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A Three-Part Conversation with Chris Impellitteri & James Pulli: Part III

By Brett Hoag

Photography: Claudia Hoag (except where noted)

Impellitteri on stage
Impellitteri Metal Hall of Fame Set

Hail, Metal Heads! I hope your Thanksgiving was as enjoyable as mine. As promised, here is Part III of my interview with Chris and James of Impellitteri. Enjoy \m/

How long is your Headline set? An hour and 45 minutes?

Chris- Whoa. Be careful with that whole "Headline" stuff. LOL [We are headlining] If we are in Japan. If we are lucky enough to get on a festival or two in Europe, I promise you we are not headlining. In the past, we were lucky enough that we got pretty high on the bill. Three or four spots away from the Headliner, but not anymore. Normally our shows are about two hours long. However, according to my daughter, we have to do more because she just saw Taylor Swift and she did three and a half. LOL

James- That's like Springsteen LOL

You've had some great singers in the band. Tell me about your vocalist.

Chris- We have a guy named Rob Rock. That's his real name too. People always think that's a fake name. It's his real last name. He did the first Black EP with us. Then he left to go do a thing with a producer Dieter Dierks who had been producing the Scorpions. This is 1987, right after the Black EP. That's when Graham Bonnet came in. It's funny about singers. People don't realize that after's a long story and it's messy. When Graham was still a part of it, we got an offer to finish the Iron Maiden tour. It was going to be perfect, but then Graham had some personal issues and had to return to Australia. We were like, oh no. We're screwed, so we started doing the cattle call. We got some amazing singers but it went nowhere and eventually, we had to cancel the Iron Maiden tour. The label wanted Graham.

We tried for about two years with a lot of different singers. They were all great. Some amazing tenors, but we just couldn't go anywhere. Then I ran into a guy named Glenn Hughes who had played with Deep Purple. He had played with my bass player at the time, Dave Spitz. They had just done Tyr with Black Sabbath. Glenn would always come over and say hello and one day he was like, we should do something together. He had a deal with Warner Brothers, so I literally broke up Impellitteri and started working with Glenn. I lasted no more than three or four months. He was still struggling with his personal demons at that time. It worked out for me because Rob came back and then James joined.

Singer with award
Rob Rock with his Metal Hall of Fame trophy from his Facebook page.

What's next for Impellitteri?

James- The next album.

Has it been named?

Chris- Right now, yeah. It's called "Hell on Earth." It's kind of the times we are in, sadly. Originally I thought of "Electrify" and "Devil in the Details." I had all these different names when a recent headline on world events struck me. I don't want to be negative or scary, but it does feel like Hell on Earth right now.

Is the album done?

Chris- The music is. The drums are done, the guitars are done, and James is doing bass right now. Rob is finishing the lyrics and all of that. Once we have everything completed, it's mix time. That usually takes about three weeks or so.

James- That's like another musician. I mean, their craft is like an instrument.

Where is it being mixed?

Chris- I haven't told Giles yet by the way. We have a new guy we are going to try. He is here actually, in L.A. We worked with Mike Plotnikoff on this record. Mike's a producer. He's done everybody from Van Halen, AC/DC, In Flames, Aerosmith, etc. Mike just did the basics with us right now and he said we had to try this guy who had just mixed In Flames and some other bands. I heard them and thought, man, this guy's good. So we have him tentatively scheduled in there right now.

Do you have a release date?

Chris- I don't know yet. My guess is it's probably going to be mid-2024, closer to the summer. It's going to be up to JVC Victor first and then Frontiers, the European label is always piggybacking on it.

So, JVC Victor is your main label?

Chris- Yes

How long have you been with them?

Chris- Since 1990. It's unheard of. We've been there for 33 years. No band has a label that long. It's been us, Helloween and I think as a solo artist Bruce Dickinson is still with them. The three of us have been there forever, though I'm not sure if Bruce still is.

I take it that have been good to you over the years?

Chris- Oh, yeah. They've been great to us.

Good relationship?

Chris- Yeah. It's like family in a way. We don't get everything we want from them I promise you. But they've been very reasonable and have always been good about supporting us. Every record gets a tour. Originally, when we first started it was make a record, fly over [to Japan], do a promotional tour all of that stuff. Come back to the US and do some dates here. They've just been very loyal to us.

That is unheard of these days.

Chris- Yes. Exactly. You know, after we did the Black EP and Stand in Line which were extremely popular records in Japan they signed us. The first record we did for them was called Grin and Bear it. It was only released in Japan. Music was changing at that time (1992) and everyone was saying "You play too many notes. You're too technical". So we were like, OK, let's try to be more like Guns-N-Roses or Extreme. We did that and a lot of people in America love that record. Japan hated it.

Giles - (from the living room) I like it!

Chris - Oh, and I guess Giles likes it. LOL In Japan, it sold 40-50,000 units and at the time those numbers were horrible. The label was going to drop us. They said, "Listen, guys. This is not what your fans want from you. They want the shredding scales, the speed metal, and all of that, so please do that. Then they said that what they would like to do is have us come and do an EP again. So we did an EP we called "Victim of the System" and this is actually where James comes in.

James- Hey.

Chris- LOL The Victim of the System EP in Japan immediately turned around the negative follow-up to Stand in Line with them. There is all that shredding, and it's fast; you have the screaming vocals, the drums, and the bass just hammering it home. They really dug it and that set us up for a record called Answer to the Master, in the first week that sold around 100,000 records. That was a good record for us in Japan. We never did get back to the Stand in Line hype, but it was also a different time. People think that in Japan they treat us like The Beatles. That's not true! LOL There are plenty of bands that are equally as big if not way bigger than us in Japan. But we've done really well. We've played 1,000 to 2,000-seat venues, many times selling out the entire tour.

It's funny, Guitar magazines would always put me on the cover. I won best rock guitarist for the Screaming Symphony record from Burn! Magazine. A lot of that is silliness because it doesn't affect the band financially. But what it did do was it exposed the band to a lot more people around the world who wouldn't have known about us. From a brand equity perspective, then has gotten more and more attraction as far as people knowing who we are. Because of things like Japan, I have to thank JVC Victor for their loyalty and for helping us achieve that.

Didn't I just read you were rated the second-fastest guitarist on the planet today?

Chris- That's not true.

I could argue that, Sir. LOL

Chris- LOL Seriously, though, there is no truth to that.

James, how do you keep up with him?

James- Barely LOL

Chris- That's not true!

James- There are parts of some songs where I'll go along with him. I mean, not quite at the same speed as him, but there are parts where I will comp with him and do my best to be right in sync with him. But for the most part, I'm a bass player. You know I try to link what the drummer is doing with what is going on with Chris and the vocals, of course. I'm not trying to play as fast. In fact, that is what I remember about the audition. I was out in the parking lot...[for the rest of this story see the new show Metal Mastication, you can find a short teaser here]

Pilot episode still from Metal Mastication
James Pulli talking about his Impellitteri audition on Metal Mastication

Speaking of drummers. Who is Impellitteri's new drummer?

James- That would be...[see the answer on the new show Metal Mastication]

Holy Buddy Rich, he's a beast!

Chris, when does the speed shredding you are known for come into play?

Chris- There is a time, place and purpose where all of a sudden that really fast shredding comes in. But it's usually a guitar solo and it's at a certain point in the solo. If you really listen to our music, it's all the riffs. We were talking about Victim of the System before. If you listen to the riff of Victim of the System, it's almost note for note Stone Cold Crazy by Queen. If you think about it (vocalizes guitar riff ) it's doing something very similar to that. Those are very simple. It's not rocket science, you know?

The song Stand in Line is not difficult to play. It's just a great riff. I remember writing it on the keyboard. So when we are playing that type of music, it's not complicated. It's about a feel. It's about trying to move people emotionally. If you do everything where it's 8 million notes, 30-second note triples at 200 bpm, the average person would be like, what? I don't get it. It just sounds like a mess--kind of what I got accused of doing. LOL Our riffs, while sometimes very technical, are very easy to absorb and are very palatable. That's always been the trick of our band; to make it palatable. You know, if a guy likes it and listens to it, his girlfriend most likely will as well.

When I listen to music and I hear a guitar player do something that amazes me, I'll smile and sometimes even laugh a bit. I'll go, holy crap! How did he do that? Who does that for you?

James- Where I actually laugh? Hmm.

Or, amazes you.

James- King's X in a lot of ways. Other than that it's usually some vocal line. Hearing someone doing a vocal line that will be really high or difficult. I still get that smile, and it goes back to my favorite band of all time, Black Sabbath. Going back and hearing Bill Ward's cowbell in the middle of The Wizard. Little things like that and the way that he has such a swing feel, but it's considered the founding beat of Heavy Metal. That mixture of Iommi and Ward, of course, what Geezer was doing, and all of that. That will still make me laugh. You know, it's like Bill Ward's drumming is genius! LOL


Chris- I like that you said that. That chuckle sort of thing, because that's kind of the same thing I do and it doesn't mean I succeed at it. When I'm doing guitar solos or songs and I listen back and I smile or chuckle like wow that's really cool! I usually find that resonates with people.

Guitarist with two guitars
Chris with two of his favorite axes from his Instagram

Yes! That's what I'm talking about. So, who does that to you?

Chris- Oh, there are so many guitar players and so many bass players and musicians out there. I could sit here and go right to a drummer. Think about the drum fill for Tom Sawyer. Neil does that in every song. There are so many players that do that. Listen to Spanish Fly by Van Halen off their second record. To this day, that still gives me a chuckle. Only Eddie could do something like that. It's shredding, but it's almost Flamenco-based.

The country guys, a lot of them do it to me, like Johnny Hiland. You have no idea until you watch him. Then you'll know what I'm talking about (raises eyebrow) What is he doing? It pisses my wife off because I will see something and I'll be like, Hey, excuse me. The next thing she is looking around like where in the hell did he go? I went somewhere in the house, locked myself in with my iPad and my guitar going, what's he doing? Trying to figure it out and it will be five o'clock in the morning the next day and I'll [mimics guitar shredding] I think I got this!! LOL It all starts with that smile, especially in my solos. If I do that smile, I know I'm on the right track. If I don't, it's like meh. Two years later we will be doing another record and I'll look back and go, well, I didn't have the smile.

Have you written music you haven't used?

Chris- Yeah, of course. I always have songs. But if it's not getting used, there's usually a reason. It didn't make me smile. Something's not there. It isn't refined or not quite right.

James, how do you write your bass lines?

James- I try to interpret. First I figure out what the guitar is doing. Then I really listen to what the drummer is doing. Then I try to put those two together. I try to glue them together. Sometimes it's better to just stick with what the rhythm guitar is doing, but doing it differently rhythmically. Sometimes it's trying to match the drums. I try to mimic what the guitar is doing note-wise but what the drums are doing rhythmically. It's different for every song, but something will stand out. I might try two or three different things and something will always stand out and make me go, okay, that's powerful. That brings out the guitar and the drums. I'm always looking for the glue and the power.

It's been reported that you are a Christian band. As a fan, I look at Impellitteri and go, no, they are not like Stryper.

Chris- I am a Christian and so is Rob. But for a long time, our drummer was Glen Sobel and he's Jewish, so was one of our keyboard players, Ed Roth.

Well, I know Geezer, the main lyrist in Black Sabbath is a Christian and that certainly doesn't make them a Christian band.

Chris and James LOL

Do you know where that came from?

Chris- I think it was Rob. You know he doesn't hide it. He does write in double meanings a lot of times and he's the most devout. He embraced it and at some point I said, do it, because the reality is if you want to write a cool story, what better story are you going to take? It's funny, you know. When you get into metal bands, people think they are saying how cool Satan is and all that. I'm like, you do know in the end that good always kicks evil's ass, right? LOL The whole idea is a warning, like eff the demon. I've never run from it and I didn't want to be misleading and say that we weren't. I've had some people in the Christian community say we've let them down. That's when I realize that they are counting on us to do something and I don't want to be responsible. I don't want to let them down. I want to make sure that we are being honest and sincere with them. But if someone asks me if I'm a Christian, the answer is yes. It's my personal belief.

Right on. What about you, James?

James- Absolutely.

Do either of you attend services as regularly as time permits?

Chris- No.

James- Yes. I go to a Roman Catholic church not far from here. We go maybe three times a month. I was married in a Greek Orthodox church. My wife is 100% Greek so we got married Orthodox.

Her Ya Ya didn't come after you with a rolling pin to convert?

James- LOL Nope. I think they were just happy that we got married at St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Has Rob ever written anything that you didn't feel fit with the music?

Chris- Yeah. I'm sure there are times when he deviated. I mean, let's be fair. When I am writing music, there is always his voice or a voice in my head. So I always say, Look, Rob. Let me show you what I heard when I wrote this. It might be a lyric, but it will definitely be a melody. If you like this and it touches you in some way, expand on it and just do your own thing to it. And that's what he does. A lot of times he will find something better because he's a vocalist and I'm a guitar player. It's like knowing your limitations. I know I mastered the guitar, so that is what I'm going to focus on. He's the vocalist, let him do that, but I always have to at the least give him the melody line I heard in my head when I was writing the part so he understands what I was thinking.

Anything else on the horizon? Do you have any upcoming shows?

Chris- The only thing on the table right now is to get the record done and it won't be done until it's great. I mean that sincerely. That's the only mandate I've always had on this band. After we get the basic tracks down, we sit back and listen to it to see if it needs any orchestration or layers as it is like a painting. And then at the end of it we have to chuckle, smile and go, wow did we just do this? That's what we're working towards. That's always the goal. Once that's done, the label will tell us what's on the plate as far as release dates and promotional shows. Everyone knows if we don't start doing live shows, the band is not going to last. It's time. We have to play live. We have all these people all over the world who have never seen Impellitteri live. We get to some places in Europe, but the rest of the world is like, Please! Play here! We heard you and we're coming.

Band in sync
Impellitteri melting faces at their Metal Hall of Fame induction

That's a wrap then, gentlemen. Thank you so very much for your time today. It has been an honor and a privilege.

Chris- You're welcome. This was a lot of fun. Thank you.

James- Thank you. Yeah, it's been great. Looking forward to being the first guest on Metal Mastication!




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Halas Wilbourn
Halas Wilbourn
29 nov. 2023
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Brett Hoag
Brett Hoag
29 nov. 2023
En réponse à

Thank you so much for your kind words, Good Human! \m/ Watch for the show, soon! #metalmastication


27 nov. 2023
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Fantastic interview, thank you for that \m/

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Thank you for your comment. We're delighted to know that you enjoyed reading this interview.

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