We sat down with Sam Wilkerson (bass) and Hunter Thompson (guitar) of White Reaper to talk early musical beginnings, the greatest guitar solo of all time, and their new album You Deserve Love.
Melodic Magazine: How did you guys first get into music and what was the first thing that made you really excited about music in general?
Sam Wilkerson: Well, it started in Louisville, Kentucky with me, my brother, and Anthony (Esposito) the singer, and we all grew up playing video games. On the Tony Hawk games there were a lot of punk songs on the soundtrack and listening to those songs on those games made us really interested in that kind of music. Then we started going to shows at the local all ages venue and the more local shows we got to see, the more interested we were in the local punk scene, and then we started a band when we were 15.
Hunter Thompson: The first musical memory that I have is watching Andy Griffith on TV and he was playing a country song on guitar that I was obsessed with as a little kid. I just wanted to be able to play that song, when I was in fourth grade that was my whole motivation for playing guitar. Very different than Tony Hawk games as my inspiration. It just made me really wanna pick up guitar so I begged for one and finally got one and learned a whole bunch of country stuff as a young kid and started getting more into rock stuff and punk stuff and went from there.
Sam: And another key thing to point out is that we didn’t meet Hunter until later. What year did we meet?
Hunter: Like 2015?
Sam: Yeah we met Hunter and he joined the band in 2015.
MM: It sounds like you’ve been involved with music forever. Was there anything else you ever considered doing?
Hunter: Oh yeah, definitely. I personally didn’t think that I was going to do music at first. When I was in high school I just loved playing music and it was always more of a nerdy interest. And then when I was in college I was really focused on school and thought I wanted to go to medical school and I was doing data analytic stuff, doing all these different things that I thought I wanted to do. Then I got really exhausted with it.
I’d been writing songs and wanted to play in bands, so I started doing that and then through that network of bands is how I met these guys. By that time I’d been on a few small tours and they were touring at a more rigorous pace, so them offering me to go out with them and start doing this whole thing was kind of a dream come true.
MM: Do you remember the exact moment where you were like, “I have to leave medical school and do music?”
Hunter: It was pre-med and I was just not doing anything but studying for like two years and I was like, ‘I fucking hate this.’ It wasn’t like it was going poorly, I was just so exhausted doing it and I wanted to do something creative and fun and so many of the people I admired in Austin and the things I was interested in were band oriented, so I was like ‘I’m going to start doing that.’ So I got on Craigslist and found a band and that was the band that ultimately led me to meet these guys.
MM: And so it brought you to this new album, You Deserve Love. What was the most challenging part of writing this new record?
Hunter: I think the hardest part collectively was that, there was a lot of time between the last record and this record obviously, and it was kind of due to the fact that there were a lot changes. I joined the band, we were changing management, we were changing labels. So it was just a lot of administrative work to do that got in the way of the writing process.
Also with the major label thing I think that Tony felt a lot of pressure of just making sure the songs were good so he was very- I don’t want to put words in his mouth- but I would say like, obsessive in the sense that he wanted them to be good songs; he wanted to actualize what he had in his head as best as he could. So just a lot of work for him to get everything out that he could in the midst of all these transitions. It ended up being an arduous task to balance both of them, but in the end I think we got stuff that we wanted and I think it’s given us a lot of confidence on whatever comes next for recording and writing.
MM: How did you overcome that pressure?
Sam: We only write music and play music that we want to hear. So even though there were some outside pressures, when Tony’s writing by himself he writes the music that he wants to hear. That’s what it always comes down to. Tony sets a super high expectation for himself and I think he’s ready once that expectation has been met, when he feels that he’s reached his max with writing.
MM: And then he brings it to the rest of the band?
Sam: Yeah, with this last one we had all the demos just ready to go, he just brought it to us, and we like filled in our little doodles and fills and Hunter did all the solos on the new record.
Hunter: He brings in the rough arrangement and then we kind of sand it down a little bit and add our parts, and filled things out.
MM: What did you enjoy the most about making the record?
Hunter: What was really fun about the record (and also kind of challenging) was that we did a lot of it live and we tracked all together at the same time. So it was like finding that one take that felt really cohesive and energetic and really magical or whatever you want to call it, and that in and of itself was a really fun and rewarding thing.
Sam: Yeah, that’s one thing about this studio in particular is that there’s not a control room and a separate tracking room, it’s all just one room.
Hunter: And it’s in a big old church, so it’s got a cool spacial vibe.
Sam: Yeah it’s great energy and also there’s no doors to open so it sort of streamlines the communication and feedback of every take. Also it wasn’t too far from home. Well, for Hunter it was far from home, but for us it’s in Nashville so it’s only a few hours away from Louisville where we’re from. At the studio we had a lot more toys to play with, a lot more space, and the environment when we were tracking was pretty relaxed honestly.
MM: You guys are known for your amazing guitar solos and guitar parts. What do you think is the greatest guitar solo in any song, ever?
Hunter: My favorite guitar solo of all time is probably ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ by The Cars. I just think it’s got so many cool elements. Elliot Easton is one of my favorite guitar players because he does a really good job of writing melodic parts that are really interesting, and he has a lot of weird country technique that he does that I think is really fun. It’s a really fun and technical solo that is just super melodic and kind of quirky.
MM: So are you still attracted to sort of country guitar playing?
Hunter: I definitely am personally even though this stuff isn’t- I mean there are solos that are on this record, like on “Ring” in particular, it’s more of a heavy, shreddier solo, but I also do things that I would characterize as like, I copped that from Elliot Easton.
Sam: The way I would describe your solos on the new record is that you have a nice blend of raw fucking riffs and geometrical- I don’t know how to put it, like you have these geometrical turns, but you also have the raw riffs.
Hunter: I think in terms of geometry a lot whenever I’m playing guitar because I like a lot of post punk stuff too. I like bands like Preoccupations, Tsunami, and Television and all these bands that play shapes that sounds really cool, so I kind of try to think in terms of that. But I also try to think in terms of like, cool little phrases and in terms of following the chord progressions, which kind of marries the three types of guitar playing that I really like.
Sam: I wonder if Tony would say Randi Rhodes solo for one of his, he loves Randi Rhodes. But I love Django Reinhardt who’s a jazz guitar player. I really like shreddy rock stuff, but to listen to I usually like a lot more melodic stuff and really technical hard jazz guitar stuff that I can’t do so it blows my mind.
MM: I want to talk about your listed interests on Facebook. You have Survivor, and Spiderman, and Jake Gyllenhaal-
Hunter: I think I might have liked Jake Gyllenhaal.
MM: Is this from a while ago?
Hunter: A lot of this shit is old, but Survivor is not that old. We got really into Survivor in February when we were recording the record. We would go home to our Airbnb and watch Survivor together.
Sam: And it got to the point where we had it on a laptop connected to the TV and our buddy Lance flew in, and he’s an older dude so he’s definitely seen Survivor, but he got in and we’d watch one episode and the next day he would come in and be like “Are we gonna put some Survivor on?”
Hunter: ‘Yeah dude we’ll watch Survivor.’
Hunter: We coincidentally stumbled upon it because when we were rehearsing the record in December, Tony randomly chose to watch Survivor because he thought it would be funny, and he chose this season that was called Cagayan- it’s the best season of Survivor I’ve ever seen in my life. And then we just got obsessed with Survivor.
Sam: My favourite season is Heroes vs Villains.
Hunter: Heroes and Villains is also great, probably my number two.
Sam: Cause it’s all the fucking all star cast from the old seasons.
Hunter: Also, Jake Gyllenhaal- I was kind of obsessed with him in middle school because I just thought he was so hot. I was like, I wanna be that!
Sam: But you might have also seen that we might like Spiderman, or Tobey Maguire on our Facebook page. Big Spiderman fans.
MM: I was gonna ask, who is the best spider man?
Both: Tobey Maguire, there’s no question.
Sam: And then all the new Spidermans were British anyway, he’s the only American Spiderman.
Hunter: Which is fine.
Sam: It’s fine but-
Hunter: It’s just not the same.
MM: I saw you guys have a mural in Louisville. How did that come about?
Sam: Basically our managers thought that it would be a good idea to paint our record cover on the side of a building, that it would be some good advertising in our hometown. All our families have gone down and taken pictures.
Hunter: We’ve never even seen it.
MM: How long is it going to be up for?
Hunter: I don’t know. I just know that the day it was painted my friends texted me and they were like ‘holy shit there’s a big mural of your record, that’s great!’ and I was like ‘yeah, I’m probably not going to be able to see it, it’s probably going to be painted over when we get back.’
MM: What is coming up next for White Reaper?
Hunter: We’re just playing shows until basically like Christmas. We have a couple more shows at the end of December in Nashville and Indianapolis and Chicago. And then we’re done. We’re going to take a bit of a break in January and kind of regroup and hopefully start the next record.
Sam: We’re going to Disneyworld next month.
MM: Have you been before?
Hunter: I’ve been. When I was a kid
Sam: Only when we were younger.
Hunter: So we’ll see if it holds up.
See our live coverage of White Reaper here!
Interview by Zoe Orion. Photos by Hannah Maynes.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.