Reptar makes it look easy. Y'know, the whole "band" thing. The whole build a fanbase, tour, release albums... all that. But the way that the fast-rising dance-pop band's career has evolved seems so by the book that it seems a little off. After all, didn't the digital revolution mean that everything bands knew about, well, everything had been upended? Altered? Fundamentally shattered? Maybe so, but Reptar is one of the rare acts that's followed a traditional path in its brief two-year lifespan, and one of the rare acts for whom that's worked.
"In an abstract way we all wanted to be musicians full time," says Reptar bassist Ryan Engelberger, on the phone as the band's driving around Los Angeles recently looking for a way to kill an afternoon before hyping up for another unbridled, hyperkinetic live show, "but never with the idea it would actually, you know, happen. We just started doing it because it was just fun to do, and started playing house shows, and people came to the house shows and we decided to keep having them. And it took off from there."
Over the past two years, Reptar has grown from playing small yet enthusiastically attended underground shows at DIY venues to creating sizable buzz in front of ever-more sizable crowds at South by Southwest, Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza. Brit tastemaker magazine NME ranked Reptar No. 4 in its list of 2011's best new bands. This is the path that has worked for any number of indie bands in the past, but in today's landscape it seems less common, and tougher.
Oblangle Fizz, Y'all is the band's debut release, a five-song EP packed with ideas, sounds, energy and quality. Rhythmic, kaleidoscopic and poppy, the EP succeeds at the challenging undertaking of capturing the undeniably livewire atmosphere of Reptar's famed live shows. Opening track "Blastoff" cops a Talking-Heads-meets-of-Montreal vibe, incorporating disparate sounds suggestive of hip-hop and worldwide influences alike, and "Rainbounce" maintains the relaxed equatorial-meets-electro sound.
And then there's "Context Clues," which opens up Reptar's synth-heavy style for a little breathing room, proving the five-piece isn't over-reliant on dense sonic layering. The EP documents the beginning of what could turn out to be a particularly rewarding career, and it's a solid piece of recording that works well on its own as well as an enticement for the listener to get her or his ass into a sweaty, sweaty club.
Most of the four-piece -- Engelberger, keyboardist William Kennedy, drummer Andrew McFarland, vocalist/guitarist Graham Ulicny -- knew each other growing up in Atlanta, but parted ways when they went off to college, spreading to Athens, Asheville, NC, and Atlanta. They got together over free weekends to jam, write some songs, and basically just hang out and have fun; that casual relationship is something that the guys say is important to maintain while they're on the road.
"It is totally fun," says Engelberger. "We all really like being on the road and playing shows. I think we're excited to start the next phase of the tour. We're also really excited for the next stretch with Phantogram. That'll be smaller venues, and I think that's more where we're vibing in terms of our energy. We've been playing all these crazy sold out shows with Foster the People, but the smaller the venue, the more you can really get into it with the crowd."
A big part of what makes Oblangle Fizz, Y'all so successful is the overlap between scrappy, anything-goes songwriting and savvy production quality. In fact, hooking up with hot-shit Atlanta engineer/producer Ben Allen put Reptar on the right track from the start. Allen has produced songs and albums for a number of varied yet consistently creative acts: from Animal Collective to Gnarls Barkley, from Puff Daddy to M.I.A.
"I walked into a club randomly one night in Atlanta," says Allen, "and was just knocked out, like right away. I knew that I wanted to work with the guys. Their energy was nuts, and their music was just great, too."
Allen approached the band that night, and the quartet soon headed into his studio to record its debut 7" release. Everyone involved was so satisfied with those sessions they booked more time for a full EP; Reptar independently released the five-song Oblangle Fizz, Y'all on its own label early this year, then signed with Vagrant who gave the disc a national release over the summer.
"Working with Ben was definitely a plus, and he's such a nice dude," says Engelberger. "Then we booked all these small dig off-the-grid places. It's just been an accumulation of things, and I guess we're still very enthusiastic and exuberant and sincere."
For all of the roadwarrioring that Reptar's up to these days, the band members have settled into full-time musicianship in Athens, that fertile Southern city where bands lurk around every corner.
"We're all living in Athens full time these days. When we're off tour, we chill in Athens. I think things are great there. I think it's a pretty supportive society of musicians around there. Within the music scene itself there is a cohesive kind of thing. I feel like things are going great. We're playing great venues, more people keep showing up, people are really into it."
Reptar's no stranger to hometown love, snagging a number of awards -- Best Live Band, Best Pop Band, Upstart of the Year -- from the Athens alt-weekly paper Flagpole at its annual awards show. "I had heard a bit of chatter about this band I just had to see," says Michelle Gilzenrat, the paper's music editor and award show host, "but I was not expecting to find a frenzied group of adoring fans singing along with every word, doing choreographed dance moves and throwing confetti while decked in face paint. I really don't know how they did it, but Reptar--with no recorded releases, media attention or publicity team--created their own hype at home."
Of the band's frenetic live shows and building reception, Engelberger says, "It's definitely crazy. People come out to see us and are so over-the-top excited, and we get some spin-off energy. I think it's one of those things where it gives back as much as you give. I'm easy to get excited, I jump around like a fool and make up some really bad dance moves. And," he adds, "we have some rituals to hype ourselves before shows, of course. No chemicals at all, I promise."
Following the current tour, which brings Reptar through the Valley opening for Phantogram, the band's heading back into the studio to commit some serious studio time to a full-length album. "I think we just know a little more about what to expect in terms of pacing," says Engelberger, "and we know a little more about the potential for how to use the time [in the studio] we have. This is where we're going to take a little more time." Then, he says, Reptar's going to dive right back into what Reptar does best, the old-fashioned way: getting back on the road and getting people to dance.
Reptar is scheduled to perform on Saturday, November 5, at the Crescent Ballroom.
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