Strings, soul and the sweet unknown with Erika Wennerstrom
Written by Art Fredette on August 30, 2019
Based on a true story.
The first few months of a relationship can be magical. Biographical life changes lead to many peaks and special memories built. A connection forms so strongly that it seals the bond and we reflect on it in years to come. The reason why fate brought us together; That saying, quote, movie, song, food, or moment. Even if you closed the car window on her fingers on the second date, she didn’t care. That is love! But only they know who, where, why and what it all means to them. Imagine one night, while laying in bed, a mature couple turns on the local public broadcasting channel. They too share the passion of quality educational programming. Little did they know that the music of the group Heartless Bastards would become a soundtrack and memory to their life together. Irony or fate? Since then Heartless Bastards have released 5 records, major tours, and numerous television appearances. The band was 10 years plus into their career, the momentum was building and the band decided it was time to take a break. Guitarist and vocalist Erika Wennerstrom became inspired and released her first solo record Sweet Unknown, which has been keeping her quite busy!
RRX: What prompted you to go solo? Did you find challenges?
EW: I’ve toured with the same team since 2009, and the band asked about taking a hiatus a couple years ago. Then I got really inspired and wrote Sweet Unknown. I thought it might be a nice change of pace to try something different. It has definitely been challenging to get my name out there. A lot of folks aren’t familiar with my actual name verses the band name. It’s been a lot tougher than I thought to get awareness out, but it’s also been exciting to have this new experience, and it’s really given me so much gratitude for what I have achieved with Heartless Bastards over the years.
RRX: Tell us about your life, your first bands pre-Heartless Bastards? Childhood music and memories?
EW: I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and have wanted to be a singer since I was old enough to think about doing anything. My mother got me a piano when I was around eight. That was my first instrument, and when I started writing music. Some influences that stuck with me from an early age are Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Jackson Five, Bobbie Gentry, and lots of soul music my mother listened to. Also my aunt was a huge influence and very into folk music. She would talk to me about Bob Dylan and Neil Young lyrics as a five or six year-old, which is funny for me to think about now, but it really stuck with me. I‘ve always been someone that gravitated to melodies first, and In my own writing I create melodies first too, but my aunt made me think about how what I said was important too. It’s always been important to me to write from an honest place. I had some severe shyness/self-confidence issues growing up, and a lot of folks from my hometown find it hard to believe I ended up an entertainer, but I think it’s easier to get up and perform a song you’ve rehearsed 100 times then it can be to publicly speak off the cuff.
The first band I was in came about when a friend asked me to join and play bass. I said “I don’t know how to play bass” and she said “well you can probably figure it out”, and I said “Okay!” That was a group called Shesus. We started out as an all-female band, and later Dave Colvin joined on drums and eventually was part of Heartless Bastards. I think performing in the background of that band gave me the courage and experience to do my own thing.
RRX: What vulnerabilities have driven your creativity and why?
EW: I used to feel like I had this invisible dot that guided me around and I didn’t really know why I did the things I did. I wasn’t really sure what was driving me so much to express myself, but now looking back I think I’ve always known deep down that art brings people together. I long for that human connection. Writing a song where I express a personal truth, and having others relate to it I think is a reminder to us both that we’re not alone in our thoughts. And everybody might not relate to my songs but that’s ok. I’m grateful for those who do. In a lot of ways I still don’t know where some of these ideas come from. I feel blessed to have inspiration and hope it continues throughout my life.
RRX: When it comes to songwriting you seem very imaginative lyrically? How far into fiction do you travel for inspiration?
EW: I might use imagery a lot, but my songs are very vulnerable and open. This last album I put it all out there. The album is a lot about self-love and personal growth. And I thought why fear judgement. When I am completely myself there’s no room for regret. I don’t really write fiction, but I have written a few wishful thinking songs over the years in an attempt to manifest my own destiny. I feel Iike that’s kind of truth too because it’s coming from the heart.
RRX: What is next up solo career? Heartless bastards or other projects you are involved in?
EW: Right now I’m just focusing on writing music, and pretty soon I’ll need to figure out what project name to put it under. I recently released a couple Townes Van Zandt covers digitally. For more info www.erikawennerstrom.com