After more than a decade fronting the Austin, Texas-based Heartless Bastards, Erika Wennerstrom needed a break. Not just from the band, but a spiritual break as well. Now, having spent the past couple years on a journey of self-exploration, she chronicles her discoveries on “Extraordinary Love,” the first song to be released from her debut solo LP, Sweet Unknown.
Fifteen years on from when the Heartless Bastards were formed in Cincinnati, Sweet Unknown marks Wennerstrom’s first venture out on her own. Aptly enough, the songs on the record were inspired by her travels before and after the release of her band’s last record, 2015’s Restless Ones, beginning with a trip to the Amazon.
“I was at a point where I was deeply unhappy, and on a whim, I decided to do an Ayahuasca retreat,” Wennerstrom tells Rolling Stone Country. “Despite the idea frightening me, I felt I needed something to change within me so bad that I had nothing to lose. It really opened the door and started me on a path to many self realizations.”
With Heartless Bastards deciding to take a hiatus after Restless Ones, Wennerstrom dove headlong into the deeply personal material that would become Sweet Unknown. Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, “Extraordinary Love” — written during a hiking trip the following year at Big Bend National Park in west Texas — is a droning, technicolor epic that sees Wennerstrom’s dusky voice soar as she sings about her revelations during the Ayahuasca trip.
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“This song is a mantra of self love,” Wennerstrom says of “Extraordinary Love.” “The song is the realization that I do everything in my life for love. We all want to be liked and to give and receive love. If I can’t be kind and loving to myself how can I expect anybody else to. It starts with me. I find the most extraordinary thing is to be truly compassionate to yourself.”
Sweet Unknown will be released March 23rd. Wennerstrom plays the Granada Theater in Dallas, Texas on January 19th.