White Reaper’s eponymous debut EP played at a fast pace with relative urgency using a well-suited lo-fi vocal approach. It kind of reminded me of a young 21st century Midwest Ramones. After upping the game with the last album, ‘White Reaper Does It Again’, their 2017 LP, ‘The World’s Best American Band’—produced by Kevin Ratterman—presents White Reaper as a band that seems to know how to utilize its potential to go big and really hard with their notably youthful enthusiasm and a strong ability to write some big, arena-style rock & roll songs that’re packed with dense substance and massive rock & roll balls.
Speaking with the band’s singer/guitarist Tony Esposito about their newest record, it was evident that the guys from White Reaper understand what they’re doing, musically. But it sounds like they also understand that of the spirit of youth that exists between them as close friends—including two brothers—will no doubt be a key element in the consistent turning out of top-shelf material in the ensuing years. Oscar Wilde once said that “Youth is wasted on the young.” He’s generally right about that, and a you know that a lotta people would probably agree. But White Reaper is an easy exception. The energy of youth runs through their music like currents of electricity, and most potently through ‘The World’s Best American Band’.
I’m feeling really good about it. I’m glad it’s finally out.
Polyvinyl was running a pretty substantial ad campaign, building a lot of heavy hype for this new one.
The label has always been good about promoting what we’re doing. They’re really good people, easy to work with. I’m glad the relationship is what it is between us.
“Judy French,” was a good, sturdy lead single to begin with but after hearing it in context with the rest of the LP increasingly curious about that lead single choice.
That song was one of the first songs that we recorded for this album. When it was finished it kinda gave us an idea for the album’s direction.
So, I’m guessing that “Judy French” was probably the first real song you guys had for the album, then.
Yeah, actually it was! I think it put us in a mindset to go forward and start writing new songs. At first, we only had a few riffs, pretty much. Once we’d finished that song, I guess it helped us find some direction for the rest of the album. So we thought it would lead the album really well.
The way it opens up, with the higher registered riffing, it sorta walks with a strut. Honestly, it kinda reminded me of some of the early Van Halen tunes introduced with the ringing riffs and it’s active movement…
Ha ha! Thanks man, that’s really cool to hear.
Absolutely! Did you guys happen to find influence from a lot of the huge ‘classic’ sounding rock and glam from the days of bands like Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy, KISS, ‘arena’ rock bands, for a lack of better comparison?
We all love that stuff! We weren’t trying to really sound like those bands from that time, but I know some of it was bound to come out in some of the songs. We definitely didn’t try to avoid some of those influences.
Once you began the creative process, did you guys have an idea what you wanted to do with the album’s direction, musically? What was the writing and recording of the album like this time around? Did you put a lot of pressure on yourselves to get this record done?
It was crazy. We booked like 20 days in the studio and I only had a few different things to show the band. And they weren’t full songs, either. So, we ended up writing a majority of the record in the studio. We took a ton of time to think about each individual song, but then we realized that we weren’t going to have it all done, so we cut it little bit short. We did like 18 days–this was February of 2016. We went down to play SXSW and then we came back and finished the record. It probably took about 10 more days. That was during… April and May, I think.
So then, you’re new album has actually been done for about a year now.
Yeah, the record’s been done for a very long time.
Was there any specific reason the record was help up for so long?
The hold back was mostly on our end. There were a lot of things that we just weren’t really sure about. We’d just pulled the songs out of thin air, so they were still really new to us, we didn’t have any idea about the cover for the album. There were just a lot of things we weren’t really sure about yet.
I’m glad that you mentioned the cover. That is you on the cover, right?
The relatively minimalist nature of the artwork works really well with the album’s large sonic presence. Is that a live shot that was manipulated , or did it come from a photo shoot somewhere else?
We got a box of Franzia and some beer and shot it in the same studio that we recorded this record. It was kind of those old Mac/PC commercials with everything surrounded in white. We had a lot of fun that day.
Since I can remember, I’ve always been curious about album covers/art that shows one person—like Vince Neil’s crotch on Mötley Crüe’ ‘Too Fast For Love’. Were there any inner quarrels about who was going to be the one representing the band and the album Who knows? Maybe Mick Mars wanted it to be his! Were there any debates about whose photo would be the one picture that made the cover art?
Oh no, there wasn’t anything like that!
Going back to the title track really quick, is it the plan for White Reaper to charge forward with the purpose of becoming the world’s best American band?
Well, it’s always a lot of fun to act cocky and confident onstage. We all just really like this record so we really want to tour. We want to play these songs for the people.
Anyone who looks back, starting with the 2014 eponymous EP, their full-length debut ‘White Reaper Does It Again’, and now, 2017s ‘The World’s Best American Band’, can see the some real significant development of White Reaper’s sonic maturity, by this point. Compared to the categorically minimal lo-fi presence found on the past releases. What kinds of steps have you guys taken to match White Reaper’s newer and fuller musical mass live?
We’ve added another guitar player who’ll be with us out on the road, and Ryan has a bunch of new keyboards and other equipment he’s adding. From there, we’re just going to turn everything up really fucking loud.
As far as the new songs go, had many of them been played live prior to the release of the new album?
Yeah, actually I think all but three have been included in one live set or another.
Which new cuts do you think work exceptionally well in the live capacity?
“Judy French” is a really good live one, but that one’s been a part of our sets for a while now—since back in the fall—so we’re used to doing that one live. “The Stack” is sounding great live, and “Little Silver Cross” too. That’s one that’s really fun to play.
Going back to the writing process during the recording sessions, did you find yourself writing in a new way since you had to create the songs in the moment? What was the process maybe more democratic or collaborative, to use a better description?
Oh absolutely. Everybody had a lot more input into what was going on and how the songs took shape. It was great too, because I think it gave the songs more texture, which gave the album more texture whilst adding layers to the sound which is something that we hadn’t really done so much before then. It was really fun, too.
Rather than one primary voice or point of view, you guys effectively utilized an entire arsenal of ideas from the added perspective this time around.
Exactly, and I think that’s a big part of what makes this album so good and standout next to what we’ve already done. I loved that experience, so I’d like to continue doing that from now on.
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