Whitehorse destigmatizes sex work and shows love for sex columnist Dan Savage
Subway animals draped in dusty glam-rock shawls. These are accurate descriptors for the sound of husband and wife duo, Whitehorse.
Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet have come a long way from their respective solo careers and performing as hired guns for Sarah McLachlan’s touring band. The newest album Panther in the Dollhouse marks the band’s fourth album since its debut release in 2011.
With dirty southern blues guitar, harmonious vocals, and icy ‘80s synths, Whitehorse’s recent work isn’t afraid to call out big issues. Many of the songs deal with themes of sexual politics, specifically surrounding the female sex-worker profession.
“It wasn’t intentional on our part,” McClelland says. “Half way during the recording process, we realized there were a lot of complex female characters in the songs. So, it was obviously something that was bubbling on the surface of both of our minds.”
Both McClelland and Doucet are solitary when it comes to songwriting, so it’s interesting that themes of sexual politics became inspiration for the tracks.
“We will each have a batch of songs and the ones we both gravitate to we claim are Whitehorse songs,” McClelland says.
Themes of body politics have resonated in Whitehorse’s sound before. The song “Evangelina,” from the previous record Leave No Bridge Unburned, was inspired by the Terri-Jean Bedford case, where the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided to strike down the country’s anti-prostitution laws after Bedford and other retired sex workers fought for sex worker’s rights.
“It’s really a celebration song trying to destigmatize sex work,” McClelland says. “Evangelina is a superhero and the patron saint of the lonely heart.”
While Bedford and the sex workers were successful in changing the prostitution laws, the result was Bill C-36, a ruling that still paints a very grey area in relation to sex work.
“It’s one step forward and two steps back,” McClelland says. “It’s decriminalized but the laws around sex work are still criminalized. We absolutely think it should be a regulated line of work where women can be safe and there’s no shame around it.”
Whitehorse’s response to the dealings of Bill C-36 is Panther in the Dollhouse’s “Nighthawks,” a darker retro-psych song that is almost a sequel to “Evangelina.”
“It dives into the underbelly of that world when you push that work underground,” McClelland says. “When you criminalize it you create victims, perpetrators, and a dangerous environment for these women.”
The Canadian tour marks the first time Whitehorse will have a full band backing them. In the past, the couple has recreated each song by looping multiple instruments.
“It’s the biggest relief ever. We had fun with the looping rig for six years,” McClelland says. “It pushed us out of our comfort zones and we had to become better performers, but there was so much to focus on, though. If you missed one cue then everything could unravel and fall apart, so everyone was on the edge of their seats being like, ‘What’s going to happen?’”
Panther in the Dollhouse’s album release party in Toronto was not only the album’s debut, but also a breeding ground for discussion about sexual politics. Bedford, the champion for Canada’s sex workers, was in attendance as well as Dan Savage, a popular sex-advice columnist McClelland and Doucet have been influenced by.
“He’s a massive hero of ours,” McClelland says. “I’ve been reading his column forever. We listen to his podcast in the tour van all the time. I adore him. He’s obviously done a lot to destigmatize the way we think about sex with humour and candour. He had a live show of his Savage Lovecast series as part of the show. He’s constantly learning and we’re learning with him.”
Sat., Oct. 14 (8 pm)
Whitehorse w/ guests