White Reaper just wants to rock

Brittany Moseley
White Reaper

White Reaper has been called every kind of rock. Pitchfork described the Louisville, Kentucky, band as pop rock and garage rock in two separate album reviews. Billboard dubbed the five-piece glam rock. The Ringer took it a step further when the site called it “arena-rock cosplay.”

White Reaper — singer/guitarist Tony Esposito, keyboardist Ryan Hater, guitarist Hunter Thompson, drummer Nick Wilkerson and bassist Sam Wilkerson — understand the desire to put it in a box, but its members don’t really care what you call it. (This is the same band that cheekily named its second album The World's Best American Band, after all.)

“I think of it as just a rock band,” Hater said. “I definitely don't think we're a garage rock band. I think people that use that term maybe have some misinformation. People have recently started to say glam, and I like that one a lot. I would probably say we're just a rock band, even though that doesn't mean anything.”

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When Alive catches up with Hater, White Reaper is in Johnson City, Tennessee, where the band is getting ready to play an acoustic session for a radio show at a hot wings restaurant. “So that's a little taste of what my life is like,” Hater said, laughing.

Forgetting the sheer ridiculousness of the above sentence for a minute, it is indeed a good time in the life of White Reaper. After releasing two albums on indie label Polyvinyl, the band jumped to Elektra for its third album, You Deserve Love. The album was released in October, a month into White Reaper’s longest headlining tour to date.

Much like White Reaper's previous efforts, You Deserve Love is a rock ‘n’ roll album, genre qualifiers be damned. Sure, there are more radio-friendly hooks and slicker production this time around (the single “Real Long Time” and “1F,” with its building pre-chorus and gang vocals, come to mind), but the biggest change between the two albums is how they were built.

“We basically didn't have anything going in for World's Best,” Hater said. “We demoed [You Deserve Love] out a lot more. Tony did a lot more demo writing for this record, and it made the process a little bit easier — actually a lot easier. I don't recommend going into the studio with no music.”

White Reaper spent about 40 days in the studio with producer Jay Joyce. The band also recorded the album live in the studio, which Hater said helped capture the kinetic energy of the music. The song “Raw,” a fast-paced number about drinking to forget, features vocals that were recorded in one take.

“I think we just wanted to expand on the door we opened with The World's Best American Band,” said Hater, speaking about the band’s expectations for You Deserve Love. “Tony has said before that this is a big record for us. We signed a new record deal and have all these new moving parts. We were all very excited and had a nervous energy and a hopefulness that this is going to be a great record, and I think that bleeds through in the songs.”

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White Reaper