INTERVIEW WITH WILD AMERICA LEAD GUITARIST BILLY DINAPOLI
Date: July 27, 2020
“ARENA ROCKERS” WILD AMERICA FEATURING LEAD GUITARIST BILLY DINAPOLI AND LEAD VOCALIST / GUITARIST JOE LABBADIA RELEASED THEIR DEBUT ALBUM ‘GASOLINE’ VIA KIVEL RECORDS IN THE FALL OF 2018. DINAPOLI AND LABBADIA ALONG WITH A REVAMPED WILD AMERICA LINE-UP THAT INCLUDES DRUMMER ARNIE CUOZZO AND BASSIST STEVE WOVKANECH ARE WORKING ON THEIR SOPHOMORE ALBUM, WHICH IS SLATED FOR RELEASE IN THE FALL OF 2020. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH DINAPOLI TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WILD AMERICA.
Sleaze Roxx: How did the band get started ?
Billy DiNapoli: I’ve worked with Joe Labbadia since 1996 and we recorded two albums together on two other labels. [The bands were] Aftermath and Fools Faith. I was briefly retired from music but returned in 2012. Joe and I formed Wild America in 2017. We sent some demos to John Kivel and he liked them and encouraged us to move forward.
Sleaze Roxx: Although the band is fairly new, it seems each member has a lot of previous experience. What’s the background for the rest of the guys in the band?
Billy DiNapoli: The upcoming album will be the fifth album for Joe and fourth for myself. All but one were on various record labels. Just one was released independently with no label. Our new drummer Arnie Cuozzo has recording experience with a few artists and our new bassist Steve Wovkanech is the rookie of the band [laughs]. The upcoming album will be his first. Our former bassist John Gallicano had extensive recording experience and actually appeared on some pretty big albums as a guitarist. Unfortunately, touring life was too much for him at this point so Steve was brought in.
Sleaze Roxx: Kivel Records is a label that is very involved with its artists. What input and impact has Kivel Records had with Wild America?
Billy DiNapoli: John Kivel gives us free reign on the musical approach as long as we are producing the music he is expecting from us as well as the label. He gives great input and controls the entire presentation aspect such as logos, image, packaging, presentation… If he has to, he can produce the damn thing too [laughs]! In our case, the music we write is on the same page with his vision so it’s pretty easy. We write the tunes, he digs them and we proceed from there.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s the rock n’ roll scene like in a state like Connecticut?
Billy DiNapoli: Well, there are a lot of cover bands! [There’s] not much a scene for original music but we’ve been treated great here in our home state.
Sleaze Roxx: How long did it take for the songs to be written for the album ‘Gasoline’ and what was the recording process like?
Billy DiNapoli: We had a demo of four songs we sent out when we were still called Fools Faith. So they were pretty much done before we signed on with Kivel. The band officially formed with a full line-up in 2017 and the album was released in 2018. The whole thing took six months. We have our own studio in Ringwood, New Jersey that is run by our former keyboard player Andrew Kadin. Andy still engineers and assists in songwriting on our records.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you happy with the reception that the album ‘Gasoline’ has received?
Billy DiNapoli: Absolutely! We had a target we were shooting for and we surpassed it! So, yes. Definitely.
Sleaze Roxx: What made you adopt a guitar driven retro sound for Wild America?
Billy DiNapoli: When I stepped away from music in 2007, Joey wanted to try some different approaches that I wasn’t into. Very progressive Dream Theatre rock which sounded great but wasn’t my thing. When we signed with Kivel, we knew we were on an arena rock label so we knew what was expected of us. Melodic arena rock was always our favorite style so we are right in our wheelhouse!
Sleaze Roxx: What’s the story behind the video for the track “Gasoline”?
Billy DiNapoli: Well, the video for “Gasoline” was the brainchild of our label. John arranged the team, location, props, backline, etc. He even got the car and cover model from our album cover, in order to do a nice tie in to the cover art. He kept joking how no one can accuse us of using some stock photo and that we actually photographed our album cover old school! Of course, we needed an audience. So we help put the word out to our faithful on social media and [through] word of mouth, to come down and be in our video. It was great, as we had people from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and even New Hampshire all show up for the video. Our buddy Tony came in from Texas for the video as well. So it got us all excited and proud to see we could fill a room that wasn’t even a show!
The label catered the event so everyone got a free lunch, as it was a long day. We also gave away free stuff to show our appreciation to everyone. We had an awesome director Kivel brought in — Jon Santos — who was out of New Jersey. He was awesome and 100% rock n roll. He knew his stuff, and even bought in this big boom grane to get the classic swooping shots. It was weird though, as we had to lip sync, something we obviously don’t do. We’re a rock band! Not fake music [laughs]! So that was strange and the only thing we didn’t like. We did this over 85 times throughout the day, maybe more. Then later that night, we actually performed the song to a live crowd [laughs]. In the end, the video came out better than a MTV video. It was a great experience, no doubt.”
Wild America‘s “Gasoline” video:
Sleaze Roxx: You also play in Stairway to Halen, a cover band that covers Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. What made you cover these two bands and how long have you been part of this?
Billy DiNapoli: Stairway has been a lot of fun. Arnie plays drums in it with me. [Led Zeppelin and Van Halen are] the two [of the] greatest bands of all-time in my opinion. We’ve been doing it five years in the New England area of the US. It’s a great paying gig but really lots of fun, mostly.
Sleaze Roxx: What band do you enjoy more ? The tribute one or the original one ?
Billy DiNapoli: The feeling you get when you travel across the country and arrive at a venue and the whole place knows the words to everyone of your songs is the best feeling. Fans asking for autographs on albums they’ve bought. [There’s] nothing better. [I prefer] Wild America of course.
Sleaze Roxx: Considering that you play in both a tribute band as well as an original band, and with the surge in popularity in tribute acts, do you feel the tribute act is a threat to the original scene ?
Billy DiNapoli: No, not really. It’s two completely different things.
Sleaze Roxx: Wild America recently released a video for the track “Stronger” with Roy Cathey. How did you guys get together and what made you release that song at this time?
Billy DiNapoli: Roy is a great friend of the band since we met on the road. The song was written as an appreciative thanks to all those who have battled on the frontlines during this pandemic, such as doctors, nurses, police and many others. We were thrilled with how well it was received.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s next on tap for Wild America?
Billy DiNapoli: We are currently finishing the recording of our new album, which will be ready for release in the early part of the fall 2020. We will look to resume touring when things have stabilized in regards to what’s going on in the world right now.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve been playing the rock n’ roll circuit for many years. Surely you have some great stories! Please share one.
Billy DiNapoli: Well, most of them I probably shouldn’t share [laughs]! Other than that, playing alongside of some of your heroes such as major acts we’ve opened for is a thrill. George Lynch comes to mind. Meeting Paul Stanley and Yngwie Malmsteen. That’s some of the fun ones.
Sleaze Roxx: Last question for you — what are your three favorite albums of all-time and why?
Billy DiNapoli: The first Van Halen record because it changed the way guitar was played forever. KISS’ ‘Alive!’ would be up there too. KISS are the reason I started to play music. Also, the Whitesnake release of 1987 is what I measure all melodic hard rock albums to. Honourable mention goes to [Led] Zeppelin as well. Obviously, listened to a lot of that growing up.
Wild America‘s “Stronger” video feat. Roy Cathey:
Thank you to Kivel Records principal John Kivel for facilitating the interview.