The bastards’ siren

Heartless Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom homebound at Oddbody’s

By Gary Spencer

Dorothy once sang in “The Wizard of Oz” that “there’s no place like home,” and many former Dayton residents echo that sentiment. One such former Gem City ex-patriot is singer, songwriter, guitarist and leader of Heartless Bastards, Erika Wennerstrom, who will be making their first hometown appearance in several years this coming weekend. She’s looking forward to it.

“I’ve got a lot of love for my hometown,” says Wennerstrom. “I can’t wait for the show!”

Wennerstrom grew up in Dayton back in the ’90s during an era that many locals consider to be the Gem City’s golden age for original rock, and a lot of her first hand hometown musical experiences inspired her to start making her own music.

“I had some great local heroes to learn from,” Wennerstrom explains. “The Breeders had a No. 1 hit with “Cannonball” when I was in high school. There was so much excitement in town. And right after high school I became aware of Guided By Voices. I’m a huge fan of both bands. Brainiac too! Dayton had such a healthy music scene in the ’90s. These bands weren’t just role models for their work and success, they we’re also huge inspirations on me creatively.”

Wennerstrom formed Heartless Bastards in 2003.  Since the band’s formation, their sound has grown and evolved, but stylistically Wennerstrom likes to keep things centered around her key influences and musical styles.

“I think we fit under the general umbrella of Americana,” Wennerstrom says. “We’ve been described as blues, country, alt-country, some psychedelic sprinkled in there, sometimes I even hear hard rock. Some of my big influences that stuck with me over the years are Led Zeppelin, T. Rex, Otis Redding, Mahalia Jackson, Mazzy Star, Townes Van Zandt, Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, Rolling Stones, Spiritualized, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. I could really go on forever with influences.”

Heartless Bastards released their debut album Stairs and Elevators back in 2005 on Fat Possum Records before the band relocated to Austin, Texas, and 10 years later the group released its fifth and most recent long player Restless Ones on Partisan Records. While the record exhibits many of the influences and musical styles Wennerstrom describes, it still contains enough variety and edge to keep the proceedings interesting and fresh, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I really try to make each record different,” Wennerstrom explains. “If I didn’t challenge myself to go somewhere new I would be bored. I’m really proud of Restless Ones. It’s a snapshot in time for the band and me. Some people think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. I know I can never please everybody so I just focus on what I’m inspired by at the time, and go with it. If I get too caught up in opinions I’d paralyze myself creatively.”

Per capita, Heartless Bastards have been met with much acclaim from both critics, fans and fellow musicians, and perhaps even more success as a touring and live act, performing on TV and with some very notable artists.

“We’ve gotten to be on Austin City Limits twice—it was truly an honor,” Wennerstrom continues. “We’ve toured with so many amazing artists. Some of my highlights were Lucinda Williams, Black Keys, Decemberists, Avett Brothers and Wilco. Another huge influence I got to know a bit which is still hard for me to fathom was Robert Plant. He lived in Austin for a while, and he had some kind words on [our album] Arrow.

Recently Heartless Bastards embarked on their biggest tour to date, opening for legendary classic rocker Bob Seger.

“That was a pretty surreal experience,” confesses Wennerstrom. “We’d never played arenas until then. Bob is the kindest guy. The last night of tour he had a cold and still went out of his way to take a picture with us that he remembered we had asked about earlier on the tour. I thought, ‘he’s sick, and he’s going to perform in front of 20,000 people tonight’. That was above and beyond thoughtful.”

Despite the band’s name, Wennerstrom puts a lot of similar heart into her music and live performances with an obvious belief in working hard that’s clearly paid off both financially and, more importantly, personally.

“I think we do two or three national tours every year even on a slow year in between album cycles,” says Wennerstrom. “I think what keeps me going is having fans tell me how we’ve affected their lives in a positive way. The band’s gotten to where we are today through a lot of hard work and perseverance. We are no overnight success, but we’ve definitely carved a name out for ourselves. Making a decent living at creativity isn’t easy. I’ve had a lot of great experiences, but if it all ended tomorrow I’d say I’m proud and it’s been a great ride. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Heartless Bastards will perform Saturday, March 5 at Oddbody’s, 5418 Burkhardt St. in Dayton. Susto and The Motel Beds are also on the bill. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 day of show. Show is open to patrons 18 and over. Doors at 7 p.m., music begins at 8 p.m. For more information please visit or

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at


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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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