For White Lung — the mostly female Vancouver punk quintet, which cut one of 2012’s most intense LPs in the Deranged-released Sorry — the lazy journalism narrative writes itself. “Girl power,” the obvious headline might read. “If you were thinking these stud-and-leather clad fillies were the Spice Girls,” the lead would open, “then think again.” Stuff in a few misplaced Olympia references (as in, “Kathleen Hanna would be proud”) and a Judith Butler quote and boom! Easy money.
It’s the fem-centric story I could’ve written. And it’s a story White Lung singer Mish Way, a writer for Vice, Noisey and occasionally Fast Forward Weekly, has penned, too. “You understand that [female-centred] branding and marketing, and how people digest stuff,” says Way. “I get tired of it, but I understand why it happens. I do it, too, sometimes — I wrote this story about [Nashville garage act] Heavy Cream that was about ‘the ladies of Heavy Cream.’
“But it bothers me when it becomes the only thing people identify with. We get riot grrl references all the time, and it was one of the first movements that got me into heavy music. But we don’t sound riot grrl at all.”
And that, likely, is the product of careless music criticism — or the inability to see past White Lung’s collective vajays. “It’s only annoying when it gets categorical and defines what you’re doing creatively,” adds Way. “Like, female artist, female musician, female poet. I don’t want to be in the best female punk band, I want to be the best punk band regardless of my gender. You know?”
Way’s not being arrogant, here — in fact, White Lung, which just completed a tour with critic-adored hardcore act Ceremony, has been in plenty best-of conversations. (Exclaim!, for instance, voted their previous LP, It’s The Evil, as 2010’s top punk album.) And while it introduced the world to Way and co.’s brand of East Hastings-filthy metallic punk rock, Sorry feels like Evil on a belly full of Adderall: It’s faster, harder, filthier. It’s focused, frenetically cramming razor-sharp riffage, scream-shouted lyrics and seamless transitions in two-minute bursts. And it’s White Lung’s most accessible — and strangely, poppy — effort yet. Intentionally so.
“When we were writing, we didn’t want any filler. We threw a lot of things away. We only kept 10 songs — and they had to be perfect,” says Way. “We wanted to make a record that was hard, aggressive, unforgiving. But we worked hard to have more strong, catchy melodies.”
At that, Sorry succeeds. And it’s earned consensus, perhaps, because it’s easy for fans and critics to project their own tastes, influences and eras on White Lung’s densely layered songs. Riot grrl devotees, as Way pointed out, could identify notes of Kathleen Hanna’s aggressive vocal delivery in “Glue.” Those attracted to minor-key, demonic hardcore could easily identify with “Those Girls.” Flipped-brim thrash shitheads could easily skate to “Thick Lip.” Music history buffs could find post-punk texturing in White Lung’s arrangements. Riff worshippers could marvel at guitarist Kenny William’s dexterity and inventiveness.
“He’s pretty plain. He has zero pretensions and he does his own thing, and it’s one of the things I like about him,” says Way. “He wears these stiff blue jeans, and this Häagen-Dazs shirt his dad gave him.”
And when we ask her about William’s penchant for remixing pop songs — he’s been known to rewrite guitar lines in, say, Ke$ha songs, improving them to his own whims — Way responds with this: “Kenny’s a little genius, but he isn’t a cool hotshot idiot.”
It’s a comment telling of White Lung’s understated brilliance. As essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote in his book Pulphead, nine of 10 virtuosos, if given the chance to perform original music, choose to play something terrible; White Lung, for their musical abilities and evident archival punk rock knowledge, never egregiously flaunt either. Sorry isn’t hyphen-punk, nor is it girl rock, nor is it post-anything. It is, quite simply, punk rock.
Which, Way notes, shouldn’t be overcomplicated.“We just try to be interesting, new and inventive,” she says. “And that’s just how we write songs.”