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."
Hailing from the bohemian college town of Athens, Georgia, Futurebirds play laid-back country-rock with an atmospheric, psychedelic twist. The group began turning heads with the release of a self-titled EP, whose backwoods harmonies and pedal steel riffs helped earn a contract with Autumn Tone Records. With the label's help, Futurebirds booked time at Chase Park Transduction one of Athens' most renowned studios, with a client list that includes R.E.M., Drive-By Truckers, and Jason Isbell and recorded Hampton's Lullaby. The debut album was released in August 2010, and the group issued a follow-up EP, Via Flamina, while touring in support of both releases.
Dana Falconberry suffuses the majesty of nature in the orchestral pop-folk she elegantly crafts in Leelanau, her inaugural release on Oakland, CA's Antenna Farm Records. Citing influences ranging from the prints of artist Gwen Frostic, the books of Willa Cather, and the stark, childs-eye beauty of the Swedish film Let The Right One In, Falconberry finds lyrical inspiration in her idyllic childhood retreats to the Great Lakes State's Leelanau peninsula. The result is a set of eloquent verse reflecting upon the region to which she has returned almost every summer since she was born. "There is this general feeling of nostalgia, but the album is also about the triumphs of being a kid - a celebration of running on the beach or in the woods," Falconberry explains.
After a childhood studying classical ballet and modern dance, the Michigan native left home when she was 18 years old to attend Hendrix College in Arkansas. There she discovered the timeless songs of the Ozarks and the Delta and devoted herself to songwriting, founding the Little Rock Songwriters Circle in 2003. In 2004, she moved to Austin, TX and joined the indie folk band Peter In The Wolf for a stint. Soon though, Dana broke away to focus on her own music: stripped-down songs inspired by dreams, memories, and landscapes.
Falconberry self-released her Paper Sailboat EP in 2006 and followed it up with 2008's more electrically produced Oh Skies of Grey. In 2010, she returned to a more sparse and organic sound with her album Halletts, featuring tight harmonies provided by Gina Dvorak and Lauren McMurray. She followed the release with extensive touring, including several runs through the United States and trips to Europe and Japan.
For 2012's Leelanau, Falconberry was determined to push herself as a songwriter while staying true to the sound and aesthetic that had earned her a growing fan base in Austin and beyond. While previous recordings emphasized the sparse and delicate, on Leelanau, Dana's fairy-like voice is bolstered by the exquisite orchestration of a six-piece band (Dvorak, Karla Manzur, Matthew Shepherd, Christopher Cox, Lindsey Verrill) who are central to the bountiful soundscapes Falconberry creates. The newly developed string arrangements (arranged by bandmember Cox and performed by Austin's Tosca String Quartet) match the growth in Falconberry's songwriting approach: "I used to write more about love and heartbreak, but I find now that I am more interested in complex ideas and subtle emotions rather than the sweeping melodramatic stuff."
Leelanau is an ode to rural Michigan with references to stories both real and imagined, a travelogue of both places on the map and of complex emotions stirred by memory. Themes of regret and estrangement are balanced by expressions of youthful joy and discovery, with many songs using real locales as starting points and interweaving the human experience with the world surrounding it. These forgotten memories leave tangible traces for us to rediscover as our lives go on, a concept summed up in the title track, a fable of a woman long lost in the woods, with her family finding traces of her journey for years to come. Copperleaf tells the story of two people who were very close friends as kids, reunited after years of divergent paths, with their love remaining but much more complex and daunting. Elsewhere, the song Sleeping Bear (based on a Native American legend of the same name) captures the despair of a mother bear who after escaping a fire by swimming across Lake Michigan, waits in vain for her two cubs who drowned on the way. In Pictured Rocks, a red fox laments that he's "only brought you grief", while a Crooked River finds redemption and relief in losing itself and flowing into the sea.
For the recording of Leelanau, Falconberry and her newly formed band sequestered themselves in a gospel church-turned-recording studio in east Austin, essentially moving in. "We would start working in the morning, get through the list of things we needed to record for the day, and play with ideas until the wee hours. There was a ton of creative energy flying around," Falconberry says. To say that the songs were rooted in places and visuals is no overstatement; Dana made prints of scenes for her bandmembers to study while recording their parts, like visual aids. Leelanau was recorded by Grant Johnson, mixed by Danny Reisch (of Shearwater), and produced by Johnson, Cox, and Falconberry. The same session also produced Leelanau's acclaimed four-song prelude EP Though I Didn't Call It Came, released on Sacramento's Crossbill Records in January 2012.
Falconberry is thriving musically in her new hometown, heralded by the Austin Chronicle as one of the city's "most arresting female vocalists" and in 2011 she starred in the critically-lauded documentary on the Austin music scene, Echotone, a New York Times Critics' Pick. In addition to her solo work, Dana has worked extensively with her contemporaries, frequently collaborating with Matt Bauer (Brooklyn) and most recently providing backing vocals for the Heartless Bastards (Austin) for their spring 2012 tour. She has shared stages with Okkervil River, Shearwater, Megafaun,Father John Misty and Dr. Dog, captivating audiences with her powerful live shows. Falconberry has retained the Leelanau band to bring the songs to life on stage, receiving praise far beyond Austin's city limits. In addition to extensive tours through the US, Europe, and Japan, Dana has recorded two Daytotter sessions and a Laundromatinee session for My Old Kentucky Blog.
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