Victory – Cutting Right to the Bone

Thursday, 23rd December 2021

A steady staple of the melodic hard rock/heavy metal scene during the late 1980’s, German act Victory made a mark through stellar records like Culture Killed the Native and Temples of Gold. Although slowing down a bit in productivity over the 2000’s, their latest album Gods of Tomorrow may remind ardent followers of those primetime days. Veteran guitarist Herman Frank recruited some new members and put together a fantastic set of tracks that span the hard rock/metal spectrum: tracks full of energy, hooks, melodies, from full on metal efforts to tender ballads as well as stomping anthems in between.

We reached out to new singer Gianni Pontillo who was happy to help us learn more about how he got into the band, the songwriting and vocal performance he helped shape with Herman Frank, how the recent live shows went for Victory, some thoughts on one of his vocal mentors Chris Cornell, and what to expect in the future from the group.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us a bit about your first musical memories during childhood – and when you made the progression to discovering heavy metal music and wanting to perform in bands on your own?

Gianni Pontillo: I was sixteen, and I discovered Guns N’ Roses, they were the first band I was into, them and Skid Row. Those are the bands that brought me to this kind of music. I really loved it. Metallica as well. The whole thing started with a school band for me. Someone asked me if I wanted to sing, and I was so into Axl Rose at the time, I loved him. I wanted to do something like him.

Singing came naturally to me. When I was a young boy, my parents always brought me to these parties. I started singing, but there was no training. I didn’t go to a vocal coach or school. Time by time, when you rehearse it’s something you discover on your own. I had some lessons later when I was in my twenties, a very short time.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you gain the opportunity to join Victory, and were you a fan/follower of their music and career prior to joining the band?

Pontillo: At the time, Victory was a bigger band in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I was a very young boy, it was almost impossible to follow them as I was into more of Guns N’ Roses at the time. Later then, I heard some songs of theirs and I enjoyed albums like Culture Killed the Native and Temple of Gold. I actually met Herman Frank two years ago, we were playing with our other bands. I was playing with The Order and he was playing with Herman Frank. He saw my performance and asked me if I wanted to join Victory. For me, it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. It was fantastic, and I enjoy doing music with the guys and performing at the shows. We have already had three shows, it’s a great band with cool songs and fantastic energy.

Dead Rhetoric: Gods of Tomorrow is the latest Victory album – and first in ten years for the group. How do you believe the songwriting and recording sessions went for this record? Did you have any worries or concerns to live up to the standards set by previous singers/albums for the band?

Pontillo: It’s always hard for a new singer to step into an established band. The older singers, Fernando (Garcia) is a fantastic singer, Charlie Huhn as well. It’s something very new. It’s another decade and another band. It’s still Victory because Herman Frank is in the band, it’s a new step for the band and we tried as well as we could to keep up with those albums. The listener, they have to decide how good it is or if they accept us as we are now. For me, it’s a fantastic album and a great experience to work with Herman Frank and all the guys. He’s a very great producer, it was something for me to grow up. We took care of the vocal lines, the different parts of the songs to make it interesting and catchy as well.

Dead Rhetoric: What was the process like working on this material with Herman Frank? Did he give you a sense of direction song to song, or trust your instincts for you to shape the material as a singer in the right way?

Pontillo: It was both of them. When we started writing, we were in the COVID-19 scenario, so we worked together with Zoom and Skype. He had some fantastic songs already, and he just showed me and told me to follow some of the vocal lines, but also write lyrics and if I had some ideas for different songs to do the vocal lines on my own. It was 50/50 for him having great ideas for the vocals and me having great ideas for the vocals. The lyrics, I did most of the lyrics. It was hard work, it’s not easy to work like this but I enjoyed it.

Dead Rhetoric: Which songs on this record came easier to you, and were there any songs that were tougher to nail?

Pontillo: Let’s put it this way. The songs that I had to write the lyrics and the vocal lines for, they were easier for me. It’s easier when you write your own vocal lines to go to the studio and sing them. Versus following someone else’s idea and it’s not perfect like the way he wanted. There were songs like “Love & Hate” and “Cut to the Bone” that were quite easy to sing. There were songs like “Mad” and the ballads were more difficult to sing, you have to bring so much emotion to those songs. Of course, there are always difficult songs to sing, I didn’t have to sing as high as Fernando did in the past, so we are talking a different kind of hard rock nowadays. It’s never easy to sing hard rock stuff though.

Dead Rhetoric: You shot a video for “Love & Hate” that combines band performance footage and narrative / visual elements that provide commentary on social media and regular in print media. What can you tell us about the concept, how the video shoot went, and how you feel about this promotional tool these days compared to the past when video channels seemed to have more power and influence?

Pontillo: We did the video in a very easy way, on a blue screen. We didn’t know what was going to happen. They told us… its based on the lyrics, so it’s clear what was going to happen, but we didn’t have any idea about the final product. When it came out, I was blown away what they did, they managed to put together images that match the problems that we experience nowadays. Especially with the social media stuff, when you like or don’t like things, comments on YouTube.

It’s obvious that there was a bigger impact in the past when you had MTV that promotes your song on TV. People watch television all the time, and that has disappeared nowadays. But if you have the chance to be on a YouTube channel and have a great record company that can also promote your songs, it’s great promotion as well. Compared to the 80’s or 90’s, it’s not the same anymore. We try to do what we can, that’s the way that it is.

Dead Rhetoric: You recently got the opportunity to play three live shows in October in three different countries with Victory. How did these shows go, did you notice a different hunger or excitement for the live experience considering the prolonged absence of shows due to the pandemic?

Pontillo: The thing is, at the moment there is a big problem with the pandemic stuff. It doesn’t make things easier. People want to have shows of course, Victory is still an interesting band. We are very popular especially in Germany. The problem with COVID-19 doesn’t make it good. The shows were great, we had to cap them at 200 people. The band had not played shows together in almost seven years. The album had not come out yet, we played three new songs at the shows, and they really liked it. I think when we go on tour, sooner or later, they will be coming to the shows. I’m sure the band is fresh; the music is cool.

I really tried to bring with my voice to keep up with the eras of Fernando and Charlie. I really rehearse a lot for Victory, it’s a very important band, there are great songs and I want to perform them as well as I can. It’s my reputation up there as well, not only Victory’s reputation.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the development of your voice from the start of The Order discography to current times? Where do you think you’ve seen the biggest changes or improvements?

Pontillo: Let’s say with The Order I have the chance to do the things that I want. It’s a good thing, but if you have a producer like Herman Frank, he tells me what is going to happen with the songs and how things have to be and sound. It’s always different, when you have a band like The Order, you just go and sing. When you have a band like Victory, it’s important to do different parts of the songs accurately and perfectly. This is a challenge, it’s very interesting and it changes the way of thinking and writing about a song. This helps me improve my work and what I am doing next with another band.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the state of heavy metal today? What do you enjoy most about the scene, and what changes or improvements (if any) would you like to see happen?

Pontillo: What I would like to see happen in metal or rock music, being more popular of course. I enjoy different kinds of bands like Tool. Every time they release something they bring something different and fantastic. It’s not the usual type of metal that I listen to. I’m waiting for the next Metallica as well – they are a very important band, and they are always doing interesting things. With St. Anger, most people hate this album – I don’t know why. It’s something totally different. I am open to a lot of things. It’s very difficult to have this music gain more popularity, those years are almost gone.

Dead Rhetoric: How is it to perform in the Fun Halen tribute to Van Halen that you are a part of?

Pontillo: It’s very fun. I think I can really sing the songs of Sammy Hagar on a good level. He’s a fantastic guy. We just enjoy playing those songs. It’s not so easy, Van Halen is a huge band and it’s not easy music to play. I can sing the Sammy Hagar stuff well.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve paid tribute in song to Chris Cornell. How important of a singer is he to your delivery and vision?

Pontillo: Chris Cornell was one of the greatest singers on Earth, with Freddie Mercury. He was a talented guy, in a very extremely fantastic band like Soundgarden. He worked in so many different ways, with his solo albums, with Audioslave. He’s a monster. He sounds so different in so many different ways. For me he is one of the greatest singers. He could do whatever he wanted with his voice. He had a huge impact on me.

Dead Rhetoric: What worries, or concerns do you have about the world that we live in? Are there specific areas you believe the world leaders need to attack or put focus on moving forward to improve things in the coming years ahead?

Pontillo: The thing is, you can see the problem with COVID-19. It’s very hard to describe in what situation we are now. It would be great if we could find a way to go on together within humanity. This situation is making people go mad. In Europe, we have a problem of almost being in a civil war. You can see it on social media. It’s so difficult and so sad for people to act like this. For me, it would be great if we could find solutions to live together. It’s a strange moment in the world right now. We need to go on, and in two or three years hopefully things will improve.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Victory, The Order, or any other activities you may be a part of in the next twelve months or so?

Pontillo: There is a tour planned for Victory next year, and we are not sure if it’s going to happen. We are planning some festival appearances in the summer, like Sweden Rock, Bang Your Head in Germany. It would be a great opportunity for us to come to America – I would love to play over there. We never know. We will try to survive this pandemic and tour. With The Order, I am not sure what is going to happen as I am so busy now with Victory, I am sure there will be another album coming out in the next couple of years. Let’s see what will happen, I am open to anything.

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