My fellow Ohio native Erika Wennerstrom on Spaghetti Westerns, the fertile musical soil of the Buckeye State, and the extremely indirect influence that Tom Petty had on her band.
Five years ago, Erika Wennerstrom left the great state of Ohio for the great city of Austin, Texas. There, she put together a new line-up of her band Heartless Bastards. (After all, continuing to tour and record with an ex only works if you’re in Fleetwood Mac.) My fellow native Buckeye was nice enough to speak with DigBoston by phone about our home state’s fertile musical soil, Heartless Bastards’s latest, Arrows, and her upcoming show at Royale.
You’re from Ohio, right?
Yep, born and raised. Dayton, Ohio.
Who were some of your favorite musicians from the Buckeye State, where I was also born and raised?
I was a huge fan of The Breeders and The Pixies, which I guess isn’t an Ohio band, it’s a Boston band, but with [bassist] Kim Deal [from Dayton, Ohio, also a member of The Breeders] being in it, I thought of it as Ohio. Guided By Voices and older stuff [like] the Ohio Players, from my hometown, were huge when I was a kid.
Absolutely. Which kinds of music do you think influences your music the most?
I grew up on jazz, my mom was really into it. The writing that I do is influenced by so many different styles.
Maybe that’s what gives Heartless Bastards its sound, not trying for one particular genre or sound.
I’m influenced by genres that have been around for a long time, and trying to compile that together gives us our unique thing. I like a lot of rock and roll [and] classic rock. I was really into punk rock when I was like 16; I still am: A lot of more old school stuff, like Iggy & The Stooges, or Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, or T. Rex, Thin Lizzy.
On this album, I got really influenced by Ennio Morricone and his Spaghetti Western soundtracks that he did for [Sergio Leone]. I got really into country music more and more after I moved to Austin. A lot of old school country, [like] Merle Haggard. I toured with Lucinda Williams in 2007, and she influenced me a lot, too.
Why should I or anyone else care about a group of Heartless Bastards?
[Laughs] Uh, oh gosh. Cos I think we’re really good.
I don’t like Tom Petty. In fact, I actively dislike Tom Petty.
Yeah, but I understand that if it weren’t for him, your band may not have had the name that it does, right?
I bartended at this bar in Dayton, Ohio, and sometimes at the end of a shift I would play the bartop touch screen game. I played trivia one night, and one of the questions was “What’s Tom Petty’s backing band?” Tom Petty and the Heartless Bastards was one of the wrong choices, and I thought it was hilarious.
Another influence [of mine] since when I was a kid was Joan Jett. I always thought she was such a badass, and her backing band’s The Blackhearts. I thought of The Blackhearts, and the Heartbreakers, and I just thought Heartless Bastards sounded catchy and humorous. It’s sort of my sense of humor.
You were talking before about how soundtrack music had influenced you. Hilary Hughes, the former DigBoston A+E editor, described your latest album Arrow as “worthy of a Tarantino soundtrack.” What do you think of that?
I think that’s awesome, that’s great. Sometimes when I write songs, I picture them visually. I’d love for our music to be in films here and there. I definitely had this Western image in my mind when I wrote “The Arrow Killed the Beast.” I hope somebody puts it in a film someday. And I think Tarantino’s great, so I take that as a total compliment.
I believe that your last gig in Boston was at Middle East Downstairs. Now you’re going to be playing Royale Boston. How do you feel about playing larger venues as the band’s profile rises?
Honestly, I didn’t know if it was a larger venue or not, but I certainly appreciate when more people become aware of what we’re doing.
I like Royale Boston. It’s easy to move around in it.
I’m guessing it probably has a higher ceiling, too.
Yes, absolutely. Maybe not as high as the House of Blues, though.
Yeah, well that’s gargantuan. [Laughs]