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Byron Shire
December 2, 2023

Interview: Dusty Stephensen

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The Wanderers at The Rails

Emerging from Adelaide’s rich songwriting scene, soulful rockers Wanderers have cemented their place within the local industry for their captivating live show and musicianship that has translated effortlessly from record to stage, solidified by winning SA Best Blues/Roots band late in 2017. Led by vocalist/guitarist Dusty Lee Stephensen, Wanderers have formed an unbeatable dynamic, with drummer Matt Birkin bringing flair to the mix. Dusty spoke with The Echo ahead of his show at the Rails on Saturday.

Is there a quintessential Adelaide songwriting sound? If so what is it and where do you sit in the genre?

There are plenty of Adelaide references popping up in songs by bands such as West Thebarton, Bad Dreems and a few others that are quite proud and clear about their Adelaide roots and capture the vibe perfectly in their lyrics. But as far as a ‘sound’ goes, I don’t think so. There are so many different scenes and genres where bands are really killing it down here that it’s hard to put a finger on one that stands out.

We kind of float about the scene like the kid in the playground who’s not a loner, but is just kind of friends with everyone. We’ve been on lineups with heavy grunge bands, Americana-style folk bands, soul/groove/funk bands and straight-up rock bands. We always come away saying ‘We fooled ’em again, lads’.

What is the music that influences you?

At the moment, anything with a deep groove, plenty of pocket, honest lyrics and a tight rhythm section. Those are the aspects we’re focusing on now as a band and it’s good to soak in music that reflects those goals, I think. Anderson Pak, The Roots, Tedeschi Trucks band, Tom Misch, D’Angelo, Bill Withers, Moses Sumney… so many more. Our drummer Matt has endless amounts of playlists that we listen to on the road and the juicy grooves never end. The band has definitely changed its route a bit from the first EP’s kinda ‘folk rockness’. But with a rhythm section like this one, the songs just start to shake their booty no matter what so we naturally head more down that soul/groove road.

What was it about your EP Something for a Distraction that set it apart?

For us it was the old sound meeting the new direction at a crossroads and seeing how it all fit. I think there is diversity between the songs on it that is unique for an EP. I think normally its probably wise to have five or six songs that represent the current sound or direction of the band, but on that EP we ended up showcasing a whole range of what we’re about. It has a flow that kind of starts with ‘this is where we’re going’ then in the middle takes a pit stop at ‘this is where we were’ and a couple of songs that are ‘but we like doing this stuff too’. I’ve been told that the whole EP sounds like us, though, so I’m happy with that.

Tell me about Loco.

I had the chorus written and that’s it. I took the rough idea to the boys a week before we hit the studio to record the EP, having no idea it would end up on there. We jammed it out for about half an hour then I went home and wrote all the lyrics. The full arrangement and all the ideas came from that half-hour jam and we decided, while in the studio, to lay it down as is and not over-think it.

The laidback vibe of the song was inspired in part by Fat Freddy’s Drop and the lyrics are an ode to getting old and embracing the unknown.

How do you work a song up from concept to recording to stage? Does it change much from studio to live?

We definitely approach our songs differently in the studio than live. The studio is a chance to step back and look at the song differently, to have a bigger vision for it and experiment until it comes to life, while also trying to keep that ‘live energy’ that we have.

I just try to write songs that will translate easily no matter what the lineup of the band, so on the recordings there might be multiple guitar layers, keyboards and heaps of vocal harmonies, but then we’ll have a trio gig somewhere and play with same song with just three dudes. We approach it differently and fill in more gaps on our instruments; that gives it that ‘power trio’ vibe. I think a good song is a good song whether it’s played on a recorder, an acoustic guitar or with a whole orchestra, so I try to write songs that will translate in this fashion.

What should people expect for your upcoming show at the Rails in Byron?

Last time we played there, by the end it was mayhem, so hopefully a little more of that! Plenty of tooshies shaking on the dancefloor, people joining in the chorus harmonies on songs they’re hearing for the first time, grooves and breakdowns that will get your arse off the seat, and probably too many keyboard and guitar solos, as usual. We love it there, so we’ll be smiling and feeling good and hope the crowd will be right there with us.

Catch Wanderers at the Rails on Saturday.

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