This week’s ALT 104.5 New Music Discovery Of The Week is “Pages” by White Reaper
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There’s little more that excites the members of White Reaper than to play their music live. “We ask ourselves: ‘Does it sound good when we play it in the room together?’ And if it does, those are the songs we want to pursue,” singer-guitarist Tony Esposito muses one recent morning, speaking not only to the band’s current hive mindset, but also to their overall love of creation. Adds keyboardist Ryan Hater: “From the beginning, a big part of our band has been the raw energy and the ability to get out on a stage and command an audience with just the instruments and the guys up there. No gimmicks. No frills. We just love that!”
Yes, White Reaper have long been a no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it proposition. It’s why the band have built their now-exploding career on a supreme knowledge: that their songs — often ripping and immediate — will connect with audiences from the jump. “It’s definitely a selfish thing,” Hater explains. “If we’re not enjoying a song onstage, we might not play it live. We want to be enjoying it just as much as the crowd is.”
To that end, when the band set out to make their forthcoming new album, Asking for a Ride, due early next year via Elektra Records, it was paramount the songs thrilled in the live setting. “This time we were just like, ‘Let’s just write songs that we would be happy and excited to play at the show.’” The process would prove to be an emotional one which spanned the pandemic, found the band meeting up for writing sessions in remote corners of the country, recording in different locales and eventually scrapping an entire first run at the album and starting over again – all in pursuit of what felt and fit best for them. Guitarist Hunter Thompson concurs: “We started to recognize how we operate best as a band.”
It’s an intriguing revelation — following their biggest album to date with 2019’s You Deserve Love, not to mention an opening slot for rock behemoths Pearl Jam this past summer — the band is still learning what makes them tick.
“It was such a relief to have the gang back together,” drummer Nick Wilkerson says of White Reaper regrouping in different places throughout 2020 and 2021, in locations such as Arkansas and Nashville, to write during the pandemic. Adds his brother, bassist Sam Wilkerson: “When we’re not together I get a little bit of separation anxiety.”
It’s hardly surprising they’d feel such a connection with one another given their history. White Reaper were first formed by Esposito and Nick Wilkerson while the pair were still in high school. Time has not only taken the group’s music to new heights but also clued them into what they need to be most successful as a creative unit. Throughout the course of recording Asking for a Ride, the band ventured to Seattle, scrapped most of the sessions recorded there, and then ended up re-writing and self-producing in Nashville with the help of their close friend and engineer, Jeremy Ferguson. As Hater admits, “we were feeling a lot of pressure to come back strong.” The band’s 2019 album You Deserve Love marked a career peak for the five-piece outfit and was highlighted by the number one alternative radio hit, “Might Be Right.” “We now have a clear idea moving forward of what we need to foster our creative process,” Hater continues. “Work smarter, not harder. It’s all just a part of growing up. We’re realizing what we want as humans. It’s definitely been a journey.”
And White Reaper’s new songs off their forthcoming LP reflect their growth: opening track “Asking for a Ride” is a pure thrash, “different than anything we’ve put out before,” offers Hater and, as multiple band members corroborate, was principally inspired by the band going through an intense Metallica phase. The twin-guitar heater that is “Fog Machine,” Esposito explains, “was a buzzer beater” in that it had been in the works for a while with little progress but ultimately came in just under the wire. “In that sense, it was kind of a miracle,” Esposito notes, adding that the song — all chrome plated riffs and swaggering drums, and described by Hater as “Mötley Crüe-meets-Poison-meets Seventies-rock vibes” — is without a doubt one of the band’s favorites at the moment. Closing track “Pages,” by contrast, is a more delicate offering: an opening acoustic guitar paves the way for a soaring chorus with Esposito musing on sustaining love despite all its weird and winding ways.
“There’s a bit of a chaos to our music taste, but we want it to be immediate albeit mixed with our sense of humor,” Thompson says. This goes a long way in explaining the evolution of Asking for a Ride. Whereas You Deserve Love was heavy on production and admittedly not the easiest to translate to the stage, White Reaper’s latest offering is more direct and in-your-face.
“With You Deserve Love you ended up feeling like there is a bit of a disconnect between what you originally envisioned and how it comes across onstage,” Thompson admits. Adds Nick Wilkerson, “We just wanted this record to be a little crazier and make sure that people would react to it to live. At the start of our band, we were 100-miles-per-hour live all the time; blazing sets. So in that way, this new album is a return to form. We wanted the crowd to go crazy again.”
White Reaper is set to do exactly that: the band plans to hit the road hard in the coming months and, in that way, get back to exactly what they love to do best. “I’m not personally worried about trajectory or big picture,” admits Esposito. Rather, as Thompson says, “We’re all just so excited to take these new songs to our fans.” “And then we’ll grow from there,” Hater adds. “Now we really just gotta give it everything we got.”