There’s no mistaking Louisville, Kentucky for any sort of new music mecca. The South is decidedly less concerned with keeping up with fleeting cultural trends, and Louisville lacks the kind of tastemaker cache that’s made places like Brooklyn and Austin perfect nesting spots for legions of up-and-coming rock bands. But what it might lack in hipster cred it makes up for in easy living, a quality that has made all the difference for the guys in White Reaper.
“That might as well be its slogan: It’s easy in Louisville,” said keyboardist Ryan Hater, calling in from the road en route to a show in Washington, D.C. “It’s a very comfortable place to live. There’s not a whole lot of traffic or anything like that.”
Simplicity suits the four-piece, which, along with Hater, is rounded out by guitarist/vocalist Tony Esposito and brothers Sam (bass) and Nick Wilkerson (drums). In a scatterbrained blog culture where bands are seemingly being analyzed, dissected, built up and torn down by the minute, White Reaper, whose members have barely entered their 20s, is charmingly disaffected when it comes to where or how they fit in with today’s fragmented musical culture. Many have been quick to lump them into the ever-so-easy “garage” category, but even that rather broad stroke is too narrow for the band.
“I don’t even know why that is,” Sam wrote by email prior to our discussion with Hater. “We’ve never even played in a garage before.”
White Reaper might operate from a pretty grounded sense of self, but the rest of the musical world is trying its damnedest to pull them out of their humble cocoon. In the last 18 months, they’ve gone from penning a modest six-song EP to awaiting the release of White Reaper Does It Again, which is already gathering buzz despite not coming out officially until July 17th. Not bad for a group of friends who first started kicking tunes around in middle school.
“I guess it’s all we’ve ever really wanted to do, so we just decided to really try and do it,” Hater said.
While they’ve been playing music and writing songs together for several years, it wasn’t until recently that the band got organized and tried to put their music out. They originally had plans of financing and releasing their debut EP on their own — that is, until Polyvinyl swooped in and expressed interest in working with the band. After auditioning for the label, the EP was given a proper release last June.
“It was nuts, man,” Hater said of auditioning for the label. “It was the most nervous I’d ever been in my life. Nothing really compares to being that nervous.”
From that moment on, the band has just followed where their music has taken them. Hater said it’s been “month to month.” They’ve gone on tour with the likes of Young Widows, Deerhoof, and Priests while still finding the time to pen an album’s worth of new material. The band is currently in the midst of a short US trek with fellow indie rock upstarts Twin Peaks, and more touring is expected following the record’s July release.
The band wouldn’t have it any other way. The stage is where White Reaper’s jones for a sweaty, rollicking good time manifests itself, and by all accounts they’re pretty good at it. With just a handful of songs to their name, the word is already out: White Reaper is a great live band. Only years removed from their middle-school dreams of one day making it as a band, there isn’t a moment that goes by where Hater and his bandmates aren’t genuinely stoked to load up the van and gig from city to city.
“We give it 110 percent, every time,” Hater said of the band’s go-for-broke work ethic. “Or we try our darnedest. It’s all about giving it your best and giving all your energy.”
Even though they’ve won over crowds and critics through high-profile showcases at CMJ, SXSW, and other festivals, the band’s homecoming at this year’s Forecastle Festival, scheduled for July 17th through 19th, is circled on their schedule. Not only does the festival overlap with the new record’s official release date, there’s also a heightened sense of obligation heading into the band’s hometown.
“I feel like I’m more nervous playing there than anywhere else,” Hater said, noting there’s a certain amount of “local boys done good” pressure that comes with returning to Louisville. “I just don’t want to let them down. We feel like we’ve got to do something special for all of the people that live there.”
The band also stayed close to home when the time came to record White Reaper Does It Again, which swerves its way through bombastic ’70s guitar riffage, Cars-influenced new wave, classic Britpop, and the lunkhead sweetness of the Ramones. Don’t be fooled by tongue-in-cheek song titles like “Make Me Wanna Die”. The record is a sugary blast of infectious rock ‘n’ roll, loaded with songs about girls (“I Don’t Think She Cares”), drugs (“Pills”), girls (“Candy”, “Sheila”), and other appropriate food for twentysomething thought. Did we mention girls (“Alone Tonight”)? Simply put, it’s a record that takes on the honest, fun, stoked-on-life attitude of the four dudes who made it.
“The only way to put it, is that it’s just incredible fun,” Hater said of the past year and a half. “It’s exceeded all possible expectations.”