One of the first singles released from the long-time-coming 4th LP of Louisville, Kentucky band White Reaper, called Asking For A Ride, was the track “Pink Slip,” which laments: “Hard to believe us when we grow up so slow.” Sure, the eternal youth modeled and perpetuated by a thrashy, bratty, moshy rock band is alluring in even the best of times — and we can all agree the times since their last record, 2019’s You Deserve Love, have been anything but “best.” It would be easy and forgivable to disappear into disassociation, as artists and as fans, refusing to grow up until the world out there seems a little safer to grow up in.
But White Reaper has grown in its decade writing, gigging and recording. The time they took to finalize our #RecordoftheWeek, which they started working on in late 2020, is evidence of that maturation as a functioning unit, going beyond “buzzworthy” band status. Keys player Ryan Hater told me that they’ve learned optimal collaboration as a band means to “treat everyone like a person” and not just a bandmate slash business partner. It is to cheerlead one another — as on the sobriety journeys of brothers Nick (drums) and Sam Wilkerson (bass guitar) — while getting real about the sound they want to cultivate in the studio and then recreate at their high-energy shows.
In the potent half-hour that is Asking For A Ride, the five-piece — also including singer/guitarist Tony Esposito and guitarist Hunter Thompson — funnels its collective punk and metal influences into riff-y, hook-y songs like the aforementioned “Pink Slip,” “Crawlspace” and, my favorite, “Fog Machine.” They embrace synth-driven ’80s rock nostalgia on “Getting In Trouble W/ The Boss,” early 2000s pop-punk on “Thorn” and an almost power ballad drive on “Heaven or Not.”
As White Reaper prepared to release Asking For A Ride on January 27, and then (beginning this week) to tour, I touched base with Ryan and Sam about this collection of tunes, including “Pages,” the album closer we have been jamming for months now on WNXP.
We also covered lessons they’ve learned opening from some of the biggest bands of the century, plus how the Louisville DIY music scene nurtured their adolescent aspirations for rock notoriety, and continues to sprout noteworthy bands. Listen to the full record, Asking For a Ride, and read my interview with one half of White Reaper, below. The band plays The Basement East on March 24.
On the Record: A Q&A With White Reaper
Celia Gregory: Good to meet you guys. I’m Celia. I’m in Nashville at the NPR station here.
Ryan Hater: Hi, I’m Ryan, I’m right up the road [in Louisville, KY]!
Sam Wilkerson: I’m Sam.
CG: Sam, are you still based in Louisville too?
SW: I moved to L.A., like, two years ago.
CG: I didn’t realize you guys were split up as a band now. So before touring, it’s a little bit different a vibe. And then you get to reunite. Are you excited about the new release [Asking For A Ride]? By the time this is out, the record will be out. But we’re talking during your release week — you’re in New York currently and you’re going to play a show tonight. I understand. So are you pumped about playing these songs in front of people, getting on the road?
RH: Definitely. Yes. We are always super excited to to bring the new songs out live. We got to do some of them for the first time last week in Chicago and it went really well. So we’re really excited to keep it going and to just get back out on the road and do a proper tour. It feels like it’s been a really long time.
CG: Your last record [You Deserve Love] came out when the whole world was different. And so I imagine your lives have changed a good bit since 2019. Like everybody’s. What could you say maybe filtered into these new songs in what’s now this packaged deal that we’re getting on Asking For A Ride?
SW: I think it’s a fusion of a lot of different things. Maybe some COVID sadness, maybe some excitement, maybe some silliness as a distraction from the sadness. Maybe some shredding, maybe some metal.
RH: Mm hmm.
SW: We got a little bit of everything in there.
RH: Freedom, I think.
RH: In a word, freedom.
CG: In seriousness, you had the freedom to say, “Alright, let’s go back and forth. This is going to be riffy as hell. And then this is a little more melodic.” I love the flow of the record because it kept me on my toes, really, you know?
RH: Yeah, thank you. It’s been a labor of love. It took a really long time to write and we kind of tried to record it a couple of times and we didn’t like what we ended up with. We are really blessed to be at a label that let us take our time with it and we ended up with something that I think we’re all really proud of and really happy with. So we’re really excited to get it out in the world. I can’t believe it’s coming out.
SW: Yeah, it feels it feels like we’ve just been ready for this to come out for years.
RH: I mean, the title track was written in October of 2020, so it’s like that’s how long some of these songs have been [around].
CG: Yeah, that one, the title track, is super aggro, like Metallica. I love it.
SW: That was definitely the COVID anger coming out a little bit.
CG: What did you grow up listening to that lends to the way you play your instruments in this band and maybe influences the overall sound of White Reaper?
SW: I grew up listening to like a lot of punk and thrash. And so I think that kind of affects the way I play bass. Honestly, I think I like to simplify a lot of things, and I don’t like to add too many frills and insane stuff, and I don’t overthink it. I just think about what’s best for the song and I think that comes from like punk music. What about you, Ryan?
RH: I grew up listening to a potpourri of rock music and just all kinds of different guitar based bands — a lot of punk music and a lot of hardcore and heavy stuff. Keys are difficult because a lot of that doesn’t have keyboard. And so I think the element that I try to bring from that is more just showmanship and the big glam rock vibe of older bands. Basically I try to be like if KISS had a keyboard player.
CG: Were you playing classically trained, playing piano as a kid, like so many of us suburban kids do?
RH: No, I played bass in high school and they already had a bassist and Tony [Esposito, singer and guitarist] was like, “Will you play the keyboard in the band?” And I said, “Yes.”
CG: So a quick study on the keys?
RH: Yeah, I mean, I’m terrible, but…
CG: Lots of fans would beg to differ.
RH: I get the job done.
CG: What about the song “Fog Machine,” then? I’m getting KISS all over that shit. And also JEFF the Brotherhood. You might remember a band from Nashville called JEFF The Brotherhood.
RH: I love JEFF.
CG: Classic. Tell me about “Fog Machine” — is there anything about that song, the writing of it, the recording? Was that an early one that you kept or scrapped initially?
RH: I don’t remember it was Tony or Hunter, but one of them kind of had that riff for a long time and we knew it was awesome, but then didn’t really know what to do with it and how to make it NOT sound so KISS and, like, how do we add our own spin to it? It kind of got put on the back burner and we tucked it away on the shelf and then just right at the very end it clicked, I guess. Tony figured out a way to structure it to make it work. And it was the last song that was written for the record.
SW: It feels kind of like we wrote it less than a month before we recorded it. Tony fleshed a lot of it out, and then we got in a room together and figured out what’s going to happen during the solo part. And we had the riff for so long and then we just last-minute figured it out.
RH: Pretty crazy. And now that’s one of my favorite songs we’ve ever done.
CG: I’m thinking about the really infectious quality of “Pink Slip,” which has also been out for a while, but [the lyrics go]: “They grow up so slow. It’s hard to believe us when we grow up so slow.”
Can you can you reflect on a little bit your growth as a band, maybe musically, or also maybe just as a functioning unit? Because this is not your first rodeo, This is your second record for Elektra, but you’ve been doing this thing for a long time and endured some changes as a band. So what’s that growth been like for White Reaper?
SW: I think for me it’s been exploring a new city, seeing what it’s like without my closest friends around it and seeing how I can operate independently while also growing closer to them when I’m with them on tour. I think one way that we’re all growing together is that the more we spend time with each other, the more we enjoy it, honestly. Obviously we bicker like we’re brothers, but the more we hang out, the more we enjoy hanging out with each other.
RH: I think a lot of the growth, you know, sonically, we’ve kind of always just tried to change it up, and not ever do anything twice. So that’s less calculated and more just trying to write what we feel, you know? But I think as people more so it’s like…we’ve been a band for ten years. I think just learning how to treat everyone like, like a person, you know, and not just like your bandmate or your business partner or whatever. And just realizing maybe somebody is going through a hard time and just having some empathy, you know, things like that. Just growing up, you know?
CG: Right. That sounds a lot like coming into an awareness and an empathy, just as a person, about your fellow man or woman. But trying to do that within the context of a band that’s also popping off and growing and having success.
RH: It’s fun. It’s interesting. Oh, and I’m proud of this guy.
SW: Yeah, one way that we grew up a little bit was me and Nick quit drinking. And tour is a lot easier now because of that.
CG: And you’re talking about Nick, your brother [White Reaper’s drummer], right? Like at the same time?
SW: Well, he quit drinking before me, and then I have about a year now. Just for me, it makes touring easier and more fun. I have more energy.
CG: It’s actually not a drag on the experience. It’s giving you more fuel for what you need to do.
RH: Oh and he runs marathons.
SW: Yeah, I also run.
CG: Look how rock and roll you are!
RH: Sam ran a marathon before the last show we played. So the last show we played before the pandemic was in Los Angeles at the Troubadour, and Sam literally ran a marathon before the show.
CG: Day of show, you ran a full?!
SW: Yeah. The whole tour, I trained for it, because our show was on the same day as the marathon. Basically the [Los Angeles] marathon goes from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica. And I remember running past the Troubadour on the marathon and saw on the marquis that our band name was on it. And I was like, “This is the most insane moment.”
RH: And he just like got in an Uber at the end of the race and came straight to the show. [Laughs.]
CG: Did they have to wheel you out on like a Dave Grohl throne situation?! I run halves but I don’t think I would be in performance shape after 13 [miles running], much less 26, right after.
RH: You seemed fine.
SW: I mean, my legs hurt, but I think I pulled it off.
RH: You did train for a long time. And it wasn’t your first marathon, right?
SW: No, it wasn’t.
CG: But training, putting in that work, that mileage on the road — it seems really hard if you have an aggressive tour schedule!
SW: It is. I’m training for the Maui Marathon right now and I planned my training all around this next tour. So it’s going to be the same shit all over again.
CG: I know you all have toured with some big rock bands, and I wonder what you’ve observed from, like, the Weezers and the Pearl Jams as you all grow as a band. Are there things you’ve observed about a band at that level that you could reflect on, like the pros and cons of maybe the touring apparatus or how they function this many years into being a band?
RH: I think what I noticed and what I’ve tried to apply the most of is just like, make yourself comfortable and feel like you’re at home. I don’t know, the term safe space gets thrown around a lot, but create like a safe space for yourself to feel good. Because touring is really hard if you can’t find some comfortability in it. And I think finding little ways to make it suck less, you know? Bring a game system with you or do exercise or — you know, I used to spend 30 minutes just by myself before we played to do like meditation or listen to music or whatever. Just find little things that make you feel grounded,
SW: From what I see bigger bands doing, it’s like self-preservation. Like showing up to the venue literally as late as you want. Do whatever you have to do to feel it to preserve your brain, because it’s really exhausting.
RH: Yeah go to the hotel in between soundcheck and the show or just find those little things that make it easier.
CG: I love that. Yeah. Sounds like you got your approach to, like, you can rock the hell out, but you know how important it is to stay healthy on the road. And sounds like you’re really prepared for that this tour cycle going into this.
RH: I hope so. I usually kind of fall apart right at the beginning, but we’ll see. Usually when we go on tour or start up a run of shows. This is what I used to do. Like there’s a lot of drinking because there’s anxiety and we’re all stoked to get back together. We want to have fun. And then you get like pretty drunk on the first few shows. And then after that, it’s like catching up to trying to feel normal for the rest of the month. That was a great piece of advice someone gave me is never start the tour with a hangover because you’ll never feel better again.
CG: You’re in a deficit forever. Well, is there anywhere you’re playing this next little bit that you’ve either never played — a city or a venue that you’re particularly excited about? I’m selfish. I’m asking because I’m excited. You have a weekend show in Nashville. I’m a morning host is weekdays shows are really hard for me to do that but yeah we’ll be excited to see you here in yeah for weeks but what about any other places that you’re particularly stoked to go?
RH: You know, the New York’s, the Chicago’s, the L.A.’s. I think it’s really cool that we’re opening the tour with the show in Lexington, which is very close to Louisville, and then closing the tour with a show in Louisville.
SW: We kind of did a tour around this time last year that was all of our makeup days. So it feels cool to be going out on a proper tour. In 2020, we had New Mexico booked. Albuquerque, New Mexico, was booked a day or two after L.A. and then it all got shut down. So I’m excited to go play Albuquerque. We’ve never played there.
CG: It’s cool in the desert. Speaking of Kentucky — and I do love that you’re starting and ending the tour there — what was Louisville like in your formation, getting your start as a band? As far as the scene, the support. Even if you’re not all based there anymore, that is the origin story of White Reaper, right? So tell me about those early days.
RH: Louisville is definitely foremost a punk and hardcore town. A lot of really big hardcore bands come from Louisville. And there wasn’t at the time a ton of just, you know, rock music out there. So it was a lot of booking mixed shows or booking our own shows or trying to bring bands from other cities in for us to play with. Now the scene in Louisville is just a mixed bag of everything. So it’s really cool to see that. But it was weird at first, for sure. I think every band kind of starts off that way, just trying to plan as many shows as they can and cut their chops or whatever.
There’s a great festival a friend of ours used to run called Cropped Out that I think was a big from the start, and all of his bands and label really helped out, too.
SW: I feel like it’s small enough to where word gets around pretty fast and people can get supported pretty quickly. Like we got very lucky, it was a perfect time for us. And also one cool thing about Louisville is that if young kids are doing something, everyone is super supportive, like more than most cities, I think.
RH: I mean, we started playing in bands in Louisville when we were like 15.
CG: Yeah, the virtues of a mid-sized city are like you might not have as many major tours coming through. And so then people are extra thirsty for local artists, they’ll go to any show.
RH: Especially with a city that size that doesn’t get a lot of tours, and also young people aren’t necessarily moving there as a destination. It’s like if one generation of kids doesn’t carry the torch for the music scene, then it can die. So I think young people start up bands and everybody’s really supportive because they want these kids to carry the torch, you know, and and keep the music scene alive. And Louisville has this really fertile and awesome music history, and it’s really cool to see young people get involved in it. We’ve tried our best to to do what we can. It’s awesome. I love it there and I don’t think I’ll ever leave.
CG: Since you’re not the kids anymore, are there any kids who you are especially excited about? They don’t even have to be younger than you, technically. But maybe a younger band that yours, where you’re like, “Man, if you miss them, you are dumb”?
RH: Our good friends Wombo have had a huge year. They’re like my age, they’re not kids, but they’ve had a huge year and I’m so proud of them. And they just really put the work in, you know, signed to Fire Talk and went on some awesome tours and are just crushing it. So it’s super stoked to see them like move to the national level. And then there’s there’s a ton of really awesome young bands too. Like there’s this band called Sunshine, which is really, really cool and they’re, they’re really young and new, really rad. Ego Trippers and Boa. There’s just a ton of good rock and then a ton of good hardcore and heavy music, too. And, you know, obviously also, like our rap scene has really blown up in the last couple of years, which is cool and that’s been awesome to see, too.
CG: Yeah, same. Sam, are you a little bit wistful, preaching the gospel of how cool Louisville is when you’re in your huge city, your new home?
SW: It’s funny because you’ll get a mixed bag of people that are implants [sic] that have just kind of like moved from the Midwest and they know they’ve been there a bunch of times and they know about it. But then a lot of natives in California don’t know where Louisville is on a map. They don’t know where Kentucky is. They’re literally like, “Is that next to Tennessee?” So those people, you know, I’m sure they take it with a grain of salt when I tell them that Louisville is really sick. But it’s crazy. Louisville is like a very special place.
RH: Most people are usually like, “Why would I ever go to Kentucky?” And I’m like, “Well, alright, stay home.”