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 Cincinnati by Dayton, OH-born singer/songwriter and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom back in 2003 in Cincinnati. Starting out as a solo recording project,. Heartless Bastards evolved into a live band with a revolving cast of musicians 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 their label at the time — Fat Possum Records, who signed the band and released their first three albums: 2005’s Stairs and Elevators, 2006’s All This Time and 2009’s The Mountain. In between the writing and recording of All This Time and The Mountain, Wennerstrom relocated to Austin, TX. Around the time that Wennenrstrom relocated to Austin, 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. And after 15 years of fronting the band, Wennnerstrom released her solo debut, 2018’s Sweet Unknown. “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.”
Recently, the band returned to the studio to work on their long-awaited Kevin Ratterman-produced fifth album. The album reportedly will find the band continuing the late night, bluesy rock vibes that have won them praise and attention. The band’s latest single “Revolution” is their first bit of original material as a band in five years. The track was initially released on Bandcamp with proceeds donated to the ALCU — with the track no being available on all DSPs.
“Revolution” begins with a slow-burning and atmospheric ballad introduction that slowly builds up in intensity before turning into an anthemic, bluesy rocker around the three minute mark. Centered around Wennerstorm’s bluesy wail and some dexterous guitar work, including a blazing solo, the track is an incisive and urgent message that says we need to get our shit straight and make the world a better place before it’s too late. “’Revolution’ is about self love,” Wennerstrom explains in press notes. “I think if people loved themselves more there wouldn’t be racism, bigotry, and classism. Some people are so worried that there is not enough pie to go around, and that lifting up others limits their own opportunity. There is mass misinformation and manipulation to peddle this narrative. Money, materialism, privileged access to better education are things people constantly measure themselves with. The need to feel better than someone in order to feel good about oneself is an age old insecurity. The planet really can’t sustain everyone having more. Everything is made to fall apart, like cars and $1100 cell phones. I think humanity needs to learn how to have less, and not play into the commercialism that constantly sends the message we lack things that we don’t really need.
“Revolution is a mantra, and reminder to myself to avoid playing the game as much as I can. I don’t need this, and I don’t need that. I don’t need to compare myself to others. This marathon everybody is running is exhausting. There is so much true suffering in this world with a lack of food, shelter, and basic running water. The more man attempts to look at the world from another man’s perspective it becomes apparent how connected we all really are. I think giving and receiving love is really what we need the most. All the rest is just a bunch of noise.”
Directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas and David Hartstein, the recently released, incredibly surreal video features an elegantly dressed Wennerstrom sitting crossed legged in the salt flats of Utah watching advertisements and imagery that people to be blindly greedy, selfish consumers and brutally racist.But during the song’s anthemic second half, we see nature overcoming all, and eventually Wennerstrom coolly floating through space.
“I wanted to release ‘Revolution’ before the election, to serve as a reminder of what’s important in life: love and compassion for yourself and your fellow man,” Wennerstrom says of the video’s release. “We have to fight fear with love. I think there’s a lot of bullshit out there that is peddled to sway people one way or the other. I feel people know what’s right in their hearts. It’s a call to not look the other way.
“For the video, I had an idea of having a surreal living room image in the salt flats,” Wennerstrom adds. “It’s a statement on how our excess commercial culture and system create a competitive climb to the top. We all struggle to get ahead so we don’t get left far behind. Very little life can live in the salt flats and I thought it helped symbolize the direction of environment if we don’t come together and wake up. I couldn’t get to the salt flats and the idea of a green screen came to mind. Sam Douglas and David Hartstein took this idea to a whole other level. The green screen went from what was initially just being unable to get to the salt flats to far beyond what I’d imagined. It really captured the song so much more.
There is so much beauty in this world, and in each other. Sometimes it is underneath the surface, but it’s always there. Let’s lift each other up.”