Noise-rock trio Whores plays a complex balancing act, navigating a perilous tension between deafening savagery and poignant, catchy songwriting about self-destruction and exorcising internal demons. As outside praise escalates for the band's ear-splitting live performances, constant touring, and a snarling attitude spread across two EPs, the group is stepping up its game. This year, Whores' first full-length LP is in production, a ninth U.S. tour is on the calendar, and the group has landed a contract with the Agency Group — one of the country's largest booking agencies. "We just keep plowing," singer, guitarist, and frontman Christian Lembach says. "You can't go out with your hand out to someone and just say, 'Help us.'"
Formed in 2010, the Whores lineup features Lembach, bassist Jake Shultz (formerly of Norma Jean), and drummer Donnie Adkinson, who filled out the trio early in 2014 after Travis Owen was let go from the group. Owen now tours with Wilmington, N.C., sludge stoners Weedeater.
The following year, Whores signed on with Brutal Panda Records, a vinyl-only noise-rock label based in Philadelphia, to release the Ruiner EP. Last fall, they delivered a second EP titled Clean, six songs of dissonant, bass-driven grunge countered with tight, addictive songwriting that catapulted the group to the attention of national music publications such as SPIN and Pitchfork. "My body is a bullet/My life is a gun in my hand," Lembach howls on "Baby Bird," where shattering pop melodies combine with riffs to create head-banging energy.
"Even though our band seems so angry and ugly, I'm a really hopeful person," Lembach says. "We want to be everything. We want to be super heavy, but also quiet. ... While we're doing this super loud, yelly feedback music, we also want to have substance."
"Whores" isn't the most offensive band name out there (Perfect Pussy or DJ Dog Dick anyone?), but the name has given the group some trouble. "Whores" is meant to be taken as a comment on a haves versus have-nots society, but some find it distasteful. "We get a lot of shit for our name," Lembach says, referring to a recent incident where the group was denied a tour bill due to its name. But Lembach has no intention of pandering to anyone. "Changing our name so our band could get 'further' would be an affront to everything I stand for," Lembach says. "It's non-negotiable. I'd rather get a dialogue/debate going than walk away because of frustration."
This summer, Whores will have a song on the newly revived Dope, Guns 'N Fucking in the Streets 7-inch series devised by Minneapolis' Amphetamine Reptile Records (AmRep), the noise/punk label headed by Tom Hazelmyer and best known for its ties to grunge icons such as Mudhoney and the Melvins. "About a year ago, Tom Hazelmyer bought one of our records," Lembach says. After getting an email from Hazelmyer a year later asking if the group wanted to be a part of the rebooted series, Whores wrote and recorded "Bloody Like the Day You Were Born" in 48 hours. The first of the series is due to be released this summer.
Live, Whores is best known for its riotous, precise performances filled with seditious lyrics and plenty of feedback. "We played many, many shows with very few people there," Lembach says. "But people here started noticing our band when other people in other towns started paying attention to us, and when we really started taking chances. Eventually we'll be playing longer sets and releasing longer records. It's all a calculated trajectory."
For Lembach, recent praise is a result of the group's DIY work ethic. "It's not coming to you," Lembach says. "You have to go out and get it."EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated.