The Walkabouts were founded in 1983 by Chris Eckman and Carla Torgerson. Other members have been Michael Wells, Glenn Slater and Terri Moeller. Although the Walkabouts started in Seattle, US their main base of popularity is Europe. Their blend of folk idioms and noisy experimental rock has won them lots of devoted fans; however, even with twelve studio albums and another 15 EPs, live albums and compilations released, they still remain below the radar of the public at large.
The band draws inspiration from folk and country music, particularly Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young and Johnny Cash, but also from other types of artists and musical styles such as Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen, French chanson and Jacques Brel. Their sound is typically rich, with string arrangements and keyboards in addition to the standard rock instruments. In reviews the band's music is often described as melancholic or mellow, while Eckman's lyrics, concerning such themes as human relations, loneliness and restlessness, are often emphasized as poetic.
The Walkabouts have achieved commercial success and a strong fanbase in Europe, where they have done promotion and extensive touring since early 1990s. They have occasionally even made it high on the record charts in countries such as Greece and Norway.
Carla Torgerson and Chris Eckman met in 1983 when they were both working at an Alaskan fish cannery as a summer break from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. In 1984 they moved to Seattle, and the band was born when they joined forces with Chris' two younger brothers, drummer Grant and bassist Curt. The Eckman brothers had been playing in various punk rock and pop groups during their college years, and Carla came from a folk and street singing background. The band took their name from the cult Nicolas Roeg film, Walkabout. 
They released their first EP, 22 Disasters, in early 1985. Curt Eckman then left the band, to be replaced by Michael Wells. Their second EP, Linda Evans/Cyclone, was released in 1987. The following year they released their first album, See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens, on the PopLlama label, before being signed by Sub Pop as that label's first non-grunge band. Adding keyboard player and multi-instrumentalist Glenn Slater, they released three albums on Sub Pop over the next few years - Cataract (1989), Rag & Bone (1990), and Scavenger (1991). They also toured extensively, particularly in Europe. In 1992 they left Sub Pop Seattle, but remained with Sub Pop Europe who issued three more albums, New West Motel (1993), Satisfied Mind (1993), and Setting The Woods On Fire (1994). Drummer Terri Moeller replaced Grant Eckman in 1992, when he left to care for his new born son, Dakota Eckman.
Satisfied Mind was their first of several albums largely or wholly comprising songs originally written and recorded by an eclectic variety of other artists, including Nick Cave, Charlie Rich, Johnny Rivers, Patti Smith, Mary Margaret O'Hara, and Gene Clark. Their 1996 collection of unreleased songs, Death Valley Days, also included songs by Neil Young, Nick Drake and Bob Dylan, and in 2000 they issued Train Leaves At Eight, which broadened the approach further by including songs by European artists including Mikis Theodorakis, Goran Bregović, Jacques Brel and Neu!.
In 1995 the band signed with Virgin Records in Germany and released Devil's Road (1996) - recorded in part with the Warsaw Philharmonic - and Nighttown (1997), leading to new levels of success in Europe. Michael Wells left the band for several years in 1996, rejoining in 2003. In 1999 they moved to the German record label, Glitterhouse Records (the successor to Sub Pop Europe), and released Trail of Stars (1999), Train Leaves At Eight (2000), Ended Up A Stranger (2001), Slow Days With Nina (2003) - an EP tribute to Nina Simone - and Acetylene (2005).
Eckman and Torgerson have also released albums as side projects under the name Chris & Carla and as solo artists. Eckman has worked with Willard Grant Conspiracy in recent years, on the albums Regard The End and Let It Roll, as well as with The Bambi Molesters.
Terri Moeller has also formed The Transmissionary Six with Paul Austin, formerly of Willard Grant Conspiracy.