As a freshman at the University of Georgia in 2007, William Kennedy wanted to distinguish himself. So, he painted an old bike green, built a blinking light system for the wheels and frame, affixed some streamers and called it Reptar — after a Godzilla-like character adored by the infant characters on the ’90s Nickelodeon series “Rugrats.”
The bike earned Kennedy celebrity status on campus. “I started making friends that way,” he says.
One night, Kennedy decided to take Reptar for a spin down the campus’ steepest hill, pulling a sparklers-wielding friend on a skateboard behind him. As they roared along at 30 mph, a mini-bus appeared in their path. They skidded, Kennedy lost control and his friend narrowly missed the bus. “The only thing he left was this sparkle trail on the bus,” Kennedy recalls. Reptar wasn’t so lucky. “The bike did not survive. It was mangled.”
As fate would have it, Kennedy had recently started a new band that needed a name, and Reptar was born again. “We did it as a tribute to a fallen soldier,” he says.
The “Rugrats” love runs deep for the young band: Reptar’s synth-based pop occasionally recalls the work of Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, who scored the cartoon. “We’ve played house shows where we’ve been in the middle of jamming out something and we’d play the ‘Rugrats’ theme song,” says Kennedy, who plays keyboards.
Reptar has come a long way from those early shows, opening for Foster the People last year and touring almost nonstop since all four members dropped out of college in 2010.
After the success of last year’s debut EP, “Oblangle Fizz Y’All,” which drew comparisons to Animal Collective, Talking Heads and MGMT, Reptar holed up in an Atlanta studio with producer Ben Allen in December to work on a full-length. Due in April, the album may surprise some fans of the EP. “To me, it’s more rock-oriented,” Kennedy says.
Reptar’s not abandoning its dance floor appeal, though: On its current tour, the band is aided by an extra guitarist and a percussionist. “It will be really fun for people coming to dance,” he says.Gibson Guitar Room, 709 G St. NW; 202-393-1006, with Fort Lean; Sat., 7 p.m., sold out. (Gallery Place)