Creating experimental rock music is always a risky endeavor. Listeners either get it or they don’t, and it can be a hard product to sell. Lancaster-based band, Whats Her Face can pull it off with grace. Unique in the local indie-rock scene, they are a synthesizer-based rock band that offers more than cookie-cutter progressive rock.
Few bands today are able to capture the spirit of the new wave movement without seeming outdated, but Whats Her Face rises to the occasion. Incorporating pieces of ’80s pop with an original style of spacy rock n’ roll, Whats Her Face understands what people need in a new era of music—a blend of danceable songs with catchy hooks and rock music that makes you feel like you’re in another dimension. The guitar-less three-piece band features singer and keyboardist Emily Siegrist, bassist Arvin Alston, and drummer Joe McDonald.
Partlynew wave influenced and partly reminiscent of the electroclash phase of the ’90s and early 2000s, Whats Her Face diverges into its own style, unable to be pigeon-holed in any classic genre.
“I still haven’t seen anything like my band, ever,” says McDonald.
Though they are all fans of artists like Gary Numan and Joy Division, founding members Siegrist and Alston allowed their team effort of creating a new musical project to evolve organically, without trying to be an exact replica of any of their inspirations.
“When we started out it was just Emily-Arvin music,” says Siegrist.
Their unusual rock sound evolved into something more solid, with Siegrist writing melodies and Alston adding complementary bass lines. Sensing something was missing, Siegrist began playing with her Casio keyboard plugged into a distortion petal to attain a grungier sound, and they used a drum machine to add more depth. Eventually, they found McDonald, whose punk rock background added an edgy backbone to their sound, widening their appeal to rock n’ rollers. Used to following guitars in his previous punk rock bands, it was initially a challenge for McDonald to meld his drumming skills into the band, but after a couple of practices, he found his niche, and since then the three of them have been maturing their distinctive sound. It is this peculiar sound that has earned them a budding fan-base in Philadelphia and caught the attention of venues in Brooklyn, and New Jersey.
When Whats Her Face debuted two years ago, Siegrist and Alston were still searching for a practice space that would be more fitting to make music in than Siegrist’s bedroom. A whole new world opened up for them when they found a music studio at the radio station We Love Art Now and began renting it.
“The seed was started at We Love Art Now,” says Alston.
Not only did they use it as a practice space, but they began hosting weekly open mic nights and organizing shows. We Love Art Now became a hot spot in Lancaster for music lovers to come and enjoy hearing local talent. It paved the way for artists to be heard for the first time, which allowed Whats Her Face to connect with other bands and ignite a creative community.
“When I would see other bands come in and play it boosted my motivation,” claims Siegrist. “It really inspired me.”
It was at We Love Art Now that Whats Her Face found their initial audience. For them, it was the beginning of a new era.
Whats Her Face’s lyrics are as fascinating as the music. As the chief lyricist, Siegrist continually uses the songs to document her dreams – especially her nightmares.
“About 95 percent of the songs are about really weird dreams I’ve had,” she says.
Often these dreams are apocalyptic in nature. With all the intensity of David Lynch films, songs like “Lava Cakes” take the listener on a nightmarish journey into the dreamer’s psyche. “Wake me up!” Siegrist sings with desperation in her voice, “in case I’m not sleeping…in case I’m not breathing…in case I’m not dreaming.”
Their upcoming EP, set to be released this month, will include new songs such as “Key Drip,” in which the theme of apocalyptic nightmares continues. “Is this the future that is calling me?/Is the world going to end just like I can see?”
However, not all their songs are about Siegrist’s surreal dream life. Fan favorite “Looking Up At The Hill,” is the emotional recollection of Siegrist’s teenage self, crying while pedaling her bicycle as fast as she could down a hill at the bottom of her childhood home and reflecting on a tense moment in her household. As she stops at the bottom, she looks up at the hill and imagines a happier reality. “Could my mind start to spill with a happy thought in my delusion?/As a matter of fact I would say I wish it was today.”
With the growing attention they are garnering, Whats Her Face’s future is looking bright. Their new EP promises to be tighter as they solidify their sound—evidence of the band’s growth since their debut album almost two years ago. Their goal for the band is simply to continue making music, for as long as they enjoy doing it. Making art for its own sake is the most important thing to them and they intend to ride it out as long as they’re having a good time.
As McDonald puts it, “I just really want to keep playing music with the band and see where this goes.”
Pressing on with the heart of their unique music thus far, their new songs promise to be distinctively bold, thought-provoking and strange, but undoubtedly fun.
Whats Her Face plays The Seed in Lancaster on December 12 and Bube’s Brewery in Mount Joy on December 19.