Now I can die with a light heart. One of the greatest missions in my life is completed and I’m finally at peace with myself and the entire world, something I’ve never experienced before. A couple of years ago I was lucky to ‘talk’ to John Ricci, it was an undescribable and incomparable feeling of coming up with something really worth all those sleepless nights facing a computer’s display – you’d better be my guest and share that rapture of mine at http://hem.passagen.se/xtortion/interview1.html to see what I mean. That interview must be a nice companion to the one waiting for you below. The only dark cloud on that clear horizon of my satisfaction was the fact that it was just one piece of a puzzle called EXCITER anyway. The other two, wild beast of a vocalist and pounding drummer Dan Beehler and bass guitar tamer Allan Johnson seemed absolutely impossible to reach, as their traces on Metal landscapes had been lost and covered with dust of many years by that time. The traces, but not memories! There was literally nothing to strengthen that hope, nothing absolutely, but still I believe any old time EXCITER maniac had been looking for their return. Let it be subconsciously or anything, but there’s always been some tiny gleam of hope flickering at the bottom of our hearts. And now… there’s a fire coming out of that sparkle! The fire, once inflamed by “Heavy Metal Maniac”, is still burning, the puzzle is finally assembled (unlike the real EXCITER line-up, unfortunately), so that’s it. Now I can die with a light heart. Excuse my emotions, a ‘journalist’ in me has never been able to kill a fan. And remember – “Ars longa, vita brevis”
Welcome back, Heavy Metal Maniacs, we missed you so much! Did you miss us too? Your fans, those glorious times, Metal loud and proud way, did you miss it all?
Dan: “Thanks for the welcome. We missed all of you EXCITER fans! It’s great to be back!”
Al: “I’ve missed it a lot over the years, its great to be back with Dan, its just like old times only a lot more fun now.”
We shall surely come back to your comeback a bit later, and now let’s recall how did it all begin. Please, make it clear once and for all: was HELLRAZOR born in summer of 1978 or in May of 1979?
Dan: “HELLRAZOR was John’s band with another bass player and drummer, they quit and shortly after Allan and I joined in May 1979 (I was 17). We remained HELLRAZOR for a few months and ‘my brother’ came up with EXCITER from, of course, “Stained Class”!”
Wasn’t it one of your roadies suggesting that new name in 1980? Anyway, did you really have roadies already at that early stage?
Dan: “As I said, my brother came up with the name. Yes, we had a full crew even before our first album. Of course my brother and tons of other friends of whom we brought on the road.”
If I’m not mistaken, you’ve been friends for ages even before HELLRAZOR was born, haven’t you? Then I suppose it must have been a bit hard for John to be the third one in the company of two long time friends. How and when did you get acquainted with him and how did he fit your company in the beginning?
Dan: “Allan and I were friends before, but not John. We were never really that close through EXCITER. Allan and I played in a band for two years called JET BLACK with Brian McPhee (“Unveiling The Wicked”), then we tried out for John’s band. The chemistry was there so we went with it.”
Can you recall who did make a design of that simple but effective EXCITER logo?
Dan: “Our logo was designed by a long-time friend and artist Andy Brown. He’s also responsible for the ‘BËEHLER’ logo.”
Previously to your vinyl debut on the “US Metal Vol. II” compilation you had a two tracks demo recorded in 1980 and later a 4-tracker which included ‘World War III’, the song that launched EXCITER’s career. Did you have any other songs besides ‘World War III’ during that period which had anything to do with the band’s trademark style it became famous with some time later?
Dan: “As I recall, there are a couple of songs from the ‘World War III’ era that got dumped just before the first album, but they were replaced with ‘Stand Up And Fight’, ‘Iron Dogs’ etc… we were just coming into our own.”
How long did it take you to write and record “Heavy Metal Maniac”? Despite its raw sound it reveals lots of efforts put into it, and at the same time it enjoys such a primeval charm which only the spontaneous ideas may have
Dan: “We rehearsed a lot back then and the album was written over a long period of time – months. We recorded it in about a week in our soundman’s basement. We knew it sounded rough but it was only a demo. Mike Varney latter remastered it before releasing it.”
Mike Varney was the first to believe in EXCITER and to give you a chance. Moreover, if I’m not mistaken, it was exactly him who came up with the idea to leave “Heavy Metal Maniac” as it was and don’t do any re-recordings. How much are you obliged to him, what do you think?
Dan: “We owe him all of the credit for pressing it. We thought it was a demo. He heard something and he was right.”
Anyway, why did you part ways with Mike after the first album?
Dan: “Mike found out some of our lyrics were pretty evil, so he passed.”
Do you think things would have been very different if you had an opportunity to re-record and properly produce “Heavy Metal Maniac”? Anyway, what’s “wrong” in its version which all of us know literally by heart?
Dan: “I think we would have lost that raw power if we recorded "Maniac". We have never been able to capture that sound again.”
I understand pretty well that I’m asking too much, but maybe you’ll be able to pardon an old EXCITER maniac for his impudence. I could have asked what was your favorite songs on “Heavy Metal Maniac”, but for me this album means so much that I’ll dare to ask you to say some words, sort of personal comments about all of its songs. Some interesting details, why you like / dislike a particular song, things like that. I’m sure that any of your old fans would be happy to read that, but if that’s simply too much – well, forget it.
Dan: “I still like every song on "Maniac". I can’t say that for the other albums though. ‘Stand Up And Fight’ was written very fast with John and myself, same with ‘Maniac’. I came to John with the riff and ideas for ‘Iron Dogs’ after being blown away by "Mob Rules" by SABBATH. ‘Mistress Of Evil’, ‘Cry Of The Banshee’, ‘Rising Of The Dead’ were Allan Johnson classics beginning to end. Great lyrics, he listened to a lot of old MAIDEN back then. ‘Blackwitch’ and ‘Under Attack’, again were John and I, with my brother doing the lyrics for ‘Under Attack’. My favourite is ‘Blackwitch’.”
Al: “I agree with Dan, I think that songwise it was our strongest by far. My favourites would be ‘Rising Of The Dead’ and ‘Blackwitch’.”
Have you ever seen any parallels between “Heavy Metal Maniac” and HELLHAMMER’s “Apocalyptic Raids”? I don’t mean they sound alike or have similar riffs, no, nothing of that. But their out of this world heaviness, raw power and unique atmosphere is what unite them and I, for example, often listen to one of them right after the other. Can you see my point?
Dan: “Never heard HELLHAMMER’s "Apocalyptic Raids", I’m going to find it now though.”
Al: “Who the hell is HELLHAMMER?” (laughs)
Have you ever felt yourselves to be the prisoners of your frst album? You see, besides being a milestone Metal record, it has also confined you severely within its very strict borders, as the fans simply wouldn’t accept anything different from EXCITER. So I wonder, aren’t you going to start hating your own creation “Heavy Metal Maniac” one day because of that?
Dan: “I would never hate that album for those reasons. I’m proud that I did what I did. We never matched it and I blame that a lot on the producers we worked with. We were prisoners I guess. Still am!” (Not only you – we all are!!! – Tim)
How long did it take you to realize that it’s absolutely impossible to top this album?
Dan: “I think it clicked in when album after album we begged the producer, engineers, to make us sound like that. It was the same band on the floor. Capture it! I guess we should have went back to our soundman’s basement, then we could have done it again.”
You played your first tour supporting none other than BLACK SABBATH in August 1983, only several months after the debut LP release. How was that as a learning experience? And how did they like your music, by the way?
Dan: “We only did one show with SABBATH. They didn’t give a shit what the opening act was but we were freaking out. There were 7000 people.”
Dan, do you still remember the recipe of mixing “White Russians” you used to drink during your early tours? I live in Russia, but I have no idea how it’s possible to mix vodka with milk, that must be something really weird ; -)
Dan: “I never drank White Russians – I drank Black Russians.”
Al: “…” (laughing out loud bigtime)
Don’t you think that since the release of “Heavy Metal Maniac” things maybe went too fast for EXCITER? I mean your first album, which wasn’t even produced properly, was accepted with open arms by the legions of Heavy Metal maniacs and even critics worldwide, the tour with BLACK SABBATH shortly afterwards, great sales numbers of the second album and more successful tours, and so on and so forth. Didn’t that fast pace harm the band in the end? There’s a thing called “star fever”, you know ; -)
Dan: “It was never fast enough. It wasn’t instant stardom, we did a lot of small shows back then and a lot of time passed before we realized that we had a following in Europe and the States.”
Al: “I agree totally, it seems to me like we did a whole lot of sitting around doing fuck all waiting for things to happen. We wanted everyone to keep up with our pace of doing things but no one could, so we had to stop and wait for everyone else to catch up to us, which really sucked.”
I guess many fans up to this day underrate Allan’s role in the band, although in reality it was quite important one when it came both to composing and performing, wasn’t it?
Dan: “Allan never really got enough credit. It was always John and I in the spotlight. Allan came up with some of the best songs EXCITER ever did. Now that I am playing with him again, I realize how good of a bass player he is. He always pulled it off live too – show after show!”
Al: “Barely” (laughs)
Even though I’ve never had an honor to be acquainted with any of you personally, I’ll dare to suppose that besides all that said above Allan played one more role in EXCITER. It may be absolutely unnoticed by the fans, but deadly important for the band nevertheless. Weren’t you, Al, a kind of a peacemaker, a tension-killer between Dan and John?
Al: “Not really, I always sided with Dan all the time. We were always on the same level concerning everything, so that kind of put tension between John and I as well. In the end, just before John quit, we were doing a U.S. tour and Dan and I would be partying together and John wouldn’t even speak with us at all.”
As far as I know, John had always been strictly against adding the second guitarist. Have you ever felt you needed one maybe and tried to talk John into trying it out?
Dan: “We never thought about another guitarist back then. It was John and that was it.”
What was usually concealed by pretty neutral “Music by EXCITER”? Who was it to bring the main idea most often, how was it worked on, etc?
Dan: “We wrote in different ways. As I said before, Allan wrote some songs right through – other times we would work together. Same with John. He would come up with a riff and I would start singing some of my ideas.”
At which point did you begin to realize that you were doing something right, that EXCITER would be the thing for you to be proud of for the rest of your life? You see, there’s a whole generation of Heavy Metal maniacs brought up on the album of the same name and the rest of your early ones
Dan: “We realized after the first album moved so many people.”
What’s your opinion on the two following albums, “Violence And Force” and “Long Live The Loud” from the viewpoint of the band’s development? Were you satisfied with them? Could both of them be seen as the steps in the right direction?
Dan: “I think "Violence" was an o.k. album but it got lost in production. Never lived up to "Maniac". “Long Live The Loud” was a mistake. Personally I thought it was weak. At that point we should have put out an over-the-top Thrash album. If John hadn’t quit at that point I think it would have been next.”
When I asked John Ricci what was the biggest mistake he had ever made with EXCITER, he said: “The biggest mistake I ever made in Exciter is to quit the band in August ’85, I still regret it, to this day. Maybe things would be different today, if the original line-up still existed.” It would have been very interesting to learn your opinion now. Do you think things could be very different if you continued as an original trio?
Dan: “As I said, if John stayed the next album would have killed.”
Al: “If John had stayed we all would’ve killed each other” (laughs)
So what were your biggest mistakes ever made with EXCITER then? Wasn’t one of them to let John go?
Dan: “Yes. Mistake #2 – getting Brian McPhee.”
Al: “Everything we did after the first album was a mistake. With the BËEHLER project we’re doing things the way we should’ve done them back then, and we’re finally having a great time and a lot of fun doing it as well.”
Dan, don’t you think that since the “Long Live The Loud” album your high screams have started to be more and more overdone?
Dan: “Yeah, it was a big scream fest back then. I’ve brought my vocals down a lot for BËEHLER.”
Al: “Dan’s vocals are fierce now, way better than with EXCITER. He has more of a range now, he can do all the lows and highs and everything in between. And of course he can still shatter glass.”
Who do you think you are: a singing drummer or a singer, playing drums? Do you see yourself as a singer or as a drummer in the first place?
Dan: “A bit of both. I don’t concentrate more on one or the other.”
Even though you seemed to be very enthusiastic about your new guitarists, I dare to doubt the seriousness of your hopes concerning the bright future of the band at the time. How far am I from truth here? You see, “Unveiling The Wicked” was a good Heavy Metal album, but it wasn’t a good EXCITER album; Brian is a very skilled guitarist with his own style, but he wasn’t a good EXCITER guitarist and his style was quite different from John’s which had become a trademark of the band.
Dan: “Like I said – mistake #2 – Brian McPhee.”
Looking at it now, do you think you had enough reasons to feel insulted by your fans for our dislike of “Unveiling The Wicked” and especially “Exciter” just because they sounded not enough EXCITER-like for us? And how did you look at it back then? Didn’t our stubborn unwillingness to follow those winds of change in EXCITER’s sail use to drive you mad?
Dan: “This was a very dark time in my career. Brian was trying to pull the band in a direction that was wrong. I just wanted to get back to sounding like ‘Maniac’. There were constant fights everyday.”
How did you come to that disappointing decision to pass a microphone on to another guy? Looking back, do you think it was a good idea? Besides, what was the point in taking the new vocalist who tried to sing like you did anyway?
Dan: “It was a huge mistake – another dark era.”
It’s pretty amusing that having never been the one itself, EXCITER influenced tons of Thrash bands, let alone the fact that Thrash itself is coming basically from music like yours mixed with Punk. I wonder what’s your relation to that genre? Is there anything interesting, exciting in it for you?
Dan: “None of us were ever into Punk. We were aware of it, but that’s it.”
Dan, couldn’t you tell about your participation in KILLJOY and THRASHER in between the first split and reunion of EXCITER?
Dan: “THRASHER was done in ’85, just after "Long Live The Loud". Carl Canedy wrote the song ‘Burn At The Speed Of Light’ and asked me to go to Rochester and sing it. KILLJOY was a project that I did with David Ledden ("Kill After Kill"). Dave did all of the singing, but I think it’s some of the best drumming I’ve ever done. Never played live.”
Al, didn’t you take part in the first reunion of EXCITER in 1990 as well? I remember hearing something like that, as if you were into it at first but then decided to quit after several rehearsals. Was it really so?
Al: “Yeah, I went down for just one rehearsal and while Dan and John seemed to be very enthusiastic by the whole thing I just couldn’t get into it at all. I remember standing there playing ‘Violence And Force’ for what seemed to be the one millionth time and thinking to myself, “Fuck, I just don’t want to do this anymore”. Dan had had an opportunity to do some other stuff like KILLJOY etc, and John had done BLACKSTAR, but I had not done anything after the EXCITER split, so I wanted to explore that. I was just totally sick and tired of EXCITER and all the bullshit that went along with it. When the band split it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I finally did try a few other projects but nothing really came to anything. Then I just quit the music biz altogether. Until now, after hearing the first BEEHLER demo I just had to get involved. I am totally excited about being a part of all this, and this is the first time in a very long time I’ve felt this way about anything. These are the best songs we’ve ever written.”
Despite a somehow thin, not powerful enough sound and evident lack of Allan’s bass, “Kill After Kill” turned out to be quite a strong album, at times it even seems to come from the early days. Your second coming worked well, so why was it so short-lived?
Dan: “We got screwed by the record company once again, and not long after I left, but I thought our comeback was going to be bigger than what it was.”
As far as I know, when you decided to kill EXCITER for the second time after the tour with RAGE in 1993, you sold your drumkit and wanted to have nothing to do with Heavy Metal anymore. Is it true? What were you up to after that?
Dan: “I didn’t sell my drum kit but I walked away from the music business. I had it at that point. Plus I had two young kids and I have a Painting business to bring in money.”
What about you, Al? You did quit shortly after the “Exciter” album, have you had anything to do with Heavy Metal since that?
Al: “Like I said before, I tried a couple of different projects, one of which involved Brian McPhee and Jaques Belanger, but they were very short lived and didn’t work out at all.”
Were any of you approached by John Ricci concerning joining him in 1996 when he decided to put up another EXCITER?
Dan: “John called me many times and I would never return his calls. I was finished with that part of my life.”
Al: “Yeah, same here, John would call me up and ask me to play again all the time. Then one day a few years back I decided I wanted to play again, so I called up John and said “do you need a bass player?” and he said “no, I’ve already got one”, that was that.”
Have you bothered yourselves to listen to the two new EXCITER albums and what’s your opinion on them? And the new EXCITER in general, how do you feel seeing an almost completely new band under your old banner?
Dan: “I have listened to John’s albums. I don’t think it sounds like EXCITER at all, but they’re all good players.”
Al: “I’ve heard some of it, doesn’t sound like EXCITER at all, which is kind of ironic because after "Unveiling The Wicked" we were always criticized for not sounding like the original EXCITER. I don’t think he should still be using the name because its definitely not EXCITER at all.”
Once you got a great lesson in what the real EXCITER should be. Now both you and John are trying to go your own, separate ways again, so wasn’t that lesson convincing enough in the end? Isn’t there any way to leave all your personal differences with John behind and finally bring the real EXCITER back to life?
Dan: “I don’t think the original band will ever get back together. He has his thing and Al and I have ours.”
How did you regain your interest in Heavy Metal after the years of keeping out of the scene?
Dan: “After my brother died I had an overwhelming feeling to do something in his memory because he was such a huge part of EXCITER. He always wanted me to come back and he bugged me for years.” (It’s both strange and very sad that sometimes we have to loose too much to realize something that is actually quite obvious… I’m really sorry, Dan. – Tim)
Al: “Yeah, Richard would be damn proud of what we’re doing now.”
What about the copyright of EXCITER’s name? Would you be able to use it if there wasn’t John Ricci’s current incarnation of the band around? And would you like to do that in the first place?
Dan: “I don’t want to bring back another version of EXCITER (like SAXON does), I’m not into that. When we play live we will do some EXCITER songs, but that’s it.”
Well, you may fool the new fans with “Millenium Metal”, new bandname, etc, but to the old fans of yours it’s obvious that BEEHLER is nothing less than EXCITER. Your vision of EXCITER is exactly as it should have been, isn’t it?
Dan: “I disagree. BËEHLER is not EXCITER. We try very hard not to sound like EXCITER. It’s going to happen from time to time because of me and Al, but we want to take this somewhere else.”
How far does BEEHLER’s plans and ambitions extend? Is it destined to accomplish what EXCITER has failed to?
Dan: “I’m not looking that far ahead. We did a demo, we have another demo coming out soon, then we will make an album, after that who knows.”
I guess you must have a more or less stable life outside the band by now — a permanent job, a family maybe, and so on and so forth. Then what’s the nature of that power that doesn’t leave you alone and doesn’t let you lead a comfortable life, what’s the nature of that power that makes you launch some Metal once again?
Dan: “Anger, rage, hate, stress – the normal everyday feelings we get drives me to write with aggression. Plus it’s fun.”
I strongly believe that to make anything really outstanding in any kind of art, an artist must be a fanatic, a maniac in a way, not just a talented artist, even a professional one. Do you agree? Anyway, was a title of your debut longplay autobiographical at the time? Are you proud to call yourselves the same way even nowadays or is it anything belonging to the past?
Dan: “We never took the name Heavy Metal Maniac too serious, off stage we were all pretty quiet guys.”
Do you see BEEHLER as the last entrance to that great time called youth?
Dan: “For Allan and I it’s one more chance to put something out that we are proud of.”
This is your third attempt to conquer the world with your music, how much are you waiting from it? Is it going to be the most deciding one, your “all or nothing” venture?
Dan: “It’s not really all or nothing, but we are going to put out the heaviest album we can and take it from there.”