Substream Approved: White Reaper

White Reaper

You’re at another show, watching another opening act you’ve never heard of. You’re probably only there to see your friend play. You live in Boise, Idaho—or someplace like that, it doesn’t matter. There’s hardly anyone there, and you couldn’t be more bored by this band. Then, the singer punts the keyboard. Welcome to a White Reaper show.

Lots of bands are described as putting on an energetic performance, but this Louisville, Kentucky, quartet tries their best to truly deliver. Since releasing their debut full-length, White Reaper Does It Again, last year the band has seen the crowd begin to recognize and return that energy, but before that the members performed a number of onstage antics—perhaps to amuse the crowd, but often just to entertain themselves.

“There was nobody at this place, and the people that were there just looked so bored to be seeing us,” vocalist/guitarist Tony Esposito recalls of the first keyboard-kicking incident. “I was like, ‘I gotta start doing some crazy shit,’ so I just punted the hell out of [keyboardist Ryan Hater’s] microKORG.”

Esposito easily rattles off concert antics from jumping into lackluster crowds to bassist Sam Wilkerson climbing on Hater’s back while performing. He explains that the band, rounded out by drummer Nick Wilkerson, is fortunate to spend so much time inactive while driving between shows, allowing for a full release during performances.

The band has certainly seen success with this approach—to the point that they started a side project called the Tommys to allow them to continue playing house parties—but not all crowds have been as receptive. During a U.K. tour with indie-pop band Alvvays earlier this year, Esposito says some audience members began covering their ears during White Reaper’s set. Before beginning the Canadian leg of the tour, Alvvays requested White Reaper drop off the remaining dates.

“The agreed upon term was musical differences, but it wasn’t any beef between the bands, they were really nice the entire tour,” Esposito says. “The reason they told us was that we were too loud.”

Listening to White Reaper Does It Again, it’s not hard to imagine. The LP delivers a relentless barrage of upbeat rock that sounds designed for in-your-face, full-volume performances. Their sound often garners comparisons to punk and garage rock classics such as Ramones and Jay Reatard, but Esposito says that’s never been intentional.

“I think that’s just the kind of music we want to play,” he says. “I think we just kind of write music that we can just hammer out in an up-tempo way because it’s more fun for us.”

Writing music the members would actually sit down and listen to is of the utmost importance for White Reaper. Referencing the group’s upcoming split 7-inch with Daddy Issues, Esposito says the members have been listening to their track constantly. After recording Does It Again, he estimates they listened on repeat for four months.

“It’s kind of split 50/50 down the middle of people that I meet,” Esposito says. “I’m like, ‘Do you listen to your own music?’ and some people say, ‘It’s all I listen to’ and some people say, ‘I never listen to it.’”

White Reaper is definitely a band that listens to their own music. S

A version of this piece was published in Substream #49.