CHRIS IMPELLITTERI – “There Are Certain Things I Miss In Metal Today”
October 9, 2018, 6 months ago
When metalheads discuss guitarists who helped pave the way for modern day shred, the usual suspects seem to always come up - Eddie, Randy, Yngwie, etc. But...what about Chris Impellitteri? It was way back in 1987 that Mr. Impellitteri dropped his self-titled EP (aka the Black EP)...in which he somehow managed to out-Yngwie Yngwie in the stunning-shred-solo department! And Impellitteri’s 2018 offering, The Nature Of The Beast, shows that the guitarist has not lost any of his fretboard flash this late in the game - which he discussed with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato.
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the new album, The Nature Of The Beast.
Chris Impellitteri: “I always think of each of our records as an evolution. We grow as artists, and we also grow in age - maturity, etcetera. So, every record we do, I think we get a little bit better. At least we’re more experienced than the previous one. And I think that’s just the natural progression of maturing. So, with The Nature Of The Beast, there is one thing I noticed that Rob and I have been very cognizant of, now that we’re basically 5,000-year-old vampires - the one thing we do is really push ourselves. We figure if we can’t be more energetic and youthful, and push our boundaries and limitations, then it’s really not worth doing. So, that’s always in the back of our minds when we’re doing these records. And it doesn’t mean that we have to play faster or more aggressive - it just means we can’t be lax. We can’t lose our abilities, our talents. We work really hard to constantly improve if it’s possible. So, having said that, going to The Nature Of The Beast, to be honest, it was really an evolution and an extension of our previous record, Venom. We had such great momentum - we got really good reviews on that record. We came off some amazing live shows. We obviously do Japan like we always do, but we also did some very big festivals with Iron Maiden and bands like that in Europe. And then the last show we did, we headlined the Busan International Rock Festival in South Korea, and did like, 90,000 people.
“So, we just had a great energy and momentum behind us. So, when we came back, I literally ran to the studio and I would just be playing my guitar. I was having so much fun, that all of a sudden, all these riffs were coming to me. And all of our music is always built first on the riff. And if we like the riff and we all agree, then we build a song around it. So, that’s kind of how we initiated this record. And there was also a lot of influence on this record. Every day for two years when I was working on this record, I would listen to KUSC in Los Angeles, which is all classical. So, all day long, you’re going to hear stuff like Vivaldi, Grieg, Brahms - stuff like that. That really subconsciously...I think I acted as a sponge, and that really affected the way I was writing. And then at the same time, I thought, ‘There are certain things I miss in metal today.’ I love all the new metal bands, but there are a lot of elements that I miss in what I grew up on when I was a little kid. So, I started thinking about, ‘What are those bands like?’ I would listen to things like Judas Priest’s ‘Hellion/Electric Eye,’ Black Sabbath’s ‘Heaven And Hell’ or ‘The Mob Rules,’ or Ozzy’s ‘Diary Of A Madman.’ I would listen to all of that stuff, just to sponge. And I think all of that, an amalgamation, all came together, and helped me create the foundation or the structures of all these songs. That’s really how this record started to evolve.”
BraveWords: And what about the song “Run For Your Life,” and its video?
Chris Impellitteri: “‘Run For Your Life,’ to me, as a guitarist, it is so much fun to play. It’s not rocket science, y’know? There are a couple of interesting things here and there that are a little bit challenging as a musician, but it’s just a really fun song. It reminds me of classic Iron Maiden - it has that same vibe. The same with Judas Priest and stuff like that. The song, the lyrics and the direction we went, I think we were writing that when there were a lot of banter going on between Trump and Kim, right? North Korea. And at this point, he was calling Kim ‘little rocket man,’ and they had the ability to have long range missiles hit I think it was Seattle. Technically, I’m in the Malibu area, so it was kind of like, ‘Uh oh...we can get hit.’ We just started playing around with that theme, like, ‘Oh my God...what happens if World War III actually did happen? I hope it doesn’t, but if it did...’ So that’s it. And the video, as you can tell, we’re obviously trying to bring back that thing that we grew up with as little kids. I remember around 1982/1983, you’d see Maiden video or Priest video, and it was just really fun. It was cool, it was obviously performance, but it was fun. In some ways, it’s campy - to be like, ‘Come on dude, really?’ But it was meant to be that way. Our music, I’ve always said this - we want everybody to have fun with us. I don’t want people to have to do calculus when they listen to us. We don’t want to be that band. We’re more ‘party and have fun.’”
BraveWords: Do you still work on your speed on the guitar, or does it come natural?
Chris Impellitteri: “Well, I’ve got to be careful with this - the whole speed thing, in my opinion, has been beaten to death on me. Everybody thinks that’s all I care about - playing fast. I promise you, I don’t. That’s the 15-year-old kid in me, and he’s still very much alive in me. I love it. And the answer is yes, I do practice every day. I will probably play six to eight hours a lot of times on a really good day where I really am motivated. But either way, that guitar - whether it’s at my pool, upstairs in my house, downstairs, I have guitars everywhere. So I’m always playing. And I don’t think about it consciously, like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get faster.’ I just make sure I have the ability to use muscle memory - where I play a scale in repetition over and over again, make sure my articulation is right and I play it at various speeds. If I play 32nd note triplets at 200 bpm or something crazy, just to work on articulation. I do that really for the physicality of it. It’s like, a good athlete works out at the gym. Well, I do that with my guitar. But it’s not just so I can play fast and senselessly wank on the guitar...because I have been accused of that. [Laughs] And some of the critics were probably right in the past.” [Laughs]
BraveWords: I wrote a book last year, Shredders about ‘80s metal guitarists - what do you think of the term ‘shredder’?
Chris Impellitteri: “I have to be honest - I really don’t know where it came from. I always think of shredding like, when you have a cheese grater, and you’re shredding carrots or cheese or whatever. So, I don’t really have an opinion on the term. I know I was one of the original guys - at least in the metal community - to have done that. I mean, the Impellitteri Black EP was 1986. We were really one of the first bands. And I consider the first record we ever did was Maiden and Priest on steroids. But of course, the guitar soloing, I was really listening to stuff like Friday Night in San Francisco by Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paco de Lucía. It’s insane guitar playing. And these guys were doing shredding long before there were guys like me and Yngwie or Gilbert or any of them. They’re really the founders, in my humble opinion. But the term, like I said, I don’t have an opinion. I really don’t know what to say about it.”
BraveWords: You worked with one of my favorite rock singers of all-time, Graham Bonnet. What do you recall about working with Graham?
Chris Impellitteri: “Graham and I actually did two records. I’ll be honest, the very first record [of Impellitteri] was the Black EP - that cemented or created a foundation of who we were. And we started getting a lot of press. I’ll never forget, I think Kerrang! Magazine gave us five stars out of five stars. We got a lot of interest in the band globally. And at that time, as the thing was blowing up, Rob Rock the singer, quit. He decided he wanted to do something else - more Christian-based or something, because we’re not a Christian band. There was a producer in Germany that had produced the Scorpions, so anyway, Rob went and joined some other band. Well, I had just signed a deal with Sony and Relativity, and I owed them a record, and I didn’t know what to do. I literally was like a little kid, lost. I said, ‘Oh my God. We have all this momentum, and one of the key guys leaves.’ I had gotten a call from Graham years earlier, to replace Yngwie Malmsteen in a band called Alcatrazz. I was too young. Steve Vai eventually got the gig, and he was the right person for it. I was an unruly child at that point in my life. But anyway, Graham and I stayed friends. Eventually, Alcatrazz fell apart, and I needed a singer, so I picked up the phone one day, and said, ‘Graham, what are you doing? I need a singer. Do you have any interest in this?’ And he was like, ‘Absolutely. In a second.’ So, here became the problem. The problem was what Impellitteri really is today and what it was then with the Black EP, you couldn’t really write that type of music with Graham. Graham was from Rainbow and was pretty legendary at that time. People don’t realize, when he was in Rainbow, today’s Download Festival at that point was called Monsters of Rock, and Rainbow headlined that [in 1980]. It was massive. So, someone had told me, ‘Why don’t you do this, you appreciate Rainbow and some of the early stuff Graham did with Alcatrazz. Why don’t you do music in that direction?’ Which I felt I really got pulled out of my element. So, when I listen to Stand On Line now, I look at it, and I go, ‘There are two or three songs that I like.’ I think the song ‘Stand In Line’ worked very well. And we play it live and people go nuts, so we love that. But the sound of that record is not an Impellitteri record. I mean, if you listen to The Nature Of The Beast or Venom or Answer to the Master or the Black EP, you immediately know there is a uniform sound to the way this band is.
“Stand In Line sounds like an outlier. It’s like, ‘OK. This sounds more like a tribute or a watered down version of Rainbow.’ Another thing - I hated the way they mixed my guitar. They buried the guitar solos in reverb. It drove me nuts. And then the biggest thing - and I think Graham would honestly tell people this - there was a lot of problems with alcoholism. It was a very, very brutal record to make. Here I am, this little kid, and I’m working with guys...Graham is like, 18 years older than me. In fact, everybody in that band was quite a bit older than me. So, I felt like a kid again, with a lot of people that I couldn’t relate to emotionally. That’s my experience with Stand In Line. But, I will always be forever grateful, because look, whether I like it or dislike it, or anybody likes it or hates it, it doesn’t matter, because it got us on MTV, we sold millions of records worldwide, and we became enormous. That is the stuff I’ll be grateful for. And then another thing about Graham - in the year 2002, Rob Rock decided to do another solo run. So, I decided at that point, I had this music, but it was Impellitteri, and it was almost like poetic justice - I called Graham up and said, ‘Look, I’ve got this record I’m working on. I want to bring you back in for this record.’ Which became System X. ‘But we’re going to do Impellitteri music the way we do the music, but you’re going to sing your way over it.’ And I actually listened back now many years later, and I actually really like that record a lot. I think that record is what Stand In Line should have been.”
BraveWords: Touring plans?
Chris Impellitteri: “We’re getting offers right now for Japan and Europe, and we’re trying desperately to do North America - Canada and the US. The issue has really been promoters, in all sincerity. We’ve been very fortunate overseas to play in very large venues. Here, I think the promoters are terrified. They’re not sure if we say, ‘We want to play a 200-300 seat place,’ can we fill the venue, or are two or three people going to show up?’ So, we’re trying to go through the logistics of, ‘What can we do to bring a decent production and play for all age groups?’ That’s the key thing, too. Because in Europe, we have tons of fans who are 15 years old. So, our plans are if we get invitations that are good venues, you have my word - we will absolutely tour. We will play everywhere they invite us - as long as those things are met.”
(Photos by: Alex Solca)