For about five hours a day, the view inside Aric Improta's bedroom window is one of complete insanity. As the last streaks of sunlight sink behind the hills in his native Fullerton, the 23-year-old drummer morphs into a tornado of sticks, long hair and screams. Occasionally, he'll decide to jump several feet in the air, body slamming the beat with the intensity of a pro wrestler. Meanwhile, the explosions from his drum kit echo through his parent's suburban home, like the boom from cannon fire at the Battle of Normandy. It's loud as shit in here.
Inside his bedroom-turned-practice space, dim light from a single ceiling fan shines feebly on a walls plastered with faded metal and prog rock band posters. In the final stretch of his whirling, five-minute drum routine, his body spazzes wildly to complete one more thunderous fill before he finally exhales and stops pounding. “Okay,” he says breathlessly. “Only have to do that 15 more times.”
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The night before his competition for Guitar Center's National Drum-Off Semi-Finals, he's committed to one last gasp of routine training. Having been to the competition now five years in a row, he's hoping today's competition at the store's Hollywood location will be his ticket to finally winning the damn thing. He's the only drummer from OC still alive in the competition. Twenty-five drummers from across the country are competing at different stores nation-wide today for a chance to advance to the finals on Jan. 19. The prize, valued at nearly $50,000 includes a cash award, free drum gear and some career-altering endorsement deals. They will each get five minutes to show a panel of expert judges what they've got. This is his second year making it to the semi finals.
The chance at all that glory feels light years away from where Improta started during his first several years playing drums in bands in junior high and high school where he claims he was always the weak link.
“It was always a situation where everyone I surrounded myself at the time with was better than me. I just figured I had to get better or else they wouldn't want me.”
Naturally lured to the instrument by the rocket-fueled freak out performances of At the Drive-In, Tool, Opeth and Deftones, the longtime gymnast and skateboarder eventually started taking things more seriously, gradually becoming obsessed with drums and being in bands. His style blends the ferocity of metal with jazz dynamics and an impeccable understanding of the four-on-the-floor rock groove.
By the time he hit college, his parents (both musicians themselves) encouraged him to enter one of the Guitar Center competitions. He wasn't really excited about the idea at first. He'd even tried to get disqualified by doing back flips during the competition and bringing extra instruments on stage. Somehow he still managed to advance to the quarter finals on his first try before getting eliminated. “I was scared of the reality of being told I wasn't that good, but I ended up moving on anyway.”
Before his nightly practice, he sits cross-legged on his bed upstairs in shorts with a glinting nose ring and his hair wrapped in a ponytail.Talking non-stop with a flurry of animated hand gestures, he tries to explain how motivational mantras like the ones outlined in books like The Outliers inspired the turning point that's allowed him to become freakishly good at what he does. He says his number one goal is to put in 10,000 hours of practice on his kit. He records his practices religiously. At one point, he says he even record himself fainting from exhaustion, falling face first onto his snare drum.
"You push yourself harder in those three months [preparing for a drum-off] than any other time of the year, at least for me. Those three months are like hell week in football,” he says.
His practice time these days doesn't even include time spent jamming with his band Night Verses–a virtuosic squall of four-piece post-hardcore rage a la Tides of Man or Dillinger Escape Plan. They usually get together a for couple hours five times a week. At this point, Improta's fighting for space to squeeze in a part-time job. As for his family and neighbors, well, they're pretty much the most understanding people on the planet when it comes to the noise. Mostly because behind his insane chops, high-flying stunt work and Tasmanian Devil energy is a young person who is really trying to elevate his craft, both literally and figuratively. At sundown, he realizes he only has a couple more hours to play before he has to shut things down at the parent-mandated time of 10 p.m. Tomorrow, hundreds of people will be watching him perform. Tonight, it's just the guys on his posters.
“It's kinda cheesy but it's cool to have all your favorite bands looking at you while you're practicing,” he says. “There are some times when I'm in here and I've played the same thing 50 times. And then I'll look at John Theodore on my little Mars Volta poster and it's like he's saying 'keep doing it!'”
Improta performs at the Guitar Center Drum-Off Semi-Finals at Guitar Center Hollywood, 7425 West Sunset Boulevard Hollywood. (323) 874-1060. Free.