Erika Wennerstrom gets a sense of renewal from the cyclical nature of life as a recording artist.
For the front woman and creative force of blues-rockers the Heartless Bastards, their new album “Arrow” notches several new developments while hitting a familiar target.
“I'm a big fan of all kinds of different styles of music, and I think part of the fun in writing an album is just exploring all the different musical interests I have or influences. I mean, I never want to make the same album twice. I'm certainly gonna always have the initial influences that I've had. But I'd like to think that with each album that the band's had that there's always been something that kind of makes it have a Heartless Bastards sound even though each album is different,” Wennerstrom said in a recent phone interview from her adopted hometown of Austin, Texas.
“Arrow” marks the first album from the Heartless Bastards' new lineup of Wennerstrom, drummer Dave Colvin and bassist Jesse Ebagh — both of whom played on the Bastards' first-ever demo recordings back in 2003 — and guitarist Mark Nathan, who initially came on board as the group's sound man but later transformed the three-piece band into a rock quartet.
In addition, the Valentine's Day release is the band's debut on fledgling Partisan Records and first collaboration with producer Jim Eno, best known as the drummer of pop-rockers Spoon.
“I don't know if I look in a sense to reinvent, but I think that as an artist of any form, you want to grow and learn and try new things. I think without trying new things it can give you that stagnant feeling. For me to enjoy what I do, it's experimenting and trying new things and just hoping people respond to it,” Wennerstrom said.
After releasing their 2006 sophomore studio effort “All This Time,” the group went through a shake-up when Wennerstrom, 35, and then-bassist Mike Lamping ended their romantic relationship. The singer-songwriter moved from her native Ohio to Austin and hired session musicians to record the group's third album, 2009's “The Mountain,” which showcased a rootsier, more reflective sound. In January 2009, she hit the road with her current group, who will play Thursday at The Opolis in Norman.
“We all get along as people really well, and we all worked together musically really well. It just feels really natural. I think when we worked on this album, having known each other and worked together for several years, it just kind of made the whole process work so very smoothly,” she said.
“Arrow” matches Wennerstrom's powerful, distinctive vocals with a more muscular rock sound and dynamic live vibe. When Eno joined the project as the producer, he attended several practices, listened to the new material and made suggestions, including the recommendation that the band road-test the new songs.
“He suggested doing a tour on the album before we went in the studio, and we toured for a month opening for the Drive-By Truckers. And then we went into the studio two days later, right when we got back. I think that was a really good suggestion. It helped us really sort of work out any quirks in the songs and it also allowed us to not like second-guess ourselves, like (you do) sometimes when you're working on new material,” Wennerstrom said.
“When we went in, it was just such a smooth process, very minimal takes. I think that having that sort of live sound when we sat and listened to the recordings afterward, we all sort of agreed it didn't need a whole lot of additional instrumentation. It might have been a different story had we recorded it first. ... It still felt very new and fresh, but it kind of tightened each song up.”
Transitioning from the band's previous label, Fat Possum Records, to Partisan also has been a relatively smooth, drama-free process, she said.
“They (Partisan) expressed some interest, and we were in between contracts. And it just seemed like it was the best thing for the band at that time. And it's been a really great working relationship with Possum and Partisan. I feel that Partisan's a new label and they're still sort of making their way in the world — and I think that we as a band are as well. We'll make a good team,” she said.
As the band prepares to roll into Norman, she said the new songs still feel fresh but fans are becoming familiar enough with “Arrow” that they can now sing along.
“It's certainly a nice feeling once people are familiar or get excited when you play a particular song,” she said. “This is my life and what I do and who I am, and it's what I've always wanted to do since I was old enough to think about doing anything. I can't imagine what else I'd do. And with each new album, it sort of brings a renewed excitement, just creating something new and looking forward to having people hear it.”