A Whore by Any Other Name:
Christian Lembach Ponders Fame, Fortune, Infamy and the Dreaded W Word
Music, any music, is grounded in a set of sonic structural conventions that we don’t necessarily think about so much – but they affect us more or less the same way every time. The average rock song is a lot like a story – with a predictable narrative arc. It begins with an “exposition” section, basically an initial passage where the main riff is laid down and the listener figures out the key of the song. Then there’s some kind of “conflict” passage, a key change and/or a different riff – or several different riffs, for that matter. Finally, there’s a “resolution” passage (generally a repeated chorus-to-refrain) where the song goes full circle – a return to initial riff. Repeat as necessary and bang/zoom, you’ve got a rock song.
As listeners, we make umpteen unspoken cognitive connections as we hear music. And again, this is stuff we don’t think about so much. A major chord conveys happiness and stability, whereas minor chords evoke sadness and/or menace. Quiet passages evoke a sense of contemplation, while loud passages connote action, aggression and anger. And so on. In these ways, sounds symbolize ideas and emotions. So what else is new?
Some bands are fucking loud. And when crushing riffs are amplified to mega volumes, it’s likely that the accompanying lyrics will be about some kind of aggression or (self)destruction, even.
This leads us to a kind of chicken and egg quandary. Do musicians write angry, aggressive lyrics to match heavy riffs, or do they make heavy riffs to accompany angry, aggressive lyrics?
Atlanta-based Whores. (The moniker includes the period. So get ready for some weird punctuation throughout this screed.) is one of those fucking loud bands. And to say that Whores. deliver sick, heavy riffs is the understatement of the year. These guys hammer it down with machine-like precision every damned time.
“We spend months and months on riffs – on chord progressions and bridges and choruses and figuring out what the intro is – figuring out the structure of the song before there are any words for it,” says Whores. guitarist/vocalist/auteur Christian Lembach. “Then, when we get the words, we’ll sort of alter the arrangement of the song to fit the lyrics. Things sort of change once you introduce words. But people usually fixate on the words for obvious reasons – it’s the most relatable thing. And the lyrics are very important to me. I can’t really sing about something if it’s not meaningful to me personally.
“A lot of our song titles start out as like jokes – or just ridiculous phrases,” Lembach continues. “And then I’ll write lyrics inside of the box we made with the title. Sometimes we name a song sort of by the way the song sounds. I like to name the song first. Even if the name is kind of funny, I end up writing serious stuff. It changes once I start digging into it.”
And Whores. really do dig in. The band’s recently released debut full-length album, Gold. (Brutal Panda), is a testament to the power of The Mighty Riff, a ten-song (jack)hammer-fest that is comparable to (but not necessarily derivative of) Helmet, Eyehategod, early Sabbath or maybe a little of that weirder stuff like the Melvins, Cows or The Jesus Lizard. You know, this is rock ’n’ roll manstuff.
This brings us to the generic contradictions that plague the band. Is Whores. a noisy band? Yeah. Is Gold. a heavy album? Hell yeah. So, does this mean that Whores. should be classified as heavy metal or (worse yet, methinks) as “noise rock?” Uh, no. Beneath all the Whores.’ bombast (and there’s plenty of that) is music: strong, memorable, hook-laden songs – with melodies, even. And they’re catchy as hell.
“I grew up listening to The Pixies and PJ Harvey and stuff that’s real heavy on the verse/chorus/verse, loud/quiet/loud thing,” explains Lembach. “And that kind of structure is something that a lot of people don’t get when they see our band because they just hear the volume and see the spectacle of us jumping around like crazy people. So they latch onto the volume and the aggression – maybe without hearing that there’s a song under there. I mean, obviously I love riffs. But, ultimately, it’s about the songs.”
The lyrics, well, they certainly fit the songs. This is to say that they’re sarcastic, provocative, bitter and angry. So, does this mean that Lembach is one of those angry men?
“I wouldn’t consider myself an angry person but I consider myself a serious person,” says Lembach. “I’m lucky to have the band to kind of vent this stuff. I think more than being an angry person, I’m kind of a sensitive person. And that comes out as aggression or frustration – but it’s really because things affect me, just day-to-day stuff. You can only take so much stuff until you snap. And I’ve got the good fortune to be able to express those things in a healthy way. I end up being a happy person because I’ve got the pressure valve of doing this band.”
Still, the “angry man” thing has dogged the band. This perception is exacerbated, of course, by their chosen moniker. It’s kind of funny, actually. A name like “Whores.” probably wouldn’t have caused quite so much of a stir in either the ’80s proto-hardcore period or the (ostensibly, at least) more enlightened/sensitive grunge era. But these days, having a name like Whores. is, well, it’s a problem.
“When we decided we were going to name the band, we maybe didn’t realize that people were going to react to it so negatively and really completely misinterpret where we were coming from,” explains Lembach. “I don’t like it when any form of art is kind of ladled into my brain. I want to parse it out myself. I was thinking that particularly with the underground that we’ve come up through, that people would do a little more investigating before just assuming that we’re this horrible misogynistic, hateful thing with the name – when really we’re calling ourselves that. But the nuance is lost on a lot of people and they just react to a gut level thing.
“I didn’t really consider that it [the name Whores.] would end up being as big of a deal as it is,” Lembach continues. “But we’re stuck with it. It’s too late for us to change our name. And if we were to change it, it would sort of fly in the face of what the songs and the band is all about. It would be a cop out. It’s unfortunate. Because people immediately assume, because of the name, that we’re these crummy people. It would be nice if we were to reach kind of a saturation point where when people heard the name, they’d just think of the band instead of the name and what its meanings might be.”
Despite all the aforementioned roadblocks, Whores. are a band on the brink. Gold. is reaping scads of critical praise, the crowds are getting bigger, and the band is getting high profile tours. Whores. are currently on tour with Red Fang and Torche until Xmas. Then, in January there’s a European tour with a major, as-yet-unannounced tour mate. And then, Whores. will headline a nationwide U.S. tour. The pace is relentless. But this hard work is all part of the plan to turn the Whores. project into a viable career.
“We would like to do the band and only do the band,” explains Lembach. “So when we come off the road, we’d basically just go to band practice as our job. We would like for it to be full time. And right now, we’re getting close to full time. It’s probably about 70/30 right now.
“We really want to just get it to the point where we can focus on the band exclusively,” Lembach continues. “I don’t want to have these pipe dreams. But I think that’s a reasonable goal. If we can just get there, everything else is like a bonus.
“We all love music so much. I mean, I love going to band practice. I’m there early. I look forward to it. I’m absolutely obsessed with it and I think about it all the time. Having the opportunity to actually do it is super exciting. It really feels like, at the risk of sounding sort of pretentious, it really feels like I’m sort of fulfilling my purpose. It’s awesome. I love it.”
So, what we have here is the good old American bootstrap narrative, right? Well, not exactly. The Whores. story is a success story. But the band is not burdened with the delusion that riches and celebrity are just around the proverbial corner. Pimpin’ ain’t easy. But let a ho be a ho (sorry, I can’t help myself).
As William S. Burroughs famously said, “Beware of whores who say they don’t want money: These are the most expensive whores that can be had.” Lembach and Co., however, are honest enough to say they do want money. They just want to ply their trade for a reasonable rate of compensation – honest pay for an honest job.
Still, purveying noisy, aggressive rock in a provocatively named band for limited fame and minimal profit is a tough job. Being a provocateur has its risks. And Lembach has learned a few tough lessons along the way.
“My default setting is to talk shit – just for sport,” explains Lembach. “But I’m learning.
“The band is my platform,” Lembach continues. “And I’ve learned that talking shit doesn’t really serve our band.
“There are two other people in this band whose lives and livelihoods are dependent on this band. So I’ve learned to kind of keep my mouth shut a little bit,” he says, laughing. “It’s a hard thing to do, you know? Because, like, I grew up in in punk and skateboarding cultures – it’s sort of an antagonistic philosophy. And I absolutely love that – it’s not a bad thing. But, you know, you reach a certain point in life where you realize that you don’t have to say every single thing that you think, point blank. I just think it, and then move on. That’s a hard lesson to learn.”
Photo. by. Chad. Hess.
Whores. will open for Red Fang and Torche on Tuesday, Nov. 29th at Masquerade, wherever it happens to be at that point.