Erika Wennerstrom (of Heartless Bastards)
Erika Wennerstrom never really considered performing as Erika Wennerstrom, despite being the heart of Heartless Bastards, the only member of the Austin-based indie rock band of which she remains the lone original member.
“Half the time, people can’t even spell my first name right,” she joked.“Or pronounce my last name — they say ‘storm.’And I also like the idea of a group vibe — a team. But I’m really inspired right now and I want to keep going. If [my bandmates] need a break, I don’t want to just keep the same name and find new people. We’ve been playing together a long time at this point. So I’m just going to something under a different name.”
Wennerstrom has written quite a bit lately, and she wants to share it. That may be released under the name Erika Wennerstrom; that may come with a different name entirely. It’s a revelation that comes just a year after the release of Heartless Bastards’ Restless Ones.
“I probably have a couple hundred songs [that haven’t been heard],”she said, despite the band having just five full-length releases. “It’s just a matter of figuring out what I want to say with them. I always get the melody first. The challenge of finishing anything is always the biggest challenge for me, so it just takes more time. I’ve talked to some other artists about some co-writes recently — I have so many songs, and maybe if I could finish them, I’d have 10 albums. Not that I want to start releasing a new album every six months. When you are that prolific it’s amazing, but it can be hard to keep up.”
Cass McCombs is among those collaborators. And Wennerstrom’s adding her vocals to other projects that aren’t her own soon.
“Sometimes, I think the best collaboration can be the one that’s unexpected,” she said. “I’m just going to get in there and try all kinds of things with all kinds of people.”
She’s already lent vocals to an Old 97’s track (that’s the band that Heartless Bastards will share a bill with at Saturn on Friday night); a cover of “In Spite of Ourselves” by John Prine and Iris Dement. Maybe you’ll see it at the show.
“They perform the song, and if they want to do it some nights off the cuff, then maybe we will,” she said. “I’ll be prepared for it if it happens.”
Restless Ones was recorded at Sonic Ranch, outside of El Paso, Tex, which Wennerstrom recalls being the largest pecan farm in the world on the border of the Rio Grande — and she didn’t eat any of them.
“They weren’t really around!” she said. “Maybe they’re all just so sick of pecans that they don’t keep them around.”
It’s the first time the band had done a “destination recording.”
“I don’t know [how I chose those 10 songs from the available work],” she said. “It’s part of the challenge of getting something done; as I try to finish those songs in my head, new ideas are constantly entering it. ‘Do I follow that new idea?’ but then I just continue building this giant vault of unfinished work. At some point, I have to pick some things. I kind of go with what’s popping in my head at that time. I throw out a lot of ideas. It’s not really calculated.”
Melody has always come first for her, but right now, she’s on a writing roll. And she has no intention of slowing down. The last four releases have had three-year gaps separating each. But at the rate she’s currently writing, she doesn’t believe that fans will wait long for a new record.
“It’s going to be a lot sooner this time,” she said of the aforementioned solo side project.