Concert Reviews

Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom Never Learned the Standard Chords

Erika Wennerstrom and her fantastic band, Heartless Bastards, return to Dallas on Saturday night. In preview of their show at Trees, Wennerstrom shed some light on her (lack of) formal training and the strange looks she gets for the band's name.

Which instrument did you learn to play first, piano or guitar?


Was it something that you were drawn to or something you were told to do

I don't know if I was told or forced. My dad got me a piano when I was in second grade or something, maybe even younger. The piano showed up one day and then they signed me up for some lessons. I was into it. I enjoyed it.

Can you remember, roughly, when you learned to play guitar?

Well, that's another sort of random thing. Growing up, I wanted to have music as a career and sing. I can't remember if it was Christmas or my birthday - I'm pretty sure it was my birthday though. My dad sent me an acoustic guitar. It was kind of out of the blue. It wasn't something I asked for. I started trying to figure out how to play right away. But at first, it's pretty difficult to push down acoustic strings. It can be kind of painful on the tips of your fingers. You have to build up calluses. I ended up putting it aside for a couple of years, but when I turned 18, I was really motivated to teach myself.

Can you remember the first song that you learned to play on guitar? Was it something that you wrote or something that you heard?

Honestly, when I was trying to teach myself, somebody showed me some barre chords and I've always enjoyed trying to write songs even as a kid. So I just started to write songs with the barre chords. To this day, I barely know any covers. I'm not very classically trained. I don't know many chords; I create my own, which already exist in some way. I think that finding-chords stuff works. I remember somebody showing me a Jimi Hendrix song. I think it was "Manic Depression" or something and I learned the beginning of it.

At some point, you had to have the unbearable experience of listening to your own voice on a recording. What was your experience like when you heard your voice recorded?

Well, I still hate my voice when I'm speaking. You know, if you hear your voicemail kind of thing? [laughs] As far as singing, it's never bothered me to hear my singing voice. I mean, I've heard my voice on a take and I sang it pitchy. That wasn't pleasant.

I'm not going to ask where the band got their name, but since the band's name has ties with Tom Petty, were you ever a fan of his music growing up?

Oh, definitely!

Any record in particular or a song?

I love just about all of his work. I think Damn the Torpedoes is one of my favorites.

Has anyone ever acted offended by the band's name?

Sometimes. Sometimes people seem a little like, "What?" [laughs] I remember when we first started touring and I got a business credit card in the band's name. It would be funny when buying supplies at the office store and it says "Heartless Bastards" on it. People give you this strange look. I think most people find the humor in it.

What do you like about playing Dallas?

The crowds have always been great and supportive. A lot of times when we're touring, we don't get to go out and enjoy the city itself that much. Usually the drive is about five hours that day, we get there and soundcheck and then the show starts.

Have you played Trees before?

I did. Actually, Trees was one of my second tour dates ever. Like, for the band. We had opened for the Drive-By Truckers for two nights in Austin. Actually, maybe Dallas was the first show on one of our more professionally-booked tours. It was with Split Lip Rayfield as well.

Heartless Bastards play with My Jerusalem and The Southern Renaissance at Trees on Saturday, January 19th.

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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs

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