As both alternative music's latest 'it' band and one of the most interesting young rock groups around today, White Reaper is easy to root for.
While the band doesn't break entirely new ground on its latest album, You Deserve Love, the record occupies a rare and uniquely exciting vacuum somewhere between the nebulas of rock 'n' roll, punk rock and power pop.
You Deserve Love is as hook-laden as any offering from The Cars, Billy Squire, Green Day or The Strokes, yet White Reaper's dueling guitars take the lead in a way that evokes classic rock idols like Thin Lizzy, T. Rex or Boston.
White Reaper guitarist Hunter Thompson recently spoke with Q104.3 New York's QN'A to react to the band's single "Might Be Right" hitting No. 1 at alternative radio. He also discussed his band's love of both classic and contemporary music, its devotion to honing its craft and its slow build to early success.
Check out the full QN'A below.
Congratulations on having the No. 1 song on alternative radio! Was it two weeks in a row "Might Be Right" was No. 1?
I think it might have only been one. Billie Eilish had her way and got the spot back.
Tell me about this partnership you have with Fender Next; I see that all the guys in the band use Fender gear where applicable. There seems to be some mutual affection there.
Definitely. That's kind of the first guitar that most people are attracted to. [Fender has] so many different levels of entry points that I think everyone who plays guitar ends up with a Fender at some point.
We got connected with Jason at Fender. He has hooked us up and helped us out whenever we've needed it. It's been an awesome partnership, so we're really excited to do this Fender Next deal and see what it's all about.
I just got a new guitar in the mail, which is pretty sweet. So I'm getting to work on that and setting it up to start using it at shows. It's been pretty cool.
And the nice thing about Fenders is that the more used and beat up they get, the better they look.
Absolutely! I haven't beat up any of my Fenders too good yet, because Jason has just hooked us up with so many different ones. Anytime I get a new one, I just switch over to that one.
...I've got one — he gave me an American Professional Telecaster like three years ago, and that's got some pretty good wear on it, some pretty good accidents. That's probably my favorite guitar that I have.
Being that White Reaper is a younger band, there's a perception that you guys were an overnight success. I wonder if it feels that way for you. How has the band has grown over time?
Yeah, I definitely don't think it's been an overnight success. There's been years and years of work, for sure. The band started with Nick [Wilkerson, drums] and Tony [Esposito], the singer/guitar player, when they went to college in 2012 and were writing songs together. The band has been going on for 6-7 years at this point — more fleshed out in the last three years.
[Our growth] felt very incremental. It feels like there's always been milestones to be hit and a very natural progression of the band getting bigger. It definitely didn't feel like zero - 60. There's a lot of room to grow. We're just gonna keep trucking away and hoping that people keep offering us gigs and that we still have jobs to do. It's been a fun ride; it doesn't feel like overnight success.
The song "Might Be Right" has had an amazing run. When did that song come about and when did you start thinking that it might pick up steam?
The song began in February of 2018. I was with Tony, and we had a couple ideas. Tony had an idea for the bassline and a different idea for the verse guitars. We kind of worked on it, made a demo and ended up hitting a wall a bit and it didn't really go anywhere.
Later, Tony got back into it. He hit me up and asked me to send him the demo. He came back with mostly what became the song and had written the melody and the chorus. From the moment he sent the demo I was like, 'This is my favorite song that we have going into the studio.'
We went to the studio and it was hard to get it to sound the way we wanted it to. A lot of our songs previously had been really hard, fast rock songs and punk rock songs. This one has a little more dynamics, more space to breathe. It was kind of a departure from our normal operations and I think that's why it ended up being one of our favorite songs. It took us in another direction.
We showed that finished song to our management and our label, and they were all really excited about it. None of us really expected that to be the single, but we were happy to put it out there. It really took off and definitely helped us grow. It's been a cool run with it.
How do you think you arrived at the band's current, melodic, hook-driven direction?
I think it's just the natural progression of getting better at writing songs and getting better at cutting them down. As you probably can tell, there's no frills on the songs. We're not a jam band. We like things to be as concise and to-the-point as possible because that's just what we're attracted to in songwriting.
There's no real thought specifically as to how we want to be; it's just the way it comes out. The songwriting ideas we have are as bare bones and as simple as they can be. We like to keep it simple so every part can speak for itself. That's the idea for us.
Right. It's cool because I can hear your appreciation for punk and hard rock, even though that's not really what your band is doing on this album.
I really think that's just a collection of our tastes. We all play guitar music, obviously, so we grew up listening to classic rock and power pop. We all love The Replacements, The Cars. We also love metal stuff, too — we grew up listening to [metal] and punk stuff.
As songwriters and as listeners now, I think we really love contemporary pop stuff. We've loved pop our whole lives. It's a collection of those influences that rear their heads. That's just what we like.
What are some of your goals, personally, as a guitarist? When you imagine yourself playing guitar, are you picturing a big solo?
Man, that's a good question. It kind of changes, depending on the song. The thing that I really always want to be good at, and the thing that I'm practicing, is moving along with chord progressions. Really finding the target melodic notes that I like for any chords. That's a real focus for me. I don't want to just stay in a pentatonic box the whole time. I want to move with the progression.
Obviously we do a lot of pentatonic stuff. I just want to make sure that the guitar playing is melodic and moves with the chord progression, has a lift, isn't too busy. So I guess I think of soloing as like writing solos and trying to hear some sort of melodic line that can take a piece from the vocal melody and can be twisted around to be something else.
When you sit down to play guitar, what do you work on? Do you exclusively write or do you do more formal practice?
It depends. Whenever we have a break, I like to write. After playing guitar for a long time on tour and only playing guitar, I like to write stuff. I'll go to the piano or mess around with drum machines and synth parts. On tour and also [between tours] I like to sit down and practice guitar. I like to learn a solo or learn a song that I've always wanted to learn. I've got a list of songs in a playlist to learn... if I'm ever looking for something to do on guitar, I'll go and try to figure out one of those.
I'll also just watch YouTube videos and try to learn licks or try to work on theory. I have lesson plans, basically, that I've given myself of different things that I want to do. Routines and practice that I'm trying to do. I'm always doing something, but it changes on my mood and what I feel compelled to do on any given day.
How come the last two albums are both only 30 minutes long?
It just worked out that way, for one thing, in what we had and what we felt was presentable. All of our songs are pretty concise and to-the-point. Also, I think, for us, that's what we like listening to. None of us really like long, drawn-out songs. Some people want to listen to that. For me, when I'm listening to a record, I start getting fatigued at some point over 40 minutes.
I feel like a 30-minute record for me always feels like I want to play it again. There wasn't any direct decision to do that. It comes by our taste and what we appreciate with albums, which is usually something short and sweet that I keep wanting to play again and again.
Are you guys thinking yet about the follow-up to You Deserve Love?
We're kind of trying to figure that out right now. We don't want to put You Deserve Love to the side just yet; we want to keep riding out the shows and the promotion for that and keep playing the songs and expanding upon them. I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done.
Writing music is one of those things where if you wait too long, it can be overwhelming when you need to do a record in a short amount of time. We're really trying to think through how we can start writing some more. There are some demos already made, so we've got some ideas. We definitely still need some time to build on those and write some more stuff.
[You Deserve Love] has been done since January of 2019. So to us it feels pretty old. It didn't come out till October of 2019, so in the cycle of things, it's still a pretty new album. I think for us there's always that itch to outdo ourselves and write better songs. We're definitely starting that process because we don't want to fall behind. We want to keep things rolling this time around.