The women who rocked the stage at SXSW / By Jane Field
Brittany Howard’s voice cracks across a stage like the most heart-stopping sounds of Janis Joplin. Her movements on stage are unassuming, but maybe it’s best that way. When you get a glimpse of her face, you see the ecstasy in the minutiae of her expressions, and the realness that comes from those moments matches her music. Howard’s band is the Alabama Shakes, and while they are wonderful, they seem incidental to her voice. Give us more, Brittany Howard.
Natalie Bergman grew up in a family of musicians in Chicago, so she’s been playing music since age 6, and has been in and out of bands for years. But last year, her brother Elliot enlisted her vocal help while recording for his band, and while they were playing around in the studio, they realized their sounds worked together. The band, Wild Belle, is brand new and unbearably cool, and played Antone’s at South By Southwest this year. Bergman has a woozy, carefree appeal onstage, but it’s coupled with ambition. In an interview with Nylon Magazine she claimed, “We’re making good music. We want to share it with the world.”
When Erika Wennerstrom, the head of Heartless Bastards, was seeking her first record deal back in 2003, she sent a demo tape to Fat Possum Records with just a few words:
“My name is Erika, and I was born to sing and play guitar.” She got the deal. Wennerstrom moved to Austin in 2008 to revamp her life and her band. The backup was all new, but Wennerstrom is undeniably the anchor. “She’s tough as nails,” said the head of Fat Possum in a profile of her in the New York Times. “Even though she cries a lot.”
Lydia Loveless sings about alcohol and love and an imaginary stalker, Steve Earle. The 21-year-old just released her first album, Indestructible Machines. The styles of the songs run the gamut, from old-school country (think Loretta Lynn) on songs of heartbreak like How Many Women, to raucous, defiant songs like Can’t Change Me and Jesus was a Wino. Loveless grew up in Ohio, where she played in a band in Columbus with her sisters. She cites Britney Spears and Charles Bukowski as her influences, although her admiration of Spears is more for her unmitigated success than her singing. For songwriting inspiration, Loveless turns to Hank Williams’ “simple and depressing, no bulls**t lyrics.”