Nothing Weird Going On in the Van: An Interview with Graham Ulicny of Reptar

11/06/2015

About halfway through my interview with Graham Ulicny, singer and guitarist for Athens, GA-born Reptar, he pauses. “Hold on one second, I think we’re coming to a check-in point or something.” After a few moments of silence, I can hear the entire band erupt in laughter as they leave the check-in point (which was in the middle of the Arizona desert). “He asked if we were on a school outing. Yep… we’re just some school boys driving to San Diego… some nice american school boys.” He added, “nothing weird going on in here… at the moment.”

But things certainly do get awesomely weird when they take the stage. Reptar is set to play the Rickshaw Stop tonight – get your tickets here before they sell out.

Reptar formed in the late 2000’s in Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia Bulldogs. This is a born-and-bred, tour-their-asses-off band who put in the sweat it takes to make it. “[We] played a fuck ton of shows… probably two or three shows a week when we started.” And this mentality hasn’t faded; the band has been touring, for the most part, non-stop since their inception. Right now they’re 11 shows deep with 15 left to go in this tour, playing basically every night for a month straight – doing a full out-n-back of the country beginning in Nashville and finishing up in Atlanta with another great southeastern band, Moon Taxi.

You hear a lot of musicians in bands talk about Seattle > SF > LA tours as if they just polished off a European megatour via moped. “The road man, it can be exhausting.” These guys are actually out here doing it – relentlessly touring and loving every minute of it without a lick of pretentiousness. And this attitude is something that translates on stage, and is something that they actively pursue.

“I think it’s cool that we can bridge that gap, when you don’t take yourself very seriously it allows you to bridge the barrier between you and the crowd,” said Ulicny. “If you go and there’s an air of pretentiousness on stage… that just wouldn’t work for us.” And he’s certainly right – Reptar brings an energy to the stage that is not only infectious but welcoming. It’s like they’re saying, “Hey guys, come get weird with us. Let’s party.” And, at least with every Reptar show I’ve been to, the crowd steps up to the challenge.

The band’s first big break came in the form of a producer approaching them after a show in Atlanta at The Drunken Unicorn. That producer, unbeknownst to them, was Ben Allen – owner of Make Records Not Bombs, a label in Athens, GA with an impressive portfolio of artists he’s recorded for including Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective and Deerhunter. “He believed in the music we were making, and pretty much took us under his wing,” said Ulicny. “That was a point where we were like ‘fuck, we need to do this. Let’s hit it.'”

And hit it they did, re-recording their original EP Oblangle Fizzle, Y’all – which is probably the best name for an album that I’ve ever heard. And with Allen’s name recognition on their side, the band continued to tour – but the gigs got better and the fanbase grew. Four years later, they’re headlining national tours backed by their label Joyful Noise, who also represents awesome talent like Surfer Blood and Kishi Bashi. “We’re also really excited about playing with a new band on the label called Sound of Ceres in Boulder. It’s kind of a supergroup, with some of the members of The Apples in Stereo. It’s unreal… it feels like we’re not worthy.”

But these guys have absolutely earned their stripes and release a new album this year, Lurid Glow. And rather than a more “stream of consciousness” approach they took for their sophomore album, Body Faucet (which they recorded in three weeks), they took a more deliberate approach with this album. “We had a lot more time and actually did this over the course of about two years. We got to sit down with the songs, and do proper demos, things like that” Said Ulicny.

But that doesn’t mean the album has any less vigor then previous releases. “We tried to be more restrained and minimal, but also wanted to still have the rawness of our live set,” said Ulicny. “So we tried to track as much live as possible, with the core arrangement being all live. We dubbed the vocals, and of course left room for wacky stuff.”

The band is bringing that wacky, slap-a-smile-on-your-face indie rock to the Rickshaw Stop tonight – and if you like, let’s say, to party, dance and generally enjoy joyfully explosive music – I highly recommend stopping by.