In a showcase of his heavy-hitting drum talents, Cal State Fullerton alumnus Aric Improta took to the Guitar Center’s Drum-Off stage with a bang on Jan. 19.
He performed a rattling five-minute drum solo in front of approximately 1,500 spectators and a lineup of celebrity judges.
Out of 4,000 drummers across the country that showed interest in the Drum-Off competition, Improta was one of a handful that made it to the final round.
This was Improta’s fifth consecutive year in the Drum-Off playing for the grand prize.
Although Improta ignited a standing ovation, second-time grand finalist Juan Carlos Mendoza from New Jersey took home first place that night.
“The guy that won was the nicest guy alive, hands down,” said Improta. “He’s technically just amazing. On the level of all the requirements that the Drum-Off asks, the guy killed it.”
During his freshman year at Cal State Fullerton, Improta’s parents decided that it was time for him to do something more with his talent and talked him into entering the Drum-Off.
Improta said he was extremely hesitant to enter because he was afraid of being told he wasn’t good enough.
He said he attempted to get himself disqualified by bringing a few unallowed items to the first round.
“I brought a whistle and a tambourine and at the very end did a backflip and blew the whistle thinking, ‘alright I’m for sure gonna get kicked out,’” Improta said.
However, the judges saw past this and moved him to the next round.
He took part in the competition every year from then on, getting one step closer to the championship every time.
Days before the competition, Improta was in Portland, Ore. recording for progressive/post-rock band Night Verses’ full-length debut.
While in Portland, he balanced his time between recording and practicing for the competition by practicing for the album for about three hours a day, then for his drum solo for two.
The morning of the competition, Improta practiced his solo twelve times, which he said happens to be his lucky number and just about the number of times he believes he can practice the physically demanding solo without risk of getting hurt.
When Improta plays, he said he aims to put on a performance that will not only impress drum aficionados, but entertain everyone in the audience.
Improta arrived to the venue hours before check-in with time to explore the place, something that helped calm his nerves.
He warmed up for the performance as one would for a football game, backstage running in place for about twenty minutes and doing push ups, anything he could to get his blood flowing.
Finally, it was Improta’s turn to share with the audience the solo he had been practicing for months.
In his worn-out pair of lucky Converse, he walked on stage filled with adrenaline. He said he usually jumps in with a bang, but this time, he allowed for a steady build-up.
Finally, Improta reached the end of his performance thinking he only had 30 seconds left, but he felt a tap on his shoulder which meant he had one minute left.
“I was like ‘Oh my God!’ I realized that I had totally sped it up because I was just so hyper and so in the moment,” Improta said.
With extra time left, Improta ended up freestyling the end of the solo to an awed audience, receiving his standing ovation.
“Ultimately what comes out is a really intense, technical dude that puts everything into it, so it’s kind of like a show and slightly like an experience to watch him because you can tell he really means what he’s doing,” said bandmate Reilly Herrera. “He plays really hard too, it’s very loud and very chaotic, but that’s what makes it as cool as it is.”
Improta may not have won first place, but he said he gained a lot from the experience.
“He made such an impression on so many people that I think it was nothing but a positive experience for him, and he’s the first person to realize that,” Herrera said.
After the competition, Improta met and talked to several influential drummers including Travis Barker from Blink-182, Adrian Young from No Doubt, and past winners.
According to Improta, a highlight of the night was when Darren King, drummer for the band Mutemath, approached him and told him he had his favorite solo.
“The biggest thing that Aric should get credit for is that he is very passionate about what he does, he really does put everything that he has, both emotionally and physically into what he does,” said Nick DePirro, Improta’s bandmate.