Concert preview: Noise-rock trio Whores comes Clean

  • Chad Hess photo
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From the March 20, 2014 edition

Atlanta trio Whores knew it was limiting its potential audience when it settled on its name.

Even so, singer/guitarist Christian Lembach said he was initially caught off-guard when a potential summer tour offer was rescinded after a corporate sponsor blanched at having its brand associated with the group.

“It was going to be a really big opportunity for us [to tour] with two bands we’re really big fans of, and now it’s not happening because of our name,” said Lembach, 41, reached at his home in Atlanta for an early March phone interview. “Also, last year there was someone from a late night talk show that was interested in our band … and the parent company of the network, same thing, wanted to stay the heck away from us because they didn’t want any blowback. It’s really unfortunate, and it’s really biting us in the ass lately.”

Regardless, the metal-leaning crew has, at least up until this point, resisted any urge to adopt a new name ― a decision made partially out of stubbornness (“There are situations I won’t budge on,” the frontman said) and partially because changing the moniker in the hopes of furthering its career would go against the ethos that led the mates to label themselves Whores in the first place.

“We have a philosophy behind the name as far as the way things are set up in modern life and how you have to subjugate yourself to whatever system you’re working in in order to have any kind of success in it,” Lembach said. “And I’m not sure if changing the name would be an admitting defeat kind of thing or not.”

Fortunately Whores sounds miles from surrender on its sophomore effort, Clean, which surfaced in the fall of 2013. The songs are universally brutal and ominous, projecting the same sinewy, sinister vibe as Robert De Niro’s tattooed ex-con in Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear.” “Baby Bird” kicks the proceedings off with an asphalt-cracking riff far heavier than the song’s fragile title might suggest, and “I Am Not a Goal Oriented Person,” finds Lembach snarling, “You’re making it harder to be a gentleman,” as the band impolitely lays waste to its surroundings.

“I knew we were going to get a little more attention from this record than we did from the first one, so I thought it was really important for us to come out really lean, really muscular and really no-nonsense,” the singer said. “Eventually I’d like the band to branch out and do a bunch of different things sonically, but I think it was important for us at this stage to just blast really hard.”

Growing up, Lembach always felt a musical kinship with the similarly primordial sounds emerging from the punk and hardcore scenes dominated by bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat. While he loved Van Halen “un-ironically and absolutely” as a teenager, the band’s music sometimes felt foreign and inapproachable to someone who had a relatively modest skillset on guitar in those early days.

“I never thought for a second I’d be able to learn how to play ‘Eruption,’ so I never even tried,” he said. “Bands before were up on this pedestal, and it felt like they were from another planet. After [discovering punk] it was like, ‘I can hear what they’re doing. I can play those songs.’ It really was liberating.”

From there, Lembach, who was born to an entomologist father and an office worker mother, moved on to more abrasive sounds, immersing himself in the early ’90s noise-rock scene driven by the likes of Jesus Lizard, Shellac, Melvins and Unsane ― all of which, said the singer, exert an almost planetary pull on Whores’ music today. Still, Lembach noted even the group’s most pulverizing tunes exhibit a classic song structure.

“I really try to write songs, not just riffs, so I need to have a verse and a chorus to really anchor things,” he said. “It’s like some campfire song, but it’s loud as shit.”