Deriving their name from a hilariously incorrect answer on a multiple-choice trivia game (the question was: “What is the name of Tom Petty‘s backing band?”), the acclaimed indie rock act Heartless Bastards was founded in by Dayton, OH-born singer/songwriter, guitarist and founding member Erika Wennerstrom in Cincinnati back in 2003. Initially started as a solo recording project, Heartless Bastards quickly evolved into a live band featuring a rotating cast of musicians and collaborators that regularly played throughout the Midwest.
The Black Keys‘ Patrick Carney caught the band and was so impressed by what he had heard, that he passed along a copy of their demo to Fat Possum Records, who signed the band and then released their first there albums — 2005’s Stairs and Elevators, 2006’s All This Time and 2009’s The Mountain. Between the writing and recording of All This Time and The Mountain, Wennerstrom relocated to Austin. And around that time, the band’s touring lineup featured David Colvin (drums) and Jesse Ebaugh (bass), who both played on the Heartless Bastard demos recorded six years prior. The band expanded into a quartet with the 2009 addition of Mark Nathan (guitar).
The band signed to Partisan Records, who released the band’s last two critically applauded albums — 2012’s Arrow and 2015’s Restless Ones. Wennerstrom stepped out from behind a band and released her solo debut, 2018’s Sweet Unknown to critical applause. “It was a deeply personal album and it just felt fitting to use my name,” Wennerstrom says of her solo debut. “It kind of forced me to allow myself to be a little more exposed, and stand on my own two feet. I feel like I’ve grown so much creatively and personally through this process.”
Since the release of Sweet Unknown and a tour to support it, Wennerstrom, along with a powerhouse backing band featuring Okkervil River‘s Lauren Gurgolo (guitar), White Denim‘s Greggory Clifford, Mercury Rev’s and Midlake’s multi-instrumentalist Jesse Chandler, My Morning Jacket‘s Bo Koster (keys), Patty Griffin‘s David Pulkingham (guitar) and longtime Heartless Bastards bandmate Jesse Ebaugh (bass) went into the studio to write and recorded their Kevin Ratterman co-produced sixth album A Beautiful Life, the band’s first full-length album of original material in over five years.
Although Wennerstom first considered releasing A Beautiful Life under her own name as the follow up to her solo debut, she ultimately came to view the album’s material as the continuation of the journey begun on the band’s 2005 full-length debut. Sonically, the album’s material reportedly is a coalescence of a number of eclectic influences and references including French pop, Celtic folk, space rock. Disney film scores and post punk. And as a result, A Beautiful Life may arguably be their most expansive and elaborate batch of material in their catalog to date while still being centered around Wennerstrom’s lyrics, which inspire contemplation, joyful defiance, catharsis, and empathy. “For me music is a gift,” Wennsterstrom says in press notes. “I do it because I love it, and because it helps me feel more connected to the world. I think we all long for a deep connection, and I hope this record adds to the conversation on how we as a species can stop seeing ourselves as separate. I hope it helps everyone to think about how we can look out for each other, take care of each other, and lift each other up.”
Slated for a September 10, 2021 release through Sweet Unknown Records/Thirty Tigers, A Beautiful Life will feature “Revolution,” an incisive and urgent song featuring an expansive song structure that meshes elements of psych rock and blues, that that calls upon the listener to get their shit straight and make the world a better place before it’s too late.
The album’s latest single “You Never Know” may be the most cinematic songs of their entire catalog. Featuring a soaring string arrangement, flamenco-like guitar playing paired with Wennerstrom’s plaintive wailing, the song is a sweet reminder that life is short and sometimes in love and in countless other things, we should take a chance. You’ll never know what will happen, until it actually happens.
“When I wrote “You Never Know,” I imagined it being in Moonrise Kingdom, the Wes Anderson film, even though the movie has already been made. There’s a sense of adventure and innocence that youth embodies whether it’s with love or goals and dreams. This song is a reminder to stay open. Life is short. Take chances.”
Directed, shot and edited by Vanessa Pie, the recently released video stars Kaylyn Mae McClellan and Tiel Ann Larson in a surreal and cinematically shot fever dream with a sailboat to nowhere, a zebra, some expressive face paint, a doorway to another dimension. But at its core is a sweet and tender love story of two people who will be companions through some zany adventures — perhaps because they both took a chance and were open.
AUGUST AUSTIN, TX RESIDENCY20 – C Boys – w/ Joseph M21 – The Continental Club w/ Marmalakes27- C Boys – w/ Little Mazarn28 – The Continental Club – w/ Ghost Wolves
SEPTEMBER16 – Little Rock, AR – Stickyz17 – Columbia, MO – The Blue Note18 – St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway Nightclub19– Nashville, TN – 3rd & Lindsley Lightning 100 Sunday Show22 – Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line Music Cafe23 – Madison, WI – Majestic Theatre24 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall25 – Covington, KY – Madison Theater27 – Millvale, PA – Mr. Small’s Theatre29 – Cambridge, MA – The Sinclair30 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
OCTOBER1– Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live Downstairs2 – Washington, DC – Union Stage4 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle5 – Atlanta, GA – Smith’s Olde Bar7 – Houston, TX – The Heights Theater8 – Austin, TX – Austin City Limits Festival9 – Kerrville, TX – Kerrville Folk Festival29 – New Braunfels, TX – Gruene Hall30 – Oklahoma City, OK – Tower Theatre31 – Santa Fe, NM – Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery
NOVEMBER1 – Tucson, AZ – 191 Toole3 – Solana Beach, CA – Belly Up Tavern4 – West Hollywood, CA – Troubadour5 – San Francisco, CA – The Independent6 – Oakland, CA – Starline Social Club Ballroom8 – Sacramento, CA – Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub9 – Arcata, CA – Arcata Theatre Lounge11 – Eugene, OR – Sessions Music Hall12 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom13 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile14 – Missoula, MT – The Wilma15 – Bozeman, MT – The ELM17 – Salt Lake City, UT – The Commonwealth Room19 – Fort Collins, CO – Aggie Theatre20 – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater21 – Boulder, CO – Fox Theatre24 – Dallas, TX – The Kessler Theater
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EUROPEAN TOUR 2022
JANUARY24 – Cambridge, UK – Portland Arms25 – Bristol, UK – Exchange26 – Leeds, UK – Brudenell Social Club27 – Glasgow, UK – Mono28 – Newcastle, UK – Cluny 229 – Liverpool, UK – District30 – Manchester, UK – Deaf Institute
FEBRUARY1 – London, UK – Oslo2 – Paris, FR – FGO3 – Brussels, BE – Botanique Rotonde4 – Amsterdam, NL – Paradiso (Upstairs)6 – Hamburg, DE – Molotow Skybar7 – Berlin, DE – Cassiopeia8 – Munich, DE – Kranhalle10 – Vienna, AT – Chelsea