"It's my musical journey through the process of learning self-compassion. These songs are my mantras to live by" We chat with Erika Wennerstrom
Fresh from a decade with American roots rockers Heartless Bastards frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom is making the most of the band's hiatus by going it alone. Her debut solo album, Sweet Unknown, is full of ebbs and flows, really making the most of Erika's voice and songwriting talents. We caught up with her ahead of a UK show - that never happened - to talk touring and albums.
[Ed: Erika was due to be in London for a show when she answered our questions, the show was cancelled due to the snow though, so don't geel you missed out!]
Hey Erika, how the devil are you doing?
Hi there! I’m fantastic! Thank you for asking. I’m so proud of this album, and I can’t wait to get it out into the world.
Where are you right now?
I’m in Casablanca. I’m sitting on an airplane getting ready to head your way. I stopped in Morocco for a short little holiday on the way to London.
What have you been up to today?
Well, it’s still late morning. So far I’ve taken a train to the airport and navigated my way through customs.
What can you tell us about Sweet Unknown in two sentences?
Sweet Unknown is my musical journey through the process of learning self-compassion. These songs are my mantras to live by.
If people could only listen to one track from record, which would you suggest?
I would say 'Extraordinary Love'. I think the world could use more self-love. If people loved themselves more we’d have world peace. Nobody would be measuring themselves against others and fearing our differences. I think that would be extraordinary.
How did you go about writing and choosing which songs to record for your record?
I always have a lot ideas floating around. I have many unfinished songs. With this album, and all of them really, just follow my instincts on what song or songs to work on, and I put one foot in front of the other and the process slowly reveals itself. I had direct intentions when writing each song, but I don’t feel as a whole body of work, that I’m ever very calculated. I tend to reflect quite a bit on the work as a whole when it’s done.
‘Good To Be Alone’ is an epic ten minutes long, what can you tell us about that song?
The idea of the song is being more present. I had a basic structure for it, and wanted to trade off between my vocals and guitar, but a lot of it was ad lib. It’s ten minutes long and there’s a tempo change through the song. Since there’s no click track metronome, it had a be a solid take from beginning to end. We got it on the third take! These days lots of songs are cut and pasted and spliced. Like you get the first half of take five and the second of take one for example. This was all in the moment. It was the most exciting song I’ve ever recorded.
The album’s only nine tracks but there are some longer running times compared to a lot of music these days, was that a conscious thing, or did you just want to let the songs have their own space?
I just write what feels right. I don’t think in terms of radio when I write. It creates limitations. I know the option to create a radio edit later is there if need be, so I don’t limit it in that sense either.
What’s been different from doing this record on your own compared to working with the band?
My songwriting process is still similar. It starts with melodies in my head, sometimes I have a full picture, and sometimes it slowly reveals itself, whether it be a few days, weeks, months, or even years. Once I get the arrangement figured out I bring it in to work on. In the past with the band I would talk about the vibe and they would help me get there and they would make suggestions in arrangements or other ideas. I really value their opinions. When the band wanted a break I didn’t have my support system. I really had to learn to fully trust myself and my instincts. I found it very exciting to play with different people. There was a revolving cast over several different sessions. I felt the more the merrier.
What have the rest of Heartless Bastards been up to?
Jesse released a solo album under Jesse Ebaugh and the Tender Things. I’m really proud of him. Dave has been playing drums with the artist Cody Jinks, and Mark has been doing various projects. Everybody’s been doing great.
When was the last time you were starstruck?
I’m a huge fan of Robert Plant. We have some mutual friends, and I always find myself at a loss for words. I just smile and listen to everybody else around talk.
[Ed: This is the "here's what you could have had section", as mentioned already Erika's London show was cancelled after we spoke to her, but here's what it would have been like. It sounds good...]
You’re playing St Pancras Old Church this week, what in particular are you looking forward to about your visit to the UK?
I love the energy of London, and I’m just really looking forward to playing these songs there. I tend to love the sound of a church for an acoustic set as well. I don’t get to play many of them.
What can people expect from your solo show?
I think it’s going to be a very personal and intimate set. It’s quite different from the band set, but I’ve had some folks say they even prefer it. I guess it depends on your cup of tea.
What’s the best thing about being out on the road?
I love the energy of playing a show and connecting with the audience.
And the worst?
All that travel can be hard on my body, and I find it difficult to find alone time.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
I could eat Thai food every day of my life and my stuck on a desert island song is Mazzy Star's 'Fade Into You'.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Mainly black if it’s a really nice fresh ground bean, but I like a latte and cappuccino now and then.
Erika's album, Sweet Unknown, is out on Friday. To find out more about Erika and her music head to her website, follow her on Twitter, or like her on Facebook.