Put down the needle on the Heartless Bastards’ latest album, Arrow, and it’s easy to feel the band is flowing together.
That comes from the steadiness that singer Erika Wennerstrom has found since leaving central Ohio for Austin, Tex.
Since the summer of 2008, the band’s lineup has been Wennerstrom, bassist Jesse Ebaugh, drummer Dave Colvin and guitarist Mark Nathan.
“We’re going on the mark of this being the longest lineup of the band,” Wennerstrom says.
Wennerstrom went about a year in Austin without a band, before working out the current line-up. She had known Colvin for about a decade, back in Ohio, when the two reconnected in Texas. Ebaugh had played in the band previously, so Wennerstrom just called and invited him to relocate from Ohio and rejoin the band.
“We wanted to become a four piece,” she says.
Nathan had toured with the band as a sound engineer and he immediately clicked with the band. Wennerstrom says she had heard he was also an ace guitar player and she had dug his on-the-road musical selections.
“This is the live band i’ve had since I moved there,” she says.
The line-up formed after Wennerstrom and Austin-based producer Mike McCarthy had recorded what turned out to be the Heartless Bastards’ breakthrough album, The Mountain.
That record is dotted by songs that seemingly stem from a heap of heartache. It’s the record she made after the previous three-piece line-up of the band had dissolved.
Wennerstrom, Mike Lamping and Kevin Vaughn played together from the very beginning 2004 to the end of 2007. Lamping and Wennerstrom had dated close to the end of that era.
“Mike and I split up and it was hard to continue playing together,” Wennerstrom says.
When she arrived in Texas, she didn’t have a set band, so she recorded The Mountain with session players. By the time the album came out in 2009, the new lineup was ready to go.
That also means Arrow, which came out in February, is the first album everyone in the current incarnation of the band plays on.
Even with the solid supporting cast, Wennerstrom still leads the way as the band’s songwriter.
“I do write the songs and I put them together before I bring them in,” she says.
Wennerstrom then shares some of the influences for the song or the direction she’s thinking of taking the song in for the other members to build their parts around.
“I steer the ship,” Wennerstrom says.
She definitely leaves room in for the band to help her craft how to end a song or how to fully develop other parts.
After crafting the songs, the band set out to work with Spoon drummer Jim Eno, who has fairly fresh studio digs in Austin.
Wennerstrom had also enjoyed some of Eno’s production work, especially noting his job producing material by rock/soul revivalist Black Joe Lewis. Eno also had expressed his own interest in producing the next Heartless Bastards album.
Once he was signed on, he dropped by a few practices, gave some song suggestions and then planted an idea that would have a big impact on how Arrow would ultimately be made.
He urged the band to hit the road for awhile, right before checking into the recording studio. So the band trekked out for a month with the Drive-By Truckers. Mere days after playing in Omaha, the band was laying down tracks for the new album.
“I really felt that approach was great and I liked it right off the bat,” Wennerstrom says.
She says what the band liked best about working with Eno is his advice and perspective meshed well with the band because of his own experience as a member of a band.
“He wanted to capture the best of who we are as a band,” Wennerstrom says.
Everything on this record came together pretty smooth and easy, she says.
“I think we all have a pretty good chemistry,” she says. “It would flow together. There wasn’t a lot of tweaking.”
There’s a cohesive band vibe that has carried over from the album to the live show, as well. As they play more and more on these songs, they get more locked in to them, Wennerstrom says. There’s a sense of ownership, too, since they all worked on the album together.
“There’s this extra energy and excitement,” she says. “We just kind of go up and give it our all.”
Hearless Bastards with These United States play the Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St., Sunday, May 27th at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $14 day-of-show. For more information, visit onepercentproductions.com.