It’s Where the Heart Is
By Tamara Vallejos
Arrow, the latest album from roots rockers Heartless Bastards, starts off with a punch to the gut so beautiful, it’s completely welcome. Opener “Marathon” is a six-minute-long piece of nostalgia, taking a mostly minimalist turn that seems to wistfully languish in the memory of those days when our protagonist knew her place in the world.
“Oh, I ran so far/that I’ve forgotten what I was running from/and time, it takes you so far/and I am longing to be back home,” sings frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom, her powerhouse voice on lovely display.
The idea of home and finding oneself is peppered throughout Arrow, but as it turns out, it’s not that Heartless Bastards—or, more precisely, Wennerstrom, who pens the band’s songs—has lost its way. It’s actually that Wennerstrom has found it.
“I tend to use ‘home’ as kind of a metaphor for feeling comfortable—you know, like when you tell someone you want them to feel at home,” she explains. “I went through a lot of changes in my life over the last several years that inspired a lot of the album, and I think Arrow was me sort of rediscovering myself.”
One of those major changes was a breakup from a 10-year relationship that prompted Wennerstrom to move from Cincinnati, where Heartless Bastards was founded a decade ago, to Austin, where the band is now based. She wanted a fresh start, and along with that came inspiration and a renewed sense of self.
“I’m 35 years old now, and it’s like I’ve found myself and who I am, 10 years later and on my own. I guess that could sound sad or depressing, but it’s actually meant in a very positive way.”
And it’s not that Arrow, despite its easy-to-misinterpret theme, is a mopey record. It’s mature and thoughtful, but still funky, groovy and rocking. As Wennerstrom sums up on the aptly titled “Got To Have Rock and Roll,” a stomping classic rock throwback, “And I know whenever you are feeling down/Well, you gotta have, gotta have, gotta have rock and roll.”
There are many highlights on Arrow, a record that may be the most cohesive of Heartless Bastards four full-length releases. It’s also the one Wennerstrom feels is the strongest, thanks to the chemistry between her and bandmates Dave Colvin, Jesse Ebaugh and Mark Nathan. They make up the latest iteration of the Heartless Bastards lineup, and Arrow is this group’s first album together. But it’s not as if they were strangers, having spent two and a half years touring and gelling as a band before ever entering the recording studio.
“We were all in a good place and enjoying ourselves, and I like to think that comes through on the record,” she says.
It also helps that, at the suggestion of producer Jim Eno (drummer for Austin legends Spoon), Arrow was workshopped on the road before the tracks were laid down.
“We did a month-long tour of the record before we went into the studio and we were really able to work on the songs,” says Wennerstrom. “When you play them night after night, they become second nature. And I think [Eno] did a really great job producing the record. He’s seen us live quite a bit, and he wanted to capture the live band. He thought that would come across really well.”
So what makes a live Heartless Bastards so worthwhile? With the band swinging through to play Pappy and Harriet’s on Saturday, you can be the judge.
Heartless Bastards at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com. Sat, Aug. 18. 9pm. $12 advance, $15 at the door.