Bastards! 

Ohio garage rockers Heartless Bastards were a little road-weary after two years touring with Wilco and Wolfmother, and on their own, both here and abroad.

They finally wound down to record what would later become Arrow when their producer, Spoon drummer Jim Eno, suggested the band head right back out there.

“He recommended we go on tour before recording, just to tighten up those songs and try and capture that live sound. It was a really good suggestion,” said Erika Wennerstrom, lead Bastard and the only constant member. “When you go on the road, it helps you figure out what’s working and what’s not.”

Unlike many musicians, she doesn’t mind her time away. It’s what allowed her to finish Arrow in the first place.

“I took several road trips by myself to finish the lyrics. I had the song structure and the melodies down, but I was having trouble finishing the words,” Wennerstrom said. “Isolating myself helped me get that process done a little quicker than I would have at home.”

The ceaseless hours clocked on the highway and under the eye of Eno seemed to be a winning combination, as Wennerstrom thinks the effort is the Bastards’ strongest.

“It’s a challenge to try and get where you are trying to go,” she said. “Jim helped us find a way to do just that. His aim wasn’t to change our sound; he just wanted to get the best sound he could.”

Arrow finds Wennerstrom venturing from the band’s classic-rock roots — she cites T. Rex, Led Zeppelin and Neil Young as her biggest influences — that garner the group frequent comparisons to fellow blue-collar rockers The Black Keys, whose drummer, Patrick Carney, actually helped Heartless Bastards get signed in the first place.

“It’s all over the place,” she said.

“There’s a song on there that’s inspired by the spaghetti-Western sound. I imagined Nancy Sinatra singing over that soundscape.”

Next up for Heartless Bastards is their first go at cinema: the soundtrack for the film adaptation of James Welch’s 1974 debut novel, Winter in the Blood.

“I found it to be really challenging.

It hadn’t even been filmed yet when I started writing. So I read the book, and I read the script and wrote the music based on that, putting myself in the character’s position,” Wennerstrom said. “I was worried it might not end up fitting, but I felt good enough about the material that I knew I would put it on a new album if it didn’t work. Looks like it’s going to work perfectly.”

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Joshua Boydston

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