You’re going to read a lot of articles writing up White Reaper as some speedily-tempoed smashing of psychedelic beach-pop boogie and melodically sweetened garage-punk. Or something like that.
“Well, we have never played inside of any garage,” says singer/guitarist Tony Esposito, setting that record straight. “I don’t know if that’s a bad thing … They also call us ’surf punk?’ We’ve never even seen a beach!”
You wouldn’t want to call it aggressive, despite their time signature being regularly set to rapid and their guitars slathered in a score of distortion. And you’re lured to evoke the beach because their fuzz-foamed, lo-fi aesthetic angles affect a sleek slide through cresting pipelines, (and all those handclaps set to the 4/4 time only add to the waxed fiberglass shine). But no. Maybe it’s something simpler?
“Everybody’s talking bout the new sound…” bassist Sam Wilkerson steadily speaks this with disguised sarcasm and not a hint of melody. “But it’s still rock n’ roll to me.” That being said, they certainly don’t sound like Billy Joel.
On tours, White Reaper’s van stereo plays a lot of ‘80s metal; the headbanging hair stuff like Judas Priest and early Metallica. But then they also sincerely dig the Top 40 pop stuff like Charlie XCX, or so they claim. “And, I feel like our music meets in between those two,” said Esposito. “It’s pretty poppy, but, there’s some shredding.”
Okay, forget surf-punk, perhaps it’d be best to call this Louisville quartet “barn rock” … but more on that in a bit.
Wilkerson’s brother, Nick (the drummer) started this group with Esposito back in college (Middle Tennessee University), just a 30 minute drive from Nashville. Now, kids, your parents will hate this next sentence. The pair dropped out of college after just one semester to follow their dream (i.e. start this rock band, with Sam joining on bass) and have since received considerable acclaim from their recent sets at SXSW, continuing to tour the country regularly while looking forward to a full-length album released on Polyvinyl, July 17, White Reaper Does It Again.
Last year, keyboardist Ryan Hater joined to augment their live shows, because the recordings prominently featured a fiery keyboard alongside that guitar. “I never played the keyboards before I joined this band,” admits Hater, another local from Louisville who has known the trio for a long time. “I can play a little bit of a lot of instruments. I’m bad at a lot of instruments.” But, he reiterates, he can still play … “a lot of instruments.”
So about that barn?
“Well,” Esposito says, “we are from Kentucky …” At this, the group shares a knowing chuckle, and the quip-off continues.
“(Nick & Anthony) started with these demos that were recorded on four-track inside a barn in this weird area,” says (Sam) Wilkerson. “Really minimal, drums and 3-string guitar and vocals. It sounded pretty cool. I then mentioned to them, multiple times, that I could play the bass …”
Esposito: “He begged …”
(Sam) Wilkerson: “Yeah, I begged … But, anyway. Our buddy owns a tree farm and a part of it had this little house, his living quarters at this crazy barn and it’s just him and nobody else around. Enough room, then, to hammer stuff out in the late hours of the day and early morning, for recording.”
White Reaper Does It Again was recorded by another Louisville local, producer Kevin Ratterman, known for his work with My Morning Jacket. The group said they enjoyed working in his “garage lodge.” Though they were anxious that their songs would be co-opted into an aesthetic known as “the Louisville-sound,” it still wound up maintaining their own signature style. “Scratchier, grittier,” Esposito says. “And more dynamic,” adds (Sam) Wilkerson.
Their six-song debut EP (also on Polyvinyl) is streaming on Spotify as well as set upon the merch table of every venue on their tour. They spent much of late 2014 co-headlining a tour with fellow Louisvillian punk/not-punk group Young Widows. They’re currently wrapping up a tour with Twin Peaks. Considering their tangible exuberance on a stage as well as their appetite for the road, it seems band life suits these young men quite well.
“There’s really just nothing else any of us could ever do,” Hater says. “We’re really incapable of doing anything else. I couldn’t do another job! Just incapable.” The group chuckles.
“We got home one time and we were walking around Louisville,” Esposito starts up an anecdote. “Walking down what’s essentially the main street and we were looking for hot dogs. Because we love hot dogs. We noticed, then, that there are no hot dogs in Louisville. Any other city we can go and just get hot dogs.”
This writer lets Esposito know about all of the Coney Island restaurants in his personal hometown of Detroit.
“And God bless Detroit for having all those Coney’s! We had to go to Skyline (KY) to get hot dogs and the hot dogs they gave us were as big as my thumb. So, we never really got hot dogs. So, I’m not sure if we really belong in Louisville, but then, I don’t know if we really belong anywhere other than in transition between place to place.” Esposito pauses then. “So I guess what we love most about touring is not staying in one place for too long. I dunno. It’s just fun to play shows. And to be able to find a good hot dog.”
(Sam) Wilkerson: “Why do we enjoy what we do so much?? And our answer was: hot dogs.”
This writer asked if they’ve learned any crucial lessons either from recording Does It Again or from their two considerably busy years spent touring.
Hater: “I’ve learned that I can drink 10 beers. But, 11 might be too many.”
Esposito: “You can’t pee in public!”
Hater: “And, hey, let’s talk again sometime. If we said anything that sounds weird, leave all of the grammar the same.”
(Sam) Wilkerson: “Yeah … we are from Kentucky … ”
White Reaper: Refined vocabulary, exceptional “garage/punk,” and appreciators of substantial hot dogs.
White Reaper Does It Again Tracklisting:
1. Make Me Wanna Die
2. I Don’t Think She Cares
4. On Your Mind
5. Last 4th of July
6. Alone Tonight
9. Friday the 13th
10. Wolf Trap Hotel
11. Don’t You Think I Know