Peoria, Illinois-based collective The Way Down Wanderers recently released their latest album, illusions, and are tearing up the highways to bring their unique sound to eager audiences across the land. Foundationally, the band is bluegrass, sonically, they’re a little bit of everything. Consisting of five guys with a variety of musical backgrounds (Austin Krause-Thompson, Collin Krause, John Williams, John Merikoski, Travis Kowalsky), including rock, jazz, folk and classical, the band injects traditional multi-part harmonies with unexpected elements of pop and reggae, as well as spoken-word breakdowns and island-style beats. The Way Down Wanderers skillfully use this melting-pot of genres to tell great heartland-inspired stories of life, love, loss, and growth, bridging a raw enthusiasm for living with the sobering reality of how quickly time passes.
Since releasing their self-titled debut in 2016, The Way Down Wanderers have been touring almost nonstop, garnering an enthusiastic grassroots following with their fast-paced live performances. Featuring foot-stomping sing-alongs, acoustic in-audience encores and drummer John Merikoski’s infamous spoon-solos, the band’s shows are just as intoxicating as their music. They’ve built a communal atmosphere among their fans that makes the experience feel more like hanging out with longtime friends. We caught up with the band ahead of their Nashville show (see below for details):
East of 8th: You all bring diverse musical backgrounds to the table, and your music touches on so many genres. How do you describe it to folks who need a way to conceptualize it/categorize it?
The Way Down Wanderers: We like to call ourselves an Americana band. Americana is a genre that is constantly evolving and taking influence from many other styles of music. We feel that this category doesn’t set creative limitations on the music and allows us to let the song take its shape naturally.
Eo8: Can you name a record or two that have really been touchstones/influences/inspirations for what you individually bring to WDW?
WDW: A record that has been an influence on what I (Austin) bring to the band would have to be The Elephant’s Door by Trevor Hall. Between the lyrics, the rhythmic delivery, as well as the depth of some of the songs, there is really a lot that I try to embody musically.
Eo8: If you had the chance to add a personal musical hero to the band as a new member, who would it be and why?
WDW: If I (Austin) had to add one musical hero to the band, it would definitely have to be Paul McCartney just for the songwriting expertise. We had the privilege of working with Roger Manning of Jellyfish, who recorded the keys on illusions. It was incredible to watch him craft beautiful melodies and textures so quickly and tastefully. He is without a doubt one of the best musicians we have had the opportunity to work with.
Eo8: You do a whole lot of touring. What is your secret to maintaining health and sanity on the road?
WDW: I (Austin) personally try to get a few runs in while on tour. I also don’t drink any alcohol at home or on the road. Avoiding fast food as much as possible is a must for long tours.
Eo8: What’s the craziest road story that you’re willing to share?
WDW: We had a show get canceled so someone messaged the band on our Facebook offering to put together a house concert. Being new to the world of touring, we accepted the offer and played the show. The house concert was of pretty questionable origin and an individual attending the concert offered to sell a handgun to a few members of the band. We immediately went on our way as quickly as possible.
Eo8: Merikoski, please tell us about your journey to spoon solo expertise.
WDW: I would say I am still on my long journey towards spoon solo expertise, but I would say to start simple and slowly add on new elements, tricks, and moves. If you are too flashy right out the gate it can get boring surprisingly quickly. It’s also important to always have fun with it- no matter how hard you work, at the end of the day, you are still playing two utensils.
Eo8: Now that illusions is out in the world, what do you hope folks take away from the listening experience (with the knowledge that everyone’s experience will be different, but what is your dream when it comes to this)?
WDW: illusions is an album that attempts to capture the cycle of living and some of the most important aspects of the human journey through song. Although it can be a difficult topic, the album touches significantly on learning to accept the inevitability of how limited our time on earth truly is. It is my hope that through music and art some of these topics touched on in our album can be more approachable for meaningful conversation.
Eo8: What would you like your Nashville audience to know about your upcoming show?
Every time we play a show in Nashville there’s definitely the excitement for us of returning to the music capital of America. We intend to leave it all out there on stage! It should be a joyous high-energy evening of dancing and singing. We will be joined by our dear friends the Henhouse Prowlers, who also are from Illinois. We look forward to collaborating with them at the show!
[The Way Down Wanderers will perform in Nashville at The Basement East on April 17th, click HERE for tickets and show information,]