White Reaper are swinging for the fences this year. The Louisville rock band are back with The World’s Best American Band, due April 7th via Polyvinyl Records. That bold album title serves as a mission statement: White Reaper are not going to wait for anyone else to declare them the best in the land when they can do it themselves. It’s kind of like when Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest rhymed, “If I don’t say I’m the best, tell me who the hell will.”
The World’s Best American Band brings a rousing classic rock feel to the band’s sound. The title track alone includes an anthemic chorus, the cheer of a stadium audience, a sing-along ooh-ooh coda, and a ‘school’s out’ alarm bell. It’s refreshing to hear a band pull out all the stops in an era when many indie rock bands seem to think that going big is going too far.
White Reaper guitarist and vocalist Tony Esposito spoke to Dan Redding about his band’s new album and much more. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Dan Redding: I love the title The World’s Best American Band, and the album has this big personality and presence. What would you say is the best place and time to listen to the album?
Tony Esposito: Oh man – in a car. Doesn’t matter what time, just in a car. Really loud probably, really fast.
Louisville has a ton of American symbolism and heritage – there’s the Kentucky Derby, the Slugger baseball bat factory, and Muhammad Ali is from Louisville. Louisville is such an American city, and you have this White Reaper album that makes the idea of being an American band a central idea. Did that theme come from Louisville, or did the city inspire you in that way?
Oh, I mean, it must’ve. It’s where we’ve lived for going on sixteen years for me, and for the other guys. Some of them maybe a little longer. But you’re right – it is a very American city, what with the Derby… It must’ve. Fourth of July is a big deal in Louisville, especially amongst our group of friends. We have Thunder Over Louisville in April, it’s the biggest fireworks show in America – maybe the world. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff going on.
It’s not like you’ll roll up to Louisville and see a bunch of American flags everywhere. It’s not like that. I dunno… It’s right in the middle of America, so we don’t have a whole lot of influence from any other places.
Your last record was released in 2015, and you guys toured a lot last year, and now you have this new record coming out. It seems like you’ve been working really hard, which is great. I’m interested in the work ethic and what drives you.
Man, it’s really just because we realize that if we don’t try our hardest, we’re not gonna get there. We don’t wanna end up washing dishes somewhere. We wanna play cool shows to a bunch of people that care about it. It’s kind of an understanding that we have with each other: if we’re not all in, then we should probably just stop right now. It’s easy to be motivated.
Can you tell me how you guys wrote ‘Judy French’?
Yeah, I went to Ryan’s house. We were just hangin’ out, shootin’ the shit, drinking beers, smoking weed, whatever. I just picked up his guitar… I had that riff in my head for a couple weeks and was trying to figure it out. On that particular day, I finally figured out how to play it as I heard it in my head.
I didn’t have to think too hard about it. It wasn’t one of those things where I was like, ‘Alright, so here’s this part,’ and racked my brain for hours over what the chorus was gonna be. It was just really, really easy, which always feels great. Yeah, that one came together pretty quickly. Got it on the iPhone voice memo, texted it to the rest of the guys, and we just started jammin’ on it. That was like the second idea I had going into the studio for this record, and really the only song that we could play through all the way as a band. And what we knew as that song going into the studio ended up being a lot different from what you hear on the record in terms of the composition. That riff was really, really fun to play with everybody. That one was really crazy, the way it was so easy to write. It was almost like someone just handed it over to us. It was crazy.
Do you think about how the crowd’s going to react to a song? Do you keep that in mind when you write music, in terms of the specific impact it’ll have on the audience during your live show?
Yeah … we realized that our live set was kind of static in the sense that all our songs were really, really fast the whole time. So we were like, ‘Maybe let’s make some songs [on The World’s Best American Band] that will be a little different for people to see live than just really fast rock and roll.’ We wanted to throw a little dash of variety in there and try some new stuff.
I heard an interview with Dave Grohl where he was talking about writing a song and matching the tempo of an audience jumping up and down, and trying to emulate that tempo for the song. That’s a fascinating idea to me, to specifically target dancing.
Yeah – that’s definitely one thing we had in mind, because we realized, if it’s ‘go go go’ the whole time for forty-five minutes, some people aren’t going to make it all the way to the end. So we wanted to give people a chance to bob their head lightly rather than frantically.
What’s one story from White Reaper’s most recent tour that you told more than any other?
Oh, man… We were playing a show in Santa Cruz. There was this place called The Catalyst, it was a really cool club, a great show too, all the kids were super into it. From the first song to the last, it was just wild. We were lovin’ it and everybody was lovin’ it – it was a great time. I had done this thing in the past, where at the end of the set, I would throw my guitar into the crowd. I would always get it back. I know it sounds stupid, but most people are very considerate. But this time, I threw it out there, and a kid smashed it [laughter].
[laughter] You were kind of tempting fate though!
Yeah, I was definitely tempting fate. But I thought, everyone else who was at that show is never gonna forget that. That’s a crazy way for the set to end. That was a wild night.
That’s great. Well what you could is bring ten cheap shitty guitars on tour with you just in case you ever feel like going for it again.
Yeah, or we could bring all the ones that have broken so far.
I know you’re an Ozzy Osbourne fan. What’s one skill or attribute of Ozzy’s that you would adopt if you could?
His vocal range. It’s crazy – he can do all kinds of stuff. Also, just his imagination.
Yeah, his imagination… some of the stage sets and props during the Blizzard of Ozz era were almost like Spinal Tap. He hired a little person that would throw buckets of meat into the audience. That’s real. [laughter]
[laughter] Yeah man. He definitely had a great mind for that kind of stuff. Which you don’t really see a whole lot anymore, which is kind of sad. He was definitely an entertainer. Yeah, can’t say enough about him really.
Who do you think was the world’s best American band before White Reaper came along?
Hmm. Man, that is a tough question. I feel like all the best bands weren’t American. [laughter] Maybe Kiss, I dunno. I better start thinking about that, because I should probably know who it was before it was us.
[laughter] It’s such a fun album title and it was fun to brainstorm about it while I was writing questions for you guys. That was one thing that occurred to me: who had the crown before White Reaper?
Yeah, who do you think?
It’s gotta be Nirvana, right? They were the last great American rock band.
Yeah, well maybe the last great, but were they the world’s best American band?
Yeah, I think they were.
That’s fair. Maybe the Chili Peppers had their day, too.