Press Photo of Whips

Q&A: Art-Punk Band Whips Revs its Engine on New Supercharged Album

The local band celebrates the release of sophomore record ‘The Ride’ at Cactus Club on Friday, April 7.

Foolhardiness is often mistaken for brashness in music. While the recklessness in the songs of local art-punk band Whips ostensibly feels palpable, a firm grasp of the wheel never seems to waver. The group’s latest album, The Ride, exhibits that tight grip on seeming disarray, careening toward the guardrail without scratching the edges of the car. Before the record release show at Cactus Club on Friday, April 7, we caught up with the band to find out about its favorite new song to play live and whether the members embody the group’s daredevil attitude.

It’s been more than two years since the release of full-length debut, Turn It On. What’s been up in the meantime?

Christian Hansen (guitarist): A lot. I’ve been back in school, currently finishing my second year in becoming a biomedical equipment technician (also writing for a new Hot Coffin album). Singer Ashley Smith opened a vintage store, Alive and Fine, in Bayview. Drummer Andy Mrotek has been wood-burning and creating custom designs for the SJC Custom Drums (he also got married), and bassist Tyler Chicorel has been doing some serious work at Bayview’s Vanguard Bar (place rules) as well as in his other musical project, Space Raft.

What was the first song you wrote from The Ride?

CH: First song we wrote I believe was “Come On.” It was in the pocket of the first three—“Come On,” “Nobody’s Fool,” and “Medium.”

The Ride works at breakneck pace that rarely lets up. Did that make crafting a restrained song like “Nobody’s Fool” a bigger challenge?

CH: No challenge at all. This band is completely built on mood within a moment. I recall this track starting out based upon the low-E plus tom-tom thunk and then forward processed into its shimmery glazed habits.

Has the band’s approach to songwriting changed as the sound evolves?

CH: Our chemistry foundation stays rooted all the same throughout every writing session. Riff and rhythm is always part one. Andy, Tyler, and myself all have very percussive brains. Riff/tempo/vibe kick off and we formulate connective musical tissue to mold it together.

There’s a daredevil mentality in the music of Whips—not only because your songs are such scorchers but also the lyrical material displays a similar daring spirit, as well. On “Testify” you seem to be tempting fate (“You say jump/ I’m ready to jump”) and on Turn It On track “Right On” you sing about Evel Knievel. Do you see that reckless mindset as an escape through the music, or would you say the band members are similar thrill seekers in real life?

Ashley Smith (singer): I can’t speak for the rest of the band, but I would say that music is just one of many thrills. I love fast bikes, allegedly haunted hotels, and digging through people’s garbage to find treasure.  But the thrill of writing and performing music is the most daring of these because it absolutely feels reckless at times. It’s vulnerable and raw.

I’ve always been a big fan of hearing you play “Right On” live. Is there any particular song from The Ride that you love playing to a crowd?

CH: We just performed “Testify” for the first time on WMSE 91.7 FM’s Local/Live on Tuesday night. It’s my personal fav on the album, and performing it has been a real nice time.

What are the plans for the future?

CH: After our release show at Cactus Club on Friday, April 7, we’re going to support Arte Para Todos and perform with our pals Midnight Reruns for their album release at Mad Planet on Saturday, April 29.

After that we’ve got some festivals booked—Summer Soulstice, Locust Street Festival, etc. We’ve begun tinkering around; I don’t think the next thing we record will be too far away in the future.

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Kevin is a freelance writer residing in Milwaukee. He’s contributed to The Shepherd Express, Third Coast Daily, Pop Matters and the sadly now-defunct A.V. Club Milwaukee. He looks forward to forging a deeper connection with the city’s impressive music scene during his gig as a Music Notes blogger. His talents include music criticism, riding a bicycle, drinking tasty beers and a crafty croquet swing. His weaknesses comprise Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, professional wrestling and his ever-growing record collection. He’s in desperate need to find more physical (and hard drive) space for the exceptional albums Milwaukee musicians keep churning out.