At first, it was just a summer thing for Reptar.
A bunch of college students from different schools shared a house in Athens, Ga., through the hot and carefree months of 2009, playing music just for fun.
Just two summers later, mere days after releasing an EP on Vagrant Records, the band performed at Lollapalooza.
Though the band developed its own fresh and compelling blend of upbeat, world-music-influenced dance rock during that quick and unexpected ascension, the original, half-joking name stuck around. The band is named in tribute of a cat, which was in turn named after the cartoon godzilla in Rugrats, the animated Nickelodeon series.
"If we thought this band was going to be a thing, and a lot of people were going to hear the music, we probably would've thought of a better name. But you can't go back and change it now," says guitarist Graham Ulicny. "For us, it has its own meanings, but there's nothing to reach too far deep into it. It's something we think is funny, even though it doesn't make any sense in the context of the music."
The band's music is an energetic, party-starting sort, with nods to classics (Talking Heads) and contemporaries (Vampire Weekend) in rock, as well as some synth- and electronica-laden indie-dance bands like MGMT and Animal Collective. Still, the band isn't too concerned with following any single muse, as long as the music gets through to the crowd.
"We all have different tastes in music, but they're not mutually exclusive. We're not too partial to any one type of music. I have a hard time listening to a song and not finding some redeeming qualities," Ulicny says. "Whatever we play and whatever we sound like is a culmination of everything we've done as far as musicianship and what we've listened to."
Though Ulicny says he studied music in college "for a minute," he learned bass and then guitar on his own, and like the other members of the band, he never had big dreams of making music for the world outside of their shared house.
"We just started playing. I don't think any of us thought it would be a thing, or something that would happen more than once in a while," he says. "We were all pretty inexperienced. We'd all played in bands before, but just shit bands in high school."
But the music scene in Athens is fertile, and though band members scattered to Atlanta and Asheville, N.C., for the next school year, Reptar got together for a tour the next summer. With people digging the music, college was put on hold.
Reptar recorded its debut 7-inch with producer Ben Allen, noted for his work on Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere and Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. That caught the attention of Vagrant Records (The Hold Steady, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros), which released the Oblangle Fizz Y'all EP last August. A slot at the Austin City Limits Music Festival and a nationwide fall tour with Foster the People and Cults followed.
Since then, the band has been writing and recording its debut album, Body Faucet, to be released May 1 on Vagrant. Paralleling the band's organic, collaborative formation, the songs typically come together in the same way. As vocalist, Ulicny will bring in something to start, with lyrics or not, and everybody will work their own ideas into the structure.
"More often than not, we'll figure it out as we play it in practice, and it'll slowly become what it becomes," he says. "Recording a full-length record, I've started to notice us being much more comfortable in our environment. Before, we were much more all over the place and less sure about what the music was trying to convey and where we wanted to go with the energy."
Body Faucet is a more confident and expansive record than Oblangle Fizz Y'all, but no less catchy than the "Stuck in My Id" single, which led Spin magazine to name Reptar one of the "20 Must-Hear Artists at Lollapalooza 2011."
Songs like "Houseboat Babies" and "Sebastian" have a buoyancy and infectiousness ready-made for hit summer songs. In fact, Reptar could be one of 2012's breakthrough bands.
Whether it's a festival stage or a small room like Solar Culture, the band is playing to the crowd—or, more accurately, playing to the feet and the hips.
"I think we've always wanted to make people dance," Ulicny says. "When you play live, you want to create some sort of collective group consciousness, and make people move and ebb and flow with the songs. To us, dance music is anything with a rhythm you can move to, which is almost anything. The rhythmic aspects are fun to play with, and we've just scratched the surface of it."
Joining Ulicny are Andrew McFarland on drums, Ryan Engleberger on bass, William Kennedy on keyboards, and two additional touring members: Jace Bartet on guitar, and Reid Weigner on percussion.
"One thing I like about playing in this band is every night, we put in 100 percent—our whole minds and bodies into the process. We operate under the idea that you get out of it what you put into it," he says. "We love it. That's why we play in the band."
Reptar's current tour has the band heading from the Southeast to the West Coast, and then through the Midwest to the East Coast, a two-month stretch that's the band's first tour as headliners.
"It's cool to go and play a show to a bunch of people who've never seen your band before. They're either going to walk away loving it or not liking it," Ulicny says. "For us, it's about involving people and making them a part of the process. If you can't engage with the person who's performing, to me, it's just not worth it to spend the money to go out and see a band."
The tour will be wrapped up before the band's proper debut album is released, and Ulicny says he prefers it that way.
"This band in particular, apart from any of the groups I've played with, is such a thing when you see it play," he says. "I'm really proud of the album we recorded, but I'd rather have people's first experience of the band coming and seeing us play live."