Playing Favorites

by James Duval

Art-pop band Reptar was founded in 2009 in Athens, Georgia. Over the course of two albums, they’ve combined elements of 80’s experimental pop, electronic music, and Afrobeat with oblique lyrical styles. As a part of their Fall 2015 tour in support of their most recent album Lurid Glow, they’ll be appearing at The Parlor on October 15th in conjunction with the NEON Festival happening in the Norfolk Arts District. James Duval, Music Director for AltRadio.org spoke to lead singer Graham Ulciny about eight of his favorite things.

 

Favorite new song

I’ve been really digging this band called Sound of Ceres out of Fort Collins, Colorado. They have a couple new tracks that are only available on the internet. They have a real beautiful, futuristic spacy sound. Kind of like a Sun Ra Arkestra vibe in the sense that it has a lot of throwback 70’s lounge elements, but very low-range and all the sounds they’re drawing from are kind of crystalline.

 

Favorite album

At the moment, and probably my favorite album ever, it’s BGM by Yellow Magic Orchestra. They’ve definitely influenced us a lot. I wasn’t as aware of them when we first started playing, but since listening to them it’s been sort of an epiphany.

 

I’m not really familiar with Yellow Magic Orchestra, but when I was listening to the new album, I heard a lot of Oingo Boingo and Laurie Anderson.

Yeah, we’re huge Laurie Anderson fans and I like Oingo Boingo as well. I like her approach to arrangement. I think we were listening to a lot of stuff like that when we were recording Lurid Glow, a lot of minimal, synth-based music. That was kind of [an influence]  - pop music but still experimental and out-there. I think one of the most amazing things about what [Anderson] has created is how it resonated with people. How a song like “O Superman” could become a Number One hit is mind-boggling to think about these days.

 

 

 

Favorite concert

We were fortunate enough to be in town when Philip Glass was doing a performance in New York. Philip Glass and Steve Reich both performed and that was the most unreal experiences of my life. But one of my favorite shows most recently was actually [jazz musician] Kamasi Washington  . It was a spiritual experience and everyone I’ve been talking to has been saying that, too. I’ve been seeing him around a lot on this tour and I came into the show without having listened to the recordings and it was one of the most powerful concerts I’ve seen in a long time.

 

 

So are you a big fan of jazz?

I’m not going to claim to be an aficionado on jazz, but I did study jazz. When I first went to college, I was in the “music program”. I was presented with the choice to do jazz performance or classical performance. I wasn’t really interested in doing classical performance. And in high school, I was privileged to have a good jazz band program and I was introduced to it through that. I delved into the music and found a lot of it that resonated with me.

 

Favorite local band

Well, I’ve been living in Omaha, Nebraska for almost two years now and everyone should go check out Both. And then for Georgia, Faun and a Pan Flute. Last but not least, another Atlanta band called Breathers who will be going on tour with us.

 

Even though you’re currently living in Nebraska, having come from a scene as large and well-known as Athens, do you find music mostly by going out, word-of-mouth, or just scouring?

I think that with the internet now a lot of times I find myself listening to music from folks I know because they finish an album and put it up on Facebook. But I think in Athens, in particular, it’s a very live music-centric place, so most of the people who are in bands play out a lot with exceptions of people who focus mainly on recording, obviously. The Go Bar is the first [venue] that comes to mind, because any day of the week you can just walk in and there’s a really good band playing. There’s not many places like that in the country, I think. I’d say the scene is strong; you kind of just absorb it. You go out to see one band and you end up seeing seven bands and usually five or six of them are good.

 

Favorite guilty pleasure (musical or otherwise)

I just got into Game of Thrones; I feel guilty about the amount of time I’ve spent watching Game of Thrones for the last month of my life. Although I will say that if you’re going to get into a trashy TV show, that’s a reasonably okay one.

 

One of my musical guilty pleasures is James Taylor. I don’t know if I should feel guilty about that. It’s really because I grew up listening to [his music] a lot and I think that’s he a really good songwriter. He’s wrote some really good hits…and some awful songs.

 

So how does your musical taste progress from James Taylor to Yellow Magic Orchestra?

I’m a very firm believer in mood-based music listening. I have a lot of music, so I can make some very drastic changes. I get highly suspicious of people who stick to one genre. I think it’s good to have an open palette when it comes to music.

 

Favorite thing to do when not working on music

I like to cook…a lot. When I’m not at work or working on music, I’m usually cooking. Or listening to music. Or listening to music and cooking at the same time. I’ve been cooking a lot of vegan stuff lately.

 

I like watching a lot of movies, too. We’re pretty lucky to have Film Streams, an amazing community-oriented theater that brings in these incredible movies. It’s cool to see movie theaters bring in these weird movies; it’s kind of a dying thing.

 

Person you’d most like to collaborate with

In my wildest dreams, I would say Ryuichi Sakamoto – maybe just because we’ve been talking about Yellow Magic Orchestra. But also, everything I’ve heard him collaborate with other musicians on is just incredible. He has a musical sensibility that I wish I had. I think all the people I listen to I fantasize playing music with.

 

Maybe because of living in Atlanta, I’ve always dreamed of working with Andre 3000. I think everyone in a band wants to do that.

 

Favorite piece of advice you’ve ever received

Actually, I was thinking about this the other day! When we first started playing as a band, we were are pretty fairly reserved. We were in varying levels of extroverted – not crazy party people. But I think the best piece of advice I ever received came after playing a show. One of my friends said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You shouldn’t be afraid to be a rockstar onstage. You shouldn’t be afraid of having the most extreme parts of your being expressed.” And “rockstar” is a terrible term for that, but you should not be afraid of letting everything out of you, purging your emotional self onstage.

 

So would you say you’ve managed to not be afraid of being a rockstar?

I think so. I feel like sometimes we’ve played shows and I don’t even remember we did it. It’s like being in a dream. And I’m so thankful to play [in this band] because we’ve all been in different bands, but Reptar is one that feels special. It’s poppy enough that enough people have latched on to it, but there’s enough wiggle room for us to do whatever we want with it. And that’s the thing that’s kept it going – being able to be dramatic in the way the lyrics and songs happen, [as if] someone’s freaking out or having a meltdown while singing. And I think it can be cathartic to get onstage and play in a band like that.

 

Bonus question: Now you get to ask a question to the next person. Keep in mind I don’t know who that will be and I’m also going to ask you to answer it as well.

Okay, I have a good one. “What were your parent’s favorite bands?”

 

So what were your parent’s favorite bands?

For my dad, it would probably be Bob Marley. And for my mom, it’s probably James Taylor…or Van Morrison. Apparently, I was conceived after they went to a Van Morrison concert.

 

So are you fans of either of them?

Oh, absolutely! Bob Marley’s one of my favorite songwriters of all time; so untouchable. And I have to say I didn’t like Van Morrison for awhile, because when [my parents] listened to him it was late 80’s, early 90’s Van Morrison. And you have to go back all the way to the beginning, when it sounds like he’s possessed and a little crazy. He’s always had a weird, spiritual way about his music. Not devoted to any one religion per se, but focusing on astrology and star signs and things like that.