“Why are the hotels so expensive this weekend?” Erika Wennerstrom, lead singer for the rock band Heartless Bastards, asked me in a phone interview Tuesday.
The Texas-based quartet, which performs Saturday at CommRow in downtown Reno, is swinging into town for a gig during the biggest special event of the year for northern Nevada as part of the ongoing effort to promote “Arrow,” an album released in February. Lauded by many publications as the best of the band’s four albums to date, “Arrow” features 10 tracks that run the gamut from bluesy rock to rock ballad all centered around Wennerstrom’s raspy, passionate vocals that have been likened to Janis Joplin.
“I think it’s just how people try to explain how something sounds,” Wennerstrom said about the comparison. “It’s fine with me.”
The band, originally formed in 2003, took its sound to the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this year. A video of the group’s performance on Rolling Stone’s website of the 30-minute show clearly shows the Bastards’ barroom rock appeal with Wennerstrom’s strong singing and rhythm guitar playing from underneath her straight blonde hair, accompanied by guitarist Mark Nathan and bassist Jesse Ebaugh and backed up by drummer Dave Colvin. Ebaugh and Colvin played with Wennerstrom on the Bastards’ original demo recordings but were not part of the group on its three first recordings. For “Arrow,” Wennerstrom brought them back and added Nathan after she ended a 10-year relationship with the drummer in the Bastards’ prior incarnation and moved to Austin.
Though her life-altering break-up did make its way into some of her music, Wennerstrom said she does not look to a single theme when composing songs. In fact, she has found inspiration at a day’s most mundane moments or when she purposefully steps away from music. She recalled one instance when she was driving at night to a getaway in the Catskill Mountains and she was pondering a new song so intently she started to speed and was pulled over by the police. Whether in the car, a hotel or an airplane, she relies on the idea’s merits to determine whether the song goes from her head to paper.
“I’ve always told myself if it’s a good idea I won’t forget it,” Wennerstrom said.
Though the band is has been consistently touring to promote “Arrow” since its release and will continue to do so until October, Wennerstrom said she has begun to formulate ideas for a new release. The problem is that when on tour, she said, musicians don’t have the luxury of going home at the end of the day, putting their feet up, relaxing with family and friends and not thinking about work. Touring is work, she says, and as long as you’re on the road it feels like work every moment of every day, which makes it difficult to work on new music. Until they return to the studio, Wennerstrom and the band are having fun performing the tracks off “Arrow.”
“I’m really proud of the whole album,” she said “I think the whole band is. The (recording) process went really smooth and we did a tour on it before went in recorded it. We gave it a live sound and I think our whole band is really proud of the whole thing. I’d like to think it’s an album filled with quality songs and not one or two that might be friendly toward the radio.”
The Heartless Bastards perform at 7 p.m. at Cargo inside CommRow, 255 N. Virginia St. in Reno. Tickets cost $30 or $15 and can be purchased online at www.ticketweb.com. To learn more about the band, visit www.theheartlessbastards.com.