I’ve had a hard time sticking to anything in my life because I just get over it really fast. I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had it. I’d get interested in something for 6 months at most and kind of move on – until I started drumming.
A big thing I had to learn in my career was being patient, and understanding that it’s just part of the process.
Throughout high school, I told myself that no matter what, I had to be signed to a label by 18. Graduation rolled around, and even though I had four bands, none of them were signed. So I went to college for film because I figured if I wasn’t going to make a living as a drummer, I could build soundtracks or become a musical director. A lot of movie soundtracks have really affected me in a nostalgic way and I wanted to put music behind film.
I made a deal with myself: as long as I didn’t have a tour lined up, I had to go to school. I always assumed I’d go to college before music became a priority, and I couldn’t justify skipping out on it unless I had something concrete to skip it for.
During that time, I did the Guitar Center Drum Off five years in a row. Every year I would get a little bit further, but obviously it’s not easy to come back to something you continually lose at.
I was working really hard practicing 5 hours a day throughout all of college, and I just couldn’t get a single tour the whole time. Why do I have all these peers who I think I’m as good as, respectfully, and yet they’re touring the world and I’m stuck here?
I graduated in 2012, and that was my fifth year of Drum Off where I went to the finals. Across all channels, the video of my performance has like 20 million views and it absolutely changed my career. Had I got to that point in the competition any earlier, I wouldn’t have been good enough to deliver that kind of solo at the finals. Conveniently, I got my first tour (with Night Verses) a month after my graduation and have been touring full time ever since.
But I was still working at the YMCA after school program near my house and I didn’t make a single dollar on tour the first four years I was on the road.
We did four years of some of the hardest touring you could possibly do. No hotels, just sketchy places and sleeping on people’s floors 90 percent of the time. We grew up thinking you just had to do that; we didn’t know that you could ever skip that step.
One time, we had pulled up to a ferry terminal on our way to Ireland and had gotten there three hours early. It was like 3 am in the middle of winter and the building wasn’t open yet. You know how when you walk into a public space and there are sliding doors on either side of a vestibule before you go into the main area? Since it was way too cold to sleep in the van, we all wrapped ourselves up in our sleeping bags around the vending machines in that vestibule. The guards inside the ferry office were laughing at us but didn’t let us in. So we were trying to sleep while making fun of the situation, but we couldn’t laugh because if anyone said something funny, the motion would open the sliding doors and all the snow would come in and any warmth we built up would completely disappear.
Remember how I said I was a film major? A friend who had graduated at the same time as me got a job at Lionsgate Films. It happened during my first tour, and I wrote her a message, like “Congrats, that’s so amazing!” Over the next 12 hours, I played a show, did a five hour drive, took an ice cold shower at a stranger’s house, and got ready to sleep on a wood floor that smelled like cat piss. There was a dog barking and going crazy, just dying to get off his leash and bite me.
I got a text back from Lacy: “Oh my God, I know, I’m so excited! And look at you, finally out on tour. We’re living our dreams!” While I was lying on this floor with a dog who was trying to end my life, I couldn’t help but laugh.
At a certain point, we’d finally recorded with one of my favorite producers of all time, Russ Robinson (The Cure, At the Drive-In, Slipknot). We’d gotten three really good tours and had three more lined up. I told myself, you know what, instead of sitting at the YMCA for five hours a day, I need to be spending this time practicing or working towards my drumming goals. I can’t expect to make this my full-time career if I’m doing something else. I decided to quit my job.
Immediately after that, all three upcoming tours got canceled for different reasons.
Oh my God…great. I’ve worked this hard, I’ve made no money, and I think I can make just enough from these tours to get by, and I’ve just left my job.
Immediately after that, all three upcoming tours got canceled for different reasons.
Since I’d been on tours where I didn’t make money, I’d saved up enough to cover me for the next four months. I noticed that Instagram drummers had just started picking up a decent following, so I thought okay, if I can’t do this on the road, I’m going to post a video every single day until my money runs out. It was the only tactic I could think of.
I set up a GoPro and I’d spend as long as I had to every single day for four months. Sometimes I could get something I was proud of in 20 minutes, and sometimes it took five hours to get literally a 30-second clip. By the end of those four months, I had tripled my following, I got an offer to be an understudy for Trans-Siberian Orchestra (which I did for two years), plus a ton of other offers all through that process.
If I didn’t have the social media account I built up, it would have been a lot harder to find work. It only happened because those three tours fell through and I didn’t have any other options. Going back to the patience thing, I could’ve easily been like “I need to go get a job”, but I believed that this was what I was supposed to do. I just needed to wait it out and do all the right things and at least look back and say I couldn’t have done anything else. Once again, it kind of pushed me to the next level of my career in that aspect. I’d now finally gotten to tour, I’d gotten signed, but I hadn’t done anything that had really stretched any sort of online territory other than the drum-off video doing well.
Not too long after that, I was playing with my band, Night Verses, but because we hadn’t toured, it was really hard for our singer. I’d give him all the credit in the world because he did a band 10 years before we started touring and completely started over with us just because he believed in the music so much. When his band broke up, he heard us at a bowling alley show and was like “I believe in this; I’ll start practicing with you guys tomorrow.” Just fully committed and went back to sleeping on floors for four years, didn’t make a single dollar on tour. He was in it with us.
But when those three tours got canceled – he was already married and trying to balance it with his relationship – it took a toll and he was like “You guys, I can’t tour like this anymore.” So now I’m in a place where I’m a little more comfortable and we can get some more tours, and then our singer, for understandable reasons, can no longer work with us.
At this point, I was still playing with my guitarist and bass player but we didn’t know if we were going to find a singer. I had been jamming with my friend Jason, a great singer who we had toured with multiple times, and he was working on a brand new project with John Feldmann, who is the singer of Goldfinger, and Travis Barker. As Night Verses was trying to figure out whether we were going to find a singer or move forward as an instrumental band, Jason and I had been writing songs for fun. He was like “Hey, you know, we wrote these two songs together with Travis and John, and they like it and we want to make it a full time band. They asked me if I knew a drummer and I said yeah, I want you to do it.”
I was like, “Okay!”
“I really want you to meet them.”
“Yeah, sounds good.”
I’d met Travis briefly at the drum-off five years earlier. He was super cool and said a lot of nice things about the solo, and that was my last interaction with him. I went to Musink, his festival, with Jason to kind of hang out and say what’s up. Travis walked off stage, and recognized me and instantly started talking to me. He remembered things that we said in that one conversation five years ago, which blew me away.
We were talking and I was like, “What are you up to after this?” because he’d played with Goldfinger.
“Well I’ve got this gig, the next day I’m working on this, then the next day I’m working on this…”
I was like, “Honestly, money is cool – obviously – but that’s the dream. To get to jump from project to project and have it sustained where your life is based around making art with your friends, if that’s how your life goes, then that’s what I hope to get one day.”
Later that week, Jason said, “Hey, John (the producer) wants to meet you.”
I asked him, “Is there anything I need to learn? Do I need to learn new songs? Do I need to be prepared?” Because I always over prepare.
He’s like, “No no no, he just wants to hang out and say what’s up.”
So I drive up three hours to Calabasas, and when I get there, Jason kind of pulls me aside in the parking lot and shows me the three songs they worked on.
“All right, so John is kind of intense,” he says. “He’s a really cool guy, but he’s just really energetic and works really hard, so just know that it’s not your average producer situation. We’re going to go in and it’s going to be some work.”
I was like, “Okay, that’s fine.” So we get in there and instantly his engineers see us, and Jason goes “Where’s John? I want to introduce him to Aric.”
“Oh, John’s not feeling good. He’s going to chill out upstairs.” The studio is at his house.
“Well, why did he have Aric come?”
“We want him to record.”
And I’m like great. I had asked multiple times and I have no musical reference other than the three songs that I was shown in the parking lot 10 minutes prior to me getting to his house.
Then, John comes in with a camera crew and says, “Hey guys, I know I’m sick but I totally forgot that I’m supposed to be shooting part of a documentary today. Hi I’m John Feldmann, what’s your name?”
On camera, I’m like, “I’m Aric Improta.”
“Are you ready to record?”
So there’s me, Jason, the engineers, John, his camera crew…and I’ve got to record songs that I’ve only heard once. “Sure, if we have time.”
“We’ve got time. What song do you want to do?”
“…Animal?” It was the only one I remembered the name of.
“All right. Have you heard the song?”
“I’ve heard it once.”
“Okay. Go in the door, adjust Travis Barker’s kit to where you want it, we’ll play the song one time through so you can hear it again, and then I want you to record it. We’ll watch the video and send it to Travis and see what he thinks.”
So I went in and listened to the song. When I did the first pass, John was like, “Cool. Maybe do the chorus on the crash instead of the ride.” He gave me a couple of notes and then I had to record and do everything on the spot.
When I was done, I walked out of the room and they had ripped up all of this tissue like confetti and threw it at me. They were really happy with what I’d done. It was almost so shocking that I didn’t have time to be nervous in the moment, but I remember after – when everything was all cool and we’re hanging out talking and I’d obviously done a job they thought was good enough to send off – that was when my heart caught up. It started going crazy, almost as if it was supposed to happen earlier and I was supposed to be nervous but it didn’t hit me until a few minutes after.
I remember in that moment thinking if this had happened at any other time in my life, I probably wouldn’t have been prepared enough to do this. But I’d spent so much time learning music and I’d recorded with so many people, and I was practicing five hours a day for the five years before that.
I told myself when I sat down, this is why you practice five hours a day. There is no other reason other than to be able to handle moments like this.
That band ended up being Fever 333, which is what I got a Grammy nomination from and who I’ve been touring full time with for the last two and a half years. Again, if any of that happened earlier in my career, I probably wouldn’t have even got past that one day of studio because I just wouldn’t have been ready.
Because I was gone on tour so much, I never had my own place, so I would usually bounce between my parents’ house and my girlfriend at the time’s apartment. My grandparents were sick so they were going to move in to where I was living so they’d have a place to stay and not have to pay rent. My girlfriend’s lease was up, so it was kind of serendipitous and we decided to move in together. It made perfect sense.
The month I was supposed to move into a new apartment, I had no money saved up. I was preparing to go into the studio to do Night Verses’ first instrumental record, by far the most difficult album I’ve ever had to record.
Before going into the studio, I normally don’t do anything except practice for two months. The week before I was supposed to leave, John Feldmann called me up.
“Hey, Aric. Our drummer can’t fly out of Florida because of a hurricane. Can you learn an hour-long Goldfinger set by tomorrow?”
“Honestly, John, I can’t. I just have too much to practice. I leave in a week to record some of the hardest material I’ve ever had.”
He’s like, “Sigh…all right.”
He calls me back three minutes later.
“Aric, please – I really need this.”
“John, I can’t.”
He told me how much money he’d offer me.
“I can’t. I would love to help you but I can’t afford to do this to my band.”
We hang up, and he calls me ten minutes later.
“I’ll pay for three months’ rent.”
I was like…all right.
I learned an hour-long set, flew straight out, and played the first show in front of 800 people. John is a very ‘in the moment person’. Halfway through the set, I was still trying to remember things I’d learned hours before, and John – I love him for this – said into the mic, “Our drummer doesn’t know this song, but I really wanna play it.”
I had to watch the audience air drum the parts to me and try to keep up. It ended up going really well.
After that five-day tour, I pulled off the recording with Night Verses, my girlfriend at the time found a place for us to live, and I had money saved up. I kept touring with Goldfinger and that’s how I paid my rent, for the most part, for the rest of the year.
Again, had this happened at any other time in my career, I wouldn’t have been able to learn songs that fast or I would’ve blown the recording. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew I had to do it.
There wasn’t really a plan, other than to do what you feel is the best you possibly can with what you’re given. Every single time that something happened, when I’d look back I’d think this couldn’t have worked had it come any earlier, as bad as I wanted it to happen when I was 18 or 21. I always try and remind myself of that whenever I hit what feels like a plateau or I’m coming to a wall with one project.
If you’re ever at a point where you’re not sure what’s supposed to happen next or if you’re supposed to continue with what you’re doing, if you know it’s what you love, and what the end goal is, then you need to just work on what you can control and wait for those other things to come together. There were a number of times where I had to work on something and wasn’t guaranteed a reward for it, but I just knew it’s what I wanted to do and it was going to benefit my career even if it’s just on a creative level.
More often than not, those things turned into a reward or a push to that next step. A lot of that came from me doing the only thing I knew I could with what I had in front of me to move forward, even if there was no reward.
If I’d gotten any of these opportunities earlier, it wouldn’t have been the right time.
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