Interview with guitarist Daniel Dekay
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 4, 2022
Canadian Speed Metal veterans Exciter have been pounding their steel for four plus decades and have released a handful of killer albums (like Heavy Metal Maniac and Violence & Force) that many fans say are classic, iconic, groundbreaking and so on. They have toured with some big names in the past like Accept in Europe in 1984 as well Motörhead on the No Remorse tour in the States that same year. The band was on top of their game and enjoying the well-deserved success back in those days.
Every band has its ups and downs, of course, and Exciter is no exception to this rule. They have been on and off quite a few times and there have been different lineups that haven't always been favorably looked back on.
In 2014, the band came back to the limelight with the original lineup and played many shows around the globe (like the South American in February-March 2017). In 2018, original guitarist John Ricci stepped out of the Exciter ranks and his place was taken by a young gun named Daniel Dekay who won his spurs in a band called Diemonds prior to joining Exciter.
We decided to check in with Daniel after the band's successful European tour to find out how things have been going and what the band has in store for the future.
EUROPEANS UNDER HEAVY METAL ATTACK
Hey, Daniel? How are you doing?
Daniel: I'm good, man. You were at the very first show on the tour in Finland. We just got back from that tour and there's no time to be jet-lagged, my friend. We got home and immediately the wheels started turning, preparing for the Canadian tour. As I speak, I'm in the midst of the drive to the first show this evening in Montreal. We have a bunch of Canadian dates this month and then we're back to Europe in August. It's really been a busy time. Since things have opened up and since international travel has been going again, it's been a very busy time. I'm very thankful to be back to work and meeting fans all over the world. It was a dark two years there.
Wow would you sum up your European tour - 17 dates in all and only one day off after Hellfest in France?
Daniel: Yes, it was crazy. I wouldn't even call it a day off at Hellfest, it was just more chaos and more insanity. It's tough because a lot of these shows have been booked for three years already, so we're making up for lost time and I think you're seeing it with a lot of bands right now. Everybody is just so eager to be on the road, there's no time for days off. We're trying to fit in as many shows as possible.
After two years of days off, the only thing we want to do right now is play shows. Some are new bookings, but for the most part, these are bookings that have existed for two or more years. It's good to finally be able to do them and no days off needed when you have the power of heavy metal, I suppose.
Were there any highlight shows on the European tour?
Daniel: Absolutely. I think the show you were at in Finland with The Hirvi was fucking unbelievable, a really good way to start the tour. We had some incredible shows in Spain, namely Barcelona, which is always an incredible city for us, but a massive standout had to be playing inside a castle in Verona in Italy with Judas Priest, man, it was incredible. It was Girlschool, Exciter, UFO, Saxon, and Judas Priest. An incredible old-school heavy metal bill, so much fun.
I can imagine that you had a lot of fun. As you get older does touring still mean endless parties after every show? Are you all crazy party animals that aren't afraid of consuming tons of alcohol every now and then while on tour?
Daniel: I'd be lying if I said we didn't have a couple of drinks every day on tour because that's just the nature of the beast. We have a group shot of whiskey before we go on stage always. I like to have a couple of beers before I go on stage as well and a couple after, but if you compare it to the way I would've partied 10 years ago when I was playing in bands and touring, it's very different. It's a lot more controlled now.
I used to not be concerned about hangovers or where I was sleeping. These things didn't concern me. Now I need to be very careful because a hangover can last for three days at this age, it's wild. I'm more conservative about the way I party, but there's definitely still beers on stage every night, absolutely.
How much work was it to get this European tour arranged, get your working visas, travel arrangements and so on? I bet it was weeks of hard work to get to the point where you are actually here in Europe and playing for your fans...
Daniel: I think one of the biggest challenges with the European tour was that the shows were booked and then kept getting postponed. I swear, it feels like we announced this tour three times with all the postponing and the re-booking. There's a lot of work that felt pointless. I spent a year working on the tour and our European agent. Booking the shows, booking flights, booking accommodations, backline, drivers, roadies, and all sorts of planning for nothing was how it felt.
Was it a lot of work? Absolutely, it's a lot of work. It's always a lot of work being in a band. People think it's a lot of, as you say, the partying and all that, but it's not. It's a lot of work. To be able to finally play the shows was the ultimate payoff and it makes all that work worth it.
After all this COVID craziness did this European tour feel like a mandatory thing, otherwise you would have gone absolutely nuts?
Daniel: 150%. It was the only option. On a personal level, to play open-air festivals like those in Europe is something I've always wanted to do and I've never played festivals of that size. We were playing at Hellfest and Rock the Castle, all these huge things. I'd never done anything that big, so I'd been looking forward to that for three years. Had I not done that stuff, I would have gone crazy, absolutely.
It was time and we were chomping at the bit. It's like we were one of those bands that wanted to tour as soon as it was legal, forget safe, I don't care about safe, man, it's heavy metal it's supposed to be dangerous. Whether that's a popular or an unpopular opinion, I don't give a fuck. It's supposed to be a little bit dangerous and a little bit exciting. The minute that it was legal for us to be traveling internationally, we did it. We were the first international band to go to South America.
We were in Columbia for a one-off while COVID restrictions were still in place. We then went to South America. The first flight that we could book to Brazil, we booked it. We were in the US in November of last year, doing no-restriction shows. We have been adamant that we're not going to let a world crisis like this control our industry for more than two years. We're not going to let them take away our ability to play shows and to socialize with our fans.
These are calculated risks that we decided to take, and people can have their opinions on it and that's fine, but on a mental level, on a passionate level, and on a musical level, there was nothing that could fucking stop us from playing these shows. Landing at Frankfurt from Toronto and kissing the ground in Germany and realizing that we were there, and it was really happening, it was quite a moving moment after over two years of having these shows postponed.
The big takeaway I have is, let's never let this happen again. Let's never allow ourselves to be put in a situation where we're not able to play shows again for two years because the toll it took mentally on the people that are still with us and the toll it took mentally with the people who are no longer with us, is something that we cannot forget. We always have to remember that. We can never forget this awful time because if we forget about it, it can happen again.
MUSIC AGAINST THE CORONAVIRUS
That's very true. Now COVID has also created some positives among musicians, too. There was this project called Metal Against Coronavirus that united many musicians, both known and less known, from all over the world to raise funds against the virus. You were invited to take part and you played the lead guitar parts on a song called "Salvation of My Fate," which was released last April, I believe. How did you get involved and end up playing on that song?
Daniel: I think the only reason they invited me is because they knew I was friends with Danko Jones, and they wanted Danko to sing the vocals. I think that's the only reason [*laughs*].
Well, that's a cool enough reason. Really.
Daniel: It was. That was a project. Even to paint with a broader stroke, I think it's cool. You mentioned that this is something that came out of the pandemic. The collabs in general, these videos, not just the Metal Against Coronavirus compilation that I did, but the compilation videos, and I'm on one with Ted from Death Angel and Danko Jones doing a Slayer song.
Oh, that's cool.
Daniel: There were all these incredible things. It was something that had never really been done before, this idea of four people from four different bands covering a song together over the internet and creating a video for it. I think that that was definitely one of the more positive things that came out of the pandemic. Those were very cool. Then specifically the one that I was on was written by a very talented band.
I'm drawing a massive blank here. It's been a very long day of driving to our first show on this tour. I was up at 6:00 in the morning [*laughs*]. The song was given to me with the melody and lyrics written and an open space for a solo. I got Danko involved and Danko did one of the verses and the chorus, and I did the lead guitar on it. It's just cool to be a part of a project like that, where nobody was in the same room.
It's very cool that something like a pandemic brought everyone together and the fact that the technology exists where everyone can record their stuff long distance. It sounds so good. If you talk to a lot of bands that released albums during the pandemic, you'll find a lot did albums this way for the first time. I interviewed George from Cannibal Corpse, Michel (aka Away) from Voïvod, and many others and I asked them about their pandemic albums.
It was the first time in these people's career that they'd ever written and recorded an album without seeing each other. The first time they ever played the songs together was when they were rehearsing for the first shows after the pandemic. The last two years have been a very interesting time for music production, and we've embraced technology in a way we never have before. It's very interesting.
THE US TOUR
Yes, and it was a very unique idea, I have to say. Before the European tour, you also did six dates in the States with Coroner, Vio-lence, and Lich King at the end of May. I guess all of these shows were packed and successful for you for two reasons. First, fans are allowed to go to concerts more freely and, second, a killer lineup of bands...
Daniel: Yes, it was humbling to be on tour with those guys. Vio-lence are a band on that tour I really like. I got Eternal Nightmare when I was a teenager and Vio-lence is the band I've worshiped forever. The lineup is incredible in that band with Christian playing bass. I am also a huge fan of Fear Factory. He also played in Cypress Hill.
Phil Demmel. The Blackening has to be one of my favorite metal albums of all time. I love Machine Head. Phil to me is a legend in his own right. In and out of Vio-lence, Sean Killian, one of the best front men ever.
Bobby Gustaffson. Bobby Gustaffson, playing guitar, man, like fucking fuel the fire, dude has one of my favorite records and so cool to be sharing space with them. Perry is one of the most talented drummers I've ever seen. Such groove. And then Coroner. What can you say? They're the kings of tech thrash. They're like one of the first proto-Euro bands to sound like that. Not only that, but Tommy's in the band, and Tommy played in Kreator, all sorts of cool little connections there. That band Lich King as well, they have to be one of my favorite younger American bands. I love that band. That bill for me was a dream and we were playing in quite high-profile American cities. We played in New York City at Le Poisson Rouge, which is an amazing venue. We played in Boston and in Philly. It was really an amazing tour. So cool to be sharing the backstage and a stage with those guys every night. These are again bands I've listened to since I was a teenager and here I am on a peer level with them, playing shows with them. It's quite humbling.
I can only assume every show was pretty much sold out on that tour?
Daniel: Every single show was, if not sold out, very close to sold out. I've never come home from a tour with more merch from the other bands in my life. On the final night of the tour, it was just like a merch palooza, we all wore each other's shirts on stage. Phil Demmel was wearing an Exciter shirt on stage every night, Dan Beehler's wearing a Vio-lence shirt on stage every night. It was crazy. I came home with like seven t-shirts from that tour.
[*laughs*], now that's such a cool way to promote your fellow fans at concerts, too.
Daniel: I love it for that. That's the best way of doing some promotion.
I couldn't help noticing that you have been covering Motörhead's "Iron Fist" in your concerts. I guess you have no intention of dropping it from your setlist any time soon?
Daniel: No, it's a lot of fun, man. Exciter has such a long history with Motörhead, playing shows with them at different points in the '80s. From what Dan and Al tell me, that band had a massive impact and Lemmy was like a bit of a father figure to Dan with some of the wisdom he shared with him very early on in the days of touring. When a band like that has such an impact on your own band and the metal scene at large, it only feels right.
If you're going to do a cover, it only feels right to do a cover or tribute to the gods. Motörhead and "Iron Fist" is the perfect song. It's short, it's punchy. It's got an incredible riff. It's got two solos in it. It's a lot of fun, man. You know what, we've done that song now in our set so many times that people ask us to do it at this point, they know we play it. It's cool. We've kind of made it our own and we love playing it.
We have a couple of other covers we've jammed. We have a Priest cover that we've jammed over the years. We've done "Grinder" live a couple of times and we've got Sabbath's "Neon Knights" in our arsenal, but when it comes down to it, I can't think of any song I'd rather close our set with than "Iron Fist."
When you joined Exciter in 2018, replacing John Ricci, it must have changed quite a few things in your own life, because Exciter seems to enjoy being on the road a lot. What kind of journey has it been for you to be a permanent member of this band?
Daniel: Man, it's changed my life in so many ways. I laugh with Dan all the time. He's like, "Dude," because I'll be like, "Yes, man, I was just talking to *insert rockstar here* and they send their regards," and he'll be like, "Dude, you fucking know everybody. Like how do you know everyone?" I'm like, "Dan, they only want to talk to me because I'm in your band." Let's get this straight, what came first, the chicken or the egg. Let's be real here. They want to talk to me because I'm in your band and it's enriched my life to a point that I never expected. In 2017, I got home from a European tour with my band of 10 years, Diemonds. I got back from that Euro tour, and I sat in the terminal and a tear rolled down my face because I thought that it was going to be the last time I toured Europe for the rest of my life. I knew that my band was coming to an end. There were a lot of internal issues and we'd been doing it for a long time, and we had just finished a 25-date grueling European tour that really broke us. I thought that was going to be the end for me. About a year later almost to the day to be sitting in that international terminal again, going back to Europe with Exciter, it really changed my life, man. It made me very optimistic about music again. I was pretty down about it for a while. I went back to a normal job. I was not very happy with where I was in life and the things I was doing. Exciter, if you ask Dan and Al, they'll tell you that I was the best thing that ever happened to them, but if you ask me, I'll say that they were the best thing that ever happened to me. I think that's what makes this relationship so strong. I love what we're doing with Exciter right now. I love that they trust me so much to handle so much of the day-to-day operations of the band. It's really just been an honor to be able to play with my childhood heroes.
How long did it take to learn to play a full set of Exciter songs?
Daniel: I think I had a month to work it out before we had our first jam. From the first phone call I had with Dan Beehler to our first jam or rehearsing for a show, I had about one month to learn the setlist. It was funny because they gave me a set list of songs. I showed up to the rehearsal knowing all the songs, and then we ended up changing the set almost completely. There were songs that I did in my audition rehearsal that we never even played live. It's funny. In between tours, they have been learning new songs all the time. It's like, "Hey, can you learn this song off Unveiling the Wicked, or can you learn this song off Long Live the Loud, or we want to bring back a song off the Kill After Kill album."
It's really cool that they're down to try new stuff and I try and learn them as fast as I can. If I've only got a couple of days to learn it, so be it. I try and get it done and to not be disappointed. I like changing the setlist up every tour. It's fun to put in new songs.
NEW EXCITER MATERIAL – NEXT ALBUM WHEN?
Yes, I believe so. I'm sure people have been asking but when can we expect new Exciter stuff?
Daniel: I think we were hitting a good streak with writing and demoing prior to the pandemic, and then the pandemic hit. Al, Dan and I live in different provinces in Ontario and Quebec in Canada. There was a travel ban between provinces. Old-school heavy metal sometimes means old-school mentality, which means not fully embracing technology. For us to write music and record music, we need to be in the same room. The pandemic really put a very fast stop to us getting together to work on music. By the time we were able to get back together in the same room, it was already time to get back to working on a live set.
There are a handful of songs that are in various stages of completion. Some are done with vocals and solos already, some don't have any leads, some don't have any vocals. There are songs in all sorts of different stages. Plus, Dan Beehler has a million song ideas in his brain and Al Johnson has a million song ideas in his brain. Honestly, man, it's going to be a case of getting through these shows that we've had booked for two years. In August, we fulfill the rest of our Euro shows. We have three festivals, a couple of Scandinavian shows, and some UK shows that have been booked forever that we need to do. There's a couple of US shows in October, November. After that, we should be able to focus on writing again. The intention is still to release a full-length record and to give the fans what they want. Even in my contributions, I do like to make Exciter my own in the style that I play John's songs and the style I play Brian McPhee's songs. I do try and make it my own, but at the end of the day, for a new record, I want my influence to be felt, but I want it to be true Exciter for the old-school fans because they deserve that, and the intention is still to put out a full-length record. I just don't have more of a timeline and we have to get through these live shows first. Then we can get together. We do it the old-school way. We like to be in the same room.
Have you been writing this new Exciter material together or have some of you had a more dominating role in the songwriting process?
Daniel: Dan and Al completely. Dan and Al get together and flesh out songs. It's incredible. Dan Beehler is a drummer who doesn't play guitar, but he'll hum riffs to you. He hums a riff. He's like, "Yes, I want a picking part to sound like, [*humming a rhythm*]" I'm like, "All right." You flesh it out that way. It's very old school, man. It's very, very cool. Dan and Al telling me this is how they wrote songs in the '80s. Someone would come to the room with an idea or Dan would have an idea and hum it out, and John would play it on guitar, or Dan's brother, Richard, was the fourth member of Exciter. He would help out with songwriting and song titles and lyric ideas and all sorts of stuff. It's always been a cool collaborative effort. Dan and Al really, they get together and bless their souls, man, they get together, and they come up with some crazy cool ideas. Then they send me their ideas that they recorded at the jam space together and I add on from there. It's a really cool collaborative process, but they're definitely predominantly the songwriters. They know what they want and I'm happy to facilitate their vision however I can.
Is there anything you are allowed to reveal regarding the name of a label you might work with as far as the band's comeback album is concerned?
Daniel: Yes, there are three labels that email me weekly asking when I'm going to have a record to send them. I don't know which of the three labels that we'll end up with. Maybe it'll be a fourth label. Yes, there's significant interest. Literally weekly I get a check-in from someone at a label asking if I have a record for them yet. They're willing to make offers without even hearing a song. It's pretty funny. Yes, there's lots of interest. I'm sure that we're going to find a great home for the album. We'll go with whatever feels right.
That's cool. Exciter is considered an iconic Canadian metal band among older and younger metal maniacs alike. Whenever I interview some young Speed Metal band, Exciter's name pops up often when talking about influences. Does it make you feel humbled whenever you hear such things even if some may still consider you the new young gun in the Exciter lineup?
Daniel: Yes, it blows my mind. Absolutely, there's new young speed metal bands that are influenced by Exciter. I'm wearing a Vulture shirt right now. We just toured with Vulture.
They are a great young band...
Daniel: They fucking love Exciter. Yes, there are lots of young bands. The thing that gets me, though, man, is I talk to dudes that I look up to. Guys that influenced me with their bands, much bigger bands. I'm talking fucking Metallica, I'm talking Machine Head, I'm talking Dimmu Borgir, I'm talking of all these bands that we've met along the way. These are people I idolize, and they idolize my bandmates. It's wild. It's crazy to me how much of a lasting impact a career that started in the '80s can have on music and the footprint it has left on metal. It really changed from guitar tone to presentation, to imagery, to songs, to lyrics, to sound. It's wild, man, the lasting impression that I think Exciter has had on heavy metal. I'm so honored to be a part of the legacy and whatever part I am, whatever small contribution I've had to that legacy, I'm honored to be a part of it.
How has Exciter's sort of "new coming" been feeling so far? Has it been worth the effort, taking into consideration it hasn't been easy because we have had these COVID years and now there's a war going on in Ukraine, and so on?
Daniel: I wouldn't change anything. It's been incredible, the experience even with two years of fucking sitting there twiddling my thumbs waiting. I wouldn't change anything about it. It's been the best thing that's happened in my musical life since day one.
BACK ON THE HOME TURF
You are about to start your short Canadian tour, starting in Montreal today (July 8). Is it much different to play on your own turf compared to playing here in Europe, for example?
Daniel: Of course, it is. It's lovely to play for friends and family and people from our home country. Lots of family at these shows, lots of friends. The guest lists are fucking huge at these shows. We very rarely play in North America. It's a chance for everyone from brothers, sisters, mothers, uncles, and grandmothers, your fucking neighbor from when you were 15 years old. Everybody wants to come out to these shows.
It's fun in that sense but not to insult my lovely North American people but Europeans and Latin America and that's where the real maniacs are. It's unreal. The shows here are on a much smaller scale. They're a little less wild. It's more of a service to old-school fans who saw the band in the '80s when they were getting started and more of a service to friends and family who are fucking sick of watching us on YouTube. They want to see it in person. Finally, we bring the Exciter machine home. We're well oiled. We've just been in Europe for the month and before that, in South America, so we're very loose. We're ready to play. It'll be nice to play for our friends and family but man I cannot wait to get back to Europe in August and see the maniacs out there in Europe. They're the craziest.
HEAVY METAL 24/7
OK, I have one more question left and then I let you go to prepare for your show in Montreal. How do you split your time between Exciter and BangerTV? I guess both put bread and butter on your table, so is it sometimes hard to decide how to make this combo work in the the most ideal way?
Daniel: You know what, you're absolutely right. It's a great question. I'd like to tell you it's all about balance, but I have to be honest with you, Luxi. I don't live a balanced life. No days off ever. It's just nonstop work. For example, yesterday I was in the Banger studio filming a video. I was there on Tuesday filming a video. On the days in between, I'm booking shows for Exciter. I'm streaming on my own Twitch channel.
Today I'm out here driving to a show and performing with Exciter. After this call, I have a meeting with our American booking agent to talk about the US shows. It doesn't stop and I wish that there was a healthier answer for you, but I don't really have one. There is no splitting the time. It's just all my time is dedicated to heavy metal and the various outlets that I work for. It's my entire life. This is what I do. I'm in no way complaining. This is what I do.
If it means I have to work 85 hours a week, it's okay because I'm working on heavy metal. They say find what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life. That's not exactly true. However, it does make the work a lot easier when it's something you fucking love and I love heavy metal and I wouldn't change a thing.
Sounds like you have got a dream job.
Daniel: Yes, exactly.
I think that was all for me. Thanks a lot for your time, Daniel, and, of course, all the best to your mini-tour in Canada as well.
Daniel: Thank you so much. I'm happy we finally got to do this and hopefully, we'll see you next time that we're out in Europe. Hopefully, we'll play in Finland again. I had a lovely time there. It was amazing.
Just remember to not kill yourself with all the work that you're doing.
Daniel: I'll do my best. Have a great time. Have a great day. Thanks for your time.
Thanks again for this nice conversation. Bye-bye.
|Other information about Exciter on this site|
|Review: Thrash Speed Burn|
|Review: New Testament|
|Review: Death Machine|
|Review: Death Machine|
|Review: Heavy Metal Maniac|
|Review: Long Live the Loud|
|Review: Violence & Force|
|Interview with John Ricci (guitar) on January 3, 2011 (Interviewed by MetalMike)|
|Interview with drummer and vocalist Dan Beehler and bassist Allan Johnson on December 20, 2014 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with guitarist John Ricci on November 13, 2017 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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