Impellitteri – Spitting Venom

Wednesday, 8th April 2015

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of current rock and heavy metal? Does it concern you that reality television skews what it really takes to be able to sustain a career in the music business?

Impellitteri: (laughs). Yeah. That’s a sad part of culture accepting that, but remember – Hollywood is… I live in West Lake Village, outside of Malibu. I am around the culture all the time. Hollywood has billions of dollars – it’s a powerful machine. It will decide what you will be fed, whether it’s music, television, or film. Right now because of reality television and gossip magazines, that seems to be the ticket to gaining acceptance and entrance for a lot of artists. These people aren’t musicians- it’s like all of a sudden an actor that becomes a musician and picks up a record deal. Some girl makes a sex tape and all of a sudden she’s a pop icon. That’s a bit disturbing- but I don’t see a lot of rock bands having a successful career because of reality tv. What makes a really good rock band is determination – make sure you practice and master your craft, your instrument, your writing – that’s far more important. If your music can’t stand up, and they figure out you can’t play or sing, the masses are going to figure out that you suck and then dismiss you.

Dead Rhetoric: Music consumption has changed so much since Impellitteri’s early years to now. Physical sales are declining, people prefer digital/streaming means, and younger fans often believe that music should be ‘free’ as they support bands through their live performance/merchandising in terms of payment. Where do you stand at this point?

Impellitteri: Oh boy! Unless you are an institutional band and had a market place that succeeded financially, an area where you are able to monetize it (things are tough). We were very lucky – we sold a couple of million records in Japan alone. I also have an MBA so I’m pretty well educated, so I was always smart with money and so were the other band guys. We were able to do this for a living, we owned businesses outside of it that provided positive cash flow. A lot of mega bands do the same thing. Because the music industry has changed so much, piracy – big albums now… huge bands (are) selling 100,000 records now, and I can assure anybody reading this that selling 100,000 records isn’t going to make you a decent living. By the time you have to cut the money with 4-5 guys, a business manager, and pay taxes – there’s no money left. Building your brand now is about touring, and having something else as a financial support mechanism so you can do this for a full-time endeavor.

What you are seeing is what has always been happening. I am friends with a lot of legendary bands, but some of them had mommy and daddy money helping the band, buying them advertising, funding their touring. Had it not been for those kind of families, they would not have the kind of success that they are having now. I don’t know him, Adam Levine (Maroon 5 vocalist) – his dad owns Fredericks of Hollywood. That helps you to have a good head start. David Lee Roth from Van Halen – his dad is a mega ophthalmologist surgeon, you can put two and two together to see that these bands had a lot of help financially.

Dead Rhetoric: Frontiers Records has been one of the more successful record labels successfully handling the transitioning business model – what convinced you to sign with them this time for mainland Europe and North America?

Impellitteri: Actually a few people had talked to me about (Frontiers). I saw Whitesnake and Journey had signed with them. By the way, even though I’m a metal guy and a shredder, Journey in all honesty is one of my favorite rock bands. We did the Sweden Rock Festival and played on the same stage with Black Sabbath, Dream Theater, and Journey. We played for a metal concentrated audience, 35,000 people – but I remember wondering how Journey was going to go over with that audience. The smiles on the faces when people heard “Separate Ways” all the way to “Don’t Stop Believin” it was hilarious.

So people told me to check out Serafino (head of Frontiers), as he can do a great job with bands that can actually sing, play their instruments, write and not just chasing fads. A lot of the metal labels want the bands that do the cookie monster voice, or more of a death metal vibe. A great band is a great band, and their priority is to have great songs and great product. I knew he would be a good business partner for us.

Dead Rhetoric: I know that your parents committed suicide when you were 9 and you grew up an orphan. How did this change your outlook on life as you went through adolescence and teen years – do you feel fortunate you had guitar playing as one of those outlets to channel your swirling emotions?

Impellitteri: That’s framed very eloquently. My grandmother and grandfather adopted me when I was 9 years old, and I think they sensed that if they didn’t find something for me that I really found passion in I would end up messed up. So they bought me a guitar – they originally asked me if I wanted to play an instrument and I probably went ‘yeah – the drums’ and they said ‘not a chance in hell’ because of the noise. They brought me into a guitar store and up on the wall was a copy of this black Gibson Les Paul. Next to it was a Stratocaster – they were both just cheap knock offs. There was something about it that I wanted – my grandmother bought it for me, and I’ll never forget that she went to the store owner and asked if there was someone available to teach me. Every week she would take me religiously to guitar lessons, and it was amazing. I had this great guitar teacher, learned scales, theory, reading music, chords – all of it. It really gave me a sense of purpose in life- I was really lucky as my parents were very young when my mother and father died. They had me at an early age, so it gave me this sense of fulfillment. My first concert was Kiss’ Destroyer tour, and I knew I wanted to do this on stage. Then I saw Van Halen, and that’s all there was to it. I could have thought that I was screwed in life, being an orphan, having no parents, this sucks – I remember a lot of times in the winter walking home from school. I’d walk to my house in Connecticut, it would be dark out and the lights would be on in other houses and I’d see the moms and dads and kids sitting at their dinner tables. I’d go home, run into my room and grab my guitar to play.

Dead Rhetoric: How are things going with Animetal USA – do you enjoy your role as ‘Speed King’ and the makeup/theatrics that go along with things?

Impellitteri: Animetal USA is really targeting a very specific audience. Anime is a fascinating, fantastic world to me. I’ve been going over to Japan for 20 years, and Rudy Sarzo told me about this a while back- that (anime) is a huge part of Japanese culture. We watch reality television, horror, comedy – all of that stuff, and anime is Japan’s outlet and entertainment. Some of it’s dark and thematic, other parts are comical. When they presented it to us, they wanted us to create metal versions of famous anime music, and they wanted us to perform it for the anime market specifically. That’s what we did when we started this. A lot of the kids at first who were die-hard Impellitteri fans, or Judas Priest fans because of Scott Travis doing the first record with us – they are probably wondering what the hell are we doing? They hear the words and probably thought it was lame – even if the metal music and the soloing was still there. It was our way of saying thank you for a culture that has been so generous to us. We are still doing it – I am told Warner Japan has signed us for another record, I haven’t been told much more than that, and another full tour. Right now Impellitteri is my focus.

Dead Rhetoric: Looking back at some of your documented history (YouTube clips of your Headbangers’ Ball appearance in 1989 with VJ Adam Curry for instance), is there a fondness or are they aspects that just make you cringe?

Impellitteri: (laughs) The white boots! To some degree we all try to fit in with some sort of current moment. I think that is just a part of who you are as a human being. There are times where you look back and you go, ‘oh my god- what was I thinking?’. I started writing the material for the first Impellitteri black EP when I was 15. “Lost in the Rain”, I embraced the mid-80’s. You can hear a lot of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in what I was doing, we go into the 1990’s… Rob is still doing the screaming, I am doing the shredding, but bands like Pantera are coming into their own. We started de-tuning our guitars and getting a little deeper. We have gone through each of these times and made part of those eras who we are. We’ve embraced it and I wear things as a badge of honor. We are still here, and there are hundreds of bands who sold millions of records that are gone and not even talked about anymore. I should be proud of that.

Dead Rhetoric: What are the Impelliterri plans over the next 12 months as far as touring? Do you plan on hitting some festivals or doing small jaunts possibly across North America, Europe, and the Far East?

Impellitteri: God I hope so. The one question I get on every interview is, when are you going to tour? I think we’ve become the Steely Dan of heavy metal (laughs). Musicians loved them, they had a following, but they never really toured much. We are going off to Japan in May, Frontiers our label is doing a festival in Germany in October, and we are talking to agents in Europe and North America for a full blown tour. The hard thing as you can imagine for us is in this day and age, promoters want bands that have been doing things every year and have a proven track record. In America it’s a little more challenging, they are fearful that if they put us in a 3,000-4,000 seat venue which in Japan we can easily do, even in Europe too – they may be half full here. I don’t know if Impellitteri tours (here), would we fill a venue or have 3 people show up.

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