Interview with drummer and vocalist Dan Beehler and bassist Allan Johnson
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 20, 2014
Legendary Canadian Speed Metal merchants Exciter recorded three studio albums - Heavy Metal Maniac (1983), Violence & Force (1984) and Long Live the Loud (1985) - with the line-up of Dan Beehler on vocals and drums, John Ricci on guitar and Allan Johnson on bass. That line-up is considered the "classic" line-up by the fans and those albums are some of the finest Canadian Metal albums of all time.
After nearly 30 years apart the original line-up of Exciter is back together and ready to step back into the limelight and play a number of well-selected shows around the world. Who knows, maybe even a new album. Time will tell.
Canada's The Metal Crypt decided to contact their homeland heroes to get the scoop behind the reunion of the original line-up and to ask Allan and Dan to reminisce about their landmark album, Violence & Force, as well as the tours they did in support of that album and even a few untold stories related to that classic Exciter record. Read on...
Luxi: First of all, my sincere congratz on recording something as wicked as Violence & Force, Exciter's second full-length studio album. 30 years is a long time but that record has stood the test of time very well. What do you think?
Dan: Thanks very much for the compliments. That album was actually written right on the tail of Heavy Metal Maniac and was an extension of that album. We didn't tour Heavy Metal Maniac much so we just continued writing and actually wrote recorded it in '83 and spent the latter part of '83 and '84 playing it live. Exciter fans seem to have different favorites among the first three albums and all three have stood the test of time. With the Exciter reunion we do quite a bit from this album.
Al: The thing I like about this album is that it has two anthem songs; "Violence and Force" and "Pounding Metal." Both songs really get the crowd going live and this alone probably has a lot to do with the record standing the test of time. The anthems that stuck in my mind from the time where I first got into music have really stuck in my head my entire life, songs like "Eighteen" by Alice Cooper, "Rock and Roll All Night" by KISS, etc. These to me are the songs that truly define what it takes to stand the test of time. For Exciter it was an era in the 80's where bands like us were heavily influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and took it to an exciting new level. Speed/Thrash Metal was born. We invented it.
Luxi: Back then you obviously didn't know what kind of impact Violence & Force would have on the next generation of metal heads and how it would fuel many of them to form their own bands. How proud are you of the Violence & Force album, compared to the rest of Exciter's catalog? Do you think this particular album had its own special vibe that isn't present on other Exciter albums?
Dan: Very proud of it, but I'm also proud of the rest. We were really starting to peak and starting to tour extensively worldwide. As I said before, it was an extension of Heavy Metal Maniac and we had progressed as writers but we had a very different production from Heavy Metal Maniac. Heavy Metal Maniac was more underground but Violence & Force had more anthems. We always made sure there were hooks. Whenever we broke into a chorus people remembered that. We carried that on with Long Live the Loud. It's very flattering to meet people like Phil Anselmo, the guys from Down, Sebastian Bach, and lots of other musicians and roadies that constantly come up to us now and say, "thank you, you influenced us so much and we were kids." The respect is overwhelming. We realize, now that we're older, the impact we've had on famous metal musicians that are still out there today.
Al: When I left Exciter in the late 80's I sold every bit of music equipment I owned; guitars, amps and speakers, all gone. I didn't even own a guitar pick and I was disconnected entirely from the music business. Throughout the 90's I spent a great deal of time thinking (drinking) and wondering if what we did was truly remembered or if we influenced anyone on any level, if our music would go down in history or even if it was important. I really had no clue whatsoever. We didn't have the Internet as it is today; there was no Facebook, no social media, etc. As time goes by it never ceases to amaze me just how many people we touched with our music and our live performances. People of all ages come to us and express their feelings, tell us their favorite songs, memories, etc. I look at the first three albums as all being the same as in you listen to them and you know its Exciter. The power of the delivery is the same, the formula is the same, but each one has a distinct difference in the feel and vibe. You can tell we were in a different head space when we wrote certain songs and you can hear the difference in that with each effort we took it to the next level without compromising who we were as Exciter. That was always important to us.
Luxi: Violence & Force was released by Megaforce Records in 1984. How much can you still remember from those days when Megaforce Records approached Exciter and wanted to sign the band? Was it relatively easy to accept their offer, keeping in mind how young you were back in those days? What made you decide to leave Mike Varney's Shrapnel Records after your debut album was released on that label in 1983?
Dan: I remember that era like it was yesterday. It was easy because we joined the ranks of Metallica, Anthrax, Manowar and Raven at the time when all of us were beginning to peak at the start of the Thrash Metal movement. Of course it was easy to accept this offer; we were going to leave Ottawa and record in the U.S. We were gone instantly. Besides, there was no second offer from Varney and then Johnny Z approached us. He was a huge fan and next thing you know he had us in New York. A lot of bands signed shitty deals back then; it was not uncommon.
Al: I remember that summer. Dan and I were working together and we were dying to get out of that job and do something with the band; record, tour, whatever. When this opportunity arose we jumped on it. It was the only offer at the time and we were totally prepared with all the songs. We had a lot of fun that fall in upper state New York. We made a lot of bad business decisions back then because we were young and had no money to hire a lawyer to help us out, but things happen for a reason and in the end it is what it is. When you look back to the past from the present you realize that and you wouldn't change anything.
Luxi: Violence & Force was produced by The Rods drummer Carl Canedy. I just read that both John and Marsha Zazula asked him to contact you guys, knowing that he was a fan of Exciter's stuff. He signed on to capture all the energy that you had in the band on Violence & Force. Is there anything else we should know about how things went back then regarding Carl Canedy's entrance into the picture?
Dan: Carl was fan of Exciter and we were fans of Rods so it was easy to go with him. We had some of the best times of our lives in Cortland and Ithaca, recording and partying. Manowar was there, Anthrax was there, it was a crazy time in upper state New York. Through the years we went back to Carl's hometown many times and we have nothing but respect for him. Back in 1985 Carl asked me to sing on his Thrasher project, which I did, and he was awesome to work with.
Luxi: How much guidance did Carl give you in the studio as to how things should be done in order to make the album sound great?
Dan: Actually, he taught us a lot, but people forget we had been together since '79. We had been in and out of many studios and were not strangers to a soundboard. We did our first demo ourselves at Nimbus 9 studios in Toronto with John Belrose who worked with us on Heavy Metal Maniac. We were at the board with Carl pretty much the whole time and we guided him as much as he did us.
Luxi: Can you remember how prepared you were to record Violence & Force when you entered the studio? Had you rehearsed your songs to the point that you knew how they would sound on the actual record?
Dan: One hundred percent prepared, completely live off the floor, we never went into any studio unprepared.
Al: We were so rehearsed back then. We were in the rehearsal warehouse three times a week and we went over the songs until we knew them back to front. Whenever I hear bootleg tapes from those days it blows me away at how tight we were. For Violence & Force it was like Dan said, "live off the floor," but even though we were so well rehearsed we still made mistakes, and if one guy made a mistake then all three of us did the song over again. In the end even some of the mistakes were left in the mix and this is what gave the album its unique feel.
Luxi: Do you believe that on Violence & Force you guys found the exact style you wanted for the band, one that captured the energetic, brutal and raw sounding Canadian Speed Metal you played?
Dan: Heavy Metal Maniac sounds more like we do live. If John stayed on then the one after Long Live the Loud would have been more like this one.
Al: The jury is out on this one and it depends on who you talk to. When I chat with the fans and I'm signing the albums I always like to ask them which one is their favorite. Generally the answer is always the same; Violence & Force or Heavy Metal Maniac. Personally I believe that these two albums are the truest reflection of the Exciter style. We could have called Violence & Force "Heavy Metal Maniac 2" and it would have made total sense. Like Dan said, Violence & Force is really an extension of Heavy Metal Maniac. I remember thinking that we could never top Heavy Metal Maniac. Heavy Metal Maniac was the culmination of many, many years of crafting what Exciter was, what Exciter sounded like, looked like, how the songs were created. When we dove into the writing of Violence & Force it came together so fast it was incredible; it was like the writing for Heavy Metal Maniac never stopped, it just continued.
Luxi: The album was recorded at Pyramid Sound Studios in Ithaca, New York, during November 1983. What made you choose this particular studio and why not just record in your hometown of Ottawa?
Dan: All of Johnny Z's bands were doing it; we wanted to get out of town at that point. The NY scene was way better than in Ottawa; it was the place to be at the time. Fistful of Metal was recorded there and Kill 'Em All was recorded in Rochester, so NY was the place to be. Johnny Z gave us the choice between the two.
Al: Who the hell would want to record in Ottawa compared to New York?!? Nowadays everyone has incredible studio equipment in their own basements and recording is so far advanced. Back then, you went to where the best equipment was, where the action was.
Luxi: What do you think of the production on Violence & Force 30 years later? Do you think Carl succeeded in turning the knobs in the right directions?
Dan: I still think the album sounds great after all these years. Carl did a great job producing it. I wish the guitars were louder but overall I still think it withstands the test of time and can compete with any recording today.
Al: Back then when we were in the studio everything sounded great. You would hear the tracks being blasted through the best of sound equipment and you'd think everything sounded awesome. Quite often though we would play back the final product through a car stereo to see what it sounds like and, more often than not, it could be disappointing. When I listen to Violence & Force these days I feel that for the most part it captured what Exciter was at the time, however I would have to agree that it needed a bigger guitar sound. When you stand in front of John's guitar amp it sounds and feels like a monster ripping you apart. I'm still waiting for that sound to manifest itself on record.
Luxi: Have you ever discussed re-recording the album with the original line-up and using today's modern techniques?
Dan: Because of the style of the band and the era Violence & Force was written in, I don't think we could make it sound any better if we recorded it today.
Al: I don't think there is anything we've ever done that I wouldn't want to go back and change at least some things. But I don't think there is one band in existence that would take it to the point of redoing an entire album, but to re-record a song would be fun. I was always disappointed that the chorus in "Pounding Metal" was so weak. It was supposed to be a huge gang vocal and, to me, it should have sounded as powerful as "Balls to the Wall" or "Hell's Bells." When we play the song live and the whole crowd is chanting "Pounding Metal!!!" that's how it should have sounded!
Luxi: Do you think the cover represents all the cheesiness of Heavy Metal, but in a good way, of course?
Dan: Actually the cover didn't turn out the way we expected it to. I wish we could have re-done it back then but there was no time.
Al: Yet another Spinal Tap moment for us. With Heavy Metal Maniac we actually removed a speaker from a Marshall cabinet, slashed the speaker cover and had this big huge hunk of meat falling out of the cabinet. We shredded it up and had fake blood dripping from it. It looked really cool, like guts coming out from the speaker, but someone at some point decided to make the photo black and white, which totally made it look not as it was intended. In the end we had to doctor up the black and white photo with red to make it look like blood. That was extremely disappointing for us, but not nearly as bad as the Violence & Force album cover. For Violence & Force, it was supposed to look as if a zombie was breaking through the door. The hands had blue makeup on them to make them look dead however they turned out looking more black than blue and there were endless comments about that. Even the photos on the back were bad; the photographer took two shots; two freakin' shots. We had to pick one photo out of two really bad ones. Basically we had to choose the best of the worst.
Luxi: Are there some as yet untold stories or secrets about the Violence & Force album that you have never told to the public but might want to reveal now via this interview with The Metal Crypt?
Dan: The only untold story that I can think of is at the end of the song "Pounding Metal" it sounds like chains dropping on steel. There was a automotive body shop next door to the studio so Carl brought in an old Volkswagen hood, put a microphone over it and we dropped piles of steel chains on it to make that sound.
Another untold thing would be that Carl made me use ROTO -toms instead of my regular toms and it actually turned out really well. Also, the song "Death Revenge" was supposed to appear on that album, but we didn't feel it was strong enough so it ended up on the From the Megavault compilation album.
Al: I can think of one particular thing that I believe may have not been told before and that is the hands on the cover of Violence & Force are Dan's and it is also his arm that is on the cover of Heavy Metal Maniac. We had an artist draw the tattoos on his arm.
Luxi: After Violence & Force was released in February 2014, Exciter hit the US for a four-month tour. How was that experience for you guys? Exciter played some shows with Motörhead and Mercyful Fate on that tour so it was a relatively heavy package. Obviously the tour increased your fan base and made you one of the most well known Canadian metal forces, alongside Razor, Voivod, Sacrifice and so on. What were some of your best and/or worst memories out of that particular tour?
Dan: The touring that we did after recording Violence and Force was amazing. The Motörhead/Mercyful fate tour was a great time and we started to realize how many Exciter fans were all over the USA. Motörhead took us under their wing. We were young lads learning the ropes and they did nothing but mentor us and help us along the way. We also did shows in Canada and England for that album and I would say we were pretty much peaking as far as the original Exciter is concerned.
Al: That was an amazing time and it felt like the tour would never end. We went from one end of the U.S. to the other and back. It was fall in Ottawa, getting cold and leaves changing, then we went down and went clear across to California and bang we were back in summer again. It was cool and we had so many good times. When we worked our way back to New York state we got to Rochester and one night everyone from the tour was packed in this bar where the bartender kept lining up shots of peppermint schnapps, really, really long lines of shooters. Of course everyone bellied up to the bar and kept downing them. There was a point in the night where I realized that the only person left in the bar that I knew was Lemmy so I asked him if he wanted to share a cab back to the hotel. Apparently I left the cab, stumbled up to the tour bus and passed out in the snow; luckily someone came out and found me before I froze to death. Next morning our manager woke me up as we had an in store autograph session at the House of Guitars. I went into the shower that morning and as I was washing my hair I was throwing up at the same time. I thought I was going to die. As we were signing albums I had my sunglasses on the whole time. Someone at some point got us bags of White Castle burgers and I think those saved the day for me.
Luxi: A guy named Doug McArthur was the guitar tech for both Exciter and Mercyful Fate on this US tour in 1984. Do you still remember him and was a prankster or was he professional guy who took his role as guitar tech seriously?
Al: Funny you should mention Dougie; roadies are never brought up in interviews, this is a first for me (I did some serious research for this interview - Luxi). Dougie and I became good friends right off the bat and we were the two that went out partying and picking up women almost constantly during the tour. We called it "groozling." We shared hotel rooms and partied nonstop. He also used to beat me at crazy 8's on the bus all the time. We would play for a penny a point so I'd lose all my spare change. I haven't seen him in a very long time however we're currently friends on Facebook. He was always someone I could count on, both as a roadie and a friend.
Dan: I remember Dougie McArthur and still see him from time to time.
He was a good friend of Lemmy's before he was our guitar tech. He was a great roadie and a great tech and the pranks were endless!
Luxi: Whenever Lemmy from Motörhead introduced the song "Jailbait" he demanded to see some tits in the crowd and several women answered Lemmy's request. I can imagine that you guys had lots of fun on this tour, right? Lemmy is quite a character.
Dan: Yes, ha ha! I remember this well. "Jailbait" was one of the big songs of the night; we never missed watching them on this tour. Either I was standing behind Pete Gill or my head was firmly planted on the P.A. out front on the whole tour blowing my head off. I also caught every Mercyful Fate show. It truly was a metal circus; we had to sleep with one eye open because the pranks were endless.
Luxi: How well did you get along with the guys in Motörhead and Mercyful Fate? Were there any fights and did you solve "problems" by sharing a few beers at the pub?
Dan: We shared a bus with Motörhead at the beginning of the tour and then we shared a bus with Mercyful Fate at the end of the tour and everybody got along fantastic! There was tons of respect, a lot of good times and absolutely no fighting or egos.
Al: Ha ha, we're Canadian, we don't fight - we party! We get along with everyone, and we did more than one tour with Motörhead so we were very familiar with each other, and as good old Canadian boys we grew up to be respectful of others, and that's more than you can say about today's fuckin crowd! Mercyful Fate were very cool as well, we sat and drank and chatted about anything and everything.
Luxi: When you were on this tour you had a bunch of new songs that were intended for Exciter's third album Long Live the Loud, to be recorded in February 1985. You played "Sudden Impact" to get peoples' reaction to that new material. How did they respond?
Dan: We were constantly writing in between tours so we had some Long Live the Loud material written when we were on the Motörhead/Mercyful Fate tour, and yes we would always throw in a song or two, to test it out on the fans. I remember playing "Sudden Impact" and it went over great!
Al: There's a hell of a lot of things that I don't remember about the 80's, and that's one of them.
Luxi: It was announced in February 2014 that the original line-up of Exciter had decided to reform to play some well-selected shows in 2014-15. Was this decision the result of many months of hard negotiations between the original members?
Dan: We didn't have any discussions about the reunion prior to it happening. When things went wrong between John and his formation of Exciter, I went to John to ask him what was up and talk turned into action and the reunion was born. It just happened; it was nothing that was planned.
Al: There was never any planning. How can you plan something that could never be? That's how I felt, and that's how I talked to Dan about it. Sure we talked about it and how it would be awesome, and how it would be historic and whatever, but in the end I always said it would never happen. Well, I was wrong! We met in April 2014 at an old historic Ottawa bar and we sat there for hours talking about old times. The stories were endless it was as if the passage of time never happened, as if all those years of not seeing each other had never existed. There we were, the original Exciter just hanging out and having drinks and reliving old times. To me it was "yes" from the get go. To me it was quite apparent we were on the same page. Exciter was back!
Luxi: Exciter did two shows in Brazil in October 2014 (how did they go?) and have at least six more shows booked for 2015. Obviously the six announced shows are just the beginning of more shows to be announced in 2015. Is that correct?
Dan: We have done two shows so far in Brazil and they went over great! We have most of next year booked; I think around 7 shows at this point and we're super excited to get the original Exciter out to the world again.
Al: Brazil was amazing; we had the luck to hook up with an old friend and fan of ours, Matthias Prill of MP Tour Management who made the entire trip one of the most enjoyable and memorable of my entire career. Sao Paulo brought out hundreds of our very best friends who greeted us with fists in the air. It was the first time I had played live since playing with Beehler back in 2009 and for me it was like being home again. Walking out onstage that night was magical. Porto Alegre was a blast as well. Some of the fans were hardcore Exciter fans you could tell, and after we got off stage we went out to chat with some of them and they were awesome.
Luxi: If that wasn't enough for the Exciter fans worldwide, it's been rumored you have some new material also and eventually a new Exciter release with the original line-up is in the works. Is there any further news you can reveal?
Dan: In rehearsals for the live shows we have been slowly working on new material and later next year we will record an album with the original line-up. We're pretty excited about the new material and we hope Exciter fans feel the same.
Al: For me the creative part is the part that excites me, gets me into it. I wake up and write songs in the middle of the night in my head. The first night we got together we set up all our equipment and none of us really knew what the hell we were going to play. John started playing a new riff, nothing we had ever played before, Dan and I broke into it and it was original Exciter, right off the bat. We have a lot of new material rolling around in our heads, lots of ideas. Once it gets played I'm sure it will be very, very cool, very Exciter.
Luxi: That's all I have for now. I want to thank you for taking some time to complete this interview and I wish you all the best with Exciter. If you have any closing comments for all the Exciter fans worldwide, then be my guest...
Dan: To all Exciter fans worldwide; hope to see you at the reunion shows and we are going to do our best to bring back the early 80's, blow some heads off and pound some Metal! See you in the trenches, thank you!
Al: Like I said, I never thought that this could happen, but I also believe that things happen for a reason, and so here we are. My intention, is that we continue where we left off, to bring to all Exciter fans the next chapter, the continuation of what Exciter was - what Exciter is, and make it heavy as hell! To have touched the lives of so many is overwhelming and I am honored to have done so, and to have Exciter fans be such a huge part of my life to this day is amazing. I love it!
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