warwick’s musical career in 2019, he met multi-instrumentalist Luke El-Sabbagh and instantly clicked. For the first few months of their friendship, they practised punk and alternative covers in the basement of Luke’s home until the two established a unique sound for themselves, straying from the previously intended emulation of bands like The Killers and twenty øne piløts.

In January 2020, Warwick asked Luke to join him on stage as a duo, with Luke assuming the position of a drummer (despite not ever learning how to play) and combining under Warwick’s solo name. While much of Warwick’s debut album ‘A Premature Obituary’ was written prior to the assembly, Luke had significant input on final mixes and tracks.

After the album’s release in May 2020, Luke was invited to become a creative force and subsequently became a writer for songs alongside Warwick in order to create a second album for the future.

With a debut album under their collective belt, festivals, shows and new singles to come and a growing international fanbase, ‘Warwick Smith’ is one of Australia’s unlikeliest yet hottest up and coming alternative duos.

Tell us about your latest release, what's it about? 

Our latest release was a song called ‘Horsemen’ which was a really last-minute song that we pushed out for Halloween. I wrote it in a state of pure anger and frustration at what I saw happening in the world. It was right in the peak of COVID-19 and the government in Australia was not handling it well at the time. On top of that, that same week the tragic death of George Floyd had occurred and the riots had broken out a few days later so there was a lot of anger and hate to fuel the lyrics. We honestly kind of coined it as a Halloween release to get away with a lot of the more accusatory lyrics we slipped in.

Furthermore we shot a music video for Horsemen which was filmed over 2 weeks and depicts government greed through the lens of a post-apocalyptic society. There was a lot of confusion and unpleasantness going on in the world in the time of production (as Warwick mentioned) and we wanted to reflect that in the video by having an antagonist who portrayed the “evil” parts of society, as well as a diverse colony who symbolised the out-roar of the people. It’s a bit pretentious but with things like this, you kind of have to be.

Warwick Smith with half skull face paint

How did you record it? 

Like all of our releases so far, I sat in my bedroom studio and worked on the worst demo you can imagine that we had previously made in Luke’s car over like an hour. With Luke travelling a two-hour journey from Sydney every week to continue the development and working with a producer to mix the vocals in order to gain exposure to industry mixing, we finished the song over two short months all while filming the music video with an unfinished version of the mix.

How did you distribute it?

We’re big believers in making it for yourself so we released the song independently through distribution service DistroKid and further used Songwhip and our website to promote the single. We used YouTube and ABC’s Rage to distribute the music video on the same day as release.

How did you promote it? 

Warwick: This one’s kind of funny since we couldn’t really throw up flyers or bus ads in the middle of a pandemic, so we just kind of went to Twitter and our website and made the most cryptic, strange yet intriguing tweets and coding anomalies we could (utilising Luke’s background as a software engineer) and lucky for us it gained quite a bit of traction.

Luke: We also themed the song and video towards a Halloween theme (as it was released in late October) in order to capitalise on the seasonal trends as we are known by our fanbase to be quite the spooky duo when All Hallows Eve rolls ‘round.

Warwick Smith performing with guitar

The music industry is in a state of flux right now, where do you see it heading?

Warwick: I think it’s tough especially for those artists right in the middle who threw everything at their music and have no plan B. I know not being able to see Luke with ease has made writing the next album especially difficult but we’ve prevailed online and when restrictions allow it. I know everyone likes to focus on live-streaming right now but I think focusing on getting into those smaller venues when allowed and boosting them up while giving yourself work is the way to go. Support your local venues and you’ll be supporting yourself. They’ll make you and they’ll get you to those areas.

Luke: With concerts and festivals being cancelled it's quite difficult for new artists to rise and promote their work. I know personally, I love discovering new bands by seeing them live as it’s a great way to gauge your interest in them so it’s quite unfortunate that this is not currently an option. However, I believe there may be some hope for it is becoming easier for solo artists to individually release and promote their own music.

What's the most important thing missing from Songwhip?

Personally I think having more thematic customisation would just bring a lot of freedom, as we’ve said before; theming is very important to us on the records and I think something as simple as colour or font choice can really personify the soul of an album or single and all that it stands for.

Warwick Smith as a ghost

Which artist do you look up to the most and why? 

Warwick: I have a profound respect for duos. twenty øne piløts is the obvious comparison for our music and we’re of course huge fanatics of Tyler and Josh but furthermore, I deeply respect a band called I Don’t Know How But They Found Me (or just IDKHow). The frontman Dallon Weekes did a similar thing to me with taking a project and moving forward with it and then finding a writing and musical partner along the way and evolving into what they are. I think that’s always going to be the gold standard for me and for us to reach.

Luke: I feel like for a long time this answer has always been Nothing But Thieves. It’s just so inspiring that they are able to say whatever they feel and it results in such a raw and meaningful end product for their songs. I’ve also recently been listening to an Australian band called The Kite Machine who have a very “Muse like” sound with their own twist.

What artist tools/services can't you live without? 

Warwick: I think just a MIDI piano is a limitless tool for me especially with making demos when I’m not at home or in the studio. Aside from that, a decent capo. My god they are hard to find but once you find one you like, you keep it forever no matter what. Rust, cracks, warping; you see past it for that comfortable and reliable grip for those higher songs.

Luke: This doesn’t have much to do with drums but more guitar, though I do play the guitar a few times in the live shows. Over the years I’ve been falling in love with messing around on a pedalboard. Using different effects, loops and an expressive pedal for some fun sounding solos.

What is your advice to other indie artists to help fund their work/produce music? 

Warwick: If you have a part-time job, be smart with what you make. Don’t immediately blow your entire paycheck on a guitar no one will ever see. If you can’t make music with cheap tools, upping the value isn’t going to fix that. On a more philosophical note, anyone, anywhere can do anything. That teacher or family member who said you’d never get anywhere? Prove them wrong and then deny them tickets to your show like a true powerhouse. I think we’re both looking forward to that moment and it’s okay to admit!

Luke: Start with only the essentials, your main instrument for writing and free or cheap software, just so you can start making your thoughts a reality. Remember there is always a chance to re-record your earlier work when you have more resources so don’t get hung up thinking you’re wasting your work by recording on lower quality equipment.

Warwick Smith in velvet suit

Anything else you'd like to plug?

The bath! The water has been running for 10 minutes, it’s not going to fill! 😂

In all seriousness here’s some links for Luke and I if you want to see what we’re up to, support us or just have a chat. Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoy our next musical adventures. Be excellent to each other!

You can find us on all social media with these handles: @notwarwicksmith, @luke_el. Visit our cool cryptic website and hack it, and of course, all our music is here on this convenient little Songwhip link.