Dusty Lee Stephenson On The New Wanderers EP

Long established as one of South Australia’s premier song writing and touring outfits, Wanderers have stepped into a new creative domain in recent years. Bringing together influences from across decades of soul, rock and pop luminaries; channelling in with contemporary flair and song writing skill, the group have fashioned for themselves a sonic identity that exists strongly between a vintage cool and a central sound that is refreshingly new.

The new Wanderers EP, their first since 2017’s Something For A Distraction, arrives as they prepare to return to the United States for SXSW, as well as announcing their headline EP tour upon their return for April and May. The release of the Wanderers EP follows on from the band’s debut US TV performance on Nashville’s News4. The Wanderers EP comprises five tracks of soulful and rich guitar-driven music that is a testament to the creative dynamic between bandmates Dusty Lee Stephensen, Matt Birkin and their cast of long-term collaborators and live band. Dusty answers a few questions about the EP for Hi Fi Way.

Is there a feeling of relief having finished off the new EP?
Definitely, which is usually the case anyway but with the pandemic drawing things out a little longer, it’s been an even bigger relief to have it out there for sure.

After the challenges of the last couple of years did you think you would get there?
There were a couple of months there where we put everything on ice while hoping that some clarity might come and the pandemic might fade back into normality. When we realised that certainly wasn’t going to happen in a hurry, we figured we may as well get back at it. There would be no ‘right time,’ not for a long time at least. We wanted this music to be out in the world, we wanted to push forward as best we could. I’m honestly pretty chuffed with the response and where this record has taken us already.

Did you learn alot about your own and the band’s resilience getting through this period?
Absolutely. Trying to survive the pandemic as a band on the way up is not for the faint hearted. You really have to believe in a project when its only option is to idle for a while, everyone does. It’s easy to be excited about the band when we’re playing shows all the time, getting in the room and writing all the time, hitting the studio all the time etc… but when you don’t see anyone for months and all the touring and recording plans you had have been completely canceled, it can definitely suck the fun out of things. The process of finishing the EP was a saving grace actually. Everyone got to go back and listen critically, often choosing to improve their parts or sounds, re-invigorating the tracks and taking them to a whole new level. We also had a few peculiar covid style shows laden throughout those couple of years that helped remind us how much fun we have on stage, always worth the wait no matter how long it needs to be in between drinks.

Sonically, do you think the Wanderers sound has changed much on this EP?
Certainly. I think we’ve found our sonic identity a little more now. I don’t think any other band could’ve written any of these songs, for better or for worse. I just don’t think it as a whole sounds like anything specific, though I’m sure some of our influences can be heard sprinkled throughout. I wrote pretty much all of these songs on keys to begin with, which makes me choose different progressions and vocal melodies. It also seems to evoke different tempos and grooves to what we’ve previously done. I’ve really enjoyed writing this way. At the core of it, it’s the band in the room digging into these songs, facing each other.. that’s what I love about it and that’s something I don’t think we’ll ever change.

What is the story behind lead single Molly?
Molly is a snapshot of the short period of time before I lost my marbles on a big night. It came to me after I went to a NYE music festival completely exhausted, got sun stroke and drank and smoked way too much of whatever was going around backstage. I remember there being a period of time where I had it together, where I was socially aware and fine, but I also could feel I was losing my grip, I could sense that I’d gone too far and was anticipating completely losing control of myself in the very near future and couldn’t do anything about it. So I imagined how bad it might be to meet someone I’d really connect with in this moment, when I still had my senses and capabilities but knew I was going to be useless in about 20 minutes.

Really, it’s a failed love story in the midst of a drunken haze, a love that never even got to exist because of alcohol, and perhaps it never would have regardless… who knows. I don’t particularly want to romanticise alcoholism, and that’s certainly not the intent of the song. This is probably the oldest song on the record lyrically and it definitely captures a mind set I’ve since outgrown, but I still remember that guy. This song’s a good reminder actually!

How was the experience of playing SXSW?
It was a beautiful, crazy, exhausting whirlwind. 12 shows in 4 days! Bonkers! But if you’re an Aussie band doing your first ever SXSW, you do everything you can. Everyone worked and played their asses off, I’m so bloody proud.

We all felt really comfortable in Austin, aside from all the running around we had to do. To me, Austin felt weirdly familiar. There aren’t any specific parallels I can draw between that and Adelaide, even though we’re sister cities, but it did kind’ve feel similar somehow. People were super responsive to us and we got to play at some awesome venues. The overall energy of the whole city was electric, we had a blast.

What were the highlights for you playing SXSW?
Our official showcase at Lustre Pearl was epic. We had about 400 or so people dancing and singing to our tunes, a good feeling to have on the other side of the globe. We played a great show at Aviator Nation too, a California style clothing store turned music venue. It was packed and we had a prime time set. Got to meet plenty of new faces!

Do you hope this opens a few more doors overseas?
Definitely. It’s already opened some new doors for us, and has helped us build stronger bridges with some folks that have already been waving our flag over there. All feels very hopeful in the big smoke!

Did you enjoy the 27 Club shows at the Adelaide Fringe?
I love that show. I love bouncing off Sarah McLeod, she’s got my back out there, always gives me a smile when I bring the ‘Danger’, as she calls it. While Kevin and Carla completely command their space, strong, intense, it’s all very inspiring. We hadn’t played big shows in a while so doing this season right before heading OS was a really good warm up, made us all feel tight and ready.

With your hometown show in Adelaide are you saving the best to last?
Always. Adelaide sings the loudest, cheers the loudest and loves the hardest. We love playing at home. It will be a massive one, for sure.

Interview By Rob Lyon

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