Heartless Bastards frontwoman pauses to dig deep, take stock and move forward

Erika Wennerstrom's solo debut, Sweet Unknown, appears to double as a series of personal mantras, the onetime Heartless Bastards frontwoman urging herself to slow things down — “Remember to breathe,” she offers on “Extraordinary Love” — and to accept herself as she is.

“I've been spending a lot of time alone/And I don't mind because this time has shown me/The world can take me as I am/So deeply flawed and living kind,” she sings on the loping, bluesy “Letting Go.”

“I think it can be really easy in life when you're trying to get from A to B to not stop and have gratitude, and to take in the moment, and be patient with yourself,” said Wennerstrom by phone from her home outside Austin, Texas. “I think a lot of the album is just those reminders to be kind to myself, and to remember what's really important in life. There's so much in life that's easy to get stressed out about, but when you can step back you realize a lot of it is really not worth that energy.”

For years, Wennerstrom denied herself the right to slow down, believing that the relentless cycle of writing, recording and touring within Heartless Bastards was a requirement of being in a band, which linked the livelihoods of her mates to the singer's willingness to continue to plow forward.

“There was a subconscious pressure I didn't always realize I had to keep things going, so that everybody had work,” she said.

So when her bandmates suggested a hiatus to pursue outside projects and interests, Wennerstrom finally hit pause, taking time out to smell the flowers, as it were (the singer said her property is flush with ladybird flowers), and to experiment with ayahuasca, an Amazonian hallucinogenic plant used in shamanic healing that the singer credits with helping her confront past tragedies that stretched back as far as childhood.

“My trip to the Amazon … it unearthed a lot of things I had buried deep inside myself,” said Wennerstrom, who visits Ace of Cups for a show on Friday, June 14. “Sometimes we don't allow ourselves to feel pain, to some extent, or allow ourselves to feel an experience and let it go and move on. … I dug deep within myself, let a lot of things go and finally did some healing.”

Throughout Sweet Unknown, Wennerstrom spends less time reliving those fresh-dug tragedies than on the wide-open future left in the wake of their purging, closing the album with the winding, hopeful “Gravity,” where she sings, “I'm starting to feel like my good days are ahead of me” like a woman finally unburdened by the past.

“Some people have said that sentiment is sad in some way,” said Wennerstrom, who remains unsure if Heartless Bastards will ever reform, or what shape the band might take in the case of a reunion. “I've always felt like, I don't know, like I had some kind of laser dot that was guiding me and I was just blindly putting one foot in front of the other. But now, more and more, I'm conscious of my actions and what it is I want to do and say.”