Last night I sat on my couch and scrolled through Instagram. A text heavy post appeared in my feed from Camp Cope’s lead singer, Georgia McDonald (@goldsoundz_), explaining a situation of emotional harassment and abuse from an ex-partner. In the post, she mentions emails that have been leaked, with her permission, to further expose her ex-partner and detailing the response she has received since the exposure. By the wording McDonald uses in her statement, I figured that the person who sent the emails, McDonald’s ex-partner, is a popular musician within Australia with a sizeable audience. She mentions the compromise of her safety upon the release of his [and his band’s] latest album, where she was publicly named in a Reddit AMA as the toxic ex-girlfriend who inspired much of the album’s content. Upon the release of Camp Cope’s [Georgia McDonald’s band] latest album, the ex-partner threatened to kill her and to kill himself, to which McDonald has saved screenshots of that conversation, presumably over text/email. The ex-partner was confirmed to be Wil Wagner of The Smith Street Band.
It’s heavy shit to read on your average Tuesday night. I was introduced to this saga via Georgia McDonald’s Instagram post, without knowing that Wagner was involved. I had a hunch though. I knew the two moved in similar circles, The Smith Street Band had released a personal and intimate album a couple years back, so I thought I’d jump over to the TSSB’s Instagram page (@thesmithstreetband) to see if anything had been mentioned. Of course, a statement had been made in retaliation from Wagner. “I’m not hiding from anything. I said some incredibly hurtful things that I completely regret. I ask that you make up your own minds based on what has actually been said rather than form an opinion based on someone else’s version.” The post goes on to state that ‘comments have been turned off out of respect to all involved. More darkness never brings light.’
I went to Google. Originally, I wanted to read the AMA that Wagner names McDonald in. I searched Wil Wagner, and first to pop up in the recommended search was ‘Wil Wagner Emails’. Curiosity certainly got the better of me so I clicked. Tone Deaf, Music Feeds, and a couple other publications had been covering the story since last week and had recently updated it with McDonald’s response. One of the articles linked to the leaked screenshots of Wagner and McDonald’s conversation, all names of those involved were covered with black scribbles. I’m not linking to the screenshots – the content is personal, intense and deals with harassment claims, suicide and emotional abuse. I will be paraphrasing sections of the emails that I deem important. Currently, the post I saw on Facebook with the leaked screenshots has been shared 184 times. I’ll leave it to your own discretion if you wish to read them.
The emails were leaked, not by McDonald, but with McDonald’s consent as she states in her post, “I gave permission for those emails to be released after Ryan Adams was exposed last week for all his abusive behaviours towards women.” She goes on, “This triggered me. Triggers are a result of trauma.”
The emails were dated 1 August 2016. Sixteen screenshots were leaked, only showing Wagner’s correspondence with McDonald. All references to Georgia McDonald were covered for her initial anonymity. The structure of the screenshots was initially confusing. What I gathered was multiple emails over a disclosed time frame. If I put things into perspective, the initial screenshot shows the August 2016 date, and Wagner references his upcoming album in the emails; the album in which McDonald inspired many of his lyrics (More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me) which was released in 2017. On the ninth screenshot, Wagner states “I immediately regret sending that because it’s unnecessary…” A simple deduction would read that the first eight screenshots are the same email. Screenshot eleven begins with, “Fair enough. Well I guess I wanted to see if you’re ok?” I read this as a start of a new email, an opener, to which Wagner responds to McDonald. We don’t see McDonald’s response. In this email, Wagner states “Also, we’re about to record an album that is the only thing I’ve ever written that I’m completely proud of, it’s gonna be the best smith st album by far and I think it’s gonna be an important record for the scene and community. But it’s fucking angry and while I don’t say anything untrue or just plain mean for being means sake, it doesn’t exactly paint you in a good light. I kinda wanted to give you the respect and benefit of the doubt and play you stuff before you just heard it somewhere…”
Wagner’s response shows elements of manipulation. And for arguments sake, I’m not a psychologist, an expert in behaviour and nor do I have any experience in or with situations like this. These are personal opinions, my opinions, an outsider’s perspective; take with that what you will. Wagner openly admits he’s being true in his songs, his version of the truth, which ‘doesn’t exactly paint [McDonald] in a good light.’ And in doing that, it holds a level of power over McDonald. He’s written the music, intends to record it, and in doing what he thinks is the kind thing, he’s holding a powerful position over McDonald. I see it as a level of manipulation, one of many cases expressed in the leaked emails.
Wagner’s mental state is also on show for the public. It’s easy to see he’s not in a healthy state of mind, which he acknowledges in screenshot nine where he states, “I immediately regret sending that because it’s unnecessary but as always I feel like you don’t understand me…” It’s not an apology, it’s no excuse for the language and behaviour he’s demonstrated in the previous emails. But I think it’s important to understand the mental health of both parties. McDonald discusses the trauma she endures, also stating, “No person’s mental health, safety or autonomy is the means to an end for anybody else’s art.”
I find myself asking why didn’t McDonald show her responses to Wagner’s emails? We can see Wagner begin an email with “Fair enough. Well I guess I wanted to see if you’re ok.?” To me, that shows an explicit response. But I still find that McDonald’s response is important to this story. Not so people can shift the blame onto her, which I’m sure many people would, but because it allows for context to the story. This is a public issue now, and with public issues with high profile figures, we tend to take one side over another. Many people have taken McDonald’s side in this situation because of the context of the story. By leaking Wagner’s responses, we are inclined to see him as a villain and a manipulative abuser. Once again, for my credit’s sake, I’m not saying he’s not the villain here, his words and alleged actions are inexcusable. But all we can go off on the flip side of this story is Wil Wagner’s brief statement on The Smith Street Band’s Instagram page. Does a brief statement mean conviction? No. Does a brief statement show a guilty party? Possibly. And only time will tell.
Considering the story is very one-sided at the moment, many people are boycotting Smith Street Band. And rightfully so in my opinion. I haven’t really been a fan of SSB since their first album, and the proof of Wagner’s words and behaviour is the nail in the coffin for me. I still believe that he should have his say in the matter though. And once both parties have properly spoken, then we can make up our minds in final. But, we live in the age of social media and the public’s voice can mean a lot for bands. Regardless of the situation, to be seen in association with an alleged abuser can be very damaging for a band’s reputation. Especially as they try to grow their brand. Last night we saw local band Sweater Curse announce that they will not be touring with Smith Street Band on their upcoming tour. “Sweater Curse will no longer be a part of the upcoming Smith Street Band tour in March and April.” The Beths, who were also touring in support, announced on social media that they won’t be touring either. “Thank you to the people who dropped a line to let us know what is going on, we don’t want to support this abuser and we stand with the victims involved.” I reached out to Sweater Curse for a further statement. I will update this article with any response.
One comment on Sweater Curse’s Facebook post, from fan Justin Tierney, states that he does not support the decision to drop out of the tour. His comment goes on to detail the feud between Wagner and McDonald, stating his understanding as “escalating to a point where equality is no longer about the health and safety of both parties, instead the calling out process has turned into fuel to flame the humiliation of the other party.” Tierney’s Facebook comment also sheds light on a statement Wagner made in the email calling McDonald a narcissist. “I read a book about narcissists after we broke up and you are a narcissist.” Wagner later goes on, “Because you are an incredibly effective, manipulative narcissist…” Tierney’s Facebook comment relates that to McDonald’s behaviour in the approval of leaking the emails, “What people can’t see is that if Wil [Wagner] was right at all about her manipulative and narcissistic tendencies, then this decision to leak those emails is just another one of those manipulative stunts to crush him.” Upon reflection, I’d have to agree with Tierney’s comments. McDonald approved the leaking of the emails because she was triggered by Ryan Adams’ similar behaviour of abusive towards women. “This triggered me. Triggers are a result of trauma.” Obviously, the relationship and breakup between McDonald and Wagner is extremely traumatic, much more than any ‘regular’ breakup as can be seen clearly through the leaked emails. I once again find myself wondering what McDonald’s responses would be in the leaked emails. Were they just as heated? Were they equally fuelled with anger and hate? Or were they simple and straight to the point? Did she respond to Wagner simply with ‘Do not contact me’? There’s a method behind the leak that I’d like to understand further. In no way do I condone the behaviour, I certainly don’t agree with Wagner, and I don’t agree with the matter in which the emails were leaked either.
In the age of social media, one person’s side of the story can weigh heavy on decisions. Sweater Curse’s support for Smith Street would have allowed them to play big shows, expose their music to a wider audience and potentially would have been very beneficial for their booming careers. Especially after Laneway festival slots this year. And same for The Beths, who have been blowing up in local scenes around Australia, even playing BIGSOUND last year. In the age of social media, we demand answers now. We demand a statement from all those involved. And sometimes immediately is not the right time to act. We live with a judicial system that allows for both parties to be heard, fairly. But the internet isn’t governed by the same rules. We’ve made our mind up about Wil Wagner before he even issues a statement, or at least an elaboration on his brief comment yesterday. His words are disgusting, and what he threatens is inexcusable. It’s manipulative and abusive. Georgia McDonald has a right to be fearful. What worries me is how fast people turn on their friends, on those they admire, without seeing both sides of the story. Those who comment on the story defending equality are shunned and publicly crucified online. It’s a scary world we live in where we are all quick to judge, quick to act, but slow to forgive.
Now tell me what do we think of someone in a Smith Street shirt?