Words – Michael Faul
Leading up to their show in Portland, OR, at the Wonder Ballroom October 28th, we were lucky enough to talk to Erika Wennerstrom, lead singer of Heartless Bastards. Check out the interview to hear all about the process of recording the new album, Restless Ones at Sonic Ranch with John Congleton, why they’re in Austin, and what they love about Portland.
NNW: Tell me about Restless Ones, how does it differ from your previous efforts in terms of writing/recording, and touring?
Erika: I think from a writing standpoint, I was really stuggling with lyrics, and it came down to the wire, a lot of it was very last minute, I would write and record then mix songs right away. It made me feel very vulnerable and I feel like these songs are a bit more open than they’ve been in the past. I think all of my albums are honest but there’s been extra openness to this project.
At one point I took some time away from it and before it’s release I listened again and I realized that I truly felt everything I wrote, and there was no way I could regret that. I identified with everything that I was listening back to.
As far as recording goes, it was our first time working with John Congleton. He’s just great. He really helped us make the sounds more concise. Certain parts repeated that didn’t really need to. I’m not sensitive to editing. I mean, unless there’s some kind of section of emotional lyrics that I think have to be there. I felt that John made the songs more concise in a way that was less repetitive and more interesting. He really makes the songs the best that they can be.
We were at Sonic Ranch, right on the border of Mexico, some little town called Tornillo, Texas. It’s right there on the Rio Grande, you could practically walk to Mexico from the property, the river was right there. It actually helped irrigate this pecan ranch, the largest pecan ranch in the world I believe, and there’s five studios there. There were other bands recording, which was interesting. There was a band from Mexico called En Hombre recording. Whitey Morgan’s manager and producer, Ryan, were mixing his record there. This aspect was nice, each band was sort of rooting for each other with each project. It also created an intense environment, where you don’t really step away from what you’re doing. We were there a solid ten days. I definitely think it added to the vibe of this record.
I’d say that reviews are very diverse, they always are. Once you release five albums, people have things that they’ve related to you on. Some people don’t relate to you on the new one, but with some people it’s their favorite things we’ve ever done. It’s all fine, we’re sort of writing for ourselves and hoping that people respond. Our live shows have been great. People definitely seem to be walking away happy. So I think that the response is really good.
NNW: So when you relocated from Ohio to Austin, what went into that decision, why Austin?
E: So the band went through some changes, I split up with a bandmate, moved to Austin on my own, and started over. So it wasn’t a group move. I ran into Dave, who’s been playing with the band and he was already there and I did ask Jesse to make the move, but as far as a group move, we didn’t relocate as a band.
Actually it’s funny that you say that because I was torn between Austin and Portland. I feel like the environments are a lot different, but there’s a very similar vibe between Austin and Portland. I mean they even have the same slogan, keep Portland weird, keep Austin weird. There’s a lot of similarities. My management at the time was based out of Austin. They helped me get settled, I have family there too. So between family and management, I had more ties to get me started.
NNW: So you’ve been through Portland on tour quite a few times now. Any funny stories or places that you love in Portland?
E: Oh Gosh, we have been through quite a bit. Pickathon is one of my favorite things to do… like ever (Ed’s note: our’s too!). I think we’ve played it four times now. We’ve toured with a ton of bands from Portland. Actually Kirene, one of our members is from Portland. She plays keyboard, guitars and vocals. Chris Funk from The Decemberists recommended her. You know honestly, Austin is a huge music town, I couldn’t believe that I was really having trouble finding somebody that did keys, guitar and vocals that wasn’t already actively doing their own thing. So reached out to Chris Funk because I know he produces bands and works with scoring films and stuff like that so I figured that he’d have to know somebody to recommend. It’s funny, within five minutes he sent me six recommendations.