[Interview] Erika Wennerstrom

She has been to the mountaintop

Erika Wennerstrom’s climb to “The Mountain” ended its first phase when the new album by the Heartless Bastards arrived in February, 2009. Her journey, however, is likely to continue to higher ground.

Wennerstrom, the Dayton native who formed the band in 2002 after moving to Cincinnati, relocated to Austin, Texas, two years ago. That move might prove to be a large step toward wider recognition if not stardom itself.

“This record is a big break for them,” says veteran music journalist Tom Moon, the author of last year’s “1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die,” who was a fan of the band’s first two albums that featured a swampy, blues-rock feel.

“She needed to do what this record has done with the different instrumentation. I think it’s going to be very popular.”

Those instruments would be pedal steel, mandolin, banjo and strings, which add different shades — if not an entirely different sound — to the group’s guitar-bass-drums foundation.

Instruments aside, though, it’s Wennerstrom’s voice that is the face of the Bastards. As release day approached, she sounded cautious and anxious, but not convinced that her life might change with a hit record.”

“The feedback has been really positive,” she says. “I’m excited about the album. I believed in every song that I wrote.

“But there’s always someone out there who will pick apart anything you do.”

Sounds like someone who might spend too much time reading blogs, which she probably did after making the move to Austin. If “The Mountain” does hit big, Wennerstrom’s path from here to there could grow into popular myth.

After touring in support of 2006’s “All This Time,” Wennerstrom’s longtime relationship with Mike Lamping, the band’s original bass player, ended. Apparently sensing opportunity in addition to loss, she headed south, found a place to live and dedicated six months to writing the songs that wound up on “The Mountain.”

With Lamping and drummer Kevin Vaughn gone, Wennerstrom worked with Austin musicians to make the album, but then found two Greater Cincinnati expatriates — bass player Jesse Ebaugh and drummer Dave Colvin — who became the new Bastards.

“The Bastards are a Cincinnati band,” she laughs. “We just all happen to live in Austin now.”

Actually they’ll be living in motels and vans for the next three months after beginning a tour Friday in Memphis that runs through the first week of May. Highlights include a visit to “The Late Show with David Letterman,” a three-night stand at Austin’s South by Southwest festival and a show at the Madison Theater in Covington.

That Madison isn’t Madison Square Garden, but it’s certainly a leap from the band’s early days at the Comet and the Northside Tavern.

“There really does seem to be a huge buzz on the CD this time around,” says John Patrick, a host on WNKU-FM, which has been playing the album for a while. “I think 2009 will be a great year for them.”

Which means it’s likely that Wennerstrom hasn’t even glimpsed the mountaintop yet.

Erika Wennerstrom plays “Extraordinary Love”


Originally published in 2009.

Each week, Bob Hust and Bill Thompson feature the best songs – old and new – from artists they have loved for many years and others they have just discovered. The best songs transport people to a time and place. That’s the foundation of BS&B.

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