DAVENPORT — Collin Krause has been in professional bands since he was a teen, and now at the ripe old age of 22, he's enjoying touring success and critical acclaim as singer/songwriter for the Peoria-based Way Down Wanderers.
The genre-bending quintet (melding bluegrass, pop, jazz, classical and reggae) plays the Redstone Room on Thursday, Oct. 10.
“The Redstone Room is one of the best rooms in the Midwest; the audience is so supportive,” Krause said in a recent telephone interview. “The first show we ever played at Redstone, we showed up an hour late, we were hit with a blizzard, everyone was sitting there waiting for us. They started clapping when we were walking in — that's a moment I'll never forget.”
He started taking violin lessons when he was a toddler, influenced by his maternal grandfather, who played guitar. Krause enjoyed playing fiddle and mandolin through high school and joined his first band at 13, playing country covers.
“It wasn't exactly what I loved to do, but it was a really good experience,” he recalled. “They took me under their wing; my parents were driving me to bars to play until 1 in the morning.”
The Way Down Wanderers began in 2013 when Krause met former rock drummer Austin Thompson (who's four years older). The two lead singers/songwriters were later joined by jazz percussionist John Merikoski, classical bassist John Williams and banjo player Travis Kowalsky. Their stories are inspired by the heartland with a blend of sounds stemming from their varied musical backgrounds. They recorded their debut album in 2016 and released their sophomore “Illusions” this past February.
“I feel like it makes things a little more interesting,” Krause said of their multi-colored musical palette. “There's really no bad ideas when you're trying things out. Some ideas are good, some bad. I like to think we pick the good ones.”
“We love so many different types of music, but American roots and bluegrass will obviously continue to inspire us as writers.”
In August 2018, Collin and Austin became brothers-in-law, when Austin married Collin's sister Sawyer and goes by the last name Krause-Thompson.
“That was a pretty progressive decision on their part,” Collin said. “Society puts pressure on women to change their name, so why shouldn't the man?”
“We've been friends for so long, he and I have a really good working relationship,” Krause said of partnering on songwriting.
The songs on “Illusions” observe the cycle of life — love, loss and evolution — while looking to the future with hope. From the dreamy title track reminiscing on the simplicity of youth, to the sense of mourning in “Old Ford” to the excitement of new love in “Patient Pretender,” the album bridges an enthusiasm for life with the sobering reality of how quickly time passes.
An Associated Press review called it a “soaring set” and “the musicianship is first-rate. The airtight harmonies and cohesive ensemble work reward repeat listening,” the review said.
Rolling Stone magazine tabbed them as one of the 10 New Country and Americana Artists You Need to Know: Winter 2019. The magazine's synopsis of the band said, "Way Down Wanderers are taking bluegrass in a wild new direction."
The track “All My Words” illustrates The Way Down Wanderers’ distinctive approach, combining a reggae/island beat, a mid-song rap and a closing Foggy Mountain Breakdown-style banjo deal to deliver a song that Austin described as “trying to be creative when you just don’t feel it.”
The song's video is just as unique — filmed partly in a Peoria cemetery and mostly inside East Peoria High School, where Austin went. In addition to the band members, it includes groups of students using American Sign Language to the lyrics and dancers.
“It was really cool being in the old classrooms, nice to use the facility,” Krause said. “We spent two days filming there after hours.”
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Moving from a cemetery to the school was to convey a mood change from dark to light, also in their clothing color, he said. Using sign language is “such a great form of expression. We wanted to be inclusive of people who use ASL every day to communicate, make it a more inclusive thing for them,” Krause said. “Music is one of those types of arts you can be involved in so many ways, it can mean so many things. Dance is another great way to further the song.”
The band also took a field trip for a fitting video in 2017, for their “Come Thou Fount,” made at Bishop Hill's historic Colony Church.
There are elements of “Cripple Creek” in “Heartland” on “Illusions,” a love song written by Collin for his newlywed, Kayla (they married in July).
“She's definitely inspired a lot of songs for me, being a very supportive partner,” he said. “It's not easy to be in a committed relationship with a touring musician.”
The Way Down Wanderers has toured extensively across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., performing at the Americana Fest in Nashville, earning honors from American Roots UK (Top Albums of the Year List 2017), Songpickr’s Best Songs Spotify Playlist (2016) and a finalist in the 2016 International Song Writing Competition.
Relix magazine has said, “The band actually emerged fully formed, possessing a certain savvy that assures their ability to stand apart in a crowded field of nu-grass contenders… [The band] may have only just begun their musical journey [but] they’ve come quite far already.”
“It's definitely a different feel — the studio is about trying to capture as much emotion as you can behind a microphone. It definitely comes to me more naturally when you're on stage,” Krause said. “With a concert, there's an energy when you get on stage that is kind of irreplaceable, and you only get when you get on the stage.
“We try to get everyone to stand up, get upfront and dance with us. We try to get audiences involved as much as we can.”
“We have a loyal and loving fan base,” Krause said. “We make friends wherever we go. We’ll often end up staying overnight at fans’ houses. We really live off the generosity of strangers.”
“Illusions” was produced by Grammy winner David Schiffman (Johnny Cash, Rage Against The Machine), who was among the engineers to win a Grammy for Adele's “25.”
“It was really an honor to work with him,” Krause said, noting they recorded in Los Angeles for the first time.
The name of the band “kind of signifies all the touring we do,” he said. “We get to explore all these other places.”