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Very Us: White Reaper on Sticking to Their Guns with 'Asking For a Ride'

Tuesday, 31 January 2023 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Jimmy Fontaine

We all know cherished cult bands who, after experiencing a little success, immediately abandon their roots. Such acts strive to capitalise on their newfound recognition by heading further down a commercial path that feels all kinds of wrong. Thankfully, White Reaper won’t be joining those misguided souls anytime soon.

That’s not to say the five piece of Tony Esposito, Ryan Hater, Hunter Thompson and twins Sam and Nick Wilkerson have returned with a wheel-spinning new album. On the contrary, their follow up to their major label debut ‘You Deserve Love’, which spawned a number one Billboard Alternative hit in the form of Might Be Right, finds the Kentucky scrappers shooting off in all sorts of adventurous directions. 

Without abandoning their penchant for triumphant 1970s stadium hooks and their beginnings as garage dwelling punk goofballs, ‘Asking For A Ride’ incorporates a greater range of the band’s influences into a punchy and typically raw affair that’s clearly the work of a group dead set on following their own creative instincts. 

Prior to the release of White Reaper’s best album to date, we got the low down on ‘Asking For A Ride’ from bassist Sam Wilkerson, who told us all about the challenges of making that self-produced record, embracing crazy eclecticism and how, thanks to YouTube, they were inspired to get down with their heavy selves courtesy of the world’s biggest metal band. 

During lockdown you spoke about the challenge of being creative in the midst of a pandemic, with regards how an artist can feel forced to write because of the isolation, and having so much time on their hands, as well as the role stress plays in inhibiting the process. So how did you guys come through that and begin crafting this new album?

We took a beat for a long time and then decided to get together, in the middle of Covid, to write together in Arkansas. We decided it would be easier for us to write together rather than have Tony demo stuff out. So we all got an Airbnb and it looked like this Lord Of The Rings house, it was insane. It looked like a cave, like one of those really cheap Airbnbs because it was so weird and in the middle of nowhere. That’s how we came back together, through family trips recording and writing together. We would bring our sound guy, our portable studio set up, and we watched a lot of Metallica videos on YouTube that week. 

I believe you scrapped the first draft of the new album, which you were making with a noted producer. Why wasn’t that the right fit and how did the material you produced during those early sessions differ from the record you ended up making? 

The whole first draft was recorded in Seattle during a really cold and dark time. All of the songs were recorded in, essentially, a basement studio.  One of the reasons was we had songs we weren’t exactly happy with and wanted to make better and, possibly, replace. Also, the producer we were working with had some different ideas for what they wanted. It just wasn’t a great match, to say it really nicely. But we ended up, right before we did the second version, writing four new songs in the month or so before we went to finish it. A lot of the stuff on the record is still really new to us, which is cool.    

Just reading between the lines, was any pressure put on you to go further down the path you explored on ‘You Deserve Love’?

It just wasn’t a great work balance. It wasn’t a great work relationship. She does cool stuff and good for her. I don’t want to talk any shit, but people have mentioned co-writing and outside songwriters and that will be hard to get us to do. It’s one thing working with a pop producer that knows how to work with your style, versus having someone write a verse or chorus for you. If someone else wrote lyrics for us, it would be pretty hard for us to agree and hop on board because we’re so specific with everything. That’s not to say we don’t like pop. We grew up listening to pop and still love pop music.   

Although it has great hooks throughout, ‘Asking For a Ride’ certainly isn’t a pop album. It’s very diverse and also features some of your heaviest moments. After abandoning the initial draft, how did your record label react to the finished album when you turned it in?

One of the reasons we were able to get a little crazy on this one was because we had a song early on [Pages] that our label liked a lot. They were so happy they let us do our thing for the rest of it. So the whole thing is very us. Tony said Pages was kind of an original early White Reaper track and I agree. Maybe it wasn’t intentional but it’s definitely a nice segue into the craziness that’s on this record. I think every song covers a different era of our band and the label, Elktra, we’ve been lucky with them. They’ve been really open to letting us do our thing. 

It must have been a difficult period when you were transitioning between throwing a record out and starting again. So was there a vindication moment, when you were recording in Nashville, where you knew you’d made the right decision?

We didn’t have a producer and worked with Jeremy Ferguson, who’s the engineer at Battle Tapes. We’d recorded a few things here and there with him in the past. He’s just an extreme chiller. He’s very direct and we like the way he communicates. He operates out of his house in his garage, so it’s got a really nice home-y feel. But we were just working at a faster pace in Nashville so that was why we felt relief. The first day was a completely different set up and it was spring or summer, nice weather outside, and it turns out the sun is nice when you’re recording. Things like the sun, going outside and not drinking your head off every night changes things. 

‘Asking For A Ride’ opens up with a blistering title track that thrashes out the speakers like something from Metallica’s ‘Kill ‘Em All.’ By kicking things off with that song it’s a complete volte face from ‘You Deserve Love’ and a real statement of intent.

In Arkansas we were watching a YouTube documentary from when Metallica were making the Black album and then on tour. We watched that and were just like ‘let’s write a Metallica song.’ So it’s like Metallica mixed with Motorhead a little bit. You listen to that first track and it’s like ‘you’re either with us or you’re not’ for the rest of the album. Because I don’t think anybody knows what the first track is going to sound like and if you listen to it and don’t think ‘this is absolutely insane that they open with this song’ then don’t listen to us. I like when bands experiment with completely different genres. One of my favourite bands is Ween. I like how they’re all over the place all of the time. It’s fun.

With that in mind, does ‘Asking For A Ride’ represent the most complete picture of White Reaper to date?

I think it does. While the last record was very precise, pristine and sounded really good, it showed a sliver of who we are as people and what music we listen to. But this new record shows the whole spectrum of stuff we like and feels more who we are. 

Tony has alluded to the fact that, although he’s very proud of your last album, it didn’t sit quite right with him and it’s been difficult to incorporate songs from that into your live set. Is that an opinion you share and, if so, how did you strive to address it on the new album?

Yeah, definitely. We’re a band that tries not to do [pre-recorded] tracks live and the last album is pretty heavily produced. It’s hard to replicate a lot of that without an extra auxiliary member, whether someone with an extra keyboard or extra guitar. There’s bongos on that album. There’s electric mandolin. All kinds of weird stuff. But when we rehearsed them for the first time, all the new songs sounded like they do on the record because we’ recorded them as they’d be played live. So it feels like we have less work to do. We grew up on punk music and it speaks more to us, as artists, to keep it minimal and simple. 

Heaven Or Not, in particular, is sonically very different for White Reaper and epitomises some of the risks you’ve taken on this record. How did that develop?

We did a few different Airbnb trips. The first one was Arkansas and the second was six months later in Nashville. We got an Airbnb, set up and recorded on the river next to the Grand Ole Opry and wrote so much trash and so many joke songs. Then, in the middle of that, we wrote that song. It was the only one that came out of the Nashville trip, but it was one of those undeniable songs we write where it’s like ‘this is kind of risky for us, we don’t usually sound like this, but we like it so we’re gonna do it.’ 

We’re more comfortable getting out of our heads when it comes to what the song is and what it sounds like and what it means. We’re just doing what we think sounds cool. It may come with us having done this for about 10 years now. We’re more comfortable with the label and realising they’re our friends. We all have to agree that we like something and then everything’s cool after that. 

You’re always cited as being a band who love classic rock, but what’s your take on modern music? 

It’s hard because there’s a lot of bands I’ve never heard of, so I don’t want to put a blanket statement on modern music because there’s so many young bands playing really cool stuff that I don’t know about. In terms of what I’m seeing on the internet and YouTube and the big names popping up here and there, I don’t resonate with it. I don’t know if it’s because old music feels like something special to me but it’s, like, more mine, y’know? 

Everyone’s freaking out about all these new bands but when I listen to Squeeze or something I feel it’s more like my stuff that I like. Maybe it’s that there’s not any bands out there that sound like Squeeze right now? Maybe it’s production? Maybe it’s songwriting? I like more straight up, unfiltered rock from back then and now there’s a lot of tricks and things people do. Which is great. More power to them. But I like the sonics of the older stuff more.   

Tony once said he’s a very shy person and writing lyrics is hard for him. How do you think he’s developed as a lyricist?

Tony’s strongest point is getting the words that sound really nice together. A lot of the time Tony writes lyrics for the way they sound and the way they’re enunciated in the song, because hearing certain words which sound right hits a certain spot in the brain that sounds nice. He’s happiest when he can find cool words to match that and then they evoke a meaning or purpose behind the song. He’s simplified the way he writes and that’s been working a lot better for him.

You’ve had fun with album titles before, and then been somewhat plagued by them, so what was the thinking behind this one and are you prepared for people now thinking of you as that band who are basically hitch hikers?

Well, first off Tony, Ryan and Hunter were writing something together and then I think Hunter may have asked Tony for a ride to go somewhere and they just named the demo ‘Asking For A Ride’. So that was the first title we had for any of the songs, it was from the metal track, the first track, and then it was like ‘let’s just name the album this.’ And we thought it was a pretty funny departure from the last album title, because ‘You Deserve Love’ is so endearing and now it’s like ‘We don’t have cars…we’re just fucked.’   

After the reception afforded ‘You Deserve Love’, what will represent success for you when it comes to this album?

I want to play really big shows, have a lot of fun and whatever else happens is amazing. But when you’re on tour and people show up, that’s the biggest cherry on top. That’s a huge deal because it’s one thing if you get all these accolades and have great social media numbers but your shows aren’t great. To me the biggest accolade is having people show up at the shows. 

‘Asking For a Ride’ is out now on Elektra.

White Reaper Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue February 07 2023 - LEXINGTON Kentucky - Burl (USA)
Thu February 09 2023 - INDIANAPOLIS Indiana - Hi-Fi (USA)
Fri February 10 2023 - COLUMBUS Ohio - Newport Music Hall (USA)
Sat February 11 2023 - ST LOUIS Missouri - Delmar Hall (USA)
Mon February 13 2023 - HOUSTON Texas - Studio at Warehouse Live (USA)
Tue February 14 2023 - AUSTIN Texas - Scoot Inn (USA)
Wed February 15 2023 - DALLAS Texas - Granada Theater - Dallas (USA)
Fri February 17 2023 - ALBUQUERQUE New Mexico - Launchpad (USA)
Sat February 18 2023 - PHOENIX Arizona - Crescent Ballroom - Phoenix (USA)
Sun February 19 2023 - SAN DIEGO California - Music Box - San Diego (USA)
Tue February 21 2023 - LOS ANGELES California - Fonda Theatre (USA)
Wed February 22 2023 - SAN FRANCISCO California - August Hall (USA)
Fri February 24 2023 - PORTLAND Oregon - Hawthorne Theatre (USA)
Sat February 25 2023 - SEATTLE Washington - Crocodile (USA)
Sun February 26 2023 - VANCOUVER British Columbia - Rickshaw Theatre (Canada)
Thu March 02 2023 - DENVER Colorado - Summit Music Hall (USA)
Fri March 03 2023 - OMAHA Nebraska - Waiting Room Lounge - NE (USA)
Sat March 04 2023 - KANSAS CITY Missouri - Madrid Theatre (USA)
Mon March 06 2023 - DES MOINES Iowa - Wooly's (USA)
Tue March 07 2023 - MADISON Wisconsin - Majestic Theatre Madison (USA)
Wed March 08 2023 - DETROIT Michigan - Saint Andrews Hall - Detroit (USA)
Fri March 10 2023 - CHICAGO Illinois - Metro Chicago (USA)
Sat March 11 2023 - CLEVELAND Ohio - Beachland Ballroom (USA)
Sun March 12 2023 - PITTSBURGH Pennsylvania - Mr Small's Theatre (USA)
Tue March 14 2023 - TORONTO Ontario - Opera House - Toronto (Canada)
Fri March 17 2023 - NEW YORK New York - Irving Plaza (USA)
Sat March 18 2023 - PHILADELPHIA Pennsylvania - Underground Arts (USA)
Sun March 19 2023 - BOSTON Massachusetts - Royale Boston (USA)
Wed March 22 2023 - CARRBORO North Carolina - Cat's Cradle (USA)
Thu March 23 2023 - ATLANTA Georgia - Hell at The Masquerade - GA (USA)
Fri March 24 2023 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Basement East - Nashville (USA)
Sat March 25 2023 - LOUISVILLE Kentucky - Headliners Music Hall - KY (USA)

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