They’re on their way up
Is there a better feeling than when you start tapping your fingers and feet to a tune, not only because it moves you, but sounds familiar: You know you love that song? Then you realize that you not only don’t know the song, but have never heard of the band that’s playing it?
If you have any sense, that’s the moment you start scouring the internet to find the perpetrators of your surprise. If this happened to you in the past two months, there’s a good chance that the Way Down Wanderers, a string band (and so much more) from Peoria, Illinois, smuggled a track from their recently released “Illusions” album into your brain.
If that hasn’t happened to you, the five players, including chief songwriters – and brothers-in-law – Austin Krause-Thompson and Collin Krause, will be happy to perform the trick live at the Southgate House April 19.
The group starts with roots-rooted music, but its flights of fancy include the classical training of John Williams (bass), the jazz leanings of John Merikoski (drums) and the banjo of Travis Kowalsky in addition to Collin’s fiddle and mandolin, Austin’s guitar, and singing that might include the occasional rap.
They have been fine-tuning the sound for years, a period that includes a stint in Chicago before Austin and Collin returned to Peoria.
“In the fall of 2015, the whole band moved to the city, we got a place together, we were scrambling to find jobs and doing gigs on the weekend around the Midwest,” Austin says. “It wasn’t until 2016 that we went full-time and hit the studio (for the eponymous debut album).
“When we flipped the switch and we were all on the same page, we said we were going to spend all of our time and make the commitment to this project … not take any other jobs. From there on out, we tried to keep the schedule as full as possible.”
It’s the classic American rock ’n’ roll story of jumping in a van and crisscrossing the country to win fans one at a time. But the Wanderers weren’t (and aren’t) the classic American rock ’n’ roll band. They share a sensibility with a number of like-minded string bands, for lack of a better description: Billy Strings, Mandolin Orange, Cicada Rhythm, Elephant Revival and more.
“I’m a big fan of all of the acts you mentioned,” Austin says. “I think there’s been a great resurgence in the last decade, two decades of bluegrass music. People are taking this traditional genre and they’re just running with it in new, original ways. It’s been really cool to watch over the past decade or so.”
Keep in mind that the man making these observations about the “last decade, two decades” is in his mid 20s, but he’s been making music for more than half of those years. And while they are fans of their brethren, Facebook says the guys prefer to be called (paraphrasing here) songwriters, who are trying to move ideas forward with music that need not be limited by calling it folk or bluegrass.
Good for them. Every artist worth listening to chafes under genre tagging, yet the Spotifycation of “If you like this, you’ll like that” perpetuates record store bins. However, if you like good songs written and played by good musicians, you will love the Wanderers.
Seriously, when was the last time you started tapping along to a song you thought you knew and then realized you had no idea what you were doing? I can tell you when it happened to me.
Way Down Wanderers perform “Your Will is a Wildflower”.