What: Heartless Bastards
When: 8:30 p.m. Oct. 17
Where: Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399
More info: foxtheatre.com
T he name Heartless Bastards evokes images of punk rockers in all black, playing songs loaded with apathy, but the Austin, Texas, band actually has a lot of heart.
The foursome's latest record, Arrow, showcases frontwoman and songwriter Erika Wennerstrom in a more settled and experienced place in life. It opens on "Marathon," a song about life as a "long race home" that doesn't explicitly reflect her life but reflects a mental state.
"On the last album, I had just moved to Texas after a split from an almost decade-long relationship, which was longer than a lot of people are married these days, so there was a lot of adjusting going on at the time when I wrote The Mountain," Wennerstroms said. "Somewhere between then and when I was writing Arrow, I really started to feel back to myself and adjusted to who I am now. Before that relationship I was 21 years old, and now I'm 35."
The context isn't necessary for enjoying the record, though. Listening to it, it's immediately clear that Heartless Bastards is doing something different in the studio. Specifically, the band is doing less, promoted by a suggestion from producer (and Spoon drummer) Jim Eno.
"One of the things that Jim suggested, and we were all really into this idea, was to go on a tour with the songs and then come into the studio. We did a month-long tour opening for the Drive By Truckers and played the new album every night," Wennerstroms said. "We went into the studio two days after we got back. After playing those songs for a month straight, you can work out any parts that you're questioning, and it helped us capture the live sound of the band, which we all wanted [the record] to do. It really gave the album a stripped-down version when we went in there and did these live takes we had really solid performances."
The fiddle and banjo have been mostly done away with, leaving the vocals, guitars, bass and drums at the bands core more room to breathe.
"When I wrote it, I spent a lot of time out in West Texas, which is a very vast kind of open landscape, and there's some imagery from that in the songs," Wedderstroms said.
It's still Heartless Bastards as the band has come to be known and loved -- Wedderstroms' strong, engaging alto over sturdy blues-rock riffs and rhythms. Arrow is also a truer Heartless Bastards sound, perhaps, with drummer Dave Colvin and bassist Jesse Ebagh, who were on the early demos, and guitarist Mark Nathan on the record.
"I've played with Dave and Jesse since August of 2008. We did a tour before The Mountain, and Mark joined that January. This is the first album that everybody is on and it's the first as a full piece. The last album was session musicians," Wennerstroms said.
It all bodes well for the Heartless Bastards live show -- a band that's very comfortable together, playing music that was road tested and recorded with a stripped-down live sound. The band has also had a bit of down time recently, just playing some weekend gigs, so they should be well rested when they arrive at the Fox Theatre on Oct. 17.
Also, Wennerstroms fans should keep an eye out for her work with Black Angels' Alex Moss -- a more country rock project under the name Sweet Tea.