Whores. Alchemize ‘Black T-Shirt’ Into ‘Gold.’
On their fourth release (and debut LP), Gold., Whores. have perfected their formula. Gold. — as could be expected from anyone familiar with their earlier work — completely lacks any sort of overt, stylish flourishes, but is instead comprised of 10 blunt, unfiltered songs in about 35 minutes. Taking cues from bands like the Jesus Lizard and Melvins, Whores. cut through with driving power chords, as vocalist Christian Lembach’s mixture of screaming and singing gives the record a simultaneously aggressive and catchy vibe.
Anyone who has written the band off because of their name should do themselves a favor and read the lyrics. It doesn’t take long to see that, beneath the potentially provocative nature of the moniker itself, vocalist / lyricist Lembach brings far more to the table than simple shock tactics. Filtered through Whores.' sound, the lyrics are short and to the point, as the use of the period in their name symbolizes. They attack with a sense of urgency, but lack the youthful, naive angst that plagues many heavy bands.
Alongside of the premiere for Whores.' music video of the record’s first single, “I See You Are Also Wearing a Black T-Shirt,” CLRVYNT caught up with Lembach by phone from their van in the middle of Utah. Ignoring the laughs from his fellow bandmates, Lembach talked with us about the band’s history, his approach to lyrics and the future of Whores.
How is your tour going?
It’s been great. We are going to play to 37,000 people tomorrow night [ed. — this interview was conducted Friday, October 21], so that’s going to be good.
Damn. Will this be the biggest audience that you've played for?
No, we played Heavy Montreal with Metallica, and that was 60,000, I think. But it’s still rad. I am not trying to say it's not rad. We always joke about this, but, you know, the next night we will probably play to 10 people. That’s how it goes, and we appreciate it for what it is.
A lot is made of your intense live performances. Is it hard to keep up the level of intensity when you're suddenly in front of 37,000 or 60,000 people?
No, it’s easy. It’s easier. Let me put it this way: It’s harder to play and bring the real big, crazy vibe when it's a small room with a few people. But with a giant crowd of people, they go crazy and it's awesome. It’s a big stage, so you can run all over the place and not be confined to a dumb little 2x2 area, where we knock stuff down and run into each other. We still jump around even if it's a tiny stage, but when it's a giant stage, it’s totally easy to play and hit it super hard. Everything is already taken care of — all you have to do is just rip it.
I can only imagine the energy you would feed off of from that many people in one area.
Right, you can definitely feel it coming at you. Like when we stop the first song and you hear a roar. It’s incredible.
Speaking of the disparity in your audiences from night to night, there's sort of a recurring motif on the new record of being anonymous, or of people not knowing your name. They appear in different contexts, but I can't help but think of some of the comments you’ve made in the past about the current state of the music industry. As Whores. grow, do you think your opinion of the possibilities offered in music today have changed?
I think there are a lot of really good bands right now — I don’t think that is the problem. When people say that, I’m just like, "Look, dude, you’re just out of touch because there is a lot of rad shit happening right now." If you are disconnected from it, then I can see how you can think that, but if you are involved in it in any way, you see how many great bands are out there.
As far as doing music professionally and [having] it be your main source of income, it’s never been easy, but it's increasingly difficult. There is a clear divide between bands that we call, for lack of a better term, "professional" and bands who aren’t making a living off their music. I remember seeing Queens of the Stone Age for the first time, and it was pretty much the first big rock show I’d seen outside of club shows: punk bands, my friends' bands and the underground. I’d been away from big rock shows since I was a kid. As a young man, it was really clear to me how they were just completely dialed in and focused. There is a big difference between those two worlds, and I hope that one day we are able to inhabit that world. We are still super scrappy and aggressive, and I love that, but I think that control is important. I don’t know that we will ever be a big, big band by virtue of the way that our music sounds — I don’t see that really mellowing out — but, I don’t know ... I think all of us just really want to do this professionally. We are close to that, but we aren’t there yet. That is our main goal right now, and if we achieve that goal, we will set a new one. I think it’s a reasonable and attainable goal, but it’s not easy.
I’m sure that you're sick of talking about it at this point, but don’t you think that your name will set a ceiling of success? Sadly, we still live in a prudish world, and I imagine that publicity in certain avenues will be difficult with the band name Whores.
Yeah, sure, but it's the name of our band and that is how it is. There is definitely a sort of glass ceiling element to it, where the next level is just out of reach and we can see it on the horizon. That is certainly frustrating, but at the same time, what the songs and band are about is predicated upon the name. So, if we changed the name, it would sort of ruin the whole thing. We would just have to start a different band altogether. It is what it is and, regardless of how I feel about it, it's the road that we are going and we need to see it through as far as we can. We do get a lot of static for it and some missed opportunities — and Lord knows how many opportunities we missed without even knowing about them — but we have to stick by it. It’s who we are, and it's what the band is. Consequences be damned.
Your lyrics don’t have any of the sort of provocation one may come to expect, given the name. You write in a very clean, simple way that manages to be poetic as well. I don’t want to say like Hemingway, but definitely in a manner that's universal, but clearly has a lot to say beneath the surface.
I mean, Hemingway is my man. He’s the undisputed modern master of narrative for a reason — because the subject-action is really simple through the muscular maxim of direct language. And because of that, as a reader or a listener, you can participate and fill in the blanks on your own. It feels a little more personal to people because you are not spelling it out for them and being this frothy, emotional kind of thing, which really has no place in our music. It works for a lot of other bands, but it would [operate] in contrast to our music — which might be cool, too, but it's just not how I write. A lot of our songs start out meaning one thing, but as I start really digging into it, I’ll pick apart whether it should be in first, second or third person and try to make it as clear as possible.
The single, “I See You Are Also Wearing a Black T-Shirt,” is probably one of the most clear songs on the record, where you leave less room for ambiguity in what you're trying to say.
“Black T-Shirt” started out talking about this neighborhood in Atlanta where the bars and the venues are, and where a lot of people hanging out are sort of wearing a uniform — you know, the battle vests, etc. But you find out [that] behind the scenes, they are not really down with underground punk ethics. It’s just a uniform for them. That’s how that song started out, but when I really started digging into the writing, I grafted that idea onto suburbia and the people who are living this sort of two-dimensional life. We are all going to die, this all will end, and if you don’t think that counts, that’s on you. I thought, "What am I really trying to say here?" Because I can’t stand bands that just say things that sound cool, but don’t really mean anything. That just drives me insane, because I can hear it on them. I really don’t want to do that ever. So, I make a point of really digging into it, and it can be sort of upsetting because this stuff is not nice subject matter, but it's necessary for our music to work. We are not the type of band that will dazzle with our ability; it’s all about the intensity and emotional impact — without that, it ceases being interesting, I think.
I think the standout line for me is “a cul-de-sac is just a fancy word for a dead end street,” which is sort of the entire song’s message in one phrase.
If something can have a specific meaning and can be appreciated in one way, that’s great; but if you can layer it — like, I am a big Flannery O’Connor fan, and a lot of her stuff is super layered. You can read it from a storytelling perspective, but also from a Biblical perspective, a feminist perspective, and that’s not an accident. That’s why she is revered and, I think that, in time, she will be thought of the preeminent Southern writer, over Faulkner, because those layers are not an accident — if you are able to do that in an unpretentious way, it’s pretty gratifying, but it’s tricky.
Music videos are sort of a strange thing in today’s climate. What is your take on the place they have now where they are distributed almost solely online?
We had never made one until now. Not by choice, but we never chased it down either. I think it’s important. I mean, people like Riff Raff have made a career on making crazy videos, and I think that that is great. We haven’t messed with it until now, and that is mainly because we didn’t know who to trust with our band. The slightest thing can fuck shit up. Whitey McConnaughy, who directed it and was sort of connected through friends, messaged me on Facebook and said that he’d like to do a video for our band. I was like, "Who is this guy?" But I went and looked at his work and realized I knew all the videos he had done. So, he came to our show in Portland and we ended up meeting, and he ended up being a really cool dude who understands our band.
As mentioned, there is a clear narrative for the track. Was there a talk of doing a more narrative-style video or was that just not a desire, or maybe not in the budget?
Not in the budget. We had three of four different concepts, and Whitey is a really an idea guy. He sent us I don’t know how many short ideas, and fleshed out four or five of them. We wanted to do it and we had planned on doing it, but it got down to the point [that] when he was in town — and he didn’t realize how spread out Atlanta was — we didn’t have the time and decided to just do a performance video. We were even talking about doing some narrative stuff in Portland and editing it all together, but the problem is the song is only two and a half minutes long, so in order for us to have a cohesive narrative — not even a story arc, but some sort of resolution — we would have cut out so much of the performance that was pretty rad-looking. For our second video, we are going to do something more narrative.
After completing this tour, what’s next for Whores.?
We have Europe next year, which is not officially announced yet, and we will be doing that with another band with some kind of special shows. And then we are doing a full U.S. tour in the spring, and hopefully some festival stuff in the spring, and then another record.
WHORES on TOUR
Oct. 25 — Kansas City, MO @ The Record Bar w/ Bummer
Oct. 27 — Memphis, TN @ The Buccaneer Lounge
Nov. 18 — San Francisco, CA @ Slim's w/ Red Fang and Torche
Nov. 19 — Pomona, CA @ Glasshouse w/ Red Fang and Torche
Nov. 20 — Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom w/ Red Fang and Torche
Nov. 22 — San Diego, CA @ Casbah w/ Red Fang and Torche
Nov. 23 — Phoenix, AZ @ Rebel Lounge w/ Red Fang and Torche
Nov. 25 — Austin, TX @ Mohawk w/ Red Fang and Torche
Nov. 26 — Dallas, TX @ Three Links w/ Red Fang and Torche
Nov. 27 — Houston, TX @ Warehouse Studio w/ Red Fang and Torche
Nov. 29 — Atlanta, GA@ Masquerade (Hell) w/ Red Fang and Torche
Nov. 30 — Durham, NC @ Motorco w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 1 — Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 2 — Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 3 — Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 4 — Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 5 — New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 7 — Pittsburgh, PA @ Spirit Lounge w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 8 — Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 9 — Detroit, MI @ El Club w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 10 — Chicago, IL @ Metro w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 11 — Bloomington, IL@ Castle Theater w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 13 — Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 14 — Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 15 — Boise, ID @ Neurolux w/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 16 — Seattle, WA @ Showbox W/ Red Fang and Torche
Dec. 17 — Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom