Exciter Are Back and Pushing Everything to the Max
Canadian speed metal maniacs set to play first US show with original lineup in 30 years.
Dude, Exciter are back together. And by that we mean the original lineup of Dan Beehler (vocals/drums), John Ricci (guitar) and Alan Johnson (bass), the same trio of Canadian speed metal masters who cranked out the unholy bullet-belt trinity of Heavy Metal Maniac, Violence & Force, and Long Live the Loud in the mid-80s. We won’t go so far as to say this is the second coming of Jesus or anything, but it’s definitely the second coming of Canadian Heavy Metal Jesus. Exciter are one of the original speed metal bands: Their debut, Heavy Metal Maniac, came out a month before Metallica’s Kill ’Em All. That lineup hasn’t played together since ’85, but Exciter has soldiered on over the decades—minus a couple of brief periods of nonexistence—in various formations. What’s weird is that there’s been no single consistent member of the band since their formation in 1979. Beehler and Johnson did two Exciter albums without Ricci in the late 80s; Beehler and Ricci did an album without Johnson in ’92; and Ricci did the five most recent Exciter albums without either Beehler or Johnson. But all that will be relegated to the heavy metal history books when the original power trio storm the stage as Saturday night headliners at the Defenders Of The Old festival in Brooklyn this March. Oddly, the now-52-year-old guy who screams while playing drums at a hundred miles an hour isn’t sweating the lineup’s first US show in 30 years. “I don’t feel any pressure at all,” Beehler says breezily. “It’s nothing but fun, so I feel great. I’m really appreciative that people remember us after all these years. It’s gonna be a great night, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Noisey: What’s the story behind the original Exciter lineup getting back together? It seemed like it was never gonna happen.
Dan Beehler: Yeah, we never thought it would happen. Alan and I talked about it over the years, but we never thought we’d see it. Here in our hometown of Ottawa, Alan and I found out through the grapevine that the band had fired John and they were carrying on with the name. So Al and I were like, “What the fuck’s going on with this?” I mean, it’s our legacy, too. My brother thought of the band name. There’s a lot of history there. So I went to talk to John to find out what the hell was going on, and sure enough, he said they booted him out and were carrying on with the name. So I told him we’d stand behind him 100 percent to get the name back so he could do whatever the hell he wanted to do with it. Al and I weren’t out to take it back for ourselves—John certainly earned the name after all these years. But one thing led to another and the three of us got back together. We’re planning to do a new album, too.
When John left Exciter in ’85, it seemed like there was quite a bit of animosity between you and him.
Oh, yeah. We were fighting over stupid, stupid shit when John left the band. Al and I carried on and did two albums without him. But it’s funny because if we saw each other on the street back then, it was like, “Hey, man! How’s it going? How’s the family?” But in the press we were tearing each other apart. That went on for a few years, and then John and I got back together [without Alan] in ’91 to do Kill After Kill, so the hatchet was buried long ago. When we got back together this time, we couldn’t even remember what we were fighting about. [Laughs] The whole thing was just really stupid.
Exciter is unusual in that there’s not a single member who’s been in the band the entire time.
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s true. I guess John was there the longest, though. He was on the first three albums with us, obviously, and then Kill After Kill, and then he went on for 18 years with whomever he had in the band.
How did you first get into heavy metal?
Everything was influenced by my brother. He’s passed away now, but he was the fourth and silent member of Exciter. He had a massive heart attack in ’99, but he wrote the lyrics for “Rain Of Terror,” “Under Attack” and a bunch of other things. He never missed a rehearsal. He critiqued our first three albums from the couch, and we knew if he got up off the couch, we had something. Everything we did, we ran it by him. He was a couple of years older than me, and in the early ’70s I just followed his lead. He got me into Alice Cooper and KISS and Aerosmith. When I was 15, I joined a band with Alan Johnson and we always had a craving to do the heaviest stuff we could possibly do. We went on for a couple of years, and obviously Black Sabbath was around back then, early Judas Priest and stuff like that. The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal hadn’t started yet, but we were always into the heaviest stuff we could find. When that band broke up, we joined up with John in 1979 and it just so happened that we were the three heaviest guys in the city in terms of the music we listened to. I was 17 and Alan was 19—we were kids, but we just had this craving to the heaviest stuff we could possibly do, and I think that’s why John chose us.
What was the metal scene like in Ontario in those days? You had bands like Anvil, Slaughter and Piledriver in Toronto while you guys were in Ottawa. Were the two scenes completely separate?
They were, because people from Toronto looked down on people from Ottawa. If you were from Ottawa, you had to move to Toronto to get anywhere. There was no Internet back then, so it was a very different world. Once the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal happened, it started to catch on everywhere and things kind of equaled out. But in the early days, we really had to fight for our place. If you sent demo tapes to record companies in Toronto, they just kind of laughed it off and mailed it back to you or just threw it in the garbage. You had to be from Toronto. So when Heavy Metal Maniac took off, it was like, “Oh my god—a band from Ottawa is actually making it?” But before that, it was a rough ride. We didn’t just pop up in 1983 when that album came out. We started in 1979, and there were a lot of hard years there. Being from Canada was hard enough, but being from Ottawa, which is the seat of government and didn’t have much of a music scene, just made it worse. But we refused to move. We just persisted.
Did you have rivalries with any of the Toronto bands?
Not really. We met Anvil way back, probably in ’79 or early ’80, and they were never like that towards us. We were always friends with them. There were a few bands from Toronto that didn’t like us, and a lot of bands from Ottawa. We’d come back from a tour in Europe and nobody would talk to us because we were getting somewhere and they weren’t. They were just jealous of our success. But again, if you weren’t from Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver, it was like, “Who the hell are you?” That’s just what it was like back then. After Heavy Metal Maniac came out, we got a little more respect.
Heavy Metal Maniac was originally intended to be a demo, wasn’t it?
That’s right. Our sound guy recorded it in his parents’ basement on an eight-track. It was done as a demo, so I never really finished any of the lyrics, and I sang the whole thing in one night. It was something that we thought would go to record companies so we could get a deal and then we’d throw it in the garbage and do the album for real, you know? [Laughs] So when Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records said, “This is the album,” we were like, “What?” I mean, it’s full of mistakes and out of key singing, but somehow our soundman just got the best out of us and it was monstrous at the time.
A drummer who is also the lead singer is always a rarity, but it was basically unprecedented in metal when you started doing it. Were you aware of any other lead singer/drummers in metal at that time?
No. There are a few guys doing it now, but even to this day I’ve never seen anyone do it at the velocity that I do it. [Laughs] I’m not tooting my own horn, but I’ll tell you: It’s hard. At 52 years old, it’s still pretty hard. When Exciter started, every drummer wanted to be Neil Peart, and I was definitely one of them. Alan and John were singing—we did some shows around town with them singing before I started to—but their voices weren’t that great and we wanted to get to the next level. At one rehearsal, our roadie set up a microphone for me. I was like, “What the hell’s this?” And the other guys said, “You try singing.” So I tried it and they were like, “You’re the singer!” So I was kinda forced into it. I figured if it was gonna get us out there playing, I’ll go with it for now. And then it never went away, which meant I couldn’t be Neil Peart anymore. [Laughs]
The biggest singing drummers at that time were guys like Phil Collins, Don Henley and Levon Helm. That’s who people thought of.
Yeah, or the guy from Triumph. [Laughs] It wasn’t a cool thing. And a lot of those guys had another singer in the band so they could split it up or whatever. But to go 90 minutes full out, I think I was the first to do it. People started to freak out over it, so we stuck with it. I wasn’t the best singer in the world, but people would be like, “You gotta see these guys. I don’t know how this guy does it, but he does it.”
I heard you used to black out during the crazy scream you do on “Evil Sinner.”
Yeah, I actually still do. It happened a little bit on that song at rehearsal the other night, and I kind of chuckled to myself. I have a few blackout points in the show, but I’ve had them since the early ’80s. It’s not like, “Hey, man—you’re getting old. You’re gonna have a heart attack.” It happened even when I was 22! On certain screams, like “Evil Sinner,” my body is drumming and there’s just no oxygen left. When I get to the point where I black out, I kind of back off the scream to come out of it. Magically, my body keeps drumming. I don’t know how that happens.
Does it make you nervous to be blacking out at age 52, though?
No. I push harder, man. Exciter has never been about backing off. If we did this reunion and I didn’t push myself as hard as I can, it would’ve been false. We do everything to the max—as heavy as we can and as hard as we can. And if I croak on my drums, I’ll be happy. [Laughs] It’s a euphoric thing, too, man. It’s just pushing yourself right to the point where there’s nothing left. If I ever black out and don’t come back? Well, at least I died happy.
J. Bennett suspects that Dan Beehler might be some kind of Canadian superhero.