The Reputations: Electric Power
all photos by Al Giesler unless otherwise marked
As with anything in life, dealing with triumph and tragedy can happen simultaneously. On the eve of their release party at Hotel Vegas, celebrating their second LP and getting ready to embark on their farthest reaching tour to date... sad news came in for the Reputations. Seth Gibbs, former bandmate, business partner and family member had succumbed to a battle with cancer that had just been diagnosed a few months prior.
But as the saying goes, the show does go on, and as such the Reputations invited us to stop by the home of Rockyanne Bullwinkel (vocals) and Jimmy Wildcat (drums) and hang with the rest of the band, Justin Smith (bass/vocals), Rudy Spencer (guitar/vocals), Erich Fraustro (guitar) as well as honorary members Jenny Carson (vocals) and Alex Kegulman (Justin’s wife and hand model for the LP cover) to talk about the new record, Electric Power, their second in two years and first on Nine Mile Records. We spoke about influences, the segmented music scene that exists in the Live Music Capital of the world, a lively discussion on what the best super powers are and how this band will prevail when other projects the various members have come and gone. Oh, and we had a lot of laughs.
Luck: Congratulations on the new record! Electric Power follows up last year’s debut, Begging For More. You guys have been busy, tell our readers what’s been going on?
Justin Smith: We recorded the album in June 2017, four months after our debut and then we sat on it for a while. It took a couple months after recording for mixing/mastering. We recorded it Memphis at Ardent Studios. So we were sending it back & forth to Jody (Jody Stephens of Big Star & GM of Ardent Studios) for him to listen to it and tell us what he thought. We tried to find someone to put it out and Nine Mile was interested, those conversations took the course of several months but we came to an agreement and its finally coming out.
Luck: We’ve heard the new record, it’s superb. Although there are elements of what we heard on your first record, this is a different beast, how would you describe the evolution of the sound?
Rudy Spencer: We started listening to different stuff from the 70’s…at one point [Justin] went thru a little Mungo Jerry phase. [laughs]
Luck: Wait a minute, so there is a deeper well than “In The Summertime”?
JS: Yeah its funny, I was in an advertising class and a professor brought up some poll they had done in the 1970’s. It was about how a hook in a song can raise endorphin levels to where someone will want to buy a product if you show it right after the hook. So the example was “In The Summertime” and I was like...I haven’t heard this in forever and this song was so tight and I wondered what else he did. I went down the rabbit hole and there is so much stuff they did that is so good and I listened to a lot and wrote “Quite Alright” which is on the new record. But there are more influences than the 70’s…Mariah Carey is an influence on the record.
Rockyanne Bullwinkel: I listened to a lot of Mariah, a lot Beyonce - I love pop R&B, I really do so that did inspire our song “The Exciter” a lot.
Luck: On both records you list songwriting credits to the band. How does that process work itself out, who brings what to the table?
RB: I think it's different for all of us, I tend to write chunks of songs and bring them to the band. They help me connect and finish it. That’s why it's very collaborative for songs I bring to the table. Lately Justin has been bringing full songs and then we all kinda work them out together.
JS: That’s why we want to credit as The Reputations. I may bring a song and it may be exactly how I want it sound and then when the band gets on and it doesn't sound like it was in my head, it's better. It doesn't really feel like I wrote the song, I had the idea but we all wrote the song.
JS: Sometimes we will bounce lyrics off each other, and sometimes I might bring a song where all the music is done, I’ve got one verse and a chorus and I’ll say, “Rocky you are singing this one and I can't think of a lyric for this second verse, come up with something and we will figure it out.” Jimmy has written lyrics on chorus and verses, we all just bounce lyrics off each other.
RB: I keep a journal and sometimes just like to look through it and will find lyrics that I want to come back to.
Luck: We took a look at the liner notes from both of your albums, the thank you section…. [laughs]
JS: I think I know where this is going.
Luck: Well, it is a spectrum… on the first LP you shout out Discount Tire of Baytown, and on the the second one each member of Abba gets a nod. [more laughter]
RB: Yeah we wanted to thank ABBA, Frida, Benny, Bjorn, and Agnetha because they helped us pay to record that album! We are also an ABBA cover band…
JS: Not anymore! We did that for awhile
RB: Not anymore! [laughs] and you know people will really dish out to see that… we had to thank ‘em.
Luck: You mentioned that the record is out on Nine Mile Records which is home to a lot of talented Austin artists. Why them?
JS: THEY SAID YES [laughs] It's that vicious circle. No one has ever heard of us so we aren't gonna get signed but then no one will hear us without a deal. But that's not really the case, bands hit the road for years to get a chance at this & were lucky that they took a shot on us. It was Sabrina Ellis (Sweet Spirit / A Giant Dog) who put us in contact with Rick Pierek. After a few conversations, he believed in us. He started catching a few shows.and I think fell in love with our live set and decided it was good fit and wanted to put out the record.
Luck: You recorded the ‘Electric Power’ at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis. The record was produced by Ardent GM Jody Stephens who gained notoriety as the drummer for Big Star. Considering his long list of musical accomplishments, producing records isn’t something he’s done, until getting with you.
JS: Slight mini correction. When Jody started to produce, we thought, and he kinda mentioned that he never produced before, but we later found out that back in the 90’s he produced some songs, maybe co-produced an ep or song of the record, As far as I know Electric Power is the first full length, from inception to completion that he’s produced.
Luck: We were talking earlier about the history of the band, there are a number of bands and projects that lead you all to here. What do you think gives this band staying power?
JW: We definitely we work a lot harder than any band I’ve been in, everyone pulls together and keeps each other motivated to me that's the biggest difference that I see. Being serious and looking at as equally a job as it is entertainment for us.
RB: Also a very familial quality, Jimmy and Seth are brothers, I’m engaged to Jimmy. And then [there’s] our chosen family. Justin is like my brother, Auburn (Noel - Background Vocals and latest member) the other day in practice asked me if I had other siblings or just him… [laughs]
JS: Alex and I live just down the street so this is like a second home.
RB: We are all just really close.
RS: I think what adds to the dynamic, is that everybody in the Reptuations has fronted their own band and so I think that adds to the work ethic, something about fronting a band that you are leading… I think we have a band of collective front people which makes it easier to work together.
Luck: Makes sense, you know the role, the stress that comes with. Anytime you are building in your career, whatever that is... the more hats you can wear, the better you are, makes you more well rounded. Tell us about your ideal writing environments.
RB: The car.
JS: Yeah the car, all of my songs are basically written in my car.
RB: The same… we are similar in that all of our voice memos in our phone are all us singing into the phone in the car -
JS: ...humming, my notes are full of some very shitty fragments of lyrics and half melodies. But mostly it's listening to music and hearing a note in a song and pausing, and going on a tangent.
RB: We also spend a lot of time writing song very late at night together usually here or at the Studio.
JS: On the back porch drunk late at night… Electric Power is chock full of late night studio sessions, drunk… pick up this guitar, fight for 10 minutes on how it should go, work it out, hey it sounds great!
Luck: Tell us about the scene here in Austin. It’s got to have its share of pros and cons. What's the best part of being on the scene?
JS: Tough question.
EF: There are a lot of connections to make, whether or not you like a band.
JS: Most of the people are cool, it’s weird though… but it’s a really kind of segmented scene, there's bands that play dirty sixth every night but I don't know one band we know that plays that, theres the Continental Club scene, Sam's Town Point...
RB: Obviously the Hotel Vegas.
JS: Sometimes there is crossover but that’s kinda what it is. But the scene we play in, is really a familial scene.
RS: - It’s just people have been around for a long time, you have the old school, people that move here to play music. But like Erich says, it’s all about making connections and I think it's really easy to do here. There have been sometimes you meet people and it’s just like there are some bands that it’s harder to engage with than others…
JS: We all wanna talk shit right now… [laughs]
RS: It’s a tough question because… I came from El Paso, and it was lot more of melting pot. Metal bands playing with punk bands playing with indie rock bands and everyone got along. Like Justin said it's a lot more segmented here.
JS: And not like a bad thing, it’s not a turf war…
RS: No it’s actually kind of cool, cause if you are music fan and looking for something specific, you know there is a venue for you. It’s really cool but its very saturated. There are a lot of bands.
Jenny Carson: I think when people get asked that question it's almost like a dark cloud over the question. Because the music industry is so hard. It’s like you are kind of drowning in it and it’s difficult to come up and see the light.
RS: Yeah Austin is this kinda weird middle ground between a small town with a really good music scene and a large city where there is an actual music industry like Nashville, LA or NYC.
JS: Yeah I was about to say, the biggest problem with this town in terms of music is that there is tons of talent in music but hardly [any] industry. You have SXSW but it isn’t an Austin industry, in that they bring band from other towns. Austin City Limits Festival will fill local act for their 11am slots … so there's not a whole lot of support for local austin band even from these major events. Besides that there's hardly any labels here, but they just opened a pressing plant which is really cool because we now have a really easy and cheaper way for bands to press their music and get it out there. And slowly, more stuff like that is gonna come as people notice all the talent, all the bands, it's gonna grow. But until that stuff is here it's more of a private scene compared to a city with industry.
JC: WIth this experience with these guys, Sweetheart Studios (started by Jimmy and Seth Gibbs) existing. These places are fucking wonderful because there are all kinds of artists, and the spectrum of artists…
JS: Who’s the worst band you recorded?? [laughs]
RB: I think you are seeing different kinds of artist but also different mediums. You meet so many visual artist. Jaime Zuverza who did the album design for both records. Jackson Montgomery Schwartz & Jon Chamberlain do a lot of our photos, You meet so many people that are so talented in different ways…
JC: Sara Ostovar (Modesty Hair Studio), who does our hair! We’re kinda of a hair band! There's industries within industries
JS: I was telling Jackson the other day. Tons of people that like us… I don't want to say our fans, cause I don’t who the fuck that is [laughs] the people who are into us at least part of that is because someone sees a really badass fucking photo from Jackson, and our hair looks good because of Sara. The flyer looks great because Ben Tipton did it (Ben is also in the band Trouble Boys with Jimmy and Erich) And finally, maybe somebody through all of those layers... of us looking cool says ok, I guess i'll go listen to them. And then hopefully, we’re good enough for them to stick around
RS: It’s kinda awesome, it's such a self sufficient scene, all of our friends are so talented and they just kind of help us out and were just really lucky. Not a Lot of cities are like that, or you got to pay big money
Luck: Luck Reunion is perceived as an americana festival but we don’t think of ourselves as such necessarily. It leads to an ongoing conversation in terms of what is Americana, is there gerne beyond good music? That said, is there a genre that best describes you?
RB: Which is something we invented.
JS: Rock and roll, it sounds lame and cheesy to say but I feel you like limit yourself, [you] create false expectations from others when you try to pigeonhole yourself. We made up powersoul to prevent that. When someone says, “I don’t know what the fuck that is,” we say, “Come on down and see it for yourself”.
Luck: What's next for the band?
We are talking with Adam Hill about working with him again. There is new studio opening in Memphis. We are talking about going in February to record. We’ve written a few, currently demoing and fleshing out other ones. We want another record out by the end of 2019 to keep it rolling.