Premiere: The Whiffs’ return with the power-pop of ‘Pretender’
On their third LP, Scratch ‘N’ Sniff, KC’s premiere purveyors of power-pop, the Whiffs, once again pack a plethora of punchy pathos into a baker’s dozen tracks. From chiming opener “It’s Not Over” all the way through the arena-ready anthem which is “Verlaine,” the quartet of Zach Campbell on bass and vocals, Rory Cameron on guitar and vocals, Jack Cardwell on drums, and Joey Rubbish on guitar and vocals has crafted yet another catchy set of tunes sure to set toes tapping.
With the release of Scratch ‘N’ Sniff via DIG! Records exactly one month away, we’re excited to premiere a track off the record, entitled “Pretender.” Hit play below and read about the process of making the record with Campbell and Cameron.
The Pitch: It seems as though lead vocal duties are spread out a little more on Scratch ‘N’ Sniff. Was that intentional, or just something that happened?
Zach Campbell: I’m not sure it was intentional, because if it was, I guess I would have noticed. I think on the last record, we had harmonies on basically every song. On the new record, I think we felt songs needed either huge harmonies or none at all. Sometimes maybe sneak a few in at the end and stuff like that. I think it’s just a thing that happens when you have three songwriters that have similar tastes in music; you know when to lay it on thick on each other’s songs, and you also know when to trim the fat.
Recording yourselves has taken a big leap on this album. What did moving out of the basement allow you to do?
Well, we left the basement and moved into a living room. We acquired, bought, and borrowed more gear than we had on the last record. Robbie Pope played a big hand in letting us use some really nice drum and bass mics etc. The last record, I think, we recorded on five mics. This one was a different story. We still wanted to record it ourselves because we wanted to keep that lo-fi energy even if it’s “bigger” sounding. Joey really does a great job of creating a personality for recordings, no matter how little or much he has at his disposal.
Given that you had ages to work on songs during the COVID lockdown, how did these songs change once you had a chance to play them in front of a crowd?
They got faster. When I listen to the record, I think, “Wow, we play these much faster live.” I think that’s just because when you’re in the studio, you are focused on the energy of the take vs. the energy of feeding off the crowd around midnight in a dive bar. Songs also morph the more you play them live. Sometimes I know I’ll do things differently vocally, and I hear Rory and Joey do the same or add a lick on the guitar. Jake also will come up with a killer drum fill that maybe wasn’t around yet when we did the studio take. All those things usually make me smile.
The Whiffs slow down a little bit on Scratch ‘N’ Sniff with “Won’t Go Away” and “Oh Well.” Are you hoping to get some slow dancing happening on the dance floor?
Well, someone told us there’s a lot of money to be made at weddings, and since it wasn’t the same liar that told us about the indie rock circuit, we thought we would give it a shot. You know, fool me once…
You all have always been fans of nodding to other songs in your music, and the Beat and Thin Lizzy get checked musically and lyrically on “Shot Through” and “Romeo,” respectively. How much fun is it to play with these references?
It’s a blast to play off of influences, especially because we have so many. I feel like sometimes the listener might think they have us pegged, and that’s fine. It probably wasn’t what we were nodding to overall. There are on-the-sleeve moments throughout any of our records. I could say that for any of my favorite records, though.
“Verlaine” is the perfect album closer, because it feels like a glimpse into the future of where The Whiffs are headed. Is this an accurate interpretation, and why or why not?
Maybe? I can definitely say there are going to be more moments like that on the next one, but there are probably going to be slower songs on the next one too. I think we’re always gonna sound like us, but it really depends on what comes out of us at that time. Who knows? The next record could be a New Wave record.
What’s the story behind “Pretender?”
Rory Cameron: This song is basically about that relationship with someone that’s been touch-and-go forever. They say all the things you want to hear from them and then don’t follow through with any of it. There isn’t a lot to the song lyrically, but maybe some deeper layers personally as to who I was thinking about while writing the tune.
There are a couple of references to other songs in here as well, namely “I’m a Pretender” by the Exploding Hearts that I turned on its head, but also a passing reference to “Surrender” by Cheap Trick. Coming up with the chord progression, I used a trick we tend to do frequently, which is a major chord, half step minor chord, full step minor chord, and then a full step to a major to resolve. Instead of shying away from being redundant, I leaned into it, which makes the sort of stuttering intro and outro chord progression of the song.
The Whiffs’ Scratch ‘N’ Sniff is out March 1 from DIG! Records.
The Lawrence release show for the record, with openers 95 Sweetbird and the Jackoffs, is at the Eighth Street Taproom on Friday, March 31. Details on that show here. The KC release show, with openers HEELS! and DJ Keenan Nichols spinning before, during, and after, is at the Ship on Saturday, April 1. Details on that show here.