Hailing from Peoria, Ill., The Way Down Wanderers captivate audiences with their eclectic mix of genres. Although rooted in Americana and bluegrass, the band’s songwriting takes unexpected stylistic pivots. This fusion of musical influences can be heard in their sophomore album, “illusions,” released just this year. In addition to their new music, the band has embarked on tour, traveling throughout the American South and Midwest. The Way Down Wanderers are set to perform in Atlanta on Oct. 1 at Eddie’s Attic.
The Wheel interviewed Collin Krause, one of the band’s lead vocalists and songwriters who also plays the mandolin and violin, to discuss the new album and his insights on the uncertainties of songwriting.
The Emory Wheel: For those who are not familiar with you or your music, who are The Way Down Wanderers?
Collin Krause: We are a five-piece, Americana band from Peoria, Ill. We play all kinds of music ranging from influences of bluegrass to rock. We’ve got a banjo player, drummer, bass player, acoustic guitar and more in addition to two lead vocalists, Austin Krause-Thompson and myself. We share the singing and songwriting duties in the band.
TEW: How did the band get its name?
CK: It’s kind of funny. We were throwing around a ton of ideas. We threw out terrible ideas, of course, as you always do when you are trying to name something. And then we just kind of came up with the phrase, “The Way Down Wanderers.” It’s definitely a name we’ve grown into over the years. For me, it means traveling to all of the places we’ve been.
TEW: The band blends many genres together. Is this purposeful when writing songs or does this genre clash happen naturally?
CK: I would say it’s sort of a natural process. We try to serve the song and the lyrics the best we can. And if some of those ways involve keyboards or electric guitar – stuff that’s not totally traditional – that’s just kind of where it takes us.
TEW: Do you tend to infuse memories and images from your childhood into your music?
CK: Definitely. I grew up in Peoria, Ill., a mid-sized city about three hours south of Chicago. One of the songs specifically, “CROOKED PINES” from the new album, references this hiking spot I went to all the time when I was growing up.
TEW: Can you talk about your experience working with Grammy award-winning producer Dave Schiffman?
CK: Yeah, Dave was the producer of “illusions.” Working with Dave was such a good match for us. He’s obviously a seasoned veteran – he’s been working in the studio for years now, and he’s worked on some amazing projects. He was a really calm presence in the studio. He kind of helped the band figure out that no idea is a bad idea, and you don’t really know until you try it. So, he helped us break down those barriers and just try stuff that we might not normally have thought of.
TEW: The Way Down Wanderers is such a large group. How does the songwriting process tend to work?
CK: It usually starts with myself or Austin bouncing ideas off of each other. He and I will finish pretty much an entire song before we take it to the band, who of course have their own ideas of the song that they bring to the table. So, [the song] definitely changes a lot through the writing process. We just try to be really open to trying out different things and not becoming attached to playing the song one way. You have to accept that in the studio it might change and usually how it ends up changing is for the better.
TEW: A couple songs that have given the band great acclaim are “Path to Follow” and “CROOKED PINES.” Can you describe the message behind the tracks?
CK: For “Path to Follow,” Austin wrote the song, and it’s about finding independence and learning your place in the world. I remember writing the song “CROOKED PINES” probably five or six years ago, and it never found its way onto any album until “illusions.” The song was very old, and I brought it to the table, and the producer really liked it, so I was really excited to re-release this song that I had written so many years ago. It’s about not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life or what direction I wanted to take and learning to accept the unknown. It was cool having the song on the album five years later, having figured things out with the band and the future.
TEW: What songs on the setlist are you most looking forward to playing?
CK: “PRINCIPLES OF SALT” is the first song on our album, so that’s definitely a tune I’m really excited to play live. We usually open our sets with that song, and then we’ll go right into the next song “LONESOME.” So we definitely love to bring a lot of energy on stage, and also we have a couple tender moments like “HEARTLAND.” It’s a love song that I wrote that’s more on the softer, sweeter side of things. We definitely try to bring a lot of diversity to the set.
TEW: Many critics rave about the unique quality of your live shows. What is this X-factor that The Way Down Wanderers bring to every gig?
CK: The energy we all have when we are on stage is this unspoken connection, and I really think it transfers to the audience when we’re playing. People can see that we’re having fun. It just makes for a great environment where people can come experience the music.