The world’s most energetic drummer had his busiest, wildest year yet in 2018. Our heads are spinning just thinking about it.
Keeping a schedule that would quite possibly kill a less intrepid soul, twenty-nine-year-old Southern California drumming savant Aric Improta is now living out his childhood dreams. His relentless dedication to practice and personal growth, and his unwillingness to take any other path in life, is paying dividends during what has been the busiest period of the backflipping, dyed-in-the-wool drummer’s life. In addition to recording an EP and touring the globe with exciting new rap-punk act Fever 333 and filling in for pop-punk legends Goldfinger for much of 2018, Improta recorded From the Gallery of Sleep, the third album by his band Night Verses, who recently took the bold step of continuing on as an instrumental trio following the exit of singer Douglas Robinson.
“Douglas had to do some other stuff with his life,” Improta explains, “and we didn’t want to slow down. We tried to be very careful about it, and we were initially going to do a side project, but then it just seemed to make sense that we keep going. That was fun, because I think it was the first time that Nick [DePirro, guitar] and Reilly [Herrera, bass] had to replace the melody that we were used to supporting. It was exciting for me to see them both step up in a way that I’ve never seen them do over the last fifteen years of playing with them. And they were very patient. There were times when I was pushing to try things for a twentieth and thirtieth time—a different mix or approach. It’s just amazing to have three people who are so trusting of each other that we know if one of us says we can do something better, we all just go for it and don’t really question it.”
With instrumental bands enjoying a renaissance on the heels of the hard-earned success of groups like Animals as Leaders, Intervals, Chon, Scale the Summit, and Strawberry Girls, Night Verses is basking in the light that now shines on the music they’ve dedicated themselves to since their teenage years. “This is the first time in my life that there’s been any kind of scene for instrumental-heavy bands,” Improta says. “I think you always kind of long for being part of something new, and it’s hard because a lot of music that’s based around a singer and a formulaic structure seems to be repeating itself right now. With instrumental music, you kind of have to come up with your own way to satisfy the listener and yourself, because you don’t have that [vocal] melody to rely on.”
The music on From the Gallery of Sleep, which was produced by East Coast heavy-music heavyweight Will Putney (Body Count, Thy Art Is Murder, the Acacia Strain, Stray from the Path), stretches the boundaries of what three musicians can reproduce live. But Improta, DePirro, and Herrera do exactly that—without the aid of backing tracks. They take this as a matter of philosophical pride.
“I need to stress that Will was huge in convincing the label to continue with us as an instrumental band,” says Improta. “They were open to it, but Will was really all about doing the record. I have a feeling that we’ll keep going back to Will because he has this amazing sense of getting organic tones that don’t feel over-produced or synthetic. At the same time, he has a vast knowledge of modern recording technology, so nothing sounds dated. He’s the best producer I’ve ever worked with when it comes to recording drums. I love our last record, and I know we couldn’t have gotten those results from anyone other than [producer] Ross Robinson. But for me, it’s so rewarding to get to work with people who are drastically different from each other. It adds to the Rolodex of recording techniques that I can pull from when I’m working on different types of projects. If I’m working with a different artist, I can make suggestions that I’ve seen first-hand can completely alter the sound of a record.”
Speaking of “different,” Improta recently recorded Ivory by Gin Wigmore, a New Zealand transplant now based in Los Angeles. It’s a collection of songs that couldn’t be more different from Night Verses’ sound. “That record was very organic,” says Improta, who’d recorded an earlier album with the singer/songwriter. “We had T-shirts on the kit, and Gin always asked me to play what she called ‘dumb’ fills, like where one hand was going from the snare to the rack to the floor in quarter notes. It was a lot of fun.”
Also on the drummer’s very full plate in 2018 was his role in Fever 333, which features guitarist Stephen Harrison of the Chariot and vocalist Jason Aalon Butler of letlive. He also worked on projects with rapper Vic Mensa—and with fellow drummer Travis Barker. That project was produced by L.A. playmaker and Goldfinger lead vocalist/guitarist John Feldmann. According to Improta, “Jason called me and said, ‘Hey, I talked to John about you coming in to drum on the project, and he wants you to cruise up to his studio.’” Before entering Feldmann’s studio, Butler sat with Improta in a parking lot to listen to the song and said, “I just want to let you know, John can be pretty intense when he’s working.”
“I thought I was just going to meet him,” says Aric, “and I hadn’t heard any of the songs until that moment. Then when we got into the room, the engineer says, ‘Hey, John’s not feeling so good, so he’s not coming down.’ Jason says, ‘Then why did we have Aric come?’ and the engineer goes, ‘Oh, we want him to record.’ [laughs] My brain was saying, Uuuuuhhh, but my mouth was saying, ‘Cool, sounds good.’ And then, as if it was set up to be a reality show, John bursts into the room with a camera guy and says, ‘I totally forgot that I’m shooting part of my documentary today. What’s your name?’ I said, ‘I’m Aric,’ and he goes, ‘Awesome, are you ready to record?’ I was being asked this on video. I said, ‘If we have time, yeah,’ and he says, ‘We’ve got time. What song do you want to do?’ So I named the only song I remembered the title of. He goes, ‘Do you know it?’ And I said, ‘I’ve just heard it once.’ He goes, ‘Okay, go in there and adjust Travis’s kit. We’ll play it for you once, I’ll tell you what I want, and then we’ll record you and send the video to Travis to see what he thinks.’
“So I just went in and did it,” Improta says. “Honestly, there were no nerves at the time, because I’ve practiced so many hours of my life to be ready for those kinds of situations. It’s been pretty insane, because this year the Fever 333 has done three or four tours, Download Fest, Fuji Rock Fest, most of the major rock festivals, and a tour with the Used. And we’re booked through March— Japan, Australia, we’re playing the Forum…. It’s been crazy because it’s so fast-paced. But it’s really exciting, because for all of the chemistry that I have with Night Verses musically, this band feels like that when it comes to performance. It’s the first time that
I’ve been the least energetic person on a project. Every time I get up to do a 360 on my drum throne, I look and Stephen is hanging from a truss forty feet in the air, while Jason is in the middle of the mosh pit rallying the crowd. It’s amazing, because I get to play with Night Verses, doing all of the music that I grew up loving with the people that I grew up playing with. And then I go to the Fever 333, and I’m trying every day to step up my performance, bring more energy, and build more endurance.”
As if recording three albums and relentlessly touring wasn’t enough, Improta also composed and performed a forty-minute solo at the Meinl Drum Festival. Inspired by the loss of a close family member, Improta worked for months to create something unique that would distinguish him from fellow performers Benny Greb, Alex Rüdinger, and Chris Coleman. “They gave me a forty-minute set,” says Improta, “and I thought, I need to do something to stand out, because I was playing alongside people who I couldn’t just do a lesser version of. I had to do something that was as much ‘me’ as possible.”
With that in mind, Improta spent five months composing a nonstop, forty-minute drum solo. “It has looping and effects pedals like what Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine would use,” Improta explains, “and I do a back flip and all this other stuff. I kick my cymbal over and then bring it back, like James Brown did with his mic stand. On top of all of that, I later found out that of all the solos that were performed that day, mine was the only one with a corrupted video file. So I had to relearn the entire solo and re-record it at Meinl Studios in Nashville. We did the whole recording in one take, just like the solo. I don’t know that I’ll ever have another year where this much stuff happens.”
Viewed more than 90,000 times on YouTube at press time, Aric’s solo, titled “Blur-Lights in the Videodrome,” was partly inspired by his love for sci-fi films. “That solo might be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” says Improta. “It was also one of the heaviest, because I had a lot of stuff happen during those five months. When I do something like that, I try to put in as much of my personality as I can, because I’m locked in a room for so many hours.
“My aunt passed away from this super-aggressive cancer,” Aric continues. “At the time, she was trying to find an outlet, something to believe in as she was passing. I’d taken some meditation courses, and I gave her these mala beads and talked to her about some of the stuff that I’d learned. I found out that that’s what she was practicing on when she passed, so I used those mala beads in the solo to make white noise while I was spinning the cymbal. The solo includes a lot of vocal samples, and there were some quotes in there that were inspired by her. Of all of my family members, she was the one who was the most comfortable with being different. I tried to put in everything that would represent the five months that I spent putting the solo together. It was a very interesting process. I don’t know that I’ll ever compose and perform a forty-minute solo again, but I felt like I needed to say that I could do it. Everything you do after that seems a little easier!” [laughs]
Somehow, amidst all of this activity Improta found the time to create a new line of artistic drumheads with Remo, among other art-oriented gear projects. “The people at Remo were super cool,” says Improta. “They did this thing called the ArtBEAT campaign, where they wanted an artist to do signature tom and snare heads. Since I spend all my extra time on tour illustrating, they were open to my input. We released the line at NAMM and also did a djembe and a cajon.
“It’s just been a fast-forward year,” Improta says. “Everything I’m doing is stuff I’ve seen other people do—it’s just that I’m doing all these things that I’ve wanted to do at one time. I just feel very lucky that everything has lined up in this way, and that these people believed in me enough to bring me along, and have stuck with me. I don’t know a lot of bands that do what Night Verses has done—sticking with me and practicing as much as we have since we were fifteen years old. I feel super fortunate that I’m surrounded by people who are as passionate about this as I am.”
Drums: Tama Superstar Classic Maple in Transparent Black Burst finish
A. 6.5×14 SLP Super Aluminum snare
B. 8×10 tom
C. 12×14 floor tom
D. 14×16 floor tom
E. 18×22 bass drum
1. 14″ Byzance Medium hi-hats
2. 10″ Byzance Traditional splash
3. 19″ Classics Custom Dark crash
4. 22″ Pure Alloy Medium ride
5. 20″ Classics Custom Dark crash
6. Bullet Stack (16″ Byzance Trash crash/12″ Classics Custom Trash splash)
7. 18″ Classics Custom Dark China
Sticks: Vic Firth American Classic 5A, 5B, and Extreme 55B wood-tip
Hardware: Tama, including Iron Cobra 900 Power Glide double bass drum pedal, Iron Cobra Lever Glide hi-hat stand, and Roadpro snare, tom, and cymbal stands
Heads: Remo, including Emperor Coated, ArtTBEAT, or Controlled Sound X Coated on snare batter, Emperor Coated or ArtBEAT tom batter; Powerstroke P3 Clear with Dot bass drum batter
Percussion: Meinl, Spinbal, Woodland Percussion, Morfbeats, Remo ArtBEAT Artist Collection Djembe (with Night Verses)
Electronics: Roland SPD-SX sample pad, Roland SPD-30 Octapad, Strymon BigSky reverb, EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter, Line 6 DL4, DigiTech Whammy pedal