'Heartless Bastards' Take Cautious Steps Into Limelight Summer is still officially a week away, but the season for outdoor music festivals is upon us. A new band, the "Heartless Bastards" is making a name for itself. The up-and-coming act is fronted by a tiny, shy woman whose voice is anything but small.
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'Heartless Bastards' Take Cautious Steps Into Limelight

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'Heartless Bastards' Take Cautious Steps Into Limelight

'Heartless Bastards' Take Cautious Steps Into Limelight

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One of the summer's biggest music festivals wrapped up over the weekend. The Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee featured well-known bands like The Black Crowes, and also a band that's rapidly making a name for itself.


As we're going to hear, it's an unusual name.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: The band's leader is Erika Wennerstrom. She used to go to Cincinnati rock clubs and watch quietly from the audience. The musicians got to know her, but she was so shy, she waited years to let them hear her own voice.

(Soundbite of music)

HEARTLESS BASTARDS: (Singing) Sometimes I feel a little bit gray in the autumn, gray in the autumn, and I'm looking at things in a new way of sitting in my skin, I'm getting up again.

INSKEEP: Now that she does sing in public, Wennerstrom's band has been drawing praise in rock clubs across the country. She remains so shy that she sometimes cries when interviewed. But people keep asking questions about her band, starting with the band's name.

Why did you call the group the Heartless Bastards?

Ms. ERIKA WENNERSTROM (Heartless Bastards): Well, Mike and I were at a bar in Dayton years ago...

INSKEEP: Mike Lamping, your bassist.

Ms. WENNERSTROM: Yes. And we were playing one of those trivia games, and it asked what Tom Petty's backing band was, and, `Tom Petty and the Heartless Bastards' was one of the multiple choice questions--answers. So we just--we thought it was really funny.

INSKEEP: The correct answer to that trivia question was, of course, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and there can be something heartbreaking about this painfully shy woman's voice.

(Soundbite of music)

HEARTLESS BASTARDS: (Singing) Will you, will you, will you, will you listen to me? ...(Unintelligible) your windows make it so hard to be. Will you, will you, will you...

Mr. SASHA FRERE-JONES (The New Yorker): Erika's a really controlled singer. She's singing in a very powerful way, but she doesn't really ever explode. You know, she hits 60 miles an hour and she holds to it.

INSKEEP: Music writer Sasha Frehr Jones of The New Yorker saw the band on stage.

Mr. JONES: You know, I kept thinking of manual labor, like, making sandwiches or fixing shoes. If you know anyone who does stuff like that and really cares about it, you know, they have this sort of sense of pride.

INSKEEP: You can get clues to the band's approach if you talk to its bassist, Mike Lamping.

Mr. MIKE LAMPING (Heartless Bastards): We're not college graduates. Kind of like worked (censored) jobs for most of our lives, and music was the one way to break the doldrum of your everyday kind of thing. And the worst thing I did was working in a rubber factory in Wapakoneta. I don't know, like we did jobs like that. I work for my dad now.

INSKEEP: What are you doing for your dad?

Mr. LAMPING: We sell janitor supplies. Pretty much I'm a customer service representative.

INSKEEP: How does that customer service janitor supply thing fit in with the whole rock star deal?

Mr. LAMPING: Oh, it works out great because he lets us practice there, but at the same time it works well because you really want to go play music after a day of selling janitor supplies.

(Soundbite of music)

HEARTLESS BASTARDS: (Singing) Sometimes I feel low. Sometimes I feel low. Sometimes I feel low. Sometimes I feel low. And to the things I used to, 'cause I feel low.

INSKEEP: Not long ago, the Heartless Bastards' drummer was delivering pizzas, and lead singer Erika Wennerstrom was working as a bartender before the night that everything started to change. It was barely a year ago that they were scheduled to perform in an old industrial town.

Ms. WENNERSTROM: We played for--in front of five people one night in Akron, like a Wednesday night. We almost didn't get to play because the owner of the club said, `You know, I'll just pay you guys and you guys, you don't have to play.' He's like, `I've played music before and, you know, if there were five people, I wouldn't want to set my equipment up.' But we really like playing and we wanted to play, and Patrick ended up walking in halfway through our set.

INSKEEP: Patrick was the sixth member of the audience, a more successful singer who referred the band to his record label. That label soon received a letter reading, `My name is Erika Wennerstrom and I've wanted to sing and play guitar since I was born.' The attached recording led to the Heartless Bastards' first album. Now they've been pulled away from their jobs and onto stages around the country where the crowds are starting to grow.

(Soundbite of music)

HEARTLESS BASTARDS: (Singing) And then I looked back ...(unintelligible) 'cause that just makes me down and I really want to live.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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