White Reaper of Louisville is the “Best American Band in the World”
- Bourbon and beyond 2019
- When: Sep 20-22
- Where: Kentucky Exposition Center, 937 Phillips Lane
- More information: visit bourbonandbeyond.com or whitereaperusa.com.
A restless, restless crowd, shoulder to shoulder, were silenced at the first sound of Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra”.
The Headliners Music Hall crowd cheered and applauded as the beats of the classic opus matched like a banner, adorned with a “WR” logo, slowly rose to the back of the stage.
The musical epic, which usually contains heroic and cinematic soundtracks, including Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, ended when five men walked on stage, instruments in hand, laughing a little and waving crowd.
Before counting the band’s first song of the evening, “Make Me Wanna Die”, the men faced a sold-out audience, full of impatience.
âLet’s do it,â Tony Esposito said.
It’s White Reaper, a band from Louisville that specializes in classic rock vibes with a punk twist and lots of fun.
But before the band sold shows to Headliners, touring the country and playing at music festivals that brought together over 80,000 attendees, the members of the “World’s Best American Band” were college kids who met each other. because they were “outcasts”.
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Bassist Sam Wilkerson and his twin brother Nick Wilkerson, the band’s drummer, met vocalist Esposito and keyboardist Ryan Hater when they were around 11 years old.
The first thing they bonded over was their love of punk music, which few kids at their Oldham County school enjoyed. They wore T-shirts for bands like Germs and Black Flag.
White Reaper’s punk roots are evident in the band’s debut album, âWhite Reaper Does It Again,â released in 2015. Over the years and the albums that followed, the band’s sound evolved into what Sam Wilkerson calls it “just pure rock”.
The band’s transition from punk to rock was natural, which Sam Wilkerson attributed to the age and broadening of the musical tastes of the members, beyond the high energy of punk and hardcore.
âIt’s not that we’re super old or anything,â said Sam Wilkerson, who is in his mid-twenties. “But when we got a little older, we just realized that it had changed a bit for us, and maybe we would have started to pay more attention to different kinds of music.”
Due to the group’s early days, Sam Wilkerson has said that he feels like he and all of the White Reaper members are brothers. Even guitarist Hunter Thompson, who met and joined the band about two years after their formation, instantly clicked with the band.
âOnce we met Hunter, I felt like he was related to us or something, so I felt like we were all literally related by blood,â Sam Wilkerson said. . “It’s crazy.”
The group’s latest single, “Might Be Right,” was released in late May and served as the announcement for White Reaper’s new label, Elektra Records. It also demonstrates some of the group’s experimentation with musical techniques that they had never tried before, especially on the production side, Sam Wilkerson said.
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With synth riffs reminiscent of 80’s power pop, the instrumentals of “Might Be Right” have more texture and layering.
Although the runway bridge begins with “I’m always falling / a little short in front of you”, it doesn’t, at least not in front of Headliners customers.
“Might Be Right” was White Reaper’s first song since his 2017 second album “The World’s Best American Band”“. The ambitious title of the album was originally named because they “just thought it would be really funny.”
Sam Wilkerson drew a parallel between White Reaper and one of Louisville’s greatest icons.
“I like to think that Muhammad Ali said he was the greatest, and why shouldn’t we say it?” Sam Wilkerson said.
However, the group does not take itself too seriously.
âSam,â Esposito said, backstage before the recent sold-out show. “I dare you to go on stage and tell a joke right now.”
âTake the stage and say, ‘I can’t believe you bought tickets for this,’â keyboardist Hater said with a laugh.
âIt would actually be reallyâ¦ funny,â Sam Wilkerson said.
The White Reaper name came from a Halloween Express in 2012 when Esposito read a price tag on a decoration.
âWhite Reaper: $ 6.99, or whatever – it was less than $ 10, but I can’t remember exactly how much,â Esposito said.
Do they regret using this Halloween decoration as a name?
âMaybe,â Esposito said.
âYeah, sometimes,â Nick Wilkerson said.
“But it’s too late now,” Esposito joked.
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It does not appear that the name of the group has been an obstacle to its success. White Reaper’s music receives more than 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, and the group has sold their last three non-festival shows in Louisville.
Being able to sell a show even once in their hometown is a dream come true, said Sam Wilkerson.
âIt always makes me feel good, it’s not like I’ve gotten used to it or anything,â he said. “Every time we sell a show in Louisville we’re all super excited.”
The shows White Reaper is playing in Louisville are “like a big party,” he added.
Each show in the city marks the evolution of the group. Nick Wilkerson called it a “big reveal” because it shows the group’s growth since the last time they played – kind of a milestone.
âAll of our friends and family come out.â¦ It’s like a party when we play here,â Esposito said.
As Esposito said between songs from the band’s set at their last show in Louisville, “Guys, it’s great to be back.”
To its members, White Reaper’s bare bones are musical hooks, high energy, and a desire for fun.
âWe just want to bring him out on stage and anyone who wants to come and bring him out to the audience is welcome,â said Nick Wilkerson. “It’s always welcome. It’s just a big therapy session for us.”
And the crowd at Headliners did.
White Reaper sets last just over an hour, each moment filled with as much energy as the last, and riffs that welcome stage divers, crowd surfers and mosh pits everyone else – otherwise all – songs. This is exactly what the members of White Reaper want from the public.
âWe just want people to have fun and have fun and escape reality a little bit,â Thompson said. “… When we play together – playing live music, playing our instruments – that’s what we’ve all been doing for a long time, so doing it together and having someone’s attention is very special.”
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The group’s Louisville audience was made up of people who had seen White Reaper perform in 2017, 2015 and even before, as Esposito counted ahead of the set’s final song, which the group dedicated to the audience. âConspirator,â from the group’s eponymous 2014 EP, could bring home to any Louisville show, but despite the song’s high energy, it was fused with a hint of nostalgia.
âWhat’s gratifying is the people at the shows telling us that we are their favorite band and that we love to have changed their lives,â said Sam Wilkerson. “… I never imagined in a million years that our band would have such an impact on anyone, and I love to see people having fun at our concerts.”
White Reaper has another album coming up in the fall – also when the band performs at the Bourbon & Beyond Music Festival in Louisville.
âIt’s really good, that’s all I can say about it,â said Sam Wilkerson.
If the latest album looks like the last one, which landed a spot on Pitchfork’s “20 Best Rock Albums of 2017” list, it will be “tailor-made for road trips, basement parties and any other setting. where you can believe, if only for a moment, that no one in the world is having as much fun as you are, âPitchfork’s Sam Sodomsky wrote.
The band tries to make honest music, which Sam Wilkerson defined as music the members would like to listen to. He said some artists care about making current or popular music – they don’t.
âWe always did what we wanted to do,â he said.
Bourbon and beyond 2019
What: The third annual Music, Bourbon and Food Festival will feature musical headliners Foo Fighters, Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters, and Zac Brown Band alongside star chefs such as Edward Lee, Graham Elliot and the Voltaggio Brothers.
When: 20-22 Sep
Or: Kentucky Exhibition Center, 937 Phillips Lane
Cost: Weekend passes cost $ 169.50 plus general admission fees, $ 579.50 plus fees for the Mint Experience VIP, and $ 1,599.50 plus fees for the Beyond VIP. General admission day passes are $ 89.50 plus fees, and VIP day passes are $ 249.50 plus fees. Purchase a “Trifesta” pass for Bourbon & Beyond, Hometown Rising and Louder Than Life for $ 229 plus fees.
More information: Visit bourbonandbeyond.com or whitereaperusa.com.