ERIKA WENNERSTROM is driving through South Dakota with the windows open. Her band, Heartless Bastards, is making their way west, on the final leg of a series of tours to support their third record, The Mountain, which came out early last year. They'll finish the whole thing off in the barn at Pendarvis Farm.
"Pickathon will probably be a lot different than a lot of the festivals we played," she says, over the wind rushing through the open windows. "Honestly, a lot of times when we do a big festival like Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo, we're in press all day, doing interviews or playing sets for radio tapings and things like that. So it's very rare that we actually have much time to watch any of the bands.
"But I would imagine it's not gonna be like that at Pickathon, so I look forward to being able to enjoy the music and the setting," she continues.
It's a setting that showcases a huge array of American musical styles, and the Bastards are the ambassadors of that most quintessentially American style: heartland rock. They're one of the heavies at this year's Pickathon, in their stature as headliners, but also in their style. Wennerstrom's bluesy howl fronts a guitar-driven, soulful kind of rock that punches hard even in its most tender moments. From the band's beginnings in Ohio to Wennerstrom's current hometown of Austin, Texas, Heartless Bastards' music sounds right in virtually any American setting, from the barroom to the homestead, from the wide-open country to the tightly cornered maze of the city. By expanding their palette on The Mountain, the band has embraced a new subtlety in the form of banjoes and mandolins, but more importantly their electric rock is even more swayingly heavy than before.
The band's already got new material on the horizon. "We do Pickathon and then we'll just start working on a new album and be in the studio within several months," Wennerstrom says. "I'm not exactly sure when. We've worked on some new songs but I'm not sure if we're ready to play 'em out yet... it's a lot of fun to experiment and try things in recording and finally get the ideas down and listen back to them. But then, going out and playing on the road, there's just a whole energy to playing live that I love. And when people get familiar with the songs, a lot of times they're singing along to the lyrics—I guess it just feels good that people are identifying with the songs I've created, or the art, you know? It's very satisfying...
"Does that sound silly?" she laughs. "It probably does. I can't think with this wind."
Heartless Bastards play the Mountain View Stage on Saturday at 9:45 pm and the Galaxy Barn on Sunday at 1 am (technically Monday morning).