The Heartless Bastards
Sometimes, fateful inspiration can arrive under the most seemingly mundane circumstances. For Erika Wennerstrom, this moment occurred a lifetime ago as she killed time playing video trivia at a bar.
Question: "What is the name of Tom Petty's backing band?"
Easy, but as she scanned the multiple-choice answers to the question and saw the phrase "The Heartless Bastards," Wennerstrom instantly knew that she had found the right name for her next band. And though that particular answer may have been false, there is no denying that the band whose name it inspired now is riding a wave of creative expression, critical serenade, and a boundless musical future.
The Heartless Bastards' story starts in Dayton, Ohio, where Wennerstrom spent her youth. Dayton may not make the short list of the country's recognized musical hotbeds, but a brief accounting of musicians with ties to the city is eye-opening, and includes everyone from 70s funk masters the Ohio Players, to Pixies' bassist Kim Deal and her other band, The Breeders (which also included her twin sister, Kelley, and another Dayton native, drummer Jim MacPherson), to indie heroes Guided By Voices.
The city more famous for peace treaties and Wright Brothers flights also has a well-established musical culture.
"Dayton is a rock 'n' roll town," explains Wennerstrom. "It's a blue collar city, and people who work hard and have a long week want to let loose on the weekend.”
As a songwriting teenager during a time when GBV and Brainiac were packing local bars and the three of the Breeders were still in town, Wennerstrom used to sneak into clubs to check out the scene.
"I would just see those people—my music heroes—hanging out at the bar like everyone else," she remembers. "I could see myself in them. It gave me inspiration to do my own thing."
Over the years, Wennerstrom developed a rich musical foundation, citing everyone from the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, the Stooges, and Janis Joplin to the likes of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Mazzy Star and De La Soul as influences. She eventually decided to move to nearby Cincinnati to start a band that would use the name she had been saving from the aforementioned trivia game, and in 2003, formed Heartless Bastards.
After doing the usual business of playing local shows, the trio set out the following year on a regional tour. One of the first gigs of the trip took them to a bar in Akron, where Black Keys' drummer Patrick Carney just happened to be one of only a handful of people in the audience. This chance encounter led Wennerstrom and THB to Fat Possum Records, with whom they released their debut, Stairs and Elevators, in early 2005.
Critics took immediate notice, emphasizing the band's bare-fisted power and the stellar combination of Wennerstrom's heart-stopping voice, which could be described as a combination of PJ Harvey and Robert Plant, and her honest, life-based songs.
As for the inevitable, though inaccurate, descriptions of the Heartless Bastards as a "blues-rock band," Wennerstrom explains: "It's easy to assume the comparison, because Fat Possum has been thought of as a blues label, but they also have bands that are just influenced by blues, like us."
The band’s second record, All This Time, was released during the summer of 2006 and has received even more widespread critical accolades than Stairs and Elevators, continuing the evolution of both the music and the audience.
The music has turned heads, ears, and put them on festival stages and starry bills with Wilco & Lucinda Williams to name a few. But, the band is still evolving with Wennerstrom’s sonic vision. After years with the same basic power trio lineup, Erika made both a life and artistic change. In 2007 she moved to Austin, Texas for a change of inspirational scenery, a new recording project, and queso.
In true ascetic discipline, she arrived in a new town, rented a meager apartment, and wrote for six months. It is during this period she imagined the new record with expansive instrumentation, challenging lyrical and musical spaces, and an uninterrupted vision. With the help of producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Trail of Dead), she assembled a group of musicians with whom she gave the songs life and uncovered yet another layer of Wennerstrom and the Heartless Bastards.
But in a serendipitous alignment of stars, the two new Bastards aren’t Texas ringers, but fellow Queen City brethren Dave Colvin on drums, and Jesse Ebaugh on bass, who actually played on the original demo that hooked Fat Possum. The reunion translates into magic live.
The CD, entitled “The Mountain”, delivers the powerful howl that fans expect from THB, but also weaves in adventure with mandolins, banjos, strings, and Erika’s transcendent voice.
“The Mountain” is due out in January 2009, and the core members of the Heartless Bastards, along with an assortment of other players, will begin touring in the fall of ’08 to get their training in for a worldwide tour to follow the release.
The Heartless Bastards are taking us on a sonic road trip as Erika Wennerstrom explores the alleys and horizons of her talent, creativity, and vision. Her courage to make change in life has yielded sound and art that we are lucky to discover with her.
Label – Fat Possum Records – Justin@fatpossum.com,
Booking – Matt Hickey, High Road Touring - email@example.com
Management – Ginna Faulkner – C3 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Publicity – Ken Weinstein – Big Hassle - email@example.com
Erika Wennerstrom - Guitar, Vocals
Dave Colvin - Drums
Jesse Ebaugh - Bass
Mark Nathan - Guitar
Stairs and Elevators - 2005
All This Time - 2006
The Mountain - Feb 3, 2009
Rolling Stone Review: Heartless Bastards Weep
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Ask Heartless Bastards singer-guitarist Erika Wennerstrom to talk about her songs and she just might...Ask Heartless Bastards singer-guitarist Erika Wennerstrom to talk about her songs and she just might burst into tears. The tiny twenty-seven-year-old did just that at New York's Bowery Ballroom after her band wowed the crowd with a set of bone-rattling garage rock. "It's an emotional time for me," says Wennerstrom, leaning on the merch table and sheepishly wiping away a tear.
Wennerstrom has wanted to be a singer since she can remember, and she's finally getting her shot. When she shuffled onstage at the Bowery, not many noticed. But when she opened her mouth to sing, heads swiveled. The reaction comes wherever the band plays: How the hell does that huge voice come from that little woman?
Wennerstrom's inspiring wail registers somewhere between a young PJ Harvey and Robert Plant in his prime. "It's amazing to be compared to Plant," she says. "Some of our songs were pretty inspired by Zeppelin."
Mostly recorded in a single day, the Cincinnati trio's debut, Stairs and Elevators, has the raw energy of the band's live show. Wennerstrom's uplifting lyrics are bolstered by the almost-out-of-control thump of drummer Kevin Vaughn and bassist Mike Lamping. All three Bastards still hold day jobs, but probably not for long: The band was just added to the Bonnaroo lineup. Wennerstrom bartends, Lamping works at his father's janitorial-supply company and Vaughn boasts the ultimate struggling-rocker job: pizza-delivery guy. "I even have the Subaru with the missing window," he says.
Meanwhile, Heartless Bastards continue to win over fans on the road. "Before a Dayton show, some guy came up to Kevin and was like, 'How do y'all feel about playing with a girl?'" says Wennerstrom, laying on a thick Midwestern drawl. "After the show, he was like, 'Y'all need to be on Ozzfest.'"
Blender Review of Stairs and Elevators
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Striking female songwriter, 27, confronts her demons at maximum volume Reviewed by Jon Young Wh...Striking female songwriter, 27, confronts her demons at maximum volume
Reviewed by Jon Young
When Erika Wennerstrom mutters, “I want to laugh and joke and have a smoke and have a good time,” it’s easy to sympathize with her sentiment, because she sounds so uptight. Between her stiff delivery and tendency to cram too many words into one line, this Catholic high school dropout from Dayton, Ohio, acts as if she’s prepping for a poetry slam, or practicing English as a second language. But Wennerstrom’s tense persona, fortified by the simple hard-rock riffs of her churning guitar and a banging rhythm section, proves oddly compelling. Whether flipping off the world in “New Resolution” or crafting a desolate cover of the late bluesman Junior Kimbrough’s “Done Got Old,” Wennerstrom projects a grim resolve that might be the ideal approach for these bumpy times. Download: “New Resolution,” “The Will Song
Pitchfork Review of All This Time
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All This Time, the Heartless Bastards' sophomore album, begins with a gentle and determined piano li...All This Time, the Heartless Bastards' sophomore album, begins with a gentle and determined piano line, a melody by no means delicate but genuinely hopeful when it hits those higher notes. Such a subtle start is a little unexpected after the full-on blues-rock assault of their debut, Stairs & Elevators. But you know what those Heartless Bastards do to that little piano part on "Into the Open"? Erika Wennerstrom's guitar starts churning, drummer Kevin Vaughn chomps his teeth, and Mike Lamping's bass sneaks up on it and they devour it whole. Why? ‘Cause they're a rock band and that's what rock bands do. And when they belch it back out for the second verse, that little melody has changed considerably, becoming more fuel for the engine that powers the band along.
Like that digested piano theme, the Bastards have changed considerably since Stairs introduced the band's unpretentious Midwestern blues-rock and Wennerstrom's much-ballyhooed vocals. They still sound heavy enough to level a small city, but they've refined their sonic tonnage to make it tighter and more agile, able to move more quickly even as they incorporate new styles into the mix. With its marching pace, swirling vocals, and cut-loose chorus, "Finding Solutions" sounds soupily psychedelic, like heyday Jefferson Airplane, and "Brazen" fiercely lives up to its title. Best of all, the band actually pull off some quiet moments, like the cooing "I Swallowed a Dragonfly" and the closing "Came a Long Way".
At the center of this maelstrom stands Wennerstrom, who plays a capably muddy blues guitar but commands more attention for her enormous vocals. Perfectly suited for the Bastards' brand of bar rock, her voice is a distinctive and forceful instrument, howling through these songs like a tornado through a trailer park. Furthermore, the gale force of her delivery makes her lyrics sound truly conflicted as she balances self-loathing with self-assurance. On the title track, her declaration of loyalty and affection sounds all the more convincing for being so forcefully stated, and on "Blue Day" you can hear the desperation in her voice when she sings "I get no motivation/ Need some inspiration/ Try to get motivation/to help me get through this day."
Wennerstrom's voice, however, is both a blessing and a curse. Its power demands bold accompaniment, which Lamping and Vaughn are more than capable of providing, but because she doesn't have a tremendous amount of range, the band can't move with much agility or dynamic. For the most part, they've worked around this handicap on All This Time, hitting the big notes with scary ease and sounding bruised and tender on quieter sections—usually within the same song. But there's not much in between these extremes-- no building up or quelling down, just relentless horizontal jamming. As a result, they hit the same emotional notes in every song. Those notes may be distinctive to the band, but the Heartless Bastards nevertheless sound like giants tied to the earth.
Austin Chronicle Review of All This Time
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This isn't a blues album. Yes, it's on Fat Possum, the home of Cedell Davis, Hasil Adkins, and R.L. ...This isn't a blues album. Yes, it's on Fat Possum, the home of Cedell Davis, Hasil Adkins, and R.L. Burnside. Yes, Erika Wennerstrom sings the blues. Yes, the guitar yelps. Yet this isn't a blues album. Instead, Heartless Bastards' sophomore LP is a triumph in reality. It's frustration on 2-inch tape; irony-free, without effect, and absolutely true. Wennerstrom's 5-year-old Cincinnati trio believes in basics. Her belting voice pierces stage lights and smoke to smack you across the kisser. Last year's Bastard debut, Stairs and Elevators, was only a glimpse into what this 27-year-old volcano can do. S&E tiptoed around the eruption, but All This Time throws caution to the wind. "Into the Open" kicks Time off with a teasing, girly refrain, only to match the piano melody with Wennerstrom's guttural purity and drummer Kevin Vaughn's rat-a-tat. "Searching for the Ghost" is more Cat Power than Angela Strehli, Wennerstrom seductive and powerful in her fortitude. The title track matches wits with "I Swallowed a Dragonfly," both trading pop with riff. By the opening strum of closer "Came a Long Way," Wennerstrom becomes the spotlight, a beacon of rock stardom. Her lyrics flow uncomplicated, her voice bounces off the walls, but Erika Wennerstrom is a diva without the gown. She's true, proud, and sad. Hell, this is a blues album.
Heartless Bastards Fall Tour Press Release
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HEARTLESS BASTARDS ANNOUNCE FALL TOUR FEATURING ERIKA WENNERSTROM, DAVE COLVIN, & JESSE EBAGH NEW ...HEARTLESS BASTARDS ANNOUNCE FALL TOUR
FEATURING ERIKA WENNERSTROM, DAVE COLVIN, & JESSE EBAGH
NEW LINE UP WILL DEBUT SONGS FROM UPCOMING ALBUM
In anticipation of the January 2009 release of their third album on Fat Possum Records, The critically acclaimed Heartless Bastards have just announced their fall US tour.
They’ll be previewing songs from their new CD, entitled “The Mountain”, which delivers the powerful howl that fans expect from Heartless Bastards, but it also weaves in an adventurous sonic evolution, expanding their 3 piece rock by adding pedal steel, mandolin, banjo, strings, and Erika’s transcendent voice.
In October 2007, Erika packed her bags and moved to Austin Texas to write her new record, and work with producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Trail Of Dead, Patty Griffin). In true ascetic discipline, she rented a meager apartment, locked herself in, and wrote for six months straight. She decided to experiment with new vocal sounds and expansive instrumentation; the end result is nothing short of amazing. It’s the evolution critics and fans have been anticipating for years. Once the album was finished, she immediately got to work on assembling a new band, searching for musicians who would help take her live show to a whole new level. After weeks of auditions, a serendipitous alignment of stars occurred, and she found what she was looking for. The two new members aren’t Texas ringers, but fellow Queen City brethren Dave Colvin on drums, and Jesse Ebaugh on bass, who actually played on the original demo that hooked Fat Possum in the first place. The reunion translates into pure magic live, Wennerstrom’s newfound confidence and the chemistry that occurs on stage between the band is incredible to watch. The line up this fall will also include Bill Elm on lap steel, and occasionally Zy O.Lyn on violin. The new and improved Heartless Bastards are sure to leave fans reeling & wanting more.
This September/October they’ll be touring with Langhorne Slim & Dead Confederate. November they’ll be touring with The Broken West.
See below for a complete listing of all confirmed shows.
For further information, contact:
Megan McDiffitt @ C3 512.478.7211 firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin McGuirk @ Fat Possum Justin@fatpossum.com
Steven Bevilaqua @ Fat Possum Steven@fatpossum.com
Full bio, hi res photos & digital press kit can be found here:
9/13/08 - Southern Comfort Music Experience - Altamont, New York
9/25/08 - Last Concert Café - Houston, TX
9/26/08 - Emo’s ACL afterparty - Austin, Texas
9/28/08 - Austin City Limits Music Festival - Austin, Texas
9/29/08 - Sticky Fingerz - Little Rock, Arkansas
9/30/08 - Blueberry Hill - St. Louis, Missouri
10/1/08 - Abbey Pub - Chicago, Illinois
10/2/08 - Southgate House - Newport, Kentucky
10/5/08 - The Basement Nightclub - Columbus, Ohio
10/7/08 - Iron Horse Music Hall - Northampton, Massachusetts
10/8/08 - T.T. the Bear’s - Cambridge, Massachusetts
10/9/08 - Capitol Theater - York, Pennsylvania
10/10/08 - Bowery Ballroom - New York, New York
10/11/08 - Music Hall of Williamsburg - Brooklyn, New York
10/13/08 - Black Cat - Washington, Washington DC
10/14/08 - Cat’s Cradle - Carrboro, North Carolina
10/15/08 - The 5 Spot - Atlanta, Georgia
10/16/08 - Exit / In - Nashville, Tennessee
10/17/08 - Proud Larry’s - Oxford, Mississippi
10/18/08 - D.B.A. New Orleans – New Orleans, Louisiana
11/3/08 - Santa Fe Brewing Co - Santa Fe, New Mexico
11/4/08 - Rhythm Room - Phoenix, Arizona
11/5/08 - Beauty Bar - San Diego, California
11/7/08 - Spaceland - Los Angeles, California
11/8/08 - The Independent - San Francisco, California
11/10/08 - Doug Fir Lounge - Portland, Oregon
11/11/08 - The Tractor - Seattle, Washington
11/14/08 - 400 Bar - Minneapolis, Minnesota
11/15/08 - High Noon Saloon - Madison, Wisconsin
11/16/08 - The Picador - Iowa City, Iowa
11/18/08 - Waiting Room - Omaha, Nebraska
11/19/08 - The Bottleneck - Lawrence, Kansas
11/21/08 – Club Dada, Dallas, Texas
11/22/08 - Stubb’s, Austin, Texas
'Heartless Bastards' Defy Indie Rock Rules
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All Things Considered, August 16, 2006 - In the crowded field of indie rock, a band's first few albu...All Things Considered, August 16, 2006 - In the crowded field of indie rock, a band's first few albums are crucial. They establish the band's sound and expand its fanbase. But Cincinnati's Heartless Bastards breaks those rules with its second CD, All This Time. Instead of sticking to its workmanlike gritty blues rock, the band has developed a more open, expansive and personal sound.
It's Good, Legal Fun!
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http://www.fuse.tv/music/free-music.html?artist_id=212 Heartless Bastards Following the succes...http://www.fuse.tv/music/free-music.html?artist_id=212
Following the success of Heartless Bastards' first two albums (Stairs and Elevators and All This Time) and in true ascetic discipline, Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom moved to Austin, Texas in 2007 for a change of inspirational scenery and a new recording project. With the help of producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Trail of Dead), she assembled a group of musicians with whom she gave the songs life and uncovered yet another layer of herself and the Heartless Bastards.
The two new Bastards aren't Texas ringers, but fellow Dayton brethren Dave Colvin on drums, and Jesse Ebaugh on bass, who actually played on the original demo that hooked Heartless Bastards' record label, Fat Possum. The new album, entitled The Mountain, delivers the powerful howl that fans expect from the Heartless Bastards, but also weaves in adventure with mandolins, banjos, strings and Erika's transcendent voice.
The Mountain is out February 3, 2009 and the band will tour its ass off.
Heartless Bastards - Mountain
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http://www.hearya.com/2009/01/12/heartless-bastards-mountain-new-mp3/ Cincinnati’s Heartless Bast...http://www.hearya.com/2009/01/12/heartless-bastards-mountain-new-mp3/
Cincinnati’s Heartless Bastards are all set to release their third album, The Mountain, on February 3rd via Fat Possum Records. The album is said to have the powerful howl that fans expect from the Heartless Bastards, but also weaves in mandolins, banjos, and strings. Erika Wennerstrom could sing the phone book and I’d listen.
The album’s title track was released this morning.
Heartless Bastards - The Mountain
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http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/album/25463416/review/25524359/the_mountain Over three albums...http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/album/25463416/review/25524359/the_mountain
Over three albums, Heartless Bastards singer Erika Wennerstrom has proven herself a natural rock star — there's a bit of PJ Harvey and Robert Plant in her — with a voice that slides from trebly quaver to a fearsome, wide-mouthed roar. She's not prone to understatement: On the Ohio rockers' new album, Wennerstrom sings about traversing deserts, being lashed by hurricanes and peering "into the mountain where your desire goes." The band's sound is fuller now, with violin and banjo adding homespun accents to its garage-blues sludge on songs like "Had to Go." And the new rhythm section swerves and stomps harder than ever, making a racket worthy of Wennerstrom's voice — a veritable mountain of sound.
Heartless Bastards, The Mountain
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http://www.spin.com/reviews/heartless-bastards-mountain-fat-possum Erika Wennerstrom has a voic...
Erika Wennerstrom has a voice -- deep, throaty, loose -- that could make even the most uninhibited vocalist feel uptight and contained by comparison: Each note she sings feels deeply animated, as if it's got its own heartbeat and fully formed pair of fists. As frontwoman for Heartless Bastards, her Ohio-born garage-rock outfit, which owes as much to Muddy Waters as to the Kinks, the diminutive Wennerstrom wails, seethes, and wisecracks: "I could be so sweet if I just quit being sour," she deadpans on "Be So Happy."
The Mountain, the band's third LP, necessitated a few shifts in position and personnel -- Wennerstrom relocated to Austin, Texas, pulled in a fresh rhythm section (composed of former collaborators Dave Colvin and Jesse Ebaugh), and signed up Spoon producer Mike McCarthy. The result, which is gentler and more eclectic than the Bastards' earlier releases, is also Wennerstrom's most glorious, a collection of salty, rousing rock'n'roll that'll leave you aching for a roadhouse, a sticky bar stool, and a chipped glass of bourbon.
The epic, string-riddled "Had to Go" feels ancient and foreboding, a cautionary tale in the grand tradition of Lead Belly's gut-stabbing "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" -- banjo strums never felt so ominous. "I packed my bags and I left my home / And now everything's changing, I'm feeling alone," Wennerstrom belts. Her desperation is our gain.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.