Adelaide’s blues rock and folk band Wasted Wanderers are one of the few local groups fortunate enough to be gigging at this year’s WOMADelaide in March. They’ve headlined shows around South Australia, toured on the East Coast and have launched their EP Goddamn Anything. I had a great conversation with the band’s frontman and lead guitarist, Dusty Lee Stephensen, about WOMAD, upcoming gigs and the uncertain future of blues music.
How does it feel to be playing at one of Australia’s biggest music festivals, WOMADelaide?
Wonderful! It’s something I’ve aspired to since I first went to WOMAD. I was in high school when I first went and I only went for one day to see The Cat Empire. It was great back then and I think it’s even better now.
There are a few other Adelaide bands playing at WOMAD this year too, are you excited to see them?
Yeah for sure! I’m always keen to support the locals, especially when the attention will be drawn more towards the bigger bands. It’s not like the Wasted Wanderers are going to pull a shitload of people, not in comparison to some of the other artists.
Wasted Wanderers are also set to play at the Clipsal 500 this year. Considering it’s not a usual gig or a festival, it’ll be quite a unique experience for you guys. How are you feeling about it?
I’m just really excited to play on a stage that can fit all of us on it to be honest. It’s the same for our show at WOMAD too. Until now, we’ve only imagined how we would sound on such a large stage and it’ll be cool to actually hear it. You can never really picture what you would sound like on a huge, outdoor stage.
Are there any other upcoming shows with the Wasted Wanderers that you’re looking forward to?
We’re playing a festival up at the Gold Coast called ‘Surfers Paradise Live’ which should be fun. We’re also releasing our new single and a video clip a little while after WOMAD, around March. We’ll be doing a tour on the East Coast for that too.
It sounds like you guys are fairly in demand. It kind of goes against what some music journalists and historians say; that blues music is a dying form. Do you agree? What do you see for the future of blues music?
I’d say the roots of blues are definitely dead. Whenever someone plays blues nowadays, it’s always in a nostalgic way. But blues has changed shape massively and I think you can hear it in a lot of modern artists like John Butler Trio and The Black Keys. It’s the same with Wasted Wanderers. I wouldn’t by any stretch call ourselves a blues band even though there are southern roots and blues influences in there. As for the classic ‘twelve-bar blues’ style of song, we don’t play any songs like that. There are still places in Adelaide like the Semaphore Workers Club which have an audience for that kind of blues, but I’d say it doesn’t really reach out and grab the attention of young people. Then again, blues is what influenced me the most as a kid. I remember going to a blues club when I was really young and seeing this band that had a guitarist who was only, like, twelve years old and doing Stevie Ray Vaughn covers. I thought that was awesome.
You’ve probably seen that rapper Kendrick Lamar is headlining Byron Bay’s BluesFest this year. Do you think that says anything about the state of blues music?
I love Kendrick’s album To Pimp a Butterfly and you can definitely hear the soul and funk in it, which are genres that were influenced by blues in the first place. It’s not like he’s just ripped samples off records or sings over a DJ – he’s got a wicked band that are probably musicians who studied at Berkley. Obviously his music isn’t blues and you have to try pretty hard to find the original blues influence in it but I still reckon it’s there. Just the fact that the festival scored Kendrick is an achievement in itself. He wouldn’t be very easy to get. But getting back to it, there are forms of the blues that are dying and there are forms of the blues that are evolving. That’s probably the part you should put in print.
Is there a strong blues following in Adelaide or would you like to see more blues artists thrive here? Or both?
Australia, in general, has never really been that connected with blues music since it didn’t come from here. If you take places like New Orleans in the US, you’d expect to hear jazz everywhere, just as you’d expect to hear blues in Nashville. But there is a network of people here in Adelaide who have an organisation called ARBA – Australian Roots and Blues Association. They’ve just sent a band over to Memphis to compete in a blues competition. Sometimes blues gigs do really well in Adelaide, sometimes they’re a bit dormant but it’s all cool because everyone’s just doing it for the love of it.
My last question is, if you could meet any bluesman or blueswoman, who would you choose?
Probably Gary Clark Jr or Derek Trucks. Actually, maybe I’d choose Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi as the blueswoman so I kill two birds with one stone. We could have a double date: my girlfriend and I and Derek and Susan.
Read more about Adelaide’s very own Wasted Wanderers and grab tickets to WOMADelaide here.
Words by Jordan Leovic