Hello, Luciano! First of all, how’re you doing? And what was the trip back to Los Angeles like?
Luciano Palermi: I am doing pretty good. The flight back to LA was, well, very long, as usual. But now I'm back to action.
Personally I haven’t managed to rid my face of that content smile of approval since the amazing concert of Unreal Terror at the Blackest Pub in Pescara (Italy) on the 27th December. I suppose you are pleased with your performance, as well. How did you and the rest of the band arrange the reunion of Unreal Terror and where did you find the will to kick-start the whole thing?
I am very pleased with the whole performance. Especially considering the short time we had for rehearsal. The idea of the reunion started last summer, when I met with Enio, Silvio, Mario and Iader, Enio's son. We jammed a little bit, and we starting toying around with the idea of a possible reunion. The jam sounded pretty good, the spirit was still there, so we said... why not?
When I did read about the Unreal Terror reunion I couldn’t believe my eyes. Likewise, I couldn’t believe many local alleged metal-heads (I mean: wannabes, posers and losers of all kinds…) didn’t attend a historical and extraordinary event like that. Nevertheless, la crème de la crème of some of the best music artists from Abruzzo (and Italy, in some cases) was there. From jazz experts, Giuseppe e Giancarlo Continenza, to former Unreal Terror guitar player, Mario Di Donato (mastermind of Requiem/The Black); from former-Unreal Terror singer, now member of an acclaimed modern metal band (Prime Target), Benedetto Spinazzola, to Rocco De Simone and Enio Nicolini, etc…. How much do you think heavy metal is just a matter of good taste for good music and retrospective Culture? And how does it feel representing a considerable piece of the History of Italian metal?
It was a real honor to see musicians like Giuseppe and Giancarlo Continenza, Mario Di Donato and all the other people who make our music scene a valuable one. Well, Metal is a matter of good taste, sometimes an acquired taste: consider how much heavy metal has already shaped people's consciousness. Years ago, not many people would admit any love or interest for hard rock, but today Metal music and its aesthetics seem much more ingrained in people's awareness. Metal became a much more widely accepted art form. It is beautiful to see young people getting involved in the music that shaped our tastes. In our reunion, I saw so many familiar faces along with a whole new generation of rockers looking for their musical heritage back in the 80s. And if Unreal Terror inspired both old and new generations, it is a great privilege to be part of that moment.
By the way, why didn’t Giuseppe Continenza (former member of Unreal Terror) join you on stage on the 27th? I also found out guitarist Gianni Del Gallo (of 80’s metal band Stormlights, a group Unreal Terror might know very well) was there.
Giuseppe is very busy with his projects and his career, plus I don't think he has been playing any heavy metal in the last 20 years, so maybe he didn't feel at ease with the genre. It was a real pleasure to hug again Gianni, guitar player of Stormlights, a very promising band back then, with Gianni being a very talented musician.
What your life was like when you were just an Italian small town kid with a strong concern in being a rock n’roll singer? Which were your very first influences? And how did you meet up with Mario Di Donato, Enio Nicolini and drummer Silvio Canzano?
Well, back then things were different. With no Internet, everything seemed so far away, and we were really detached from the music universe. We had to rely on records, actually on cassette-copies of those records, so I ended up listening to AC/DC, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Judas, Maiden, you know, the whole “metal curriculum”. I fell in love with the voices of Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, Geoff Tate, Dave Coverdale, Glenn Hughes and so many more. I met Unreal Terror right after Ben Spinazzola left. The band was rumored to be looking for a new singer, so I contacted them, I auditioned for the role, and I guess they must have liked me.
Heavy And Dangerous (the Unreal Terror EP from 1985) is a sort of cult milestone of Italian metal, few tracks but solid, catchy and possessed by a strong vibe. What the early approach to the studio was like? Also, where did you get the inspiration from?
Heavy And Dangerous was rough, brutal, in-your-face. It was all about the excitement to record our music for the first time, and that energy oozes from the record. If you think that back then we had 8 analogic tracks and nothing of todays ProTools' advantages, it's a quite remarkable result.
Soon it came the time for a full-length album, Hard Incursion of 1986. Did you have the feeling something was moving in the right direction and what do you honestly think about that product? Also, is it true that Continenza (now-days an internationally acclaimed guitar professor, as well) was so young back then, he had to be accompanied by his father to the rehearsals?
Hard Incursion was a more ambitious move. The band was technically more mature, and we wanted to show that. Too bad those ambitious musical ideas were not matched by an adequate production. Again, we had to pay the price for being a less-than-central entity in the Italian music industry. How do you produce a big-sounding album if nobody else did it in your city to learn from? Giuseppe was so young when he joined the band that he didn't have a driver's license, so his father had to take him to rehearsal, dear old man! (laughs)
Unreal Terror was mainly a live band and you were/are a charismatic front-man on stage, both vocally and theatrically. Sometimes, for that I can remember, a really “agent provocateur” (in a positive way, indeed)! In a period where metal music was considered a “dangerous social disease”, did you ever get in trouble during your performances and how much did you have to struggle with so-called “social institutions”, like parents, teachers, principals, mayors, policemen, jealous colleagues and the list goes on… just in order to spread your music?
“In trouble”?? We had cops shutting us down, swinging their batons at us at a concert in Pescara that ended up in an epic brawl! (laughs) We were attacked with rocks flying across the stage in Bari, until Silvio challenged the audience “to meet backstage for a one-on-one little personal discussion with him” (!) Silvio challenged the whole crowd! After a few seconds of silent disbelief, the audience exploded in a thundering applause. We were instant heroes! ... Again, while today Metal is more accepted, back then everybody was afraid of “metallari”. Even though I have to say that even when I had short hair, law enforcement officers picked on me. I must have a “criminal face”, what can I say?
At some point in your life, your “spirit cried for leaving” (zeppelinesque speaking) and you actually decided to move to the United States, to Los Angeles, to the place which was the epicenter of the rock biz back in the day. Maybe 99% of the musicians of that period thought about it but very few had the balls to do that. I can only remember people like Roman band Astaroth or Alex Masi drastically going for it. How did you mature that wish? And what was like living like a migrant at the beginning of your adventure?
The very beginning was tough: no friends, no relationships, an unfamiliar environment, an immense city, no job, no contacts with Italy besides some very expensive phone calls... L.A. can be overwhelming. I saw many friends bite the dust, so to speak, and leave. It's definitely not for the light-hearted.
How did you get involved in the local scene of the famous Sunset Strip rock Babylon? Any nice anecdote you’d like to share with us from that incredible era?
I joined a band that I renamed “Four Of A Kind”, as my last project in Italy right after Unreal Terror disbanded. Sunset Strip was insane: every weekend thousands of bands passed away fliers of their gigs. By 2 am, the sidewalk on Sunset Blvd was literally paved with fliers, so much that you couldn't see the concrete beneath. I was/am also amazed by the massive amount of talent that L.A. can produce. I remember a friend of mine, at the time guitar player for Danger Zone, saying: “In Bologna, I was the best guitar player in town. Here, I'm not the best guitar player, not even on my balcony”
During and after the grunge period (’92-‘94), how did you manage to get through that “change in the weather”? I knew you ran a radio station for a while.
When hip-hop became mainstream, the whole rock scene in L.A. sank. I lost interest, I felt disappointed so I turned to another old love of mine: radio. In Pescara some still remember “The Right To Rock”, the metal radio show that I hosted on Radio Mania... In L.A. I hosted a radio program in Italian for more than 10 years, and that broadcast training shaped my spoken voice for what was going to be my current profession, that is dubbing.
Did you have other jobs to make ends meet? I’m aware living in California is quite expensive…
Since I arrived to L.A., I lost track of all the jobs that I did. That was one of the more maturing factors for me. L.A. taught me two lessons: nobody here is waiting for me with open arms and no job is too humble not to be accepted (within the boundaries of legality, that is).
Have you ever thought of going back to Italy over the latest years? I mean, classic metal has been very “trendy” in Europe recently and there’s a sort of revival going on…
I don't see myself going back to Italy. I have a solid work reputation here and I love this city. Risking it all just to chase a trend? I'm not a kid anymore (laughs)
By the way, which are your current music projects, Luciano? Musically speaking, are you involved in something new? And what about plans for the near future?
I am playing with a band called La Dolce Vita, performing Italian tunes from the 60's with a very rock edge. People love it, also for the good dose of irony we infuse our shows with. And the musicians in the band! Man, those guys are tight! Fantastic pros!
When and where are we going to attend another Unreal Terror gathering?
Now that we got the ball rolling, we are not gonna stop! Hopefully this' late summer live events might feature Unreal Terror in their bill. We'll see.
Thank you very much for your availability and courtesy, Luciano. Hope to see you again very soon. Take care, “Metal Warrior”!
Thanks to you for the opportunity and have a good year!
Interview by Enrico Navella aka Henrykane [email@example.com]