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Whips' Wild 'Ride' is Worth the Wait

Apr. 4, 2017
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Illustration by Melissa Lee Johnson

A lot can happen in three years. It’s enough time to elect a new president, legalize same-sex marriage and witness more than a few major celebrity deaths. It’s also enough time for a band to find success, step away from the spotlight and figure out what their next step is.

For Whips, the last three years have been full of changes that inevitably influenced their second full-length album, The Ride. The four-piece garage rock outfit consists of vocalist Ashley Smith, guitarist Christian Hansen, bassist Tyler Chicorel and drummer Andy Mrotek. 

The band is something of a Milwaukee supergroup. In the mid-2000s, Smith and Hansen played together in art-punk band Red Knife Lottery. After opening slots for bands like Paramore, the band called it quits in 2010. Hansen maintained his presence on the Milwaukee music landscape playing guitar in Fever Marlene and Hot Coffin. In late 2012, he approached Mrotek, of the famed pop-punk group The Academy Is…, to drum for a new project. Fellow veteran Chicorel (of Space Raft and Call Me Lightning) was enlisted to play bass after Hansen asked former bandmate Smith to sing.

In October 2013, the band released their debut EP, Year One. The five-song track list foreshadowed Whips’ signature rock sound. Though the band has only three instrumentalists, they have a knack for creating extremely full-sounding songs. Of course, Smith’s voice acts as an instrument of its own—deep, loud and impossible to ignore. The band’s sound is rooted in melodic punk and garage rock, often yielding comparisons to early Yeah Yeah Yeahs. 

After finding success with Year One, they released their first full-length album, Turn It On, at the end of 2014. Post-release, the band laid pretty low. Their shows have been few and far between, and they plan their sporadic performances with audience appreciation in mind. Rarely do their gigs fail to pack venues with large, excited crowds. Their Milwaukee fan base has only continued to grow in size. At the same time, the band has grown in life experience.

The musicians are all in their early 30s—pivotal years that tend to be turning points in young adults’ lives. This tendency is no exception for the members of Whips. Smith followed her longtime dream of opening vintage store Alive and Fine. Mrotek got married. Chicorel found success with his non-Whips projects, including playing a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders with Space Raft.

The time not completely devoted to the band was time well spent. After a three-year wait, Whips finally released their long-awaited second album, The Ride. Smith says that the band’s growth period has definitely impacted the album thematically. “We’ve all had so many personal life changes in those three years,” she explains. “I think we’ve all grown as people, and with that, as a band. Like any relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs. I think you can hear all of that on The Ride.” 

Whips maintain their irresistible garage rock sound on The Ride. Their playing has only become even sharper and more refined, a feat for a group of musicians who have been around the block plenty of times. The first single, “Goldmine,” is everything fans love about Whips: a heavy dose of rock ’n’ roll pairing fast and loud drumbeats with Smith’s raucous vocals.

“I would say the underlying themes of ‘Goldmine’ are definitely revisited on other songs. It’s a ripper, and sometimes you wanna come in hot,” says Smith about the album’s lead single. “I feel like every song has its own identity and equal place within the album.”

The group’s sound remains so consistently sharp because they work very well together, both as musicians and as a songwriting team. They pen songs together instead of relying on one primary songwriter. After the barebones are complete, the song idea is recorded and Smith works on refining the lyrics. 

On “Testify,” the band experiments with varying song structures. “It is the most diverse in terms of geography,” says Mrotek. Clocking in at almost five minutes, the alternate arrangements add dimension to the track. “Ms. Terry” is the poppiest track on the album, highlighting both Smith’s vocal chops and Hansen’s guitar abilities.

“There are some real rockers and some slow burns on The Ride,” explains Smith. “I don’t know if that is distinctly different from Turn It On. It’s hard to be objective on my end. Every song has its own individual life and vibe. The Ride is a similar collection [of songs], but more mature.”

Whips play an album release show on Friday, April 7 at 9 p.m. at the Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave. The band will be joined by Slow Walker and Surgeons in Heat.


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