In Conversation with Erika Wennerstrom

Vortex Music Magazine

Ahead of her show at Doug Fir Lounge earlier this month, Erika Wennerstrom spoke with James Kemp about her new album and tour.

Erika Wennerstrom at the Doug Fir Lounge on May 1, 2018. Click here for more shots by James Kemp!Erika Wennerstrom at the Doug Fir Lounge on May 1, 2018. Click here for more shots by James Kemp!Beginning in 2003, over the course of five full-lengths, Erika Wennerstrom shepherded the Heartless Bastards into a musical powerhouse that would go on see great success. In 2007 Wennerstrom decided to take her band from Dayton, Ohio, to Austin, Texas, to pursue bigger musical dreams and take her mighty seventies classic rock style and powerful voice to new heights. Following 2015's release of Restless Ones, the band called a hiatus, which then allowed the frontwoman to take a new creative approach to how she would produce and write music. As she looked for what should come next, Wennerstrom traveled to the Amazon to take part in an Ayahuasca retreat. The hike helped Wennerstrom clear her head. Over the course of the next couple of years Wennerstrom would create what would become Sweet Unknown, the project that brought her to Doug Fir Lounge on May 1.

Does this tour stand out more or have more meaning than other tours in the past?

In a way it’s a different thing. Right now this is what I am focused on. I am just enjoying what I am doing presently. I don’t think this means more to me than things in the past. They all meant a lot to me in the moment. I think the process of this new project has helped me grow internally and outwardly. It’s forced me to stand on my own two feet; I didn’t have my team of folks there for affirmation. Going into the studio was a big step for me when they weren’t there to give me the affirmations. If you don’t grow you tend to start repeating things of the past. I never aim to repeat something or some form of things that went really well in the past.

What has been the most fun part of doing a solo project?

What I am enjoying the most is that everything is new and exciting. I can’t predict where this is going to go. I like the saying, “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.” If you aren’t out there taking leaps and experiencing new things, it’s not fun. I have a great team with me and we are laughing our asses off every day.

What is it about the name 'Sweet Unknown' that made you decide to debut your solo project with it?

You know, originally I wanted to call this project, and not the album, Sweet Unknown. It only seemed fitting to call this project my name. I realized fully loving yourself is a process. Our dark parts and our insecurities are our strengths. In order to fully love yourself you must be proud of every part of you, good and bad. It was kind of fitting to use my name… I never thought my name was an entertainer name. I thought Heartless Bastards was tough and rock n’ roll and with my name I didn’t have to be tough. I feel having compassion for one another is important to who we are. It starts with yourself.

Was 'Sweet Unknown' sort of a musical awakening for you? A spiritual awakening?

It was both, they go hand in hand, because the way I write, in a sense I am trying to understand myself and a lot of what I am writing is introspective. I have recently looked back on old Heartless Bastards albums and it’s like I am searching for something. Home is where I am, that has allowed me to live nomadic and allowed me to let down my fears in a sense. This album has kind of let me find that. The first five albums, I was searching for that and in this album, I found that idea.

Erika Wennerstrom at the Doug Fir Lounge on May 1, 2018. Click here for more shots by James Kemp!Erika Wennerstrom at the Doug Fir Lounge on May 1, 2018. Click here for more shots by James Kemp!How did your Ayahuasca hike help you clear your head enough to remind you to be present and enjoy the experience of producing a solo project as a whole ?

It allowed me to fully face things that were personal to me. You can’t fix things that aren’t really issues, and that allowed me to open my eyes to really deep issues from ages ago. It’s been a long process, honestly when you do it, things don’t instantly change. Over the next year, I saw the my perspective of the world change. The very first time I did it, it walked me through my life. I felt compassion for everyone with negative experiences and it helped a lot of times to see how people might be feeling.

What was your greatest fear debuting this album?

I feel like I gave so much in this album and didn’t hold anything back. When it comes this album, people will either like it or not and I am cool with that. Every wall is down. If you give all of yourself, you leave no room to question. When you just give the best of yourself to people, if people don’t like it, what else can you do? In a way, I am really not too fearful and was just excited to put it out.

“Letting Go” and “Time” seem to fit hand in hand with the idea that life is a real struggle. Do you think people might identify with these two songs more than the rest of the album?

To be honest, it’s different what songs might fit each individual person. I actually had someone mention every one of my songs to me. It just depends on the song or lyric. Life is challenging.

What is it about the Portland music scene that made you decide to come back to the Doug Fir?

I absolutely love Portland, and it’s a major city on the West Coast and a stop that most booking agents hit. I think it’s kind of strange if a band skips Portland and it’s one of my favorite places to play. I love the vibe, the music, the food. I live in Austin and it makes me feel like I am home. I have been touring since 2004 and have probably played the Doug Fir at least six times! I love it!

If you had a piece of advice for a young artist, what would you tell them?

I would tell them to just follow their heart and create music or any art form that makes them happy. Do what makes you happy, not what will make others happy.

Don't forget to check out James Kemp's shots from Erika Wennerstrom's show!

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