On Top of the World: Louisville, White Reaper, and I

My old Kentucky home is the land of many of the world’s superlatives. The world’s greatest horse racing, the world’s best bourbon, the world’s most influential boxer, the world’s largest baseball bat, and also the World’s Best American Band, White Reaper. Both White Reaper and I hail from the same city, Louisville, unknowingly frequenting the same restaurants and music venues for years before I discovered them. They put out their first EP in 2014, three years before I would first register hearing their music, and four before I would meet them and grow to be a huge fan. I must admit that I have not been a fan of White Reaper’s for long, but nonetheless, their music has grown to become a significant part of my life.

The author’s signed White Reaper album. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

My relationship with White Reaper’s music started on Record Store Day a year ago, when I was lucky enough to stumble upon a DJ set by the Wilkerson brothers, twins Sam and Nick, who make up the rhythmic section of the band. They play bass and drums, respectively and amazingly. That day I also met Tony Esposito, lead vocals and guitar, and Ryan Hater, who rocks harder than any other keyboard player I’ve seen live. (This experience left out Hunter Thompson, an incredibly talented guitarist who ironically has the same name as a Louisville icon though he is the only band member who is not from Louisville). At the record store I remember picking up one of their records from the “W” artist section, looking at the picture of the band on the sleeve, holding the record up to my face right next to the band members in real life, and doing a double-take. Within five minutes the record was purchased, I already had their signatures, and was engaged in conversation with the boys. From multiple interactions with the band members it is with ease and certainty that I can say they are some of the most genuine guys I’ve met in the music scene today. I acknowledge my bias as a fellow Louisvillian, but their onstage charm translates offstage as well. Their fan base is so dedicated partly because of how personable they are. They’re cool guys making cool music.

(from left) Ryan Hater, Tony Esposito, Nick Wilkerson, and Hunter Thompson rocking out at Louisville’s Forecastle Festival 2018. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

“The World’s Best…” is a title I would readily give them if they hadn’t already given it to themselves. Their second studio album, The World’s Best American Band, cements their self-fulfilling prophecy as one of the new, upcoming “greats” with tracks that rock, and don’t stop. Listening to the album I was immediately seduced by “Judy French,” as all other listeners are. Soon my favorite off their sophomore album became “Daises,” and before I had exhausted The World’s Best… I was already deep into their earlier tracks: first album “White Reaper Does It Again” (funny, right?) and self-titled EP. Fast forward a few weeks from the day I met them and all my “Spotify heavy rotation” tracks belonged to White Reaper—some personal favorites are still “Alone Tonight,” “I Don’t Think She Cares,” and “Tell Me.” Go a couple more weeks into the future and I’m getting whiplash in the front row at their concert.

Ryan Hater, Tony Esposito, Sam Wilkerson, and I at Forecastle Festival 2018. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

Headbanging and moshing to White Reaper’s music is easy with their catchy guitar riffs, strong rhythm, and especially Esposito’s piercing and unique vocals. You can listen to any White Reaper track once and then be able to pick out Esposito’s voice again, that’s how unique and profound in a strange, ambiguous way he sounds. In combination with their recognizable sound, their stage-presence as some sort of self-proclaimed rock gods also entices and draws in a dedicated audience and fan base. Their energy is pure and contagious. They easily bring everyone to their feet—with songs like “The Stack” it’s impossible not to dance. In this song Esposito sings the truth, “If you make the girls dance, the boys will dance with them,” but White Reaper doesn’t need to make people move because the audience is already dancing. The songs on White Reaper Does It Again, though the production can sound fuzzy at times (something I think adds to the character of some of the more eccentric tracks, like “Friday the 13th”), end as strong as they start. Listening all the way from their first EP to The World’s Best… it’s fun to watch the band grow, gain members, and develop a sound that has potential to fluctuate, develop, and continue to excite. Saying I’m excited to hear new tracks from them in the future would be an understatement—their music makes me feel at home.

(from left) Nick Wilkerson, Hunter Thompson, and Sam Wilkerson during their Forecastle set. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

Strangely enough, of all the things to be proud of about my city and state, White Reaper is at the top of my list. I’ll never forget the first time I saw them live in Louisville—how genuinely proud I was to be a fan of their music, proud of the great Louisville music scene they’re helping to develop, and proud of them being great, compassionate people. From my new, small room in Colorado Springs, listening to White Reaper takes me back to Kentucky in the fall. While blasting White Reaper I’m driving fast around Louisville at night, hanging out with my friends, and feeling like I’m strong, opinionated, and on top of the world.


You can listen to White Reaper’s discography on this handy playlist I’ve made of all their songs on Spotify: