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Chris Impellitteri – Guitars for Impellitteri

Date: 3/19/15
Interviewed By: Rich Catino


1. Just for a little back-history for readers…when Impellitteri released the album, and video for, “Stand In Line” in 1988, what opportunities presented themselves because of their success?

CHRIS: Well let me start from the beginning because we have been really lucky being successful in Japan for many years now. But in America people are still learning about the band. “Stand In Line” is not the first album, it was The Black E.P. in 1986, before Metallica had “The Black Album” (hahaha). Songs on that E.P.; like ‘Lost in the Rain’, ‘Play with Fire’, ‘Burning’…were full of energy, shredding guitars and solos, like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden on steroids. Then, our singer, Rob Rock, decides to do work with a Christian band, and at the time all the labels in LA were checking us out, and I’m like “what am I going to do”? So at the time, Graham Bonnet was singing in Alcatrazz, and they were in-fighting with then guitarist Yngwie (Malmsteen). And I remember I was giving guitar lessons to survive when I came to LA, and the keyboard player from Alcatrazz coming over and saying “you’d be perfect for our band”. And at first I didn’t know who he was, or the band really, and so he brought down me and guy named Steve Vai to the audition (and we all know who got the gig, haha). But that’s cool, I was too young at the time and not ready for it, they were older than me. So anyway, I stayed in contact with Graham. After Rob left after the E.P., I had just signed a deal with Sony and Relativity. So I had to put together a band, and I was a fan of Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group, and to be honest I didn’t want to call the new band with Graham Impellitteri because we were an aggressive metal band. So I brought him in, we did ‘Stand In Line’ and a couple other songs, put together a band, brought in Pat Torpey, who you know now from Mr. Big, and Chuck Wright from Quiet Riot. “Stand In Line” is not my favorite record. The song is great, one of the hardest guitar solos I have ever played, and MTV was playing the video a lot. But those who bought our first E.P. didn’t think it was the greatest, and thought I was just jerking off on the album. But Graham sounds great and I think it is more about him. So my experience was two-fold; I wasn’t playing the heavy metal I wanted to, but the blessing came from the airplay on MTV. But, it was the end of the 80s, early 90s, and metal started dying out. I never forget because I was a guest host on Headbangers Ball, and it was a few weeks after that I was watching the show, and this guy comes out in a gold dress, shorter blond hair, music had no solos, totally different music…and its Nirvana. So this is where everyone tells their stories how they knew there was a change in the guard. And I could see a lot of the bands from my peers started dying out, losing fans and label support. And then the thing happened in Japan for Impellitterri, I don’t know if it was success by association because Graham was huge in Japan, this was about 1989, and first show we played the Sony festival at the Tokyo Dome to 65,000 people. The press and fans loved us, and even Billy Joel who was on the bill, wanted me to come on stage and play with him. I mean there are plenty of my peers who are great guitar players, and their bands are good, but I got lucky in Japan. We never got big in America, we were supposed to be the support act for Iron Maiden in 1988-89, but it never happened. So when things were dying out and changing in America, our focus went to Japan and Europe in the 90s, so when grunge, alternative, rap-rock became popular, Japan was still loving metal.

2. Did the follow up album, “Grin And Bear It”, meet your expectations having been released in 1992?

CHRIS: No, Japan actually were pissed we did it, it was us experimenting. But at the time, bands like Gun n Roses were big, people still to this day slam me saying “O, you’re an Yngwie clone, etc”, and I wanted to prove we could play more soulful, bluesy, still shred. So songs like ‘When The Well Runs Dry’, ‘Power Of Love’, were groovy, great songs, but Japan wanted metal. So the record basically bombed, and the label said they wanted something more like we did with the debut E.P. they gave us another shot, and we did an E.P. called “Victim of the System”. The opening title track reminds me of Queen’s ‘Stone Cold Crazy’, and they loved it. So after that we did the album “Answer To The Master” in 1994 because the label was so happy with the E.P., and immediately we sold over 100,000 copies. I was on the cover of guitar magazine, we had sold out tours.

3. At this time it is the 90s, so how were the follow up albums “Screaming Symphony”, “Eye of the Hurricane”, and “Crunch”. What were the struggles releasing this style of speed metal in the 90s?

CHRIS: Well we still focused on Japan. Bands like White Zombie, Pantera, etc were doing well in America and being accepted. But in Japan, we were bigger than those bands, so we had great careers creatively and financially. It was hard because being a band from the States you wanna play here, but you’re more underground. But that also becomes a cool thing at times. For us we do test markets, festival shows, we did Sweden Rock around 2009-10 for the “Wicked Maiden” album, and the promoter of the festival said the people in Europe were looking to see Impellitteri, and he puts us on the stage with Journey, Dream theater, and Heaven and Hell (Black Sabbath). And we actually ran out of songs, the people didn’t want us to leave. We were walking back to our trailer and I was like “dude, we don’t have anymore songs to play”, hahaha.

4. Did the “Wicked Maiden” album receive more attention from fans since the scene and listeners of hard rock and heavy metal music started getting bigger again in the 2000s?

CHRIS: Europe and Japan it did well, America again it was not released, only on import. Maybe it was because the internet became more relevant at the time, and still to this day, because record labels don’t control the market. Even with the new album, “Venom”, we are getting a lot of buzz, the best I haven’t had in years. The reality is, I am one of those guitarists either you live me or you hate me, because of my aggressive style. Same with the band, in some markets we are noticed, others not so much. But for “Venom”, it has been positive across the board, and we worked so hard on it. And with this album, this band we rehearsed our asses off after we wrote the music. We cut a lot of stuff live, didn’t do the whole over the internet, sending music to band mates in another country to record their parts. We were fortunate enough to be in the same room together. We had time to write these songs.

5. Do you write all the music, and lyrics?

CHRIS: I write the music, and Rob writes the lyrics. But with this album everyone in the band contributed, my drummer Jon Dette wrote all his parts, so did James Pulli my bassist. These guys are great. Its not all me, it’s a band effort.

6. How often does the band tour?

CHRIS: First show is May 28 in Tokyo., then Osaka, Hiroshima, we'll do a few shows in Germany in October. We are working on a full blown European and American tour for the first time in years. Trying to do a package with another band or two because that helps, especially here in America since we haven’t toured in so long, It’s a hard read, we could have four hundred or four people in the crowd.

7. When picking a setlist, do you try and include at least one song from every album?

CHRIS: Yeah we do. We have such loyal fans, we do ‘Lost In The Rain’ and ‘Burning’, we still do ‘Stand In Line’, ‘Victim Of The System’, ‘Answer The Master’, ‘The Future Is Black’, ‘Warrior’, ‘Rat Race’, ‘Wicked Maiden’, ‘Garden Of Eden’, ‘Speed Demon’ from “Crunch” which totally reminds of the Dio song ‘We Rock’ or ‘Stand Up and Shout’(hahaha), and we will do a few from “Venom”; ‘We Own The Night’, ‘Empire Of Lies’, ‘Face The Enemy’, and ‘Nightmares’.

8. Shooting any promo videos?

CHRIS: Yes, we are shooting footage for five songs; the title track, ‘We Own The Night’, ‘Empire Of Lies’, ‘Face The Enemy’, and ‘Nightmares’.

9. Side projects?

CHRIS: Well I do this band called Animetal USA. Its with Rudy Sarzo on bass, Scott Travis from Judas Priest on drums, and Mike Viscera singing, its this goofy thing, its almost comical, where we do heavy metal versions of famous anime music. But I do that at times and it does very well .

10. What newer metal bands do you listen to?

CHRIS: I like Avenged Sevenfold, Arch Enemy, Children of Bodom, Nightwish, a lot of the Scandinavian bands. I listen to a lot and all kinds of metal because I just love it.

11. The Impellitteri albums are not really available in North America aside from expensive imports. Any plans for reissues?

CHRIS: Yes, now that Frontiers is releasing the new album “Venom”, Rob (Rock) and I have talked about it. Its time. Maybe we will do a Best of for starters, we will see. I don’t know if it will be cds, or MP3, other digital outlets.

12. Does Frontiers plan on sending a few songs from the new album to radio, especially in America? I think Eddie Trunk’s Friday Night Rocks on Q104.3 would be perfect.

CHRIS: The album is just coming out so I don’t know don’t the label’s game plan yet. But that sounds like a great idea. Thanks for the suggestion.

Official website: https://www.facebook.com/ChrisImpellitteri


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