Music News

Heartless Wonders

Erika Wennerstrom, a native of Dayton, Ohio, speaks with a slight country drawl. Her voice has a homespun grittiness that rumbles softly, like worn-out tires on a dusty dirt road. When she sings, however, she summons a deep-throated hum that, when provoked, lunges into a bellyache howl. Her Cincinnati-based band, the Heartless Bastards, recently released their sophomore effort All This Time on Fat Possum. An uncompromising collection of soulful and obstinate rock, Time finds Wennerstrom and company -- bassist Mike Lamping and drummer Kevin Vaughn -- rolling steadily through the punkier side of '90s alterna-pop, with the singer hacking at the guitar strings while belting out catchy choruses that pick apart the usual hard-knock-life laments. We recently talked with Wennerstrom about the blues, stage fright and being a big-mouthed blonde in a male-dominated rock scene.

Westword: You get pegged as a blues band a lot, which is a very specific genre. Do you think you play the blues?

Erika Wennerstrom: No. I never thought we were a blues band. I think that because we're on Fat Possum, people just assume. People feel that they have to associate us with the blues thing; it's bluesy this or bluesy that. Of course, there is some influence, but for the most part, I think that people use that term a little too much to describe us.

A lot of reviewers also seem to make it a point to mention that you're blond and petite. Do you think there's more of an emphasis on your looks just because you're a girl?

I think that most people do sort of say the "shy, petite" thing because my voice is so big. People are shocked by that. It's a lot lower and huskier, which is associated with people with bigger rib cages -- you know, so that more air gets in and...wait, what was the question? Sometimes I get sidetracked.

That's okay. It was something about whether or not you think you get judged differently just because you're a girl in a rock band.

No, not necessarily, but I do think that sometimes I get compared to other women singers that I don't think I sound anything like. The only thing that we have in common is that we're women, so it's an easy comparison. That's always something.

Are you really shy?

Not so much anymore. Sometimes. I might be in a place where I'm uncomfortable or my voice might go up a bit higher, but I think everyone has that. When we play on stage, though, I can't really talk to the audience. When it comes to speaking to the crowd, I'm not very comfortable; I don't know why. But now that I'm doing a lot more interviews, I'm getting better at talking to people. If this was the other way around, it would be different. If I was calling you, I'd be nervous to talk to a stranger. I wouldn't know what to say.

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Tuyet Nguyen