We at PHILTHY MAG have long been fans [and I’d like to think friends] of Cincinnati-born, Texas-residing rockers Heartless Bastards. Over the course of five albums the band has woven an amalgam of twangy Rock’N’Roll that is nearly as indebted to psychedelic garage rock and post-punk alternative as it is to classic Americana and blues rock. Few southern rock bands are able to successfully recall the beauty of the likes of the MC5, Johnny Thunders, and Pixies… But Heartless Bastards have always managed…
Heartless Bastards just kicked off a double-headlining tour last week, which has them sharing the stage with alt country legends the Old 97’s, in addition to opener BJ Barham of American Aquarium. This Saturday, May 14th, has the tour stopping at our very own Union Transfer and a few months back I chatted with Heartless Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom about her thoughts on Philadelphia, the band’s latest album, and just what can be expected of this tour.
“I think it’s a great show; I’ve known Rhett for years now. We’re both Texas bands now; I’m originally from Ohio, but have been in Texas for a while now. We flip-flop who plays second from night to night, so the particular set might depend on that. I did sing a duet with the Old 97’s in the studio, so I’m hoping we play it live; it’s a fun cover song.”
Over the past decade or so Heartless Bastards have graced the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection with their presence countless times, from support slots at the Factory and the Troc, to a particularly sweaty summer late-night at the North Star Bar, and numerous major headlining shows at Union Transfer, in addition to a recent one at the TLA. I ask Erika her thoughts on Philly, or Philthy, and she tells me that she’s just as happy to be here as we seem to be to have her.
“I absolutely love Union Transfer. They’ve done such a beautiful job with that venue. And we just love WXPN and World Café Live. I really wanna go to the Mutter Museum. Some of the band went there last time we were in town.”
Heartless Bastards are currently touring behind Restless Ones, their fifth full-length, which dropped last summer on Partisan Records. The album has the band going in a slightly (but not decidedly) more popular direction; while it is well-suited for cookouts, it’s not likely to alienate fans of Frank Black or Exile on Main St. I ask Erika about how the album has been received and she laughs and explains that she really feels the reception just reflects what it means to be a lasting rock band.
“In all honesty, it’s a disparity of opinions on the record. Some feel it’s the best record we’ve ever done and some feel harsher, based on what they’d gotten used to (I guess I’m not doing a great job of promoting myself, I’m just being honest.) I’m just creating things I like and I hope people respond. And you can’t please everyone, so you just kind of keep on going.”
Finally, I ask Erika what it is that tends to inspire her musical output and she tells me that that might be a bit too much to summarize, but that there are definitely a few major things that are regularly on her radar.
“I have so many broad influences, but thinking of what I’ve listened to since I was a kid, definitely Bob Dylan and Neil Young and Joan Jett; I loved her cool toughness as a kid. And Mahalia Jackson and Led Zeppelin; every day they blow my mind, listening to those same songs. And then there’s Shel Silverstein; I love the cadence of how he writes, which has inspired how I do music.”