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April 8, 2022

The Wanderers are done searching for their sound

They slugged out 12 shows in four days at US music festival South by Southwest, and are now touring their latest EP across Australia’s east coast. Despite the never-ending musical journey, the Wanderers’ lead singer Dusty Lee Stephensen says they’ve arrived.

  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Main image: (L—R) Dusty Lee Stephensen and Matt Birkin
  • Pictures: Samuel Graves

It’s not uncommon for reporters to interview creative types while their subjects are in the car. Restrained by seatbelts, unable to escape, is sometimes the only way to pin them down and get them to talk.

We chat to Dusty Lee Stephensen while he’s travelling in a van from Melbourne airport to Fitzroy live music venue The Night Cat. It’s where his five-piece band The Wanderers will perform later that night. We thank our lucky stars we’re speaking to the lead singer after only an hour-long flight – not a mammoth intercontinental voyage.


The Wanderers
Playing Friday 27 May 2022
Lion Arts Factory
North Terrace, Adelaide 5000

More info + tix here


“The jet lag is well behind us,” Dusty says via Zoom. He’s wearing a purple, shiny bomber jacket, and blurred scenes of Melbourne disappear behind him in the vehicle’s windows. The van rattles down the highway full of music gear, plus band manager Sian Walden and musicians Matt Birkin, Logan Watt, Jack Strempel and Milush Piochaud.

Despite being on a literal journey, and having recently travelled from Austin to Adelaide, Dusty says he’s finished roaming. “Initially, we were called Wasted Wanderers, but it’s that whole idea of just perpetually searching for the thing,” he says. “I genuinely think we’ve arrived at it now.”

The Wanderers first broke onto the scene in 2016 with their six-track EP Goddamn Anything. It was indie-folk, soft and introspective. A year later they dropped another six-track EP called Something For A Distraction, which changed tack. By this time, they’d removed ‘wasted’ from their name and their music sounded heavier, venturing into alt-rock territories.

Four years later, in 2021, they released a bright, shiny new single, ‘Penny’, which ushered in a new era for the band’s sound. At the beginning of 2022 – and after the release of a string of other stunning songs – they let loose their self-titled funk-infused five-track EP, which burned with the brilliance of 1000 suns.

Dusty says this body of work, replete with new touring bandmates and energy, marked the moment when the Wanderers came into themselves.

“That first record, it had this other band, and it was more doing the Triple J indie-pop kind of sound,” Dusty says, “and I just really wanted to do something that was completely away from that world, where we didn’t care what Richard Kingsmill might think, or anything like that.

“I was listening to a lot of Ryan Adams at the time, which is a bit of a dirty word these days. That and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Neil Young – I was really into it. I used to wear fedoras and checkered shirts all the time, so things have definitely changed.

“The sound that we’ve evolved to is the sound where naturally we do best as the personalities within the band. It’s slowly grown into more of a collaborative thing.”

The Wanderers at The Lab last year


In October last year, the Wanderers announced they were selected to perform at Texan multi-day music festival South by Southwest. The multi-pronged event in Austin is known internationally as a springboard for nascent talent spanning film, music and innovation. As part of SXSW’s Sounds Australia showcase in March, the Wanderers performed 12 shows in four days with apparent aplomb, Dusty says.

Although they were not paid for the gigs, it’s about getting a foot in the US door. Heads of music labels, PR companies and blogs go to SXSW – the who’s who of the industry. “Anything that could come out of it is good for us,” Dusty explains, “so it’s making ourselves known and being able to go back there and have shows.”

While the lead singer is ambitious about his career, he doesn’t want to leave Adelaide. Dusty has a five-year-old daughter. This comes as a surprise to this reporter as the Wanderer’s lyrical content, the latest EP in particular, swirls in themes of destructive vices and habits. (One sun-kissed, lackadaisical song is even called ‘Molly’).

“Maybe I just avoid all of the mundane, mature adult things and I keep my head in the clouds,” Dusty says.

The self-titled EP was originally meant to be recorded in the Foo Fighter’s famous San Fernando 606 music recording studio, but due to COVID-19, it was recorded mostly in Australia. Appropriate to pandemic times, the album’s lyrics speak to the idea of being inert. “I write a lot about limbo, and particular perspectives on it,” Dusty says.

“Some of these songs are still tapping into that sort of thing, like frustratedly self-sabotaging, and just writing about that spot where you’re not actually doing anything about it. But you can observe it.”

When asked whether he self-sabotages, Dusty says, “in small ways”.

“It doesn’t mean you’re destroying your life and everybody around you but you know that you could be growing and evolving at a particular rate and that you might be holding yourself back,” he says.

“‘Nothing in This World’ is about that. It’s when vices that might numb or distract you from whatever’s going on cease to work anymore. The party’s not fun anymore.”

The saxophone-led sojourn ‘Malibu’ is about finding a state of mind where “anything is possible”, the lead singer says, while the single anchored in arpeggiated synthesisers, ‘Penny’, is centred on a fictional narrative between two characters in the 2000 film Almost Famous.

It’s at this point in the interview the van has arrived at the venue. We see the other musicians unbuckle their seatbelts and carry gear inside. Despite Dusty remaining inside the car – the space between the departure gate and arrival destination – he doesn’t want to write about those feelings in the future. He wants to get out of the van, that limbo state, and move forward.

“Continually writing around the same things probably actually keeps you there,” he says.

“If you only know how to write that way, then maybe that will be the loop that keeps you in that mindset.

“I’ve graduated.”

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