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The headaches of touring have helped the Heartless Bastards refine their sound

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Erika Wennerstrom sounds distracted and slightly out of breath. She and her band, Heartless Bastards, have arrived late to their gig in the college town of Norman, Okla., and she’s unloading gear from their trailer in 100-degree heat while trying to carry on a phone conversation.

Thanks to a flat tire and other delays, it’s now 7 pm and they have yet to perform their soundcheck.

For all its headaches and hassle, though, touring isn’t something she would give up easily. The experience it provides continues to shape Heartless Bastards’ bluesy, alt-country sound in ways that she couldn’t have foreseen in the band’s early days.

“When I first wrote Stairs and Elevators [in 2005], I’d never done an actual tour before,” she says. “And I realized that I hadn’t thought about how difficult it would be to sing those songs every night. I started losing my voice because it was an album where I belted out almost every single song.”

“I learned to try to concentrate not just on the key that you initially hear in your head, but the key that’s going to be the best and strongest for your voice.”

Among all the arts, music is unique because it never quite reaches a fixed state, even after it’s been recorded. Novelists can’t go on rewriting a published book. Painters rarely retouch a hanging portrait. But musicians can revisit their work night after night, modifying and reshaping it for as long as they’re able.

For Wennerstrom, revisiting the songs from Heartless Bastards’ repertoire at every gig has made her conscious of the evolution of her own songwriting.

“A lot of times when you’re initially working on material, once the recording’s done, and then you tour on that album, you can hear things that you might’ve liked to change or different things that can make the songs improve.” Live performances give her the chance to do that.

That continual process of fine-tuning the Heartless Bastards’ back catalogue has actually helped Wennerstrom to develop and polish her new songs even more prior to recording.

When the band came to record their most recent album, Arrow, producer (and Spoon drummer) Jim Eno advised them to tour with the new material for a month before putting them to tape. They readily agreed.

“We went in the studio two days after we got back,” she says. “By doing that tour before recording, we really got everything to where we thought it could be the best it could be. We almost felt like Jim was the fifth member of the band because he helped us get where we were trying to go.”

Listeners can hear the effect of that change in the way, say, the foot-stomping country pop of “Parted Ways” doesn’t linger for a note longer than it has to, or how on “Only for You” Wennerstrom uses a soft falsetto instead of a throaty roar to hit the top of her vocal range.

But the frontwoman is loath to take all the credit. After years of an ever-shifting lineup, her band is now more steadfast than its music. Two members — bassist Jesse Ebaugh and drummer Dave Colvin — played alongside her way back on the band’s earliest demos in 2002.

“We have a really good musical chemistry,” she says. “We’ve all played together as a live band for four years, and I think it’s tightened us up. Every time I hear [Arrow], I feel really proud.”

Heartless Bastards with Little Hurricane • Thurs, Aug. 2, at 8 pm • A Club • 416 W. Sprague Ave. • $12 • 21+ • 624-3629

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