December 17, 2011
Several months ago, I purchased tickets to go see Foster The People & Cults at The National in Richmond, VA. Shortly after, an opening band from Athens, GA was added to the bill: Reptar. I’d heard some rumblings about them from some music sites, but I just hadn’t given them a listen yet. Obviously I sought out to rectify that and after thirty seconds of “Blastoff,” I quickly realized that I was late to the party here. Catching them live in September only solidified that. Such infectious energy and I heard several people remark after the show that the opening band upstaged the other two bands. I got a chance to briefly talk to the band after the concert too and they were certainly as quirky as you’d expect from their sound. I asked keyboardist William Kennedy to sign the set-list of Foster The People I grabbed. He quickly signed it, but as he went to hand it back, he thought otherwise and snatched it back. With a light bulb flashing over his head, he wrote boldly over the set-list, “We did not write these songs!” “Well, there goes that confusion,” he quipped afterwards. That’s a story you never forget.
Recently I got in touch with guitarist & singer Graham Ulicny about an interview. After quickly agreeing to it, I realized his schedule can’t be easy. The band’s been holed up in the studio for a while now recording their debut album to be released in the middle of 2012. As you’ll read below, the band has gotten a lot of momentum this past year and there’s no doubt why. Their radiant & obscure energy comes out on each & every unconfined composition they record. It sure makes for must-hear music too. From the teases they’ve released, their up-coming album seems to be just another set of playful & boisterous songs that I’m sure we will all quickly fall in love with. 2012’s looking pretty good so far, don’t you think?
All right Graham, we’re going to start with the obvious questions. Huge fans of Rugrats growing up?
I wouldn’t say we were huge fans, but I think that morning cartoons were definitely an important part of our childhood, for better or for worse.
How many band names did you go through before you settled on Reptar? Any good ones?
There were a couple. I wanted to name the band “Invisible Boyfriend,” but Andrew decided that was a stupid name. In hindsight, he was right.
Now you’re all from the Athens/Atlanta region of Georgia. How did you all meet?
Well me and Ryan have known each other since we were very little. Ryan met William in high school and we started playing music together. Then William met Andrew at UGA in Athens where they went to school. We all started playing together in late 2008.
What were the early years like before your first release?
I think certain aspects of the sound have changed. We are all a lot better musicians than we were. The sound is tighter I think. The energy has always been the same. I think the feeling we get from playing together is the most important part of this music. We have always been recording. Our first batch of recordings were done in our living room actually. We made CDs and sold them at shows. I doubt very many people outside of Athens have heard that stuff. The only thing that has changed is that we have a record label that funds our recordings and also the larger crowds we have gotten the opportunity to play for. In the past six months, we have been doing the band thing full time. A lot of time spent on the road.
Now you were all still in college around this time. How much touring did you do at the time?
We did our first tour over the summer of 2009 I think it was. We all saved up and hopped in Ryan’s sister’s big car. It was Reptar and CoCoRico which is a wonderful band from Athens. William and Andrew still play in that band. We toured up to Vermont and back down. The shows were hilarious and fun. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had.
Interviewer’s Note: CoCoRico is a wonderful band that also included Graham at one point. Check them out here.
What’s your tour schedule lately been looking like?
Recently. The tour we just finished was two months and we are going back out for two months in February for our new record that we just recorded. I think next year will be a busy year for us as far as touring goes.
How did you guys get together with producer Ben H. Allen (Diddy, Gnarls Barkley, & Matt & Kim) and his makeshift label Make Records, Not Bombs in early 2010?
It was fate. He accidentally came to one of our shows while waiting for a friend across the street. After the show, he came up to us and said he wanted to record some stuff with us. I can’t explain it. Since then, he’s become a really good friend, musically and otherwise. We knew about all the records he had done. All of that disappeared when we started in the studio. Ben knows how to bring out the best in people.
While making your debut 7″, he called you guys his favorite band around & later he called you some of the nicest people in music. Was there a big connection between you two from the get-go?
We became good friends. It’s hard to work together closely and creatively with someone and not cultivate a relationship.
What were your thoughts on the original 7″ featuring “Houseboat Babies” & “Cannabis Canyon?”
Those songs are older songs that we had been playing for a while. I think that the recording of “Cannabis Canyon” may be one of my favorites though. After the release, we had music business people calling us and emailing us about labels and stuff. We were still in school so it was hard to put my whole head in it.
It was around SXSW 2011 that you guys seemed to start to garner attention. In fact, you were pegged as one of the most anticipated acts for the Austin festival. Was that a big thing to live up too, knowing how big SXSW has become?
We didn’t really think about it like that. We had a lot of friends in bands that played that year so we were all just fucking around playing shows and stuff. We also have a lot of friends in Austin in general. It’s one of the favorite cities I’ve been to. It was a wild experience. Met a lot of wonderful people. Also libations. Lots.
Were you nervous at all heading into the festival?
I did not feel nervous. I am the most nervous one in the band I think, so if I wasn’t nervous, then no one was nervous.
Is there any tradition or routine that you guys like to do before, during, or after a show?
We like to circle round one another and scream before we go onstage to get the beezores out.
One common feature of your shows is Will Kennedy’s frantic “dancing” to the music while playing his keyboards. How much sugar do you load him up with before shows?
The Devil’s sugar. William channels ancient jams. If he eats too much sugar though, he gets a headache. We have encountered this problem before.
After SXSW, it seemed like you guys had definitely won the crowds over. What was the interest level like for Reptar following the festival?
I think people dug it. It was weird and slightly disconcerting to have the industry crowd hanging around our shows and stuff. We had some meetings with record labels and in the end we decided to do our first record on Vagrant. They contacted us and we met up in Athens with this guy Dan who works over there at Vagrant. He had lived in Chapel Hill, NC for a while doing music stuff and we had a lot in common musically and philosophically. They are a close knit bunch and that works well with how we are as a band.
You released your debut EP in August of this year. First off, where in the world did you get the title from, “Oblange Fizz Y’all?”
We listened to the songs and that was the phrase we came up with to describe them.
Sure, I’ve often thought that phrase as well. Were any of these songs written in the studio for the EP or were they mostly songs that you had been performing for some time?
We had been playing those five songs for a second. The song “Phonetics” is one of our first songs actually.
The 7″ was designed by Will Isenogle (records under the name Merryl) of Asheville, NC. Our EP art was designed by Addison Adams (who records music with CoCoRico). Both of these individuals are extremely talented people and some of our best friends. Look it up!
Interviewer’s Note Part II: Hear two of Merryl’s synthesizer compositions here.
Around the time your debut EP came out, you also hit up Lollapalooza and were again highly anticipated. Did you guys see a good growth in crowds here versus your performance at SXSW?
Yeah, Lollapalooza was a wild experience. That was the most people we had ever played in front of. It was completely different to SXSW. Instead of multiple sets, we had one set at Lollapalooza in front of a whole lot of people. It was overwhelming. It was just crazy to look back over the past year and wonder how we got there. I know it gave us confidence in what we could do musically. That show kind of inspired us to do more sonically and visually than we had before.
Now you guys have toured with bands like Matt & Kim, Cults, & Foster The People this year. Any cool stories from touring with those bands?
One night, Cults and us all ended up naked on Space Mountain in Disney World.
Interviewer’s Note Part III: No follow-up. Some things are better left to the imagination.
Was it weird to go back & forth from small shows to big shows as the areas & bands changed on the tour?
Yeah for sure. I think one thing we realized about being on tour with those bigger bands is that we were much more accustomed to playing small places. Trying to learn to occupy those large stages and still feel constant vibes was a challenge, but something we got used to.
What would you say was the strangest or creepiest venue you’ve ever played?
There is a club in Miami that we have played called Bardot. This was the strangest for us. Totally chic and fancy. Not our kind of place, but we actually ended up having a blast.
You guys are in the studio now working on a new album and are releasing some songs to the public as teases like “Natural Bridge.” What’s the recording process like this time around for your debut album?
It is completely different. The songs are much more their own animals. We wanted the record to have a live feeling. We go into the studio every day for about twelve hours and do a song a day. It’s been amazingly fun. We are using some new instruments on this record that have been really fun to experiment with. There will be one older song on it. Besides that, everything will be completely new. We have been writing a lot of songs lately.
Have you guys been listening to anything specific while recording?
Nothing specific. A lot of stuff. For me: Small Faces, Simple Minds, Elephant Micah, Joakim, Prizmatic Spray, Mist/Samuel Goldberg.
How are you going to top the title Oblange Fizz Y’all for the new record?
We actually haven’t decided on the name for the new record. Not self-titled.
Could you name some of your favorite records or songs to come out recently?
Some of my favorites: Nothing Gold by Joakim, Wet Dream/Liquid Dinner- Bedtyme Stories (which is Merryl’s old recording name), everything Angel Olsen has ever done, and New Brigade by Iceage.
Some good picks there. All right, final question. How would you guys describe your acclaimed live performance?
Five words: nasty party green leg stomp.
Um…okay then. Well thanks so much for your time, Graham. Can’t wait for the debut album!