We got the chance to chat with Erika Wennerstrom from the Heartless bastards about playing the 35th Anniversary of Austin City Limits, the rich musical history in Texas, and a few other interesting subjects.
NT: Tell me about the present lineup of the band, you’ve had a couple of changes over the years.
EW: Yeah, I kinda had a live band years ago in 2002—it was more of a recording project, and I didn’t as much leave the band as much as helped out with recording, so they were pretty active in
other projects at the moment, so when I started playing out, they weren’t an original live lineup, and actually Dave just plays several shows but he moved away.
When I was recording The Mountain, I needed a band and Dave I happened to run into in Austin, he was going to school there, and then I called Jesse up, because I just always thought he was a really great bass player and musician and I thought that we would all get along really well. So, he moved down from the Cincinnati area, so although they weren’t on The Mountain, the last album, they’ve playing together since before its release, so we’ve been playing now for I guess 4 years? 3 and a half years? Something like that. Me and Mark Nathan have been playing since the release of The Mountain, so he’s been in the band for 3 years, but it’s the first album that all the guys are on it together, like Mark, Dave and Jesse. So, it was great for everybody to finally be on an album together after playing together for 3 years or so, and I feel like we all get along well and have good chemistry musically, and as people, and as far as I’d like to think, that comes across on the album, you know? That, you know, I feel like we’re a tight band.
NT: Tell me a bit about playing Austin City Limits 35th Music Anniversary and a bit about the rich music scene in Texas.
HB: As far as being rich in history, it’s a pretty big state, so there’s going to be a lot of famous musicians. I know both Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison, I think they’re both from Lubbock right? And then, the 13th Floor Elevators are from Austin, and uh, it’s a pretty big state. As far as a rich musical history? Yeah, I think there’s a great, rich musical history there. But I feel like there’s
just as strong a musical history from Ohio, where I’m from, like anybody from Chrissie Hynde to the Breeders, and Guided by Voices… so I think there’s a great, rich musical history in Austin and Ohio, where I’m from, and I love living in Austin, but I didn’t really move there because of the musical scene: the band was already sort of living off of you know, creating art and playing music before I moved there, but I moved to Austin after a break-up from a 9-year relationship, and I have family there. I just have this philosophy that if you put enough work into what you’re doing, and enough love into what you’re creating, you could live anywhere. Sometimes living in a city that’s so filled with so much creativity and there’s so many things going on, it can be easy to be overlooked, for that matter. I mean, there are so many bands in Austin but I think it’s very inspiring to live there, and there’s definitely a lot of amazing albums and artists that come out of there. I am such a huge fan of that show, the whole band is, and I think I would say it was one of the most nervous moments the band ever had because we’re all such fans of the show, but we’ve done David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, but when we did Austin City Limits it’s like, I think we’ve all grown up watching that show and admiring some of the musicians that were on it, that it was just, such an honour to be there.
NT: In the past, you’ve done solo tours—like acoustic tours—is that a bit tougher, a bit more intimidating than playing with a backing band?
EW: When we did the acoustic tour, it was 3 out of 4 of the members, and we just did different versions, like, Mark and I would play acoustic guitars, and Jesse would sometimes have an
upright bass. And honestly, I’ve played all acoustic on the tour but sometimes Mark would play electric accompaniment and a very like, more subdued, quiet sort of style, like, a different take on the same, older song, and Jesse played pedal steel guitar so it wasn’t completely acoustic, but it just seemed a lot easier to say “acoustic tour” than “mainly acoustic tour with some pedal steel guitar and some electric”, you know. We gilded it as an acoustic tour. It was definitely different from our usual rock sound, and it was definitely a different take on the songs. And I think it went really well—people really like to see that side of a band, and at some point I’d love to do it again, maybe even release an acoustic album at some point.
NT: Your new music sounds to me like it has a sort of Italian, kind of Western soundtrack to it.What was the inspiration? Did you go through a bit of a Sergio Leone phase or something?
EW: Oh, certainly. Any of Morricone, the composer of Sergio’s movies, I’m a big fan of any Morricone, and I have several of his albums. I’d also started traveling out to west Texas, to a
town called Marfa, which is kind of at the foot of the Davis mountains, and Big Ben National Park, and it’s just a vast, western landscape that’s very beautiful and it was all that open space out there, I found that really inspiring, and I think it inspired me to write a western-styled song.I went on a tour several years ago and we listened to tons of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood on that particular tour that we did several years ago, and I think I was picturing, of a local style of the way it was recorded, of Nancy Sinatra and Lee, over a cinematic soundscape of Ennio Morricone. You know, Nancy Sinatra and Lee always had that big river sound that sounds like you’re singing from a mountaintop.