Heartless Bastards

Brimming with confidence and creativity, Arrow sees Heartless Bastards pushing their distinctive sound forward with their most eclectic, energetic collection thus far. The album – the Austin, Texas-based band's first release with Partisan Records – is marked as ever by singer/guitarist/songwriter Erika Wennerstrom's remarkable voice, at turns primal and pleading, heartfelt and heroic. Songs like "Parted Ways" and the searing "Low Low Low" expertly capture the Bastards' multi-dimensional rock in all its strength and spirit. Following upon the difficult introspection of 2009's acclaimed third album, The Mountain, Arrow stands as a powerhouse new beginning for the Heartless Bastards.

"The Mountain was me going through some things after being in a relationship for nine years," Wennerstrom says. "This album is kind of like me being comfortable again."

Arrow serves as the recorded debut of the Heartless Bastards' current iteration, their latest and greatest line-up since Wennerstrom first convened the band back in 2003. Drummer Dave Colvin and bassist Jesse Ebagh – both of whom played on the Bastards' first-ever demo recordings – returned to the fold in order to play live behind The Mountain. Soon after embarking on tour, Wennerstrom decided to put more meat on the band's raw bones by enlisting guitarist Mark Nathan, who had ostensibly come aboard to handle the live sound.

"I wanted to add another guitar," Wennerstrom says, "so I asked Mark, 'What do you think of joining the band?' and he was into it. I've always planned on being a four-piece, but it just takes a while to find somebody that you feel you click with. I'd rather have it be stripped down than just have somebody there for the sake of having them there."

The expanded line-up brought additional color and dynamism to the Heartless Bastards' already colorfully dynamic rock 'n' roll. With their sound honed to a razor's edge by night after night of playing live, the Heartless Bastards were soon ready to record for posterity. But having spent so much of the past year on tour, Wennerstrom knew she needed some downtime in order to turn her musical ideas into fully-fledged songs. In Fall 2010, she embarked on the first of what would be several solo road trips designed to clear the cobwebs and help focus her songwriting. Wennerstrom visited friends and family in Ohio, hung out at All Tomorrow's Parties in the Catskills, spent alone time in Arkansas, a lake cabin in the Allegheny Mountains and at a ranch in West Texas.

"It was really nice," she says. "I didn't feel like I was getting much done, but I realized that a lot of that experience ended up being reflected in the songs. I didn't get a lot of the writing done right then, on that trip, but I feel like getting out there really helped me later on."

2011 saw the Heartless Bastards hitting the highway once more, taking the opportunity to road-test Wennerstrom's new songs on a bare-bones "acoustic" tour as well on a series of dates supporting Drive-By Truckers. The band set to work onArrow just two short days after their return to Austin, a revved-up, well-oiled rock 'n' roll machine.

"We just went right in," Wennerstrom says. "There's a definite sound that comes from a band that's been on the road and I really feel like it's translated on the album."

The band spent the next month with producer Jim Eno at his Public Hi-Fi home studio. Eno – known far and wide as the drummer in Spoon – guided the Bastards through the recording process, helping them to infuse their myriad influences and ambitions into the songs.

"Jim was really great to work with," Wennerstrom says. "He asked me what kind of approach I wanted to take towards each song and we'd take it in that direction. It was like, what were you thinking for each song, as far as inspiration?"

Arrow showcases the depth and breath of the band's indelible sound, with songs like "Got To Have Rock and Roll" and "Down In The Canyon" lighting upon spaghetti western film scores, Seventies soul, psychedelia, funk, blues, glam, and mudhole-stomping hard rock. Two years of nearly non-stop touring resulted in an astonishing musical telepathy among the Heartless Bastards, with all four players intuitively able to craft Wennerstrom's songs into maximum form.

"I'm so in synch with this band," she says. "Songs seem to go where I want them to go and it doesn't take a whole lot of time. Even though I'm not very communicative, they know me well enough and get it."

Kicking off with the widescreen vision of "Marathon," the album is more wholly fleshed than anything in the Bastards' prior oeuvre, while simultaneously securing the band in all their straight-on, unadorned majesty. Arrow is the glorious sound of a four-piece rock 'n' roll outfit in full flight, with little outside accompaniment bar conga player Matthew "Sweet Lou" Holmes's performance on the evocative "Skin and Bone."

"It's a pretty stripped-down album in a lot of ways," Wennerstrom says. "There's really not a lot added to these tracks, they're really mostly live takes. We talked about adding things, but when we listened back, we thought, 'I don't know if this really needs more.'"

With Arrow complete, the Heartless Bastards are now itching to get back out there. Inveterate road warriors, the band is at their electrifying best while on stage, making deep connections with both their audience and their music.

"It can be hard at times," Wennerstrom says, "but I love it. I love playing on stage. It's that hour and a half, that time that we're up there, that I love most. There's a lot of sitting around, trying to find things to fill in the time, but then we finally start to play, it's so worth it and rewarding."

Arrow sees the Heartless Bastards doing what all great bands do – furthering their artistic scope with each successive effort. With its impressive range and undeniable vigor, the album flies straight, honest and true, the finest distillation yet of this extraordinary rock 'n' roll band's fiery, unforgettable sound.
"I feel like this is the strongest record I've ever done," Wennerstrom says. "I feel like playing with these guys, us all being so connected, really helped make it so fully realized. I'm really, really happy with it."

Hugh Bob and The Hustle

Singer-songwriter Hugh Robert Masterson grew up in Butternut, Wisconsin - a quaint but fading small town with decrepit mills, dirt roads, farms, beat down bars, and a population of 300. “It’s the kind of place where the silence is deafening and the stars are so bright you can feel nothing but humbled,” says Masterson. His band Hugh Bob and The Hustle and their masterful self-titled debut album brings to life this slice of classic Americana with ruggedly poetic lyrics and sweetly winsome roots rock.

Masterson’s blend of hard luck stories and backwoods whimsy with crisp twang, high lonesome harmonies, and heartland rock n’ roll is an aesthetic called “North Country”. It’s similar in spirit to country in its earnestness and its ties to American folk traditions, but details the plight of folks up North. Masterson has garnered favorable comparisons to Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, Alan Jackson, and Dwight Yoakam. A.V. Club Milwaukee praises his debut as: “a warm, affectionate collection of straight-up AM country gold.” Rocksposure gushes “Hugh Bob never strikes an inauthentic note.” The Nashville Scene says: “We can’t help but be naturally suspicious of outlanders appropriating traditionally Southern music, but Milwaukee’s Hugh Bob avoided the pitfalls of the derivative Mumford & Sons bro-grass that has been invading our country by being charmingly sincere.”


After apprenticing as a sideman bassist, most notably with indie darlings Jaill and acclaimed roots rockers The Wildbirds, Masterson recently decided to step out as a singer-songwriter. The 11 songs on his debut are the first he’s ever written. “I just felt like I was finally ready to release something,” he says, assessing his latent creativity. “It was a confidence thing, I was afraid of putting my heart into something and people not liking it.”


Through his stories, and those of Butternut, Masterson has crafted a tender and truthful album. “I’m attracted to realness,” he says. “The natural reality of how hard life is doesn’t go unnoticed where I’m from.” The stunning “Ashland County,” rich with golden harmonies and mournful and shimmering pedal steel guitar, is a poignant snapshot of a crumbling small town. “That’s about where I grew up, it’s depressed, there’s not much there anymore,” Masterson says. His voice is sweetly pristine and vulnerable as he sings: Rivers spillin' over/Bars burnin' down/Now they're planting flowers, all over town Got high on Joint Road/In between the farms/Now they're all gone, and the mill is shuttin' down. The gritty Americana of “Butternut” mixes quaint nostalgia with powerful social commentary. Here, with raw emotionality, Masterson sings: I come from a long line of drinkers and boozers, gamblers, we're all losers where I'm from/Days go by but no one's ever leaving/No matter how hard I try this town's got a hold on me/Got a hold on me. Rounding out the album are the cheeky “This Bar Is A Prison” and “Mess With Me,” rowdy good time numbers with quicksilver twang and shit kicking humor.


Live and on record Masterson is aptly backed by The Hustle, a band of friends with telepathic interplay and a unique approach to American roots music. The Hustle is Quinn Scharber, guitar/vocals; Nicholas Stuart, bass/vocals; Bradley Kruse, keys/vocals; and Justin Krol, drums. Masterson and Stuart played together back in The Wildbirds (along with Scharber and Kruse), with Masterson playing a supportive role for Stuart’s singer-songwriter vision. In the Hustle, Stuart returns the favor. “I've known Hugh for 7 years, and he's always had song scraps in his pocket. Never a complete song,” says Nicholas Stuart. “But when he pulled out the basic structures of ‘Blame Me’ and ‘Red, White & Blue Jeans,’ I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. He has a great way of putting the listener in a place that he is, or a place that he's been. And he just really cares for the song, down to a single lyric. That's something that impresses me every time.”


Masterson is currently gigging actively with The Hustle, building a strong live profile with their vibrantly authentic musicality, impassioned sincerity, and downhome exuberance. “I remember playing that first show. I had done all this stuff to prove myself. I was sitting there in the basement of the venue and I was so nervous I wanted to run away,” he says. “But when I got onstage, the adrenaline from the people’s response made it all feel so worthwhile.”

Tickets Available At The Door

Download a free 2013 MP3 tour sampler from Heartless Bastards at http://t.opsp.in/q0Ep6

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Heartless Bastards with Hugh Bob and The Hustle

Thursday, August 1 · 9:00 PM at High Noon Saloon