An Interview with Reptar’s Graham Ulicny

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Photo courtesy of David McClister

On Tuesday, the 13th I found myself at U Street Music Hall to see Reptar, with openers Breathers and Young Empires. Though the venue was only about half full, the audience- instead of simply head bobbing to the show- was broken into clusters of people full-out dancing with friends and strangers alike. Reptar was similarly amped up as they tore through their set  with songs from their new album Lurid Glow, as well as material from their 2012 release Body Faucet. Prior to the performance, I was able to sit down and talk with the band’s lead singer and guitarist, Grant Ulicny.

Hillary Dale: So, you and your band are from Athens, Georgia, and I’ve noticed a lot of unique bands are from there—like REM, the B-52s, Neutral Milk Hotel—and they all seem to have very unique sounds. What do you think it is about Athens that makes these unique bands?

Graham Ulicny: Well, I recently had a conversation with Michael Lachowski, from an Athens band called Pylon, which was like a seminal 80’s Athens band, right when B-52s and REM were starting, they were also in that mix of bands. One thing we kind of talked about was that there’s a huge influx of new folks from the college, and people that are coming for college and people who just move there because it’s this weird little town in Georgia. And, I think it’s just this idea, people kind of appreciate originality there a little bit more than they do a lot of other places. I think the pressure is on you there, more than a lot of other places I’ve been, to not just make music, but to make music that is like your vibe, personally.

HD: Like competition within the music scene?

GU: I think in a way there is, but I would call it just healthy competition. Athens is a college town and it shares a lot of attributes with other college towns I think. But, at the end of the day I’ve never been somewhere where people who live there go to so many shows. The culture around that is beyond anything I’ve experienced anywhere else. It’s like, it’s a small town you can walk wherever you need to walk, bike or whatever, and be very mobile and go. There’s more clubs, houses, places to play, than anywhere I’ve ever been. It feels like you are being kind of encouraged to express yourself in a more visceral way there. People I know, like a lot of are friends that we started playing music with there, like bands and performers that kind of, are just more visceral. Weird is a dumb word, well “weird” is an important word, but not weird, but just encouraged to like be honest and do what you do. And there’s like an element of respect that people who do that are given, and I think that’s really cool.

HD: Awesome, okay. So, how did the recording process differ between Lurid Glow and Body Faucet?

GU: It was very different. We recorded Body Faucet in like three weeks, and it’s [length] is probably twice as long, maybe. And, we recorded Lurid Glow over the course of a year.

HD: Yeah, I noticed there was a big chunk of time between the releases of the two albums, about three years.

GU: Yeah, so the process was very different. We would go into the studio for like a week at a time, get together and kind of like cram for a week at a time. Instead of doing it in three weeks.

HD: Did you prefer recording one week at a time? Is that what you and your band wanted?

GU: Yeah, yeah. It gives you time to take a step back and be like “this is good, this is bad”. Recording is kind of a weird thing because you can change it as much as you want, but the more you change it, the more you do with it, it seems like the less character maybe it ends up with. So, we tracked all of the songs live with a couple of exceptions, so pretty much everything was tracked live. At least all of the more band-oriented songs were tracked live. Then we would just go and do very minor dubs, some songs more than others. It was also recorded to tape, so that was a big difference.

HD: Okay, that’s really interesting. Why did you name the album Lurid Glow?

GU: When we name the records we always kind of just sit down and start saying stuff, whatever works. But for this one, we were kind of all in the same idea. Like Body Faucet was supposed to be kind of tongue-and-cheek obviously, but for this one, what I think we were all kind of thinking was a more like, claustrophobic record. Like being stuck in a room with a computer screen or something.  Like locked in a room with a computer screen, and after a while maybe it starts to become kind of weird.

HD: So, do you have a favorite song to perform, and why?

GU: My favorite to play is probably “Cable” off the record, off Lurid Glow. Because it’s kind of like a whirl-wind.

HD: Kind of gets the crowd going.

GU: Yeah, it’s upbeat and just kind of angular and really fun and satisfying to play. And the vocals are very all over the place so it’s a fun song to sing. And I like the song “Amanda”.

HD: I saw the music video to that one, it’s an interesting video.

GU: Yeah, our friend Ross Brubek from Philadelphia directed that, he’s done a bunch of videos for us and as a book of photography that just came out…check it out! Ross Brubek!

HD: Where’s your favorite place you’ve been on tour?

GU: That’s a tough one. My favorite place to go I think, tough call, I really like California, I just feel very comfortable there.

HD: Have you guys been there a lot?

GU: Yeah, we’ve played there a lot. But Tucson, Arizona is one of my favorite places we’ve ever played, just cause I love it there.

HD: Do you have a favorite thing about DC?

GU: You know, DC is kind of weird to me because like, we play here and I just never know where I am, I always get lost. The two things that always happen we get lost, we take a wrong turn and we get lost, like every single time. I mean DC is really cool, I like it here, there’s some really nice people here. We have some friends who have moved up here from Athens. DC is a nut I have yet to crack in exploring around. I need some serious, maybe you can give me some tips.

HD: Definitely go to the monuments at night, if you haven’t before. They’re open twenty four hours.

GU: Yeah, yeah. We never have time to go to the museums. But that’s what I really want to do. My cousin has some of his sculptures in the National Museum, and I’ve went to see them before, that was really awesome.

HD: The Adams Morgan neighborhood has pizza slices bigger than your face.

GU: Oh, that’s what I want. I love pizza, I’m a pizza tourist 100%. Every place we go I try to get pizza somewhere. We could do a whole other interview on pizza, I have some philosophical, deep thoughts on pizza. You gotta leave that in there, “deep thoughts on pizza”, that’s the coolest thing I’ve said all day.

HD: Because you guys are named Reptar, I have to ask, who is your favorite character from Rugrats?

GU: I haven’t watched an episode of Rugrats since I was probably 10 years old. Since we started this band I have not seen a single episode of the show. But, I always thought it was funny– and I wasn’t so young that it was lost on me– but the whole Lipschitz thing, because I remember when I was growing up, my parents had all those books like “how to raise a child that isn’t going to be a serial killer” and shit like that. That was a very 90s thing, the self-help, thinking you could read a book and learn how to raise kids. I thought that was funny when I was a kid that they threw that in there.  But I think we like the fact that it’s kind of like a referential thing people our age can get into.  Something very nostalgic, but also just like repurposing a cartoon character to be our band name. I don’t know what the significance of it is, there probably is no significance. It resonates with people for no reason pretty much, like there’s no context from it, they’ve just like seen it on TV. I’m surprised we haven’t gotten to see it yet, to be honest. We get a lot of questions about the name, just because it’s such a goofy name. I think in certain circumstances, like for our band, I don’t think there’s a band name that would be cool or good or appropriate. Because if it’s too dramatic, well some of our songs are dramatic, but, it’s supposed to be kind of offset by how goofy some of the music is. I don’t know, there’s a level of self-deprecation that occurs there and like, bringing ourselves down to the level of a cartoon dinosaur is more grounding.

HD: See, I would not have expected all that thought to be behind the band being named “Reptar”.

GU: That’s how we’ve rationalized it at least.

Reptar’s latest album, “Lurid Glow” was released last March on Joyful Noise Recordings, for more info on the band visit their website here.

-Hillary Dale

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