The Way Down Wanderers have the trait I love most about my fellow Midwesterners: they refuse to be categorized. Hailing from Peoria, IL, the band draws influences from everywhere and every genre, from bluegrass to roots rock to jazz, classical, and more. Give their sophomore album illusions one listen and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. I recently chatted with one of the band’s two main songwriters, Collin Krause, about their new LP, the great Midwest, and what it means to take risks in your music.
Chris Wolford: The band comes from all corners of the musical globe, and the new album is self-described as “eclectic.” How do you decide on the musical genre of a song? Do you often record songs in multiple genres then decide on one?
Collin Krause: When creating our new album Illusions, we didn’t set out to write songs in one particular genre or style. Although it is when the songs are at their most simple stage, the musical genre is decided in the initial song writing process. The songs at their most basic form carry a vibe and an energy with them when they enter the studio. This helps us decide what musical layers and elements we want to add to better serve the song. In certain cases this may call for a specific synthesizer tone, a tasteful electric guitar line or taking things back to our original roots with banjo, mandolin and upright bass.
CW: How has the Midwest most recently influenced your music?
CK: Being a band based out of the Midwest is truly a privilege. We are always inspired by the other incredible bands, artists and musicians that also reside in the Midwest. Getting to connect with concert and festival goers at our shows demonstrates that the Midwest is a diverse and united place. The gift of sharing Midwestern music and stories is a constant inspiration to us as we grow and continue to create new music.
CW: What’s the easiest part(s) and the hardest part(s) about working with a co-writer?
CK: Having two writers in our band has definitely been a positive thing for us. Often when one of us gets stuck in the writing process, we’ll bring our ideas to the other writer. More often than not, one of us will have an idea to help get over the writer’s block. One of the hardest parts about working with a co-writer can be getting over the fear of other people’s judgments about a song. Writing a song is such a personal thing and sharing it with another person can be a little scary. Luckily in this band we are all like family, so when sharing a new song with each other, we try to create a really positive and accepting environment.
CW: You said you “think you took some risks” on illusions, referring to the wide variety of instrumentation. How did you take risks regarding your lyrics on the new album?
CK: I had never considered the idea of our lyrics being a “risk” until now, but this really brings up a good point about lyrics and music in general. Some of our songs touch on political themes and issues that are relevant in America today. We also dive into songs about mental health and even death. Upon reflecting on these songs now, some of these lyrics could be considered risky because they address topics that can make people uncomfortable. I had never considered these concepts to be risky because I believe these are ideas and messages that are crucial for human beings to discuss in an open and positive fashion. I am hopeful that these songs can spark these types of important conversations.
CW: You chose to open the record with a cover of close friend Joshua Powell’s “Principles of Salt.” What makes a great cover in your opinion?
CK: We chose to put "Principles of Salt" on the album because we truly wanted to share this song with our friends and followers. Joshua has been focusing his time on his newer music and wasn’t interested in releasing "Principles of Salt" on any of his future albums. We fell in love with the song a few years ago after hearing Joshua play it a live show. We instantly felt a connection with the song and felt like we needed to play it. A great cover provides thought provoking lyrics as well as a melody with hooks that will stay with the listener for days after the show is over.
CW: What challenges come with playing these new songs in a live setting?
CK: It can be challenging to play brand new music for audiences. Typically, when people go to a concert they want to hear songs they know and can sing along to. Playing brand new songs can be a bit of a risk at first until the audience has had a chance to get familiar with the newer material. Our new album has been out for just over a month now. It has been truly encouraging to see folks at the shows already singing along to some of our new songs.
CW: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned as musicians between the time you started and now?
CK: Every song and every show counts. We’ve played hundreds of shows in three different countries over the last 5 years. Needless to say, we’ve played some incredibly packed shows and some lesser attended events too. It certainly feels easier to play music and have fun in front of a larger attentive crowd than it does to be playing in a bar where some patrons might be more interested in the game on tv than the band on stage. When we play these smaller, lesser-attended shows, I try to remind myself that even if there’s just one person paying any attention in the entire room, music has the ability to totally turn around one person’s day. If we play a show and someone leaves with our music in their heads, it was worth it!