Ever since she was a toddler growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Erika Wennerstrom knew she wanted to be a musician. It may have taken her a little bit to get there, but after a brief stint in the band Shesus, Wennerstrom and her band the Heartless Bastards are unleashing their sophomore effort to the world.
All This Time shows a more mature Heartless Bastards with a line-up consisting of Wennerstrom (vocals/guitar), Mike Lamping (bass) and Kevin Vaughn (drums). Although not as musically as mature when they started in Dayton, the Heartless Bastards exploded onto the independent music scene with their debut record, Stairs and Elevators, released on well-known Mississippi-blues label Fat Possum Records. However the record deal almost never happened.
“We were playing in a small club in Akron, Ohio. I remember it distinctly. It was on a Wednesday night. And only about five people were in the club. The guy who was running the place was just going to pay us and go home because he was a musician, too. He said he would rather play. But we love to play, no matter how many people there are, and besides it took us four hours to get there. I wasn’t going to just pack up and go home. So he ended up letting us play. Later on, Patrick Carney (drummer for the Black Keys) came in. We had opened for the Keys a few months before in Newport across from Cincinnati.
“A few weeks later Mike noticed in our junk mailbox on our hotmail account there were a few e-mails from Fat Possum. I guess Patrick put in a good word for us and the label wanted to talk to us. Thank God Mike saw it in our junk box, or we would have never known.”
Fat Possum is known as a blues-based label with such released as R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Wennerstrom knew of the label, but didn’t think they would be interested in their garage soulful sound.
Timing is everything for this band. For example, for their debut they had roughly three days to record, and now, with All This Time, well, the title really sums it up.
“I definitely think we have grown a lot tighter going into the studio for this record. With the extra time to record, we had a lot of options to experiment with tones and sounds in the studio. The first time around we were so rushed and everything was new to me. For the new record, we sort of utilized the freedom we had.”
Touring also helped the trio in the studio. They toured what seemed like forever on Stairs and Elevators, opening for the Black Keys and Drive by Truckers. This gave the Heartless Bastards the chance to road test their new songs.
“I’d rather tour all the time. I get home and I don’t know what to do with myself. So now, I just got back from the hardware store. I am refinishing an old dresser. I got my brushes and paints and stuff. I guess it keeps me busy.”
Even though she loves the road very much, Wennerstrom does admit it has its bad points.
“It’s really rough on the road. We are crammed in a van with the band plus our sound engineer. We have two bench seats in the back and everyone gets a chance to lie down and get rest. We are constantly together in the van or on stage or in the hotels. So it’s like a family, and we do have our little disagreements, but in the end everything works out.”
Wennerstrom, who has been called a “woman of few words” and even a “rock goddess” is more in her element when music is around. After all, it’s all she’s done for the majority of her life. She is the founder of the band. She is the lead singer and guitar player and does the majority if not all of the song writing.
“Usually I write melodies first because they are in my head all the time. The hardest part for my writing is the words. I’ll come up with words and form a song around them. But I never really set out to write a song about something. It just seems to happen for me.”
The Heartless Bastards have one more record under their contract with Fat Possum. Beyond that, Wennerstrom doesn’t really know what is going on with the band. She lives for the moment, not the future. Even though those long road trips can be taxing and put doubt in her mind, there is nothing else this Midwestern rocker girl would rather be doing.
“Sometimes I do question it when we have trouble on the road, but at the same time I don’t know what else I would do really. I can’t imagine not doing music. I don’t know if I’ll always tour, but I’ll always write music and might as well give it a go, you know, and try and see what happens.”