White Reaper explains the importance of keyboards in music, their growth as a band, return to South By Southwest

Chris Duncan

Known for combining ’60s pop sensibilities with garage rock and aggressive lyrics, Louisville rock outfit White Reaper released their debut LP White Reaper Does It Again to critical acclaim last July. The Daily Texan spoke with bassist Sam Wilkinson about the group’s origins, the Louisville music scene and their return to South By Southwest. 

The Daily Texan: How did you guys meet each other?

  • Sam Wilkinson: Our guitarist Tony [Esposito] had a bunch of songs written, and my brother Nick and I went to school with him. Eventually, Tony and Nick went to Middle Tennessee [University]. They wanted to do music production, but they only lasted a semester. After they dropped out, they toured around as a two-piece: guitar and drums. I asked enough times to the point where they caved and let me play bass. That went on long enough to the point where we felt like we needed an actual live keyboard player, so we got Ryan Hater.

DT: What does the keyboard add to your sound?

  • SW: It does certain leads the guitar can’t. It’s more bright, more fun, just overall more pretty sounding, that way it just doesn’t sound like a generic rock thing. It came pretty naturally, honestly. A lot of people call us a pop-rock band, and none of that was intentional. There were just certain leads and stuff we thought would sound cool with the keyboard.

DT: What do you see as the major difference between the EP and your first full album?

  • SW: The EP had more fun-in-the-sun type of songs. Tony wrote all of that music, and it kind of came with what he wanted to do after school. The last album gave us more of an opportunity to add more depth to our music, as there really wasn’t much on the EP. The album is a little darker. It’s still peripheral, but we just did what we felt natural.

DT: Do you think at times your more pop-oriented sounds can distract from those darker elements and lyrics?

  • SW: I don’t think anything really distracts from the lyrics. In fact, I think it adds an element of spookiness to the lyrics. From our perspective, the songs by themselves sound super poppy, but there’s a really dark underbelly to everything.

DT: Coming up as a band in Louisville, did you guys get the support you needed as a new act?

  • SW: We’re really blessed to have grown up in a super weird and open-minded city. When we first started, we had the EP, but our manager from Louisville was the one that pitched us to the label we’re with now, Polyvinyl Records. Louisville is why we are where we are now.

DT: A while back, you guys posted pictures of the White Reaper logo tattooed onto some of your fans. How odd is it to see that?

  • SW: It’s pretty fucking amazing that people have that much faith in us and like what we do that much where they’ll get us tattooed on them. What if someone who’s really into your interviews and stuff got your name tattooed on them? It’s another form of validation, which is pretty tight.

DT: You guys are a showcase act this year at SXSW. How do you think this year will be different from last?

  • SW: It’s going to be chaotic, but we’re going to be out there more instead of just sitting at our friend’s house. We just have a lot more shows, and I feel like we’ve been having a lot of really good shows on this part of our tour, so we’re ready.

White Reaper will perform at The Sidewinder Inside on March 18 at 10:45 p.m., as well as in several other uunofficial shows this week.