Heartless Bastards: Catching up with Erika Wennerstrom before Bunbury Festival

'Wanted to do music since I wanted to do anything'

CINCINNATI --- Even though the Heartless Bastards left Cincinnati more than seven years ago, the now Austin, Texas-based group is still quick to claim the Queen City as home.

"I just find that it’s where we started...it’s like I’m always going to think of Guns N' Roses as being from L.A. and The Replacements being from Minneapolis. I don’t even know if they live in those towns anymore, but doesn’t change the fact that’s where they started," said front woman Erika Wennerstrom.

The self-described eclectic rock band features Wennerstrom's wide-ranging, melodic vocals. And she and bandmates come home as Bunbury Music Festival's main attraction Friday night.

Say Heartless Bastards and those who know the band immediately think of Wennerstrom's voice.

"Singer Erika Wennerstrom has this way of transforming ordinary words into majestic creations. She lingers over her phrases, elongating syllables, bending and twisting them until you wonder if she could possibly sing them the same way twice,'' wrote National Public Radio reviewer Tom Moon in a 2012 review: "There are times when it sounds like she's caught the essence of rock 'n' roll in a bottle — or she's channeling Jim Morrison."

Always Knew Music Was Calling

Starting with piano at the age of eight and playing guitar by high school, the Dayton, Ohio native always knew music would be a major part of her life.

Her favorite artists growing up included a range of musicians from Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett to The Pixies and The Breeders.

"I've wanted to do music since I wanted to do anything," said Wennerstrom.

Wennerstrom spent 10 years in Cincinnati where she formed the Heartless Bastards as a recording project in 2001. She picked the band name after playing a game of MegaTouch trivia during which one of the answers for the name of Tom Petty's backup band was "Tom Petty and the Heartless Bastards."

With a name, lyrics and music in hand, Wennerstrom was ready to begin recording.

"I would do some of the tracks myself and I thought that some of the songs needed stronger musicians than what I could play," she said.

Wennerstrom enlisted the help of local musicians during her recording sessions at Ultrasuede Studios in Northside. By the end of August in 2002, she assembled a three-piece live group to perform at The Comet also in Northside for the first Heartless Bastard show.

'I Wanted a Group'

After performing with a live band, Wennerstrom knew she wanted Heartless Bastards to be more than just a solo project.

"I wanted to have a group versus just doing my own thing. I like that," said Wennerstrom.

Over the years, the Heartless Bastards have grown not only by name, but also members.

Now the band consists of Wennerstrom as lead vocals and guitarist; Mark Nathan on guitar; Jesse Ebaugh on bass guitar; and Dave Colvin on drums.

Both Ebaugh and Colvin were part of the Heartless Bastard's early recordings. Nathan joined the band with the release of "The Mountain" in 2009.

For Wennerstrom, the decision to move to Austin was the result of several factors. The band was starting to gain momentum, even having songs featured on the TV series "Friday Night Lights" before moving out of Cincinnati. Her nine-year relationship had ended and she wanted to be closer to family.

"I wanted to start over somewhere and it just made sense with my manager and family," said Wennerstrom.

"Dave happened to already be living here... I decided to call Jesse up and see if he was interested in moving down. I thought I would feel more comfortable with people I already knew who were talented and I was familiar with them," she said. 

Market For Music

Since leaving Cincinnati in 2007, the Heartless Bastards have returned home for several performances over the years, including during the MidPoint Music Festival.

On Friday, they play Bunbury that starts Friday and runs through Sunday at Sawyer Point and Yeatman's Cove. More than 80 bands, both local and national acts, will take the stage during the festival's third year.

"It's really nice to see that the festival is growing...it’s a great thing," said Wennerstrom.

Wennerstrom said she's glad to see music festivals expanding in the Tri-State.

"I think it’s really great that Midpoint’s grown and Bunbury was started. I think that there’s always been a market," she said.

The Heartless Bastard's Bunbury performance kicks off a mini summer tour — with only six dates listed — before returning to the recording studio in August to work on their fifth album.

Over the past decade, the band has spent most of the time on tour. Their latest album, "The Arrow," which was released through Partisan Records in 2012, included national and international tour dates.

In addition for prepping for their next album, Wennerstrom says she's also been involved with other projects, including recording vocals for a film project, alongside some of the members of Vampire Weekend.

But before leaving Cincinnati this weekend, Wennerstrom says she has a few personal stops to make before heading back out on the road:

"I have to go to Melt, Shake it Records, and Camp Washington Chili. That’s my favorite chili because it's more mom and pop."

The Heartless Bastards perform at 9:15 p.m. Friday, July 11 at the Bunbury Music Festival at Sawyer Point. Visit here for more details on the festival.


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