Take the duo She and Him, subtract Zooey Deschanel’s cutesy retro twang, add some indie-folk swagger with rangy vocals, and Heartless Bastards begin to take shape. Erika Wennerstrom is the woman behind the striking vocals of the band, which started in 2002 as only a recording project. Throughout the band’s somewhat rocky history, Heartless Bastards have cycled through a number of different musicians, with singer/guitarist/songwriter Wennerstrom remaining the one constant. With some of the original band members now back in the lineup, Heartless Bastards consist of drummer Dave Colvin, bassist Jesse Ebaugh and guitarist Mark Nathan.
“I feel really great about the band I’m playing with,” Wennerstrom says. “I feel like we have a really good chemistry that maybe hadn’t been there before.” Her speaking voice sounds like a slightly less assured version of her singing voice — a bit gruff, but solid.
In a sort of backwards chain of events, the Bastards toured in support of their current album before recording it. Almost all of the tracks on Arrow were laid down live, post tour, so the band had the chance to get completely comfortable with the songs before committing them to posterity. The resulting sound lends an authenticity and character to the album that well suits Wennerstrom’s strong voice and somewhat old-school melodies.
“Arrow is the first album where the live sound of the band has really been captured,” Wennerstrom says. “I feel like it sounds like we’re just sitting, playing on a porch somewhere.”
Along with this new approach to recording came a new record label. For nearly a decade the Bastards were signed with Fat Possum Records, but last year they announced they were switching to the Brooklyn-based label Partisan Records. Don’t bother scouring Gawker for evidence of any messy affairs though. According to Wennerstrom, there was no scandalous reason behind the switch. It was just “a good time for the band to make a change,” she says.
“Partisan is newer and trying to make their way in the world,” Wennerstrom explains, “and the Heartless Bastards are too.”
Heartless Bastards play with David Vandervelde and Brian Lopez 9 pm Friday, April 6, at WOW Hall; $15 adv., $18 door.