Erika Wennerstrom

Erika Wennerstrom
Erika Wennerstrom
Photograph by Cambria Harkey

The 31-year-old leader of the Ohio-based band the Heartless Bastards—which earned critical praise for the albums Stairs and Elevators< and All This Time and toured with Wilco and Lucinda Williams—disbanded her three-member group and relocated to Austin in 2007. The vocalist and guitarist has now assembled a new lineup (bassist Jesse Ebaugh and drummer Dave Colvin) and in February will be releasing a third album, The Mountain (Fat Possum).

Let’s begin with the obvious question. The Heartless Bastards were getting plenty of buzz in Ohio, yet here you are, starting over in Austin. What happened?

Well, I was in a ten-year relationship with [former bassist] Mike Lamping, but then we split up, and it was really hard to make it work. So I decided to move. I have family in Austin, and [Austin-based] C3 Presents is my management company. I also have a lot of friends here, and I like the city.

You started the Heartless Bastards in 2002. A lot has been written about your shyness; was going onstage difficult at first?

Oh, definitely. I’m more used to it now, but I’m always going to be nervous before a show. I think that’s healthy, though. I don’t want to be so relaxed that I don’t have that energy. But I am shy; it’s easier for me to sing than to do any talking with the audience.

Yet you have this enormous voice.

I’ve always wanted to sing, and once I really started, this range just came out. I have a friend who was a big inspiration. He’d say, “Come on, belt it out,” when I didn’t even know I could.

Do your songs come easily? Does making music still mean the same thing to you as when you started?

I try to tell myself to never write a song just because others will like it. I care what people think, but you have to write something that you believe in, that is up to your standards. Writing music is always a challenge; that hasn’t changed for me. When I write songs, I try to focus on one at a time, because I don’t ever get anything done otherwise. A song is something I still really have to work out,

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