A Conversation with some Heartless Bastards

By By Justin Jacobs

‘ Female voices don’t come tougher, ballsier and more beautiful than the siren call of Heartless… ‘ Female voices don’t come tougher, ballsier and more beautiful than the siren call of Heartless Bastards frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom. Her band’s dirty power-blues sound finds Wennerstrom’s voice dragging through gravel, howling in pain like a lover scorned, all over a punch-in-the-gut bed of thunderous dirt-road guitar and percussion. ‘ The band sounds like the soundtrack to riding into the sunset just after the apocalypse. Yup, they’re that good. ‘ Wennerstrom took some time to talk to The Pitt News as she winded through the country ‘mdash; soon to be in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. ‘ The Pitt News: A lot’s been made of your voice. When did you realize you could sing? ‘ Wennerstrom: I was 18 or 19. I’d always wanted to sing, but I never had ‘mdash; I just told everybody I was going to be a singer. Then around 18, I thought, ‘Well, I should start doing this if it’s what I want to do as a career.’ I began to write songs and work at it. ‘ TPN: Do you remember your first time singing in front of a crowd? ‘ EW: I’m sure it was some sort of open mic night in Dayton, Ohio, but I don’t remember the exact night or what happened or anything. ‘ TPN: How’d you get hooked up with [indie label] Fat Possum? ‘ EW: Patrick Carney of The Black Keys walked into a show we did in Akron, Ohio, and I thought I recognized him ‘mdash; I went up to him afterward, and we ended up hanging out and drinking some beers. I handed him a demo, and he passed it on to Fat Possum. ‘ TPN: At this point in your career, would you consider moving to a major label? ‘ EW: I don’t know. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Ultimately, I’ve got to do what’s best for the band. I think there are a lot of great things about independent labels and good things as far as the exposure bigger labels can offer. But in the industry right now, I think indie labels do better. They have more loyal followings. I don’t know anyone who says, ‘I have the whole Sony catalogue.’ But I know people that are really big fans of labels like Fat Possum or Sub Pop or Matador. Those labels have really loyal followings that will check something out just because it’s on the label. ‘ TPN: Who are some of your vocal idols? Who do you look up to? ‘ EW: I love Otis Redding, Iggy Pop. I love Mick Jagger, Nina Simone, Joan Jett. My influences are all over the place. ‘ TPN: If you could control the future, what would the next five years look like? ‘ EW: Well, I’d hope that I can continue to write songs that I like and have people respond to them. Plus the whole ‘hope to be happy’ stuff. I’d be livin’ the good life. ‘ TPN: What can fans expect to see from a Heartless Bastards live show? ‘ EW: I’m sure everyone’s view of it is a bit different, but I think we’re a good band. I think we’re entertaining. I don’t do any crazy acrobatics or anything ‘mdash; we’re straightforward. We don’t wear costumes. No pyrotechnics or lighting. We put on a good, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll show. We’re just doing what we love to do. ‘