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White Reaper aims to make rock great again

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Maturing as musicians, regressing as people: "We have little to no responsibility at all, so that kind of damages your brain over time."
  • Maturing as musicians, regressing as people: "We have little to no responsibility at all, so that kind of damages your brain over time."

Calling your sophomore album The World's Best American Band may be an audacious move, but White Reaper are clearly heading in the right direction.

While the Louisville, Kentucky group's debut album fit well into the "garage-punk band with promise" category, its successor is a quantum leap forward. The album is a sharp and sinewy exercise in energetic, Cheap Trick-style power-pop, with half of its 10 songs clocking in at less than three minutes.

True, Tony Esposito's lead vocals won't be putting Robin Zander out of work anytime soon, but his immaculately distorted guitar work on tracks like "The Stack" and "Little Silver Cross" would fit nicely on an early Queen or Mott the Hoople album. So much so, in fact, that I found myself checking the credits midway through to see if that's really the same guitarist.

The 23-year-old frontman is justifiably pleased by the reactions the new album is getting. "We've played a lot of shows since we last recorded," he explains. "And when you spend a month in the studio — playing guitar for 101/2 hours a day — you just kind of get better. I really tried to push myself, because the music I want to make takes some chops. So I'm working on it."

Esposito gives credit to producer Kevin Ratterman — as well as White Reaper keyboardist Ryan Hater, drummer Nick Wilkerson and bassist Sam Wilkerson — for delivering a cleaner, punchier sound that leaves enough space for all of the instruments to shine.

"I think we all just kind of matured as studio professionals, and everybody got exactly what they wanted out of their instruments on every song," says Esposito, who found his own dream sound when he tried out a studio amplifier called the Super Sarge. "The signal you get by going straight into that amp is so golden," he enthuses. "It just sounds like classic rock radio coming straight out of the amp."

As for White Reaper's next album, Esposito expects the band's sound will continue to incorporate new elements. "I want to put some acoustic guitars in there. I want to do more piano. It's still going to be a rock 'n' roll record, but there are a lot of things I haven't tried yet that I want to try. It's something that I've just started thinking about, and I think there'll be a difference between me now, and the me who actually goes into the studio to make the next record."

But while White Reaper continue to grow as musicians, the bandleader is less convinced they're maturing as people. "I think we're regressing," he laughs. "We have little to no responsibility at all, so that kind of damages your brain over time."

All of which brings us back around to the album title. Is there technically any difference between being "The World's Best American Band" and "America's Best American Band?"

"That's an interesting question," says Esposito. "I wouldn't really know, because I don't really have any experience being America's Best American Band."

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