Atlanta, GA-based noise rock outfit Whores. approach composition like a butcher approaches a carcass: without pity, but efficiently, with strength and blades. Whatever subject they tackle is neatly and mercilessly fileted, presented with a kind of disarming, visceral honesty. Paired with a reputation for confrontational, intensely cathartic live shows, their reputation quickly preceded them.
Their debut release, Ruiner, was a vicious piece of musical vivisection, cutting up and laying out what Whores. saw as the corruption of the world around them: greed, selfishness, violence. On their latest release, Clean, they turn their scalpels inward, showing themselves the same kind of brutal conceptual dissection as their have perpetrated on any subject that comes under their knives. While the evils of the outside world are still implicated and lashed out against, Clean also looks to dig out the demons within, to root out the same elements of hypocrisy that the band see around them. The result is a record that is honest and vulnerable as it is brutal, as much about personal failure and struggle as the bleakness of the outside world. Yet for all it's raw agony and the barren vision of the future, Clean has a twisted note of hopefulness to it: there is something still worth bleeding for.
You're working 12-hour days at the moment, an incredibly punishing schedule. How do you find time to continue to be creative under that workload?
Vocalist/guitarist Christian Lembach: I don't know. I'm still pretty exhausted. I chose this life so the band could tour. I've actually been living and working in Brooklyn for the past few months, so being away from ATL for so long has been rough. I lived and worked in Philly for about half of last year as well. I brought a guitar, practice amp and baby pedal board up here, and I try to play as much as I can. I also buy a ton of records.
What is your songwriting process like? All of your songs, first on Ruiner and now on Clean, seem to have cohesive narratives to them, almost like short stories. What inspires you?
As far as the process, I usually come in with a riff or two and we sort of try to find a counterpoint. Then we record the riffs, I take the recording home, and work on the arrangement and words. A lot of times, what we thought was the verse is actually the chorus or bridge or whatever. Sometimes I'll come in with a song that is practically done, as far as the components, but I feel it's always better to sort of throw it against the wall repeatedly to see what it's really made of. All writing should be a process. That takes time.
As far as themes or narratives, I've been through a whole bunch in my life so far. Without getting too personal, I try to come from a place of realness. If I'm not genuinely feeling something, I certainly can't expect to transmit authenticity if it isn't actually there. That's pretty important to me. Tapping into a real emotion is the bottom line for me. Everything else should serve that. I keep a little pretentious notebook with me and write down phrases, themes and song titles all the time. Then when the time comes to write words for songs, I have something to pull from and at least a starting point. A lot of our song titles start as jokes. Some of those titles stick and I write words around that theme. Sometimes it's just a working title. I also read a lot.
I remember reading in an interview that the title of your debut, Ruiner, came from a nickname, that you "enjoy tearing things down." This comes across on Ruiner, but on Clean it feels very much like you are now building something.
Well I guess Ruiner was meant as a sort of statement of purpose. Clean is more about getting weird and spreading out a bit; seeing where we go from here. I can't wait to do the next one, which I hope will have elements of both. I already have a handful of songs that we've never even played yet.
While Ruiner seemed to involve a lot of negative energy directed outwards, there is something self-deprecating, or maybe even self-harming about Clean, as though that energy is now being directed inwards as well. There's something more internal and critical about the record.
I don't know about the self-harm stuff, but I do know that I want to be a better man, and that takes work. I want this band to be better. I want to take it as far as humanly possible. I want my life to have direction and meaning. I want to have a life worth living. I want to connect with other people in a real way. I feel like this band has the potential to be something really special.
The overriding idea behind Clean is a sort of rebirth. I feel like a lot of times it's important to destroy something to see what it's really made of. Then you take stock, try and learn something and start over. Does that make sense? I can be really hard on myself and the people I care about. And that is really because I know that we are capable of some kind of greatness, transcendence even. Music is the highest form of communication. It's sacred to me. I know that sounds super pretentious, but I don't care. It can make people feel something just by being exposed. We owe it to the people who like our band to deliver on that promise. We owe it to them.
What do you see as your creative progression between Ruiner and Clean? How have Whores. progressed?
It's hard to really comment on that, as I've heard all the songs on both records a billion times. I'm certainly not interested in being like, "it's the heaviest thing ever," or some nonsense like that. I hate when I read that kind of stuff that bands are supposed to say. It's just lame. This record is almost like a regression. I'm trying to distil what we do. Let me just say this: We start and end our set with walls of feedback and one note. Every song I write is chasing that feeling.
Your approach to noise rock is one that precisely balances the acerbic, confrontation and difficult aspects of the genres with a deep, grooving catchiness. How to you manage this tension between musical seduction and repulsion?
Ha. Well, that's very flattering, and it's also a very deliberate strategy. I often say that there is no mountain without the valley. The mountain literally does not exist without the valley. I like the Pixies a lot. But I also like the Birthday Party.
Your live shows have gained a reputation for their intensity. What leads you to express such virulent emotion on stage?
I remember seeing arena rock bands when I was a kid, and I could tell, even at like 13 years old, that they were phoning it in. I never want to do this if my heart is not in it. It's really taxing physically, but it matters. I don't think of myself as an entertainer. I can't speak for the rest of the band, but this is not vaudeville for me. The songs we play come from the heart. Which is incidentally why I don't sing about wizards or dragons.
What are your future plans regarding more recording and touring?
I'm flying home next week to play our Atlanta release show on October 19, at the Basement, and to record a song for a split single that should be out before the end of the year. After that, we have a release show in New York City on November 22 at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, as well as a few other release shows in other cities in the North East. We're talking to a few different agencies and promoters about package tours next year both in the states and Europe. We're ready to go.