Aric Improta’s Guide to drumming showmanship

Tommy Lee, Buddy Rich, Travis Barker, Keith Moon: these legendary drummers are known as much for their dazzling showmanship as the musical output. 

Their secret? Having the vision to see beyond the boundaries of what’s possible with the instrument (plus the odd upside down solo). Inspired by skateboarding, parkour and slam dunking heroes, Aric Improta of post-rockers Night Verses and post-hardcore band The Fever 333 took the baton from these drumming titans to evolve into the most creative showman of his generation. 

Aric’s razor-sharp playing speaks for itself, but it’s the boundless energy, limitless creativity and astonishing moves that he brings to the kit that have earned him such a fierce reputation. At any one time you might catch him pulling off a 360-degree spin on his drum throne mid-solo, backflipping between two kits or climbing the venue rafters halfway through a song (check out Aric’s YouTube channel: seeing is believing). If ever there was a rulebook, Aric shredded his copy years ago. 

But with Aric it’s not all style and no substance; the music he creates pushes boundaries too. Following the departure of vocalist Douglas Robinson in 2017, Night Verses pushed forward as an instrumental three-piece and the new arrangement quickly bore fruit with the Copper Wasp EP. The music is atmospheric and intense, and the sound powerful thanks in part to production from metal royalty Will Putney and a formidable Tama Bell Brass snare drum. 

“Will doesn’t over-think things, he just says, ‘What’s the best tone I can get out of the snare, when does this part need to be heard?’” reveals Aric. “There are so many details that need to be heard on this record it was really refreshing to get to work with somebody that had that mindset.” 

A full album is due this year. We grabbed a rare sit-down moment with Aric to dissect his unique approach to showmanship, learn why he rarely takes inspiration from drummers and to discover why the sky is the limit for his crazy ideas...  

1. Think like a frontman 

“As far as what I actually do on a drumset, my influence didn’t come from any other drummers, it was watching bands like At The Drive-In as a kid and being jealous that I had to sit on a seat and couldn’t be standing on an amp or flailing a guitar. There were so many times in my youth that I thought I needed to switch instruments because it was too limiting to be sitting down the whole show. Then I thought, if anything this is probably an advantage, because most people in this position haven’t tried to find ways to get things going on the drumset in the way that I liked watching bands play.”  

2. Look beyond drums and music 

“[In the early days] most of the things I was doing [on the drums] were coming from skateboarding and basketball, or going to hardcore shows and being in the mosh pit. Even though there are occasional times where I’ll spin a stick or something, I try to be conscious to not just learn all the showmanship tricks that have been done. I don’t watch Tommy Lee regularly, so even though I think it’s sick and [his tricks] are a great representation of who he is, I never thought, ‘I want to learn his moves’, I just thought,  ‘I want to feel the way he felt when he did that the first time’. The 360 spin on the throne came from growing up watching Kobe Bryant doing 360 dunks. The 360 Shove It on the throne came from watching skate videos and jumping out of my seat was from going to punk shows as a kid and seeing the guitarists jumping off amps. I knew I needed to figure out a way to do that on the drums.”  

3. Go with your gut

“I’ll watch about 20 minutes a day minimum of skate videos, a surf video, breakdancing, whatever. If there’s a moment where I get any kind of physical reaction - whether it’s a slam dunk, or a backflip or something - if I feel my body react to that I try and take note of what it is and find a way to do it on a drumset. It might be the way that [American basketball player] Russell Westbrook’s arm looks when he dunks a basketball - I want to figure out a way to create that same feeling on a drumset.”   

4. Innovate, don’t imitate 

“Imitation, especially when you’re beginning your instrument, helps. You get to figure out the different techniques that make you feel a certain way when you hear them the first time. When I became an adult I felt like I wanted to take that and turn it into something that was my own. 

“If all you listen to is John Bonham, all you want to be is John Bonham and you learn his moves, you’re not going to be the next John Bonham because he already did it and you’re just replicating. I try as hard as I can to not pull any influences from drummers. Even when I see a drummer that I’m blown away by - someone like Eloy Casagrande who plays for Sepultura - I purposely try not to watch his videos because I want nothing to do with it. I just admire that he’s doing his own thing.”  

5. Showmanship is an art form 

“Brian Eno was once asked the question, ‘Why don’t you do more work that mixes science and art?’ He said it’s because it creates bad science and poor art. His explanation was that even though the mindsets are very similar, scientists want to know about pre-existing worlds and they want to spend a lot of time understanding things like how the body works. Artists want to create their own world. It’s about saying what would the world be like if it was this way. I feel like there’s this transition where, whether they realise it or not, people pick one of these routes. A lot of people are content learning all the things that other people have done. People on the other end of the spectrum have learned all these things and then said, ‘Cool, what can I do with it?’”

6. Trust your own voice 

“When I did the [2012 Guitar Center] Drum-Off it was the first time I’d seen anybody do gospel chops and a bunch of different styles. I was like, ‘God, I can’t do this.’ It’s not that I can’t do it eventually, it’s just that it was so outside of my realm. 

I would love to play upside down suspended from a helicopter. I’ve talked to a couple of companies about it

"I needed to find my own place. After getting to the finals and meeting the judges, who were on a much higher level and had nice things to say about what I was doing, I realised you can make your own way. You don’t necessarily need to look at the people that are already successful and mimic them to get there. You can take the skills that you have and the influences that you have, even if they’re foreign to the industry, and find a way to have a voice that matters. That made me move on and not worry about boundaries.”  

7. Create memorable moments 

“I was always interested in doing things I hadn’t seen. Even as a kid I liked watching [skater] Rodney Mullen because he was inventing trick after trick, or watching someone like Danny Way drop into a halfpipe from a helicopter, or go off a ramp over the Great Wall of China; these things stood out to me. Even beyond being good they were creating these conversations. When I talked about skateboarding with my friends I could mention, ‘and then he did this’. Even Peter Frampton using a talk box, or Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. I feel like a lot of my friends who are amazing musicians, they kinda lose sight of that. They get into fusion and they go down that amazing wormhole of information, but they forget why they started drumming. I never wanted to lose sight of that so I always noted that those moments were really important to me.”  

8. Start with a blank canvas 

“Creating a moment could be making a sound that’s never been heard on that instrument. It could be doing a stick trick that’s never been seen. It could be changes to your setup, where all of a sudden you have your cymbals 10 feet above you. Just try doing something that you haven’t seen; that’s when someone leaves your gig and they’ve experienced something they’ve previously never seen or heard. It’s not that it’s easy to figure those things out and not everything you come up with should be done, but the point is to aim for those things, if [showmanship] is your goal.”  

9. Live dangerously

“[The backflip] was something I hadn’t seen and that concept to me is really exciting. Drums have been around for a long time at this point and it’s kind of mind-blowing that so many people are okay not trying things they haven’t seen. I’m not saying everybody should try a backflip, but in general that to me is the most exciting part about art or creativity, the fact that you are free to do whatever you want. I get it, there’s risk involved and with the internet you can be ridiculed for trying something new, but that all should become second to what you want to do. There are so many rules in your life, whether it’s what you have to do at your job or in sports. That’s the reason that art has been so exciting for so many years, because it’s a space to try anything you want.”  

10. Be safe but embrace spontaneity 

“[How much I plan] depends on the project. On the backflip I really couldn’t afford to be spontaneous because I had a massive tour coming up eight days later. I measured it out and worked on it in my backyard in a safe way using trash cans. It’s more difficult than people realise. It’s not hard to just clear a drumset, but you have to go up enough to clear it and then land close enough to not have your feet hit your seat. So it’s this weird up and then straight down motion that took me a long time to figure out. The first day I went to try it I was like, ‘No, this isn’t happening.’ But it was bothering me too much to not figure it out. Playing live, if I see a rafter and I have a gap in a song to get up there and swing on it before I drop down, obviously, there’s no planning for that, I just see it the day of the show and it happens. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen exactly as smooth as I’d hope, but I don’t ever want to leave a show feeling like I could have done something more exciting and I didn’t because I was worried about what was going to happen.”  

11. Risks can pay off 

“The first time I played the Seoul Drum Festival was the first time I’d ever tried to do an actual full 360-degree spin on my seat. The first day was 7,000 people and I’m performing by myself. I know that if I fall it’s probably going to be in the top three most embarrassing moments of my life. But I also know that means that if I land it’ll be that much more satisfying. A lot of that stuff is about perspective. I’m not in Korea to try and get a gig or to impress a band leader, I’m absolutely there to create something that I won’t forget and that those people won’t forget. Those are the times where the risk is really worth it.”  

12. Your body is a tool. Use it or lose it 

“Since I was a kid, if I saw a set of stairs I would just run and jump it. It didn’t matter if people were there to see it. I’m pretty conscious of the limitations that life provides. I know that when I’m 40 I won’t be able to do the same things I could do when I was 30, or 20. I need to take advantage of these things while my body can still do it. Any type of prep to stay in shape is just so I don’t run into those problems early and start losing those physical abilities. I do yoga pretty often.” 

13. Get on camera 

“The thing I’ve found to be most beneficial [with video] is setting a goal like when I decided to post one video a day. I don’t know what it’s going to be that day, but I know that I wouldn’t put something up unless I was content with it or at least it’s a new idea. That’s a great way to push yourself, because it’s something substantial, it’s a permanent look at where you were that day. As far as feedback goes, I wouldn’t worry about what other people think too much, but you can use it as a barometer for how much someone connects with what you’re doing.” 

14 Go big or go home 

“I have two ideas in my head. The first one I would totally love to do but it would require so much funding and planning. Obviously, I’ve seen people like Buddy Rich and Travis Barker turning their drumsets upside down. I always thought that was totally sick, but I never wanted to do it identically. I would love to play upside down suspended from a helicopter, so it’s flying around with me upside down. I’ve talked to a couple of companies about it. It feels like something I would need Red Bull for. For anyone reading this, by the way, really don’t copy this idea, but I also had this idea that it would be cool if there was a drumset that was attached to the ceiling the whole show. It’s just stuck up there and I have to climb up into it and play it. Those are the two big ones for me. I don’t even know how hard it is to drum upside down!”

Chris Barnes

I'm MusicRadar's eCommerce Editor. In addition to testing the latest music gear, with a particular focus on electronic drums, it's my job to manage the 300+ buyer's guides on MusicRadar and help musicians find the right gear for them at the best prices. I dabble with guitar, but my main instrument is the drums, which I have been playing for 24 years. I've been a part of the music gear industry for 20 years, including 7 years as Editor of the UK's best-selling drum magazine Rhythm, and 5 years as a freelance music writer, during which time I worked with the world's biggest instrument brands including Roland, Boss, Laney and Natal.