White Reaper is growing up — musically, at least. Frontman and guitarist Tony Esposito says the freewheeling lifestyle of a touring band has kept the group spiritually young. Its sound, however, grew considerably between the band’s DIY debut, “White Reaper Does It Again” (2015), and its sophomore effort, “The World’s Best American Band,” released in April. “The World’s Best American Band” embraces the blown-out theatrics of ’70s glam rock, trading in muddy garage jams for crisp, catchy stadium anthems.
“It was less us deciding to replicate a certain era and more that we just had gotten better at our instruments and wanted to write more complex parts for ourselves,” Esposito says of the band’s growth between albums. “It wasn’t like we sat down and went, ‘Let’s be a ’70s band.’ It was like ‘Oh, I’m better at guitar now, ‘I’m better at drums now.’ We’re better songwriters now. We just pushed ourselves in terms of writing the songs.”
White Reaper hails from Louisville, Kentucky a town better known for bluegrass and baseball bats than hard rock.
“You don’t need to go through Kentucky to get to anywhere else, really,” Esposito says. “You can go to Cincinnati or Indianapolis or Nashville other ways, so not a lot of people end up passing through. But if you spend some time there, it’s plain to see there’s stuff happening. When we grew up, there was a pretty rich, all-ages DIY scene. We had a great stage at a place called Skull Alley. It was where we met pretty much all the friends we still hang out with today.”
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Early on, the band bonded over a mutual love of punk rock.
“The Ramones and the Misfits, the early Dischord [Records] stuff like Void and Minor Threat and Faith,” Esposito says. “That’s what we were listening to when we first got into high school. Whoever could find the coolest, fastest punk song won over everybody else for that week.”
Today, White Reaper is more likely to garner a comparison to KISS or Cheap Trick than to the Dead Boys or The Damned, but it has retained the punk energy of its early years. But it often is playing to new audiences
“At the start of this tour, we did a couple shows with Billy Idol and now we’re touring with The Struts, and they seem to draw an older crowd that’s a little less energetic than the kids we’re used to playing to, so we’ve had to make a few adjustments,” Esposito says.
Playing with older, more established acts has taught the members of White Reaper the importance of professionalism and perseverance as they fight through the doldrums and temptations of the road.
“Sometimes, there’s long drives and some bullshit you’ve got to deal with, but at the end of the day, you gotta play a show,” Esposito says. “You gotta get up there and get it done.”
White Reaper has been touring intermittently for the past 18 months, but the group has spent some time relaxing at home and getting started on its third album.
“We’ve gotten better through touring and listening to more music and maturing,” Esposito says. “We’re ready to make a bunch of good songs. That’s the focus. We never try to emulate one certain thing. We just want to make a good record.”