Monday, May 14, 2012

Reptar Sits Down With FPT's Kellen Nordstrom

Photo Credit: Andrew Reynolds, OnlineAthens
Reptar came back to Milwaukee on May 13, as a supporting act for Grouplove. Andrew McFarland (Drums), Ryan Engelberger (Bass/Keys), and newly-added member Jace Bartet (Guitar) were kind enough to take some time (after melting the faces of some 'tweens) and sit down with FPT's own Kellen Nordstrom, for a laid-back conversation chock full of nerdery and laughter. 

Kellen: Congrats on Body Faucet, guys, it's an amazing album.

Ryan- Thanks so much, you guys definitely gave the best review of the album; it was the only one that I felt the writer actually (A) Read the lyrics, and (B) took the time and effort to figure out what was going on with the different aspects of it. That was the kind of review I was kind of hoping for, in my mind; which is a pretty shitty thing to say, but that was pretty close to what I wanted to see.

Well, that's awesome, thank you so much!



What was the "creative process" behind it? When did you record and write the material?

RE- Well we were on a tour with Phantogram, and that tour ended (for us) in Atlanta on November 13, and on November 15, we went to the studio to start recording.

How long did it take?

RE- We had about a month to record to it. We did 5 days of pre-production, 18 of recording, and then...

Andrew- Yeah, and then mixing and everything; post-production, and all that. We were really in the studio until about, the first week of January.

RE- We only had about a day and a half for each song. So it was somewhat chaotic.

AM- Yeah, we were a little rushed at times, but... 

RE- It's always nice to have that pressure.

Reptar's Body Faucet
For sure. Did you guys have a lot of the material for the album already written?

RE- Yeah actually, a couple songs like "New House", and.. "Sebastian", which we've been playing forever. And "Sweet Sippin' Soda" we've played for a while, too.

AM- "Houseboat Babies" was actually one of the first songs we'd ever wrote as a band.. it's like, the third song I believe that we ever wrote.

How did you guys determine what went on "Oblangle [Fizz Y'all]" and what would be saved for the LP?

RE- (Laughs) Kind of...chaotically? I feel like?

"Chaos" seems to be kind of a theme with you guys...


I know you guys are friends with Quiet Hooves, the band that opened for you at Cactus Club last time you were here. I had written a review for that show, and described them as the most eloquent train wreck to see as a live band.

JB- That's pretty spot on actually.

(Laughs) I can tell you guys draw a lot of inspiration from each other, especially in a live show setting. 

RE- Oh, absolutely. And I think the album has a certain feel because 1/2 of the songs we had been playing [live] for a while. We had just gotten off this tour, so we had a feel for them all.

AM- Yeah we had been playing them every day for like, 2 months.

RE- But there were also some songs, that came about in that ONE DAY: between Phantogram and recording; "Isoprene Bath", and "Thank You Gliese 370 b" both were songs we put together in the studio.

AM- Yeah we just did most of the work with those in pre-production.

RE- Right, so I think having just come off a two month tour, and just kind of being "in a groove" made it easy to pick those up and just record it.

JB- Well, "Please Don't Kill Me", and "Ghost Bike", and "Three Shining Suns" were all part of Graham's thing... [Graham Ulicny, Lead Singer]

RE- Right right, he had performed those in a solo set before, and were kind of his own thing, called Thick Paint...

JB- It's just Graham by himself, playing a guitar.

RE- Yeah, and Andrew sat in with him a couple of times; so we just sort of "stole" those songs and used them on the album.

What would you guys say you were trying to accomplish with the album? It sounds like it was a pretty quick process, and maybe you were just trying to churn it out, but where do you see it "fitting in" with everything else that's being put out?

JB- I guess one thing that I've been trying to figure out is why the album is so god damn long?


JB- I mean, I don't want to hijack this interview, it's a question I've had though: you guys said you wish you had more time in the studio, but why didn't you just cut three songs? You still would've had a full length album!

RE- Well, part of it was contractual. In that we had to record 12 songs. And if we had to record 12 songs, we wanted to make sure they were 12 songs that we didn't want to fuckin' do. And we want to have them be cohesive, where you can just sit down and listen to the whole thing.

AM- Also, I think, with that we wanted to have something that was going to be diverse, and not just having one song 12 different times; that's pretty much my worst nightmare, is having an album that every song sounds exactly the same.

JB- Mission: Accomplished. Haha, because they're not. 

AM- Which, I was really pleased with how [Body Faucet] turned out. This is my own personal answer to the question, but I had initially thought our first album was going to be a summation of everything our band had done in the past. And I think we did a really good job with not only that, but also moving forward with what the band is all about. I am still really pleased with that, as I listen to the record.

Well that's GOOD! I mean, if you can't listen to your own music, you probably have a little bit of a problem on your hands.

RE- (Laughs) Yeah, and I personally think, y'know, we had been playing these songs, and trying to create a live experience that was as freeing and would expel enough negative energy as possible. And I think part of why, to me, that's so powerful is because Graham writes these lyrics that are so personal, and y'know it does have a strong emotional quality to the writing. I mean my 3 favorite songs on the album are "Water Runs", "Three Shining Suns", and "Ghost Bike", probably because those are the three most emotional songs. 

"Water Runs" is amazing.

JB- Yeah sometimes I can't even believe we play that live.

AM- We... rarely play that live.

JB- We played that in Atlanta at our album release show and it was just an extremely emotional day; extremely rough day physically and emotionally, and I don't know what happened with that song, but man... that song. I... y'know... I was crying about my own personal problems during that song, but that was the song, y'know? I WAS STANDING THERE ON STAGE AND HAD TEARS COMING OUT OF MY EYES.

RE- Yeah, I mean, Jace was crying, Graham was crying, I was crying, I didn't see if William (Kennedy, Keyboardist) and Andrew were crying but they might have been!


AM- Yeah that song is just too much sometimes.

RE- I mean we're not trying to take ourselves too seriously. We're not trying to be the deepest band in the world, but, there is emotional depth there. And I think being able to present a song like "Thank You Gliese [370 b]", which is a song about going to space, on the same album as "Water Runs" or "Three Shining Suns", and to have that album "make sense" is something that I'm extremely happy to be able to accomplish.

That really is awesome to hear you say that. I mean on the surface you come across as this loud, power-pop heavy, maybe even chaotic, but stripped down, the lyrics and individual parts are actually in depth, and it really come across.

JB- That's a huge thing to see that as a writer. And it's good to hear you say that, because I don't think a lot of other reviews really looked in to that. And I think a huge part of that is having access to the lyrical portion of the album. If you don't have that, I mean... Before I had access to the written lyrics, I didn't know a lot of the actual lyrics. I mean, the vocals are very stylized, and that's fine. But it's a weird spot to be in, in a band that has such "partying" music, but we wouldn't want to put any of those songs in an American Express commercial.


RE- Nice Choice.

JB- I mean, I love that people have fun at our shows. And I want them to lose themselves, and just enjoy the moment, but I hope that they well get the chance to experience the lyrics at home, alone with it.

RE- There's a couple of things going on here, One is- a record is supposed to be enjoyed, most of the time, by your self. I mean how many times do you listen to an album with 500 other people? So, I think part of the goal is to have it be able to reach a more personal place. At the same time, at our live show we want it primarily to be fun. We don't want you to come out and see us and have you leave and just--

JB- We don't want you to cry!

RE- Yeah! Or like, if you do cry, awesome, but we want to give you something to dance to and work through it. I think the most straight-forwardly emotional song on the album is "Ghost Bike". And then immediately after that is "New House" which is the most optimistic. And I think that pairing is crucial. Because if you want to, the lyrics can take you to an emotional place, and then, we're gonna take you right out of it.

So what's a Reptar tour like?

JB- Oh god...

RE- Really nerdy. 


JB- Yeah we're not really big partiers.

That's really funny. Because I reluctantly labeled you as "nerdy" or "nerd-rock" in my review, and I ended up having guilt about it.


JB- Yeah don't feel bad about that.

RE- We are HUGE nerds. My mom called me on one of the first tours we went on, and she was a little nervous. She's like 'Ryan, what are you guys doing?? Are you getting into trouble?!" And I said, "Mom, right now, I'm going to be honest, we're listening to a Harry Potter book on tape."


RE- On our van's dashboard we have a Darth Vader mask and a Handy Space Answers book. Which has all these questions about space and then the answers.

AM- It's a textbook about an inch and a half thick that's just question-and-answer format about SPACE.

JB- Yeah, and I mean we'll go in to Canada, and there's no need to worry about throwing away any weed, y'know there's no weed to throw away... or smoke. Everyone reads, we all read. 

AM- We listen to Yes.

RE- Or "This American Life"

JB- Recently we listened to a lot of political discussion on Greek policies. And everyone got really in to it. It's funny because we feel like we're SUPPOSED to be raging, but we don't have anyone to drive our bus. We still have to do this all our selves. Me personally, I'd probably party a lot harder if I knew I never had to drive the bus.


JB- Maybe some day I'll wake up in the hospital. Or face down in the dirt behind a Mexican grocery store.



Is there any plans to go out on another headlining tour anytime soon?

AM- Well we had just got back from one. But, there's something in the mix. We're trying to work something out with this band, Rubblebucket, which is pretty much our favorite band in the country right now. But that would be more of a co-headlining tour.

RE- Right, and that would probably happen in like September/October. We're doing maybe a week in August so far. But so far, first, this summer, we're going to be hanging out; by ourselves, because we've spent every day with each other for about six months, if not a year and a half.

AM- Yeah I went to SF by myself for like a week in January. And that was the only time that I had not seen these... dudes.

RE- You were about to say assholes!


AM- No! NO! NO! But it's been the only time I haven't seen these guys for a period of 4 days since probably last January.

RE- Yeah, and then we're also going to work on writing some new stuff. I mean, tonight we already played a new song.


JB- We put that together maybe a day or two before the tour. Graham was like "I got this one thing: boo-boo-bee-boo-doo-dee-dee-dee--" And we were like well there's a thing- 

RE- ...and then by the end of the day we made it into something, like there it was, a song.

JB- I mean, I love playing live, that's the main thing I'm interested in doing. But I'm still pretty new to the band. And so I'm anxious to get into the studio and getting more invested in some of this material, because I still feel as if I'm covering someone else's songs. 

(We were then interrupted by a rabble-rouser down the road, spouting off some jargon that is best left out. But our immediate response, collectively, was: "...Milwaukee.")


RE- We've always been interested in having as much material as possible to draw from, right now we're playing a lot of songs from the new album, because... well that's the newest stuff we have. But we're incredibly eager to have MORE new stuff to play heavily, y'know what I mean? You won't ever come to a Reptar show, unless it's a "release show," where we're focusing on a specific setlist.

JB- Yeah right. I think it's sort of a double-edged sword, that we don't really ever "stick" to a setlist. That's like a cool, classic-rock thing to do, y'know? But sometimes, it can create some tension, when everyone doesn't necessarily agree, then it can get really weird. 

RE- But think about how much worse that tension would be if we were doing ONE setlist an entire tour, and the fight you have at the beginning to create that setlist is the most epic discussion. For me, it's such an emphasis for the band on our live shows. We want everyone to come out, and for it to be as cheap as WE CAN make it, y'know: arguing with promoters, and people like that. If you come to more than one show, we want you to have a different experience every time.

JB- Yeah, one of the Grouplove guys came and said: "Man you guys are doing something different EVERY NIGHT! That's really weird! But I like it!"

RE- Quiet Hooves is probably the one exception to that rule: where my favorite bands don't play the same set list every night. But I also grew up listening to a lot of jam bands, so maybe that's not a fair comparison.

Yeah...[reluctantly] I did too. 

RE- Hey! We're still here! We're still ok as people!


But I do think that is a telling sign of a band that has their shit together, y'know?

RE- Yeah, I mean even Bruce Springsteen doesn't play the same set every night.

JB- We just love playing music. I don't think we sit around and think of it as our "job," but it is; sometimes I wish it was something we collectively did more...


JB- We're at work. But it's fun work.

RE & AM- It's the best job ever.

This is kind of a touchy question. But along those lines: How many albums do you see Reptar making?

RE- Oh man.

AM- That is an interesting question.

JB- I. Hope... A lot. That's something I wish everyone was here to speak for. I, personally, want this to go on as long as it "makes sense," as long as it makes sense for us to continue making music, both interpersonally and fiscally, than I'm down.

RE- As long as us, as people, are getting something out of it, I think we'll keep doing it. Even if we have to have other jobs. We started this on accident, just because we were friends that started playing music, and then people started showing up, and we were like "Shit, I guess we can do this more often" and then we did.

AM- And now, here we are, in Milwaukee. On tour. Having been on tour for about a year and a half.

RE- And we're slowly bringing more friends into the band. There's never been someone that's played in this band that who has not been like "Hey. This guy is our friend, who also knows how to play our songs"

AM- We're not ever just going to "hire" someone in to the band, just to fill in.

Black Keys style?

AM- Right.

(Jace raises his hand in question)

RE- But you're the perfect example of that. We were all friends...

JB- Right, the first time I saw Reptar, I wasn't too close of friends with them personally, and I was like: "Ehh... I dunno"


JB- I didn't really know what the future held. I went and saw them one night in a very small club in Athens called Flicker--

AM- Oh shit.

JB- I was just like, "man I don't know what is going on" People were going crazy.

AM- Yeah we got banned from that place that night.

Kellen and Jace: Really!?

AM- Yeah it was wild.

JB- Anyways though, I just kind of kept going and meeting the members of Reptar. And it was strange because in Athens there was this sort of 'persona' that Reptar had but was incapable of controlling. And to have that is just, really out of control. 

RE- I'm completely ignorant as to what this persona is.


JB- It's not really easy to define, but people just have this connotation about Reptar, but it really didn't have much to do with the music, or what we're playing, or a good set. And so that's weird. Luckily that's only true in Athens; We LOVE Athens, we have the most amazing time ever when we do play there... it's our home. We did a house show there a few weeks ago, that we literally told almost nobody about, and it ended up being this incredible experience and it was really cool because we just ended up playing in a small group of our close friends.

AM- Which we seriously have not done since probably the summer of 2009. 

JB- But THEN! We did this amazing thing of selling out the 40 Watt Club which is an amazing venue in Athens, for our album release show, so that was also really great. 

AM- And we played to almost NO ONE we knew.

RE- There was almost 800 people there.

JB- That was also really great. So, I'm not trying to knock one experience or the other, but it was interesting for me to be in a band that people have such strong feelings about, but don't really know anyone in the band, or probably have never seen them! Like, I'm fairly certain that most people that don't like Reptar, have never seen Reptar play live.

AM- Probably Not.

JB- But like, I went and saw Reptar play a couple of times, and Andrew and I were co-workers in a grocery store, I met William just by going to parties and stuff, I met Graham by being randomly assigned to do this mix tape trade, and then so me beginning to play with Reptar just happened so organically.

RE- Well right, and it wouldn't have happened had we not all become friends, first.

JB- No Way. I had been playing music in Athens for a really long time, and then had this conversation with Graham where we were like "Y'know our friendship is really important, I don't want that to become compromised by me becoming a member in Reptar" and he said "Well, I gotta be honest with you, that's cool, but I didn't ask you to play in this band because we're friends, I asked you to do it because I think you're a great musician and because we're friends.

RE- Get ready for the hard times, is basically what he was saying.


JB- Well right, I mean being in a band with all of you guys, out on the road, in a van, gets tough! But it's never not worth it, yet.



Reptar continues to amaze me with just how awesome they are, both as musicians and people. Their live set on Sunday once again provided the crowd with a heavy amount of enjoyment and fun. It was a pure joy for me to be able to sit down and talk with them; the conversation seemed to flow effortlessly.

Check out the links for their debut LP, Body Faucet, below, as well as a link for Rubblebucket, the group Reptar speaks highly of during the interview.

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