Fusing bluegrass and Americana rhythms and melodies with Dylan-esque vocals, the Way Down Wanderers are making a name for themselves on the national scene. The band’s sophomore album, Illusions, was released in February to critical acclaim, and they were recently recognized by Rolling Stone as one of 10 new country/Americana artists you need to know.
Peoria natives Collin Krause (vocals, mandolin, fiddle) and Austin Krause-Thompson (vocals, guitar, keys) have been playing together since 2012, when they were 14 and 17, respectively. Two years later, they officially started the Way Down Wanderers, learning early on that if they wanted to get publicity, they had to hustle and tend to the business side of the band.
“We built our website, researched venues and reached out to a ton of people just to get our names out there. We did that ourselves for a long time,” Collin explains. “With the new album coming out, we were fortunate to find a PR firm, All Eyes Media, that was happy to take us on.” They’re in good company, too—with AEM’s impressive client roster including Amanda Shires, the Jerry Garcia Family, Lucinda Williams and Widespread Panic.
Rounding out the up-and-coming five-piece are John Williams (bass, vocals), John Merikoski (drums) and Travis Kowalsky (guitar, banjo). The band performs around 170 shows a year, which can be grueling when you’re not a superstar act traveling on private planes and chartered buses. “We drive ourselves all over the country in our van, so the worst part is the hours and hours spent on the road,” Collin admits. But, he adds, “It always pays off when you get to play in front of an audience that appreciates the music. Meeting friends on the road is one of the coolest things about this… We’ve cultivated some really great and lasting friendships that way.”
Asked what advice he’d give to other musicians starting out, Collin suggests, “Play as much as you can and get in front of as many people as possible. It’s so important to get your stage act tight.” If practice makes perfection, the Way Down Wanderers are living proof of how a couple of local guys can take their act to the next level, performing around the country and abroad to larger and larger numbers.
Despite the band’s growing national presence, they still call Peoria home and have even shot some of their music videos here, including the first release from Illusions, “All My Words.” It was filmed at Springdale Cemetery and East Peoria Community High School, Austin’s alma mater. Many of the extras in the video were locals as well, including the American Sign Language performers. The band also shot a video at Peoria’s historic Flanagan House back in 2016.
Collin and Austin write and sing all of the band’s songs, and the process is never the same. “Sometimes I’ll spend six months noodling around on a guitar riff and nothing will come of it, and then one day I’ll have a random stroke of inspiration and it all comes together,” Collin says, noting that everyone in the band brings something to the process. “Every song comes together a bit differently.”
The band’s tour schedule can be found on their website at thewaydownwanderers.com, and they are hoping to play a date this summer on the Peoria riverfront. PM