I ran into the members of White Reaper outside of Bootleg Theater, where they were set to play. They were smoking cigarettes, looking bright-eyed, a little tired from traveling. We had a small exchange and made our way into the back of the venue to begin talking.
The room was large. The table we sat down at was on a raised platform with lighting spotted right on top of it, providing a dark illumination. Tony, the singer and guitarist, had just received a brand new pair of white on white wing tips. He asked me if it was ok for him to lace up his new shoes while we did the interview. “Of course,” I said. “Gotta look fresh.”
When I got into the discussion with the band, I was immediately struck by how young they were. They each land around 19-20, but they have already been playing music together since the age of 13. The bassist, Sam, and drummer, Nick, are identical twin brothers. Tony fits right in with them. They are friends that exist on their own. White Reaper, however, has only existed for 1 year and has already been picked up by Polyvinyl records.
Sam said, “We feel like we’ve skipped a lot of steps, people have been really good to us.”
With a brand new eponymous EP that came out at the end of June, the marriage between White Reaper and Polyvinyl seems to be perfect. Nick said of the relationship, “It’s awesome. It’s definitely been awesome. It’s all ours. The entire thing is ours… They wanted what we wanted.” The results are there as well. The album is extremely well recorded and throws them into the strange place they find themselves now. Tony said, “It just keeps getting better, honestly… It’s like a big family.”
The members land at the completely opposite end of jaded. They are excited, finding the past year all so surreal. Nick said, “We were lucky I’d say… It’s been at an insanely fast pace. I almost don’t get it. It’s so surprising. The last show we played in Louisville I saw so many people I’ve never seen before.”
White Reaper seems to feel like they’re getting away with something, but hey’re not giving themselves enough credit though. Their first release is strong and shows a bright future, made up of songs with great composition and tightly put together until it all made sense. Playing music that harkens back to the punk/garage days of the MC5 and the New York Dolls they separate their sound and root themselves in history. In fact, history is the only place they feel comfortable being discussed.
Sam said, “It doesn’t really make sense to get compared to something that’s going on now. I feel like getting compared to something that has aged and that has true history is better than getting compared to something that’s kind of shallow and modern.” Tony added, “It’s just kind of lazy.”
Even with an appreciation of history, you still need experience. Bootleg Theater is the perfect kind of place to get it. The place itself is small and stripped down. The show was on the main-stage in the back of the venue. The room was like a school auditorium: High stage with an open floor sloping up into an incline with seats. There’s a large smoking deck in perfect position between the bar and the stage, so almost everyone at the show passes through. The band members floated around and talked while smoke filled the air around quiet people, drunk people, loud people, and people just there for the music.
As White Reaper took the stage, a large crowd was ready to listen to them play. They ripped into their tracks, screaming out the vocals and knocking themselves around as they played in rhythm. All the members are in control of their instruments, playing them confidently and showing the years of practice they have under their belts. They interact well together and don’t make mistakes.
But with all their talent, they still feel like they’re missing something. White Reaper was fun to watch, but seemed to bring the crowd in and out of the show, never really achieving a solid command of attention. Their live show had an element of trying too hard to it. They entered a space that felt like they wanted to play as hard as possible while coming off as detached from the people at the performance.
These things can provide some base entertainment, and their excellent songs help them. The difference between a good performance and great performance, however, is the bond an artist creates between themselves and the people they are playing in front of. White Reaper flirted with this connection, but never gave the feeling that the performance was special to them. Even if it’s just another gig, the audience has to feel like they’re seeing something new, just for them and their city.
A keyboardist came on stage intermittently to play on a few tracks. He wore a hood over his head and played the simple lines forcefully. He never really looked at the crowd, but he jumped around energetically and banged his head to White Reaper’s powerful tracks. His enthusiasm was great, but it felt like he was slipping into the same space White Reaper fell into: it was more about him and his own energy than it was about communicating something to the crowd.
White Reaper is a band that will develop into themselves. They’re too talented not to. They are backed by a sense of urgency and a hunger to get out there and play. Tony said, “I feel like this is the first day of tour. I’m dreading going back.” Sam explains, “We don’t have jobs, we kind of live off this in a way. We don’t make money, but we can eat, you know. It’s funny not being to sustain yourself at home, but traveling the country and totally being ok.” Tony adds, “At home, we are broke as shit.”
They are concerned with the present and over their past. That translates into a bright future, and I expect a wonderful follow up to their White Reaper – EP. The more they tour and focus on their showmanship, the more this band will blossom into an act with no crowd left behind.
Ben Levine is originally from Rockford, Illinois. He recently moved to Los Angeles after spending a year and half in the Israel Defense Forces. He has a degree in Russian and Religious Studies and enjoys hotdogs, Iceland, and live performance of all kinds. Follow him on Twitter @levineb and Instagram @tread_endznor.