All images courtesy of Jommy Puledda
By Andrew Daly
For Italian-bred metal maestro, Gianmaria’ Jommy’ Puledda, a dream of dazzling audiences on American soil has finally come to fruition.
In need of a six-string hero to fill in for longtime guitarist Ziv Shalev, NYC street metal heroes Spread Eagle took to the internet in search of someone capable of handling the band’s intricate back catalog.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Puledda faced fierce competition head-on and learned seminal tracks “Switchblade Serenade,” “Broken City,” “Suzy Suicide,” and “Sound of Speed” note-for-note, with laser focus, determined to win at all costs.
For Puledda, taking the stage with Spread Eagle was meaningful for two reasons: the guitarist loved the band’s music, and the act would also fulfill a dream of delivering his unique blend of metal mastery unto unsuspecting American audiences.
When first alerting the masses of the contest, the members of Spread Eagle never could have known the Kraken they were about to unleash, and as fate would have it, as it came down to the wire, Puledda found himself one of two finalists.
Ultimately, Puledda secured the role, learned the band’s hour-plus long setlist, and took the stage with a reinvigorated Spread Eagle for a small run of east coast shows in July of 2022, dazzling audiences and his new bandmates alike.
With Shalev still in the fold but ever-busy, Puledda’s role in Spread Eagle remains unclear. One thing is sure, though, Jommy Puledda will remain vigilant and prepared to answer the bell should Spread Eagle need him.
In the wake of his American introduction, Puledda set aside some time with me to reflect on his indoctrination into Spread Eagle, his unique approach to the guitar, and what’s next for him as he moves ahead.
Starting with the most recent news, you’ve just joined Spread Eagle for its run of summer shows. Take me through your initial conversations with the band about joining.
I remember seeing Spread Eagle’s “Sound of Speed” video on YouTube when it came out about three years ago on their Italian record label, Frontiers Records, which I was already following. I thought that they were an awe-inspiring band. Then a few months ago, my fiancée, who was already friends with Rob De Luca on social media, discovered that the band was looking for an understudy guitarist for their next shows. She encouraged me to audition for the band even though I was returning to Italy from my vacation in the U.S. the next morning.
For me, being part of Spread Eagle seemed like a great opportunity to start playing in the U.S. and make myself known to American audiences since it has always been my dream to play in the U.S. I immediately started studying the three songs requested by the competition. I posted the performances on YouTube so the band could evaluate them, and then I confirmed my interest by emailing Rob.
As I was learning the songs, I came to appreciate the great artistic caliber of Spread Eagle and how difficult the guitar parts are. In the end, I submitted four videos and was selected for the final stage of the competition, along with one other finalist, to play in the band’s rehearsal room at the Music Building in New York. After the finals were held, I was named the winner of the competition.
Spread Eagle cast a wide net when looking for guitarists; the word is that it came down to two. Who was the other guitarist you were competing against?
The other finalist used a pseudonym on YouTube, so I don’t know his name, although he introduced himself as “Hunter” during the finals. When I saw his videos, I immediately recognized him as an outstanding guitarist. We got along great during the finals, he’s a really nice guy, and I wish him all the best. I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future, and I hope he makes it big.
What songs did you have to learn for your audition? Was it a trial by fire?
The contest rules said to record a song of my choice among “Switchblade Serenade,” “Scratch Like a Cat,” and “Broken City,” which are probably the most famous and representative songs of the band. If the band liked the first submission of a contestant, they would invite additional submissions, so in the end, I recorded all three songs plus “Sound of Speed” as a bonus.
It was challenging to learn all these songs in such a short time, considering that I took great care in the details, especially the solos, which I learned note for note, to respect the original recordings because I know that the fans expect this. However, the songs have a little of my personal touch and style here and there.
Once the shows kicked off, what songs did you enjoy playing most?
It’s hard to say which songs I really look forward to playing, but I can say that I loved it when the audience was very involved, singing all the songs and getting excited with us. I’ve already had the opportunity to see this in three shows we’ve performed so far. I really like all the songs but especially those I submitted for the competition as they’re great songs.
I enjoy playing the songs that most Spread Eagle fans expect, such as “Thru These Eyes,” which I feel the audience particularly enjoys and connects with the music and the band. One of the songs I particularly like to play is “Broken City,” especially the extended solo, which is as tricky as it is fun to play. I also really like songs with great grooves like “Rhythm Machine,” “King of the Dogs,” “Sound of Speed,” and “If I Can’t Have You.” I could just name them all. [Laughs].
Ziv Shalev was unable to play these shows due to other commitments. With that being said, is there an opportunity for you to work with Spread Eagle in the future?
I respect Ziv and his situation. The July shows I did were amazing, so I’m ready to jump in whenever he needs me to.
What makes you a perfect fit for Spread Eagle? How would you compare your style to that of Paul DiBartolo, and Ziv Shalev? What will you bring to the songs that might surprise some fans?
This would be a great question to ask the other band members, but I definitely love playing with the band. Joking aside, the band members complimented me on learning the songs and set lists in such a short time and such detail. I can say that I’m thrilled and honored to play with these guys and to have become part of such an important band. The band welcomed me like a brother, and I immediately felt at ease.
I have great respect for Paul Di Bartolo [Salvadore Poe], who created the legacy of the band together with the founding members, and Ziv Shalev, who continues it with the current members. In terms of guitar style, I feel close to both. I’m a great lover of guitar heroes of the ’80s and ’90s, and Di Bartolo was definitely at that level; I know they both also studied jazz/fusion, which are also some of my influences, as well as the blues which is always very important.
With Ziv, Spread Eagle has found a more modern dimension tending towards alternative rock/metal but always faithful to the original street metal sound, with some of the punk attitude. My style includes a bit of all these influences and those I carry with me from my previous experiences, including a good dose of power and progressive metal, classic hard rock and heavy metal, and a bit of ethnic, folk, and electronic music. I don’t know if I’ll ever use these influences with Spread Eagle, but maybe sometimes they’ll come out unintentionally. Who knows? Maybe something interesting will result.
Your style has been described as “Mediterranean metal.” Can you expand on that?
The Mediterranean metal style comes from the fact that I also play the Greek bouzouki, a tetrachord instrument with four pairs of strings, similar to a mandolin but bigger, which produces a sound that is characteristic of the tradition of the Mediterranean area.
I bought the bouzouki to play it in a tribute band of the late Fabrizio De Andrè, one of the greatest Italian songwriters. One day, I had the brilliant or crazy idea of using it in metal music. In particular, I used it to record some songs on the album The Sorceress Reveals – Atlantis by Souls of Diotima, a band I was part of at that time.
So Mediterranean metal is related to playing the Greek bouzouki for themes concerning the traditions and legends of my homeland, Sardinia, in the lyrics of the songs. I always find it difficult to describe myself and prefer others to do it. However, my approach to the instrument is typically hard rock/metal when I play the electric guitar. I use alternate picking, legato, sweep picking, tapping, string skipping, fingerpicking, whammy bar, and so on. I try to mix and dose all these techniques to obtain a fluid and non-schematic playing style.
I love improvising melodic lines and solos on random rhythmic structures and chords. That’s what I do 90% of the time when I play in my home studio (when I’m not composing or learning new songs) or even live when the situation allows. That’s why I also like blues, funk, jazz, and fusion, for the freedom they give you to create music in real-time and instinctively. Of course, this requires great preparation and study, and I always try to improve myself. For me, it’s always fun, but in any case, I’m always a metalhead.
Who would you rate as some of your most significant influences?
I could make a mile-long list of dozens of guitarists and bands that have influenced me over the years, but I’ll try to keep it short and stick to the ones that really were key to developing my taste as a guitarist and well-rounded musician.
To start, even if I am banal, I cannot fail to mention bands like Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and Iron Maiden. As a kid, they were the first hard rock/metal bands I listened to and are obviously among the most famous, but they were fundamental for me and millions of people who love this music. So, for the first few years, I cut my teeth assimilating and trying to play the songs of these bands. And I must include bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Queen. And then later, more sophisticated progressive and power metal bands like Dream Theater, Symphony X, Queensryche, Savatage, Angra, Helloween, Pantera’s groove metal, superbands like Van Halen, Extreme, and Mr. Big. Of course, all the guitar heroes like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt, Marty Friedman, and Zakk Wylde. Lastly, I have to mention Slash. Even if not as technical as others, has an extraordinary melodic taste.
I should also mention that over the years, I also had my grunge periods, with bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and a symphonic metal period with bands like Nightwish, Epica, melodic death metal with Arch Enemy, modern or nu-metal, alternative metal, crossover bands like Korn, System of a Down, Disturbed, Faith No More, and Rage Against The Machine. Each of these bands and guitarists has given me something, and they have influenced me in some way, some technically, some compositionally, some for the guitar sound, or other things.
I suppose that I have mentioned so many names because there is not a band or a guitarist that I’m inspired by in a particular way, and I think it is good; I would not want to be considered a clone or, in any case, too similar to another guitarist. It’s better to be as unique as possible, and I hope to succeed in this.
You’re well known in Europe, but with Spread Eagle, you will be exposed to an entirely different audience. How important is this level of exposure for you?
I know that playing in Spread Eagle is a great opportunity for me. With them, I can play here in the United States and beyond, playing in fantastic places and with wonderful fans singing the songs by heart. It has always been one of my dreams to play here in the U.S., and it’s coming true.
For new fans, what albums of yours would you recommend most, and why?
I released two albums when I was in Souls of Diotima; The Sorceress Reveals – Atlantis (2016) and Janas (2021). It’s a mix of power/prog /symphonic metal with Sardinian and Mediterranean influences. So, you can listen to some of my compositions and guitar work there.
What sort of guitars and gear are you using these days?
Lately, for live shows with Spread Eagle, I’m using an Ibanez J Custom 7 strings as my main guitar. It’s not ideal to have a 7-string guitar to play Spread Eagle because I don’t need the lower string, but it’s not a problem, and the guitar sounds very good. I also use an American Ultra HSS Fender Stratocaster with original Floyd Rose for drop C songs. I have other guitars that I can eventually use as needed: a PRS Custom 24, a Fender Telecaster American Professional II, a Schecter Route 66 Chicago, and others.
For amplification, we decided to stick with the classic sound of Marshall tube amps with a 4×12 cabinet to get the classic Spread Eagle sound, a Cry Baby wah pedal, an Ibanez TS 808 Tube Screamer to push the distortion more, and a Fractal FM3 in the send/return of the amp for ambient and modulation effects. It’s a fairly simple rig that sounds very good.
How does the metal scene in America differ from that of Europe?
From what I have seen in the short time I have been here, it seems that everything is at a much grander level in America. There are more opportunities in all fields, including hard rock and metal music, which have become a smaller niche through the years. In the U.S., metal music still has enough followers, with many original bands playing and filling the venues. This is not the case in Europe, except perhaps only in Germany, the U.K., and northern Europe.
From a musical perspective, I have noticed differences between American and European metals. As I would have expected, it’s accentuated by the fact that I have gone from very European-style bands to a very American-style band like Spread Eagle. Of course, there are always exceptions, and you can find European bands doing street metal and American bands doing symphonic metal, for example, but the opposite is more common. Anyway, I love both!
Spread Eagle aside; what’s next?
I have been very busy with Spread Eagle these past few months and hope to be in the future as well. Every now and then, I still manage to get some time to continue working on my compositions that maybe I will use for my future solo album. In recent years, I have also enjoyed singing more, so maybe I will work in that direction as well.