Aric Improta is not only one of the most interesting drummers in heavy music right now, he’s also one of the most talented too. And I don’t think anyone could ever argue down that fact. His powerful work behind the drumkit in Night Verses, his live work with The Fever 333, his “attention deficit” way of drumming, solo pieces and the exciting ways in which he approaches the instrument overall all speaks for its creative self.
In my recent interview with Improta, the powerhouse drummer talks about Night Verses latest EP ‘Copper Wasp’ and the group now moving into instrumental territory after parting ways with vocalist Douglas Robinson. We also discuss Aric’s upcoming “Interpretations Project”, how he writes and prepares for drum solos, nailing that insane “kitflip” move from back in 2016, and quickly mention our shared love for Flood Of Red’s terrific yet underrated albums as we share commiseration in that band’s saddening demise.
So first off Aric, with Douglas now having left Night Verses, are you guys and him still friends with him? Was it an amicable split?
Yeah, we’re all cool. We all enjoyed the music we made together, but with the changes going on at this point in our lives, it just made more sense for us to move in our different directions. We’ve been through a lot together and we’ve shared some unforgettable experiences, all of which wouldn’t have been the same without him there. That being said, we are beyond excited to move forward with this new direction!
The instrumental quality of Night Verses has always been a big drawcard for your music. But was it challenging at all or maybe even easier to record and write for Night Verses now being instrumental only? Did this new EP take as long as past writing sessions and recordings have?
This record definitely had its challenges. We’ve always written the music first and the writing process is just an ongoing thing that happens whenever we are off tour. So time wise, it was pretty similar to the other records. I think the part that made it most challenging was finding ways to surprise each other and truly attempt to find progress as players. During the last record, we focused more on the emotion we could deliver and our “songwriting.” Its traditionally been harder for us to properly fit a singer in our compositions because they’ve almost always started as instrumentals. This time around, it was about taking what we’ve done so naturally before and attempting to step it up in a way we haven’t concentrated on in a long time. Actually pushing ourselves to refine our chops and fill new/less-traditional roles with our instruments. Nick, Reilly and I have written together for 15 years and when there is a singer, we normally alternate between passages that focus solely on musicality and of course moments that leave room for the vocals. The ebb and flow between those are what have generally seemed to keep our songs interesting in the past. Now that it was just us three, we had to find a way to bring that level of variation without a singer.
So for example, some of our parts would need more layers than ever before. For example, on the new album, we have a section that starts with a call response rhythm between the pad and the bass. Then the drums kick in and the bass starts to vary. After that runs a while, Nick adds a riff that winds between all of those parts. Normally, that’s the furthest we’d go. But on this record, we’d push ourselves to keep adding, so Nick then filled the gaps in his own riff with a different melody to replace the space vocals would’ve been. So basically, we worked on our own parts like that for almost the entire album. We’ve always tried to sound bigger than just a 3 piece by incorporating the digital percussion and various effects between Nick and Reilly. But there were a lot of moments on this record where we pushed ourselves to sound like a 6 piece. Moments where looping, vocal samples, pad synths, drums, bass and guitar were all being played simultaneously be the three of us. So I’m sure you can imagine that getting challenging at times. Especially since we’ve made it a point to never record something we can’t physically pull off live. This band is very against using backing-tracks, which I think has ultimately helped our creativity because we are forced to find new ways to problem solve something feeling “empty.”
That’s so sick. Likewise, with moving into a new Night Verses album, how is that coming along for you guys now? Do you think a full instrumental record will still work for the band’s sound? Based off of the ‘Copper Wasp’ EP, I’d say it works just fine!
I think the instrumental approach is what we enjoy most at this point and as long as we are content, “it works.” We still enjoy writing pieces from time to time with vocals in mind and I’m sure there will be many “one-off” collaborations in the future. But in general, it feels like the instrumental route is allowing us to be more productive and experimental than before.
Man, that really makes me very excited for the future of Night Verses. Also on ‘Copper Wasp’, while still techy and proggy, it has a far more post-rock quality about its sound than your past releases. Is that the direction that this new record will head in or is it going to have a few more surprises in store for us?
I’m so stoked you hear some post-rock influence! I feel like that genre does an amazing job of helping the listener escape where they are and that was definitely a constant theme we discussed when writing the record. We worked on making the entire piece feel like a collection of dreams. We wanted it to feel familiar with what you know us as previously, but rush you to unexpected places and let go of the linear framework that we normally consider when writing. As far as what to expect, we definitely stretched our sound out on this one: trying to tap into the furthest corners of who we are without losing our identity. The influences vary a lot, from Bonobo to Ministry to Massive Attack to Rage Against The Machine to Pink Floyd. The album has some of the heaviest material we’ve ever composed and at the same time attempts to thread in trip-hop, prog, post-metal and everything else we grew up on. Who knows if that will actually come across when you listen [laughs], but those genres and bands were all definitely having an impact on our decisions.
Right on! Regarding older songs, will the band rework those past tracks to fit the now solely instrumental approach and maybe include parts of certain songs in your live shows now? Or are you going to leave them back in Night Verses’ past when touring?
We’ve done an instrumental set before that were essentially medleys of our older material. I wouldn’t be surprised if we bring some back when our set is longer. However, at the moment, the new material is what we are going to be focusing on live.
Fair enough. With working in both Night Verses and now The Fever 333 with Stephen (The Chariot) and Jason Butler (Letlive.), does that keep things fresh for you as a drummer; moving between something so technical but then another band that’s also far simpler in terms of drumming? (No offence intended). Does that help keep it all creative and new to you?
It’s definitely a fun dichotomy for me to bounce between. I feel like both bands are pretty strong reflections of my personality as a musician. As much as I love the creative/technical prowess found on an Opeth album, I can’t help that I’ve always been drawn to the raw energy that comes with an At the Drive-In record. So it’s been nice to go full throttle on both ends of the spectrum vs. trying to fit the two in a single band.
Well said! So how is this new project of yours with having multiple drummers playing on one song going? The press release states that this included/is including contributions from members of Protest The Hero, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Letlive. Who else do you have working on it, drummer or otherwise? What’s the timeline for this project and when do you think we’ll be able to see it release?
“The Interpretations Project” has been exciting. Its taken forever (about a year and a half) but in my past experiences, it’s always been worth the wait. It’s similar to the “Drum Chain” video I did a few years back, which I believe is where you got the list of bands you are referring to. But this has different drummers and a different goal in mind. For the “Drum Chain”, I just asked eight drummers to give me 30 seconds of whatever they wanted at 140 BPM, then I organized the clips into a single composition and had Nick and Reilly accompany the drums to create a single song. This time around, I have 15 drummers giving their interpretations of commonly used musical phrases. So although the format of execution is the same, the requests are more specific and there are more drummers. The project is 4 videos in total (Groove, Chops, Creativity and Intensity) and each video has all of the drummers giving their response to one of the designated phrases. The “Groove” video is now public on Modern Drummer’s Vimeo and the next 3 will be finished within the upcoming months. I believe “Chops” will be the next one released. The drummers involved have a ton of variation in style, so it keeps it interesting. It literally ranges from someone who’s played with Behemoth to someone who’s performed with Miley Cyrus. I’m stoked to get the next 3 out!
Dude, that actually sounds fucking wild now that you’ve outlined it all for me. I’m very keen to see it all drop! Now, with just how technical and gymnastic your drumming so often is, how do you maintain that kind of output? What kind of physical exercises and drumming techniques do you work on to upkeep those chops and endurance?
My routine changes depending on the project but endurance has been a pretty important priority in the last couple years. I guess I’ve been approaching music more like a method actor lately. What I mean by that is I’ll dive completely into whatever the current project is and not stress too hard on maintaining the skills learned/acquired in my previous ones. For example, I recently finished writing a 40-minute drum solo for Meinl Drum Fest in Germany [please watch that shit, it’s crazy good -Alex], and even though I was also writing the Night Verses record at the time, I was spending a good 4 to 6 hours a day developing this solo. Towards the last month before the performance, I would run the 40-minute routine 7 to 10 times a day and I would often do three consecutive runs in a row without a water break to make sure I wouldn’t fatigue during the performance. It was literally the only thing I played that last month, but then once it came time to record this new Night Verses LP, I stopped running it completely and switched focus. Now I’m at a place where I’m trying to remember three different band’s material (Night Verses/The Fever 333/Goldfinger) all at once and be able to pull it off live in a day’s notice. So most of my current creative output has gone to illustrating because all of my recent time on drums has been spent rehearsing pre-written material. I guess I enjoy working this way because the constant shift of focus keeps me from burning out on doing one thing too long.
Jesus, that’s pretty insane, but good point there about creative burn out. Best of luck with that workload! To digress for a second, I love how in that 2012 Guitar Center Drum Off you have “listen to Night Verses and Letlive. and Flood Of Red” written on your snare drum. I always felt that Flood Of Red NEVER got the proper love and recognition that they fully deserved, especially on the back of an amazing record like ‘Leaving Everything Behind’. Would you agree with that? Do you miss that band at all?
Thank you man! I totally agree – I loved that band. They were the first group Night Verses got to tour with. Not only were they amazing people, but they had a musical chemistry that was undeniable. I feel like it really shined on their last LP “Throw.” I miss hanging with all of them.
I wish they’d come back so badly. Hey, on the topic of drum-offs and drum solos, how do you personally prepare one? Or do you not prepare much at all and instead focus on what fills and grooves come to you right at the moment or are there other methods you employ?
I touched base on this a bit a few questions back, but in general, I write every note. When I’m composing it, I usually start with a few specific goals in mind and spend a lot of time improvising with a camera on so I can go back and see what to build off. But when it comes to the performance, I like to have a refined intention and know exactly what I am presenting. There might come a day when I loosen up on that approach, but for now, I feel like that is how I get my best results.
Well, whatever works, right? Now, Aric, I’ve always wanted to know about that “kitflip” stunt you did two years ago. Was the final take the only attempt you had of it and did you practice much before doing it? Did you think about what would happen if you fucked up the backflip?
I definitely considered what would happen if I fucked up. I had a huge tour six days later and really couldn’t afford the injury. But ultimately, the thought of doing something that had never been done on the drums was too exciting for me to pass up. In general, I admire innovation/progress over everything else in art. I prioritize the attempt to find it over all other aspects when it comes to my drumming. I think you have to really form a deep understanding of who you are and what you want, to be willing to take those risks and commit to something that could end in total failure. Not just physically, but something that could throw off a crowd or be an unforgettably embarrassing moment in your life. But ALL of my favourite artists, musicians, athletes, comedians, actors, directors, etc. are special because of the risks they were willing to take. And that willingness to try something dangerous, lead them to a place which changed how the rest of their peers viewed their craft. I can’t really think of anything more exciting. That being said, I practised a ton. I wasn’t about to impale myself on a hi-hat rod for the rest of the world’s entertainment. When we actually filmed the piece, I did three attempts. Landed all three, but was doing the extra takes to get the drumming cleaner.
I actually think that that risk-taking is what people love about your art and your drumming as well. Similarly, as so many people look up to as a drummer and as an artist, what drummers/bands/artists are you loving lately that are doing great stuff that deserves a shout out?
This question could be its own separate book. I am constantly being inspired, but I’m careful with drummers and artists because I don’t like to copy directly and I think its a natural occurrence when you observe something you admire too closely. So I tend to try and pull inspiration from people in different fields. But if we are talking music, the latest Arca, Slowdive and Turnstile records been on repeat. As far as drummers, I can’t help but love the latest footage I’ve seen from Nate Smith. It occasionally pops up on my Instagram explore page and I end up watching all of his clips until the end (which is rare for me). For visual art, Glyn Smyth is my all time favourite, but I was recently blown away by the newest Shepard Fairey exhibit “Damaged.” I was lucky enough to perform with The Fever 333 at the premiere a few months back and seeing that work upclose was mind-blowing. Especially some of his larger scale works! But for my day to day influences/inspiration, Russel Westbrook (highlights/games), Brian Eno (interviews) and Jaws Homoki (any skate footage at all) have been the people that I’ve watched most frequently.