Andy Cook and the Wanderloons make “wander”ous music


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Amy Cooknick

Conjure a warm summer dream under a magical, open sky. The world is topsy-turvy and the soundtrack to it all is provided by the Wanderloons.

“They play for the sun and the stars and the moon,” Andy Cook wrote in a poem biography of the band. But mostly they play for themselves and a slowly growing number of fans.

Lead singer Andy Cook met band mates Eric Cronstein and Laura Dykes in 2007 when Cronstein moved to Cleveland. Cook and Cronstein began making music together while working at the same Cleveland recording studio. Dykes and Haley Antell, friends of Cook from Oberlin, Ohio, joined the boys to round out the Wanderloons quartet.

“The band sort of fell together,” Cook said. “It’s always changed members and done a lot of different, weird things with people coming in for a couple shows every once in a while. So it’s been kind of crazy, but now, it’s sort of settled into this. It just happened for the right reasons.”

In 2010, the Wanderloons released their first album, “Sing, Dionysus!” under the name Andy Cook. Cook said the group chose to release the album under his name because Cook and Cronstein recorded most of the songs on it with other friends before Dykes and Antell joined the band.

“The next record will probably just be the Wanderloons,” Cook said. “Because we’re all contributing this time and it’s sort of coming together as a band instead of the way we did it the last time, which was me just writing all the songs.”

Cook cited his love for his friends and their diversity and creativity as his greatest musical influence. He also finds inspiration in sitting and listening to other music for hours on end.

“We listen to a lot of music,” Cook said of the Wanderloons. “I also like to take long walks down the woods, you know. That makes me like to write songs.”

While Cook joked about his musical inspiration, he added that he doesn’t like trying to define the Wanderloons’ genre. He described it best as pop music, but said it’s also just music for everybody.

“I like humans playing music,” Cook said. “We search for some feelings in our playing more than worrying about being spot-on.”

Cronstein said the entire music-making process is imprecise.

“Songs are not created really until they are recorded,” Cronstein said. “So there’s like basically the seed of a song that Andy has, an acoustic guitar and the vocal. So the song structure is there, the melody is there, the song is there and then the rest of the writing process happens.”

“It starts with the idea, and usually we demo it out a couple times,” Cook added. “It leaves a certain element of the environment of wherever we’re recording. That moment gives the song a little bit of life that it wouldn’t have had if we had just planned everything out before.”

Cook said his songs are all about real issues and experiences in his life. Writing lyrics is one of his favorite parts of the musical process — choosing the right words to express his feelings in a captivating way and molding them into a sound he is happy with.

“I love making that sculpture,” Cook said. “The song.”

Once the words are down and the framework of the music is completed to Cook’s and his fellow Wanderloons’ satisfaction, the band gets ready to go live. Cook said his group has mostly been working on live performances for the past few months.

In their live shows, the Wanderloons let their musical variety come through on stage. A typical show involves two hollow-body electric guitars for the band’s signature warmth, an upright electric bass played by Dykes, a bell kit and piano played by Antell and anything else the group manages to throw in.

“On the record, there’s probably 30 different instruments,” Cronstein said. “Just whatever’s there at the time.”

All of the Wanderloons play in multiple bands in addition to this one. This makes it difficult for the band to come together to practice, so Cronstein said they are sometimes forced to go a few weeks without rehearsing. Most of their practices take place leading up to a tour or big show, when Cronstein makes the drive from his home in Columbus to Oberlin where the rest of the band lives.

When performing live, Cronstein said the Wanderloons enjoy mixing up the songs they perform, rotating sets so that their performance is always new. There are, however, staple songs in every show, including band favorites “Mulberry Moon” and “Grow Strong.”

The Wanderloons and a few extra friends took a long weekend in early March to play the East Coast, stopping in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Somerville, N.J.

“We just played with different people that some of us knew,” Cook said. “It was awesome. It was a blast. It was a lot of driving and a lot of time, but we just always had fun. The dynamic of the band is really funny and we all just love it.”

“People always seem to think that band members hate each other,” Cronstein said. “I’ve spent weeks in the car with these people and never got remotely upset at anybody.”

Cook said the Wanderloons tour every six months, on average, but they plan to do shows every couple months starting in the near future. He added that it can be stressful travelling as a band because they usually have to scrape money together to keep their van in shape, and because every new trip presents unexpected challenges. It has also been difficult with members joining and leaving the group, but both Cook and Cronstein said all those annoyances are well worth the final payoff.

“There’s never a thought of ‘man, I would rather be doing something else,’” Cronstein said. “It’s all for the greater good — everything we do. You definitely lose money. I mean that’s what musicians … we’re not known for being wealthy people. It’s just doing what I love to do.”

“Playing music with people that you care about and love,” Cook added. “And sort of connect with in some way, in whatever way that is, it’s the most incredible feeling in the world, I think.”

Neither Cook nor Cronstein like to think in terms of reaching certain goals or progressing by levels. They said the Wanderloons like to do well now, rather than plan where they will be in five or 10 years’ time.

“We only have hopes,” Cook said. “I don’t wanna roll burritos anymore. It would be cool to be able to play music for a living ‘cause right now we’re working on new songs, and we’re just spending this whole week working on music. Now I have to go back to work after this, but this is what I would love to be able to do for a living.”

The Wanderloons promote themselves through Facebook, posters, press kits and a soon-to-be launched website.

They have played in Kent at the Rathskeller and the VIP Festival at The Vineyard. Cook released an EP and the CD “Through Leaves, Over Bridges” with Kent band American War.

Despite the 20-some years of musical experience between Cook and Cronstein, the Wanderloons are still waiting for the break every serious musician dreams of. They keep hoping, driven by fervor for the music.

“You gotta be fucking nuts,” Cook said. “You gotta be fucking crazy. You have to want it that bad, that’s it. If it’s not your passion, you’re just not going to do anything about it cause it’s so hard. I work at crappy jobs, and every spare ounce of my time I’m working on music. If you get knocked down or something, it’s what you’re willing to do. You gotta keep getting back up, and it’s gonna take time and effort and hard work.”

“It’s like being in love with anything, I guess,” Cronstein added. “You’re crazy about it. I’m 27 now, and I’m not planning on quitting any time soon.”

So the Wanderloons wander onward, following what moves them and sharing their birdsong along the way.

“I don’t want perfection,” Cook said. “We let it be loose. We have a good time.”

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected].