Remember the Internet? That thing that was supposed to subvert everything about how the music industry worked? Well, it did and it didn’t. At least, not in the case of Reptar, a fast-rising pop band from Athens. While stories of bedroom artists finding fame online even before touring abound—see, for instance, Georgia’s own Washed Out—Reptar came to its acclaim the old fashioned way over its brief two-year lifespan, following a traditional path without any big master plan.
Reptar has grown from playing small yet enthusiastically attended underground shows at DIY venues in Athens 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 #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. The success has come as a surprise to nobody more than the guys in Reptar themselves.
“In an abstract way we all wanted to be musicians full time,” says Reptar bassist Ryan Engelberger, “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.”
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, N.C.; 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 the guys say is important to maintain while they’re on the road, as it’s what allows them to put all their energy into Reptar’s unbridled, hyperkinetic live show.
A big (helping) hand
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. “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 into a sweaty, sweaty club.
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 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 locally released the five-song Oblangle Fizz, Y’all on its own label early in 2011, then signed with Vagrant Records, 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 off-the-grid places. It’s just been an accumulation of things, and I guess we’re still very enthusiastic and exuberant and sincere.”
Love, Classic City style
For all of the roadwarrioring that Reptar’s up to these days, the band members have settled into full-time musicianship in Athens. Reptar is 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. Of the increasingly positive feedback the band’s frenetic live shows have generated, 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.”
Reptar’s most recent tours this past fall took them across North America, opening for pop stars of the moment Foster the People and then for electro-dance icons Phantogram. Settled back into Georgia for now, 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.