With the title of their second album, White Reaper declared themselves The World’s Best American Band. Though the Louisville, Kentucky power-pop group played it off mostly as a joke in interviews — members claimed the name was in the same vein as their cheekily-titled debut White Reaper Does It Again — you could tell there was part of them that meant it. The World’s Best American Band bristled with arena-sized energy, huge hooks, and a defiant sense of self-belief. The album even opens with the sound of a massive audience cheering the arrival of the band as they rip into the first song.
This summer, the White Reaper is finally getting the chance at playing the venues to which their music aspires as they embark on tours opening for Motion City Soundtrack, Jimmy Eat World, and, most importantly, Pearl Jam. What might be an intimidating experience for other groups is just another stint on the road according to keyboardist Ryan Hater.
“We’ve already toured so much that we’re pretty much prepared for anything,” says Hater. “We just try to bring the same amount of energy to every show.”
Hater says the band received the call from the grunge legends after playing last year’s Ohana Festival, the California music fest curated by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. “It’s a great opportunity because we’re just trying to get our music out to as many people as possible,” Hater continues. “We have to be ready to take advantage.”
That’s quite a turn for a man that once claimed W.A.S.P.’s Chris Holmes in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, booze-soaked and barely coherent, was the reason why he wanted to start touring.
“Yeah that’s definitely not sustainable,” Hater chuckles. “When you’re in your early 20s you can start drinking at 11 a.m. and still perform at a high level. That’s not happening now. At this point, it’s about developing a routine — eating the right food, sleeping, and trying to hold off on the booze every other night.”
The band also took less of a devil-may-care attitude when recording their latest record, You Deserve Love.
“We wrote The World’s Best American Band entirely in the studio,” says Hater. “It allowed us to capture the energy we looking for but for You Deserve Love, Tony [Esposito, the band’s lead singer] had plenty of time to write before going in so we had time to polish everything and focus on the details once we were in the studio.”
Compared to its predecessor, You Deserve Love has a more streamlined sound thanks to the band cleaning up some of its hard rock shagginess. Tracks like “1F” and “Might Be Right” are indebted as much to the Cars and the Knack as they are to mid-2000s bands that were cribbing from them like Ok Go and Rooney. On “Saturday,” the band experiment with dub reggae and “Hard Luck” features a massive, ghostly key sound that the band ripped directly from one of Esposito’s demos.
“We wanted the record to sound like it cost a $1 million to record in 1979,” Hater says. “Everything should sound top quality but you want that vintage veneer covering it.”
It does, and it rocks. It might not connect with audiences like it would have had it been released in 1979, but that won’t stop White Reaper from believing that it can.