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About Erika Wennerstrom

A singer/songwriter with a strong, rich voice, a melodic sense informed by blues, country, and hard rock, and a gift for writing perceptive, emotionally powerful lyrics about the human experience, Erika Wennerstrom first developed a following as the leader of the roots rock band the Heartless Bastards. After cutting five studio albums with the band between 2005 and 2015, Wennerstrom took a break from the Heartless Bastards to launch a solo career in 2018 with an album of more personal material.

Wennerstrom was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1978, and grew up listening to her mother's record collection, which was heavy on vintage soul and jazz, with Ray Charles and Otis Redding being two of her favorites. When she was 16, Wennerstrom got a guitar from her father for Christmas, but it was a couple of years before she began to take an interest in playing. Influenced by the Dayton independent music scene that had produced bands like the Breeders, Guided by Voices, and Brainiac, she joined an art rock band called Shesus shortly after she dropped out of school in her senior year. When she was 21, Wennerstrom became romantically involved with Mike Lamping, a musician, and she relocated to Cincinnati to be with him. Wennerstrom was working as a bartender when she began writing songs, and recorded a demo that she passed out to her co-workers and customers. They liked it enough that a CD-R of the demo made it onto the bar's jukebox, and Wennerstrom decided to put together a band to play out. The original lineup -- Wennerstrom on lead vocals and guitar, Mike Weinel on lead guitar, Adam McAllister on bass, and Dave Colvin on drums -- had trouble landing gigs due to scheduling conflicts, and eventually she stripped the band down to a trio, with Wennerstrom joined by Lamping on bass and Kevin Vaughn on drums. They adopted the name the Heartless Bastards, taken from a trivia game that suggested the name as a possible answer to the question of the name of Tom Petty's backing band.

In 2004, the Heartless Bastards were playing a poorly attended gig at a bar in Akron, Ohio when Patrick Carney of the Black Keys dropped in. Carney was bowled over by the band, and suggested to Fat Possum Records (the Black Keys' label at the time) that they should sign them. The label took Carney's advice, and the Heartless Bastards released their debut album, Stairs and Elevators, via Fat Possum in 2005. After plenty of touring (including a string of dates opening for the Drive-By Truckers), the Bastards recorded a second album, All This Time, which was released in 2006. In 2007, Wennerstrom and Lamping broke up, and that edition of the Heartless Bastards broke up with it. Wennerstrom moved to Austin, Texas, and began writing songs for a third album; she and producer Mike McCarthy assembled a band of local players to work out the tunes in the studio, and The Mountain was released in 2009 as a Heartless Bastards project. (It was the first release under a new contract with Partisan Records.) Wennerstrom assembled another version of the band for touring, with original drummer Dave Colvin and bassist Jesse Ebaugh; one of the dates was an appearance on the long-running PBS TV series Austin City Limits. The year 2009 also saw Wennerstrom contribute vocals to Langhorne Slim's album Be Set Free.

By the time the Heartless Bastards released Arrow in 2012, they had expanded to a quartet with the addition of lead guitarist Mark Nathan. Arrow proved to be their most successful release to date, rising to 78 on the Top 200 Albums chart. During the downtime from touring, Wennerstrom found time to contribute to albums by !!! (Thr!!!er) and Jesca Hoop (Undress). The Wennerstrom/Nathan/Ebaugh/Colvin lineup was on board for the recording of 2015's Restless Ones. The band toured in support, but in 2016 the Heartless Bastards went on hiatus and Wennerstrom devoted herself to emotional healing and self-discovery, trying an ayahuasca retreat during a visit to the Amazon and hiking regularly throughout the United States. During her travels, Wennerstrom recorded hundreds of lyrical and melodic ideas on her phone, and her next batch of songs dealt with personal issues in a way she felt fell outside the confines of the band. With 2018's Sweet Unknown, Wennerstrom made her solo debut, though Jesse Ebaugh played on eight of the album's nine songs, and in her press materials she made clear the Heartless Bastards had not broken up. ~ Mark Deming

Dayton, OH

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