Interview with guitarist John Ricci
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 13, 2017
The original lineup of Canadian Speed Metal merchants Exciter got back together in April 2014. The guys who recorded classics like Heavy Metal Maniac, Violence & Force and Long Live the Loud were heavily influenced by the NWOBHM bands but took the whole musical concept much further by adding a fair amount of speed and aggression to their songs. After the band's Feel the Knife EP, released in December 1985 by Music for Nations, guitarist John Ricci left for a time but returned in 1992 to record the Kill After Kill album (original bassist Allan Johnson had left the band after the self-titled fifth album, released in 1988).
Surely one of the most memorable tours Exciter ever did with the original lineup - Dan Beehler on vocals and drums, John Ricci on guitar and Allan Johnson on bass - was their run in 1982 in support of Motörhead and Mercyful Fate.
Guitarist John Ricci, who basically created the template for Exciter's sound, continued doing music and albums under the Exciter name from 1997-2010 as the only member from the original lineup until April 2014 and we all know what happened after that, don't we? The original Exciter lineup was back together after 29 long years which undoubtedly made many fans of the band "excited", to say the least.
Exciter has played several, well-selected shows since the reunion, mostly at festivals but also a South American tour in February 2017. On October 28, 2017 the band was booked for the 2-day indoor Heavy Metal Cauldron festival as one of the two headlining acts (Venom Inc. being the other). The Metal Crypt met John Ricci at a hotel in Helsinki, Finland, earlier in the day and had a chat with him about many things related to Exciter's past and present, and even beyond.
Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland for the very first time with Exciter...
John: Thank you. It's really the first time for us to play in Finland. We've never come to Finland during our whole career and we're really looking forward to playing in front of a Finnish audience. We get invited to play all over the world and sometimes the conditions aren't right.
Hopefully, the crowd will like it because back in the day we were considered pretty aggressive, a Speed Metal band. There are so many good, young bands today that are heavier and faster [*laughs*] than we are. We always try to give the audience 100%.
THE BEGINNING OF EXCITER
Luxi: Back in the day, as you just said, Exciter was considered quite extreme because you played so fast and heavy, Dan did these really high screams and so on. People said, "Wow...! These guys sound really darn wicked," and stuff like that.
John: We had an innocent beginning. We didn't purposely make our goal to play super-fast and heavy. That music just came from being creative. We had a lot of '70s influences like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Saxon. We were very influenced by British Heavy Metal. When it was time to write music, we just started writing guitar riffs using those bands as our inspiration, not trying to sound like them but using their inspiration.
That's where the speed came from, listening to those great British bands. I think that the riff that established the Exciter sound was the one I wrote for "World War III", which is a song that appeared on U.S. Metal Vol. II. When I sent the 4-song demo to Shrapnel Records in San Francisco, they were blown away this one particular song. The other three weren't very good but they signed us right away to appear on U.S. Metal Vol. II.
Then we took that guitar riff and we used it as a template for all the Exciter music to follow including all the songs from Heavy Metal Maniac. That's how it all started. It was very, like I said before, innocent. We were just playing music that we were passionate about.
Luxi: What kind of expectations do you have about your first appearance in front of crazy Finnish Heavy Metal maniacs? I know you have fans up here in the north because I saw some yesterday at the venue wearing Exciter shirts...
John: Well, we have a strong fan base, but we never take anything for granted even though we've been around for thirty plus years and we've toured the world and recorded many albums. We still feel like every time we play live we have to win over the audience. We never take it for granted. We go on stage and we put more effort into it which I think is very important. Just because we're an established band doesn't mean the audience is going to react and go crazy.
Luxi: The lineup for this festival looks damn good. Antichrist and Merciless from Sweden are killer and so are Ranger and Bonehunter from Finland. Are you with any of these newer bands on the bill tonight?
John: Unfortunately, we aren't familiar with a lot of the younger bands for a number of reasons. Their records and CDs are not available in Canada for one reason or another, unless you go online and search for their music. The only band we're familiar with is Venom Inc., of course. The other bands we don't know too much about.
Luxi: Ranger from Finland is heavily influenced by Exciter. If you have time after your show, you should definitely check them out...
John: After tonight's show I don't know how long we're going to stay. I guess they're playing after us.
Luxi: Yes, right after you.
John: We may have to leave quite soon after our set because of our flight arrangement. We have to get to the airport pretty early. The promoter put us earlier in the night. We're probably going to hang around the venue for a little bit after the show before we go. If we have a chance to see them, we definitely will.
Luxi: What about your set list tonight? Will it be mainly songs from your first three albums or will tonight's set also contain a surprise or two?
John: We only play the music from the first three albums, for a number of reasons. People are familiar with the songs, of course. There are always songs that stand out more than others. We have "Long Live the Loud", "Beyond the Gates of Doom", "Heavy Metal Maniac", "Violence & Force", "Pounding Metal", "Iron Dogs", "Victims of Sacrifice" and so on. All the classic Exciter songs. We vary the songs and change it up a little bit, of course. We also play a song called "Rain of Terror", which is off the Kill After Kill album which was just myself and Dan. Allan Johnson wasn't with us at that time.
Luxi: Yes, I know.
John: We just play the first three albums and we don't bother with the other albums. I mean, that's all good music, even the era where it was just myself and the other three guys from 1996 to 2013. There were really good records like Dark Command and Blood of Tyrants [*laughs*]. During that era, I wrote all the music and lyrics because obviously, I know the Exciter style. The other three guys in the band at the time definitely added their input. For now, we will concentrate on songs from the first three albums.
Luxi: What about "Evil Sinner" off the Violence & Force album? It's one of my favorite Exciter songs from the band's early days...
John: Funny you should say that because last night we were discussing the song list. "Evil Sinner" was in the set and apparently, it's not in the set tonight. We know Dan does it well. We're still passionate about the music and really enthused to play the songs. We don't get tired of playing the same songs like some bands. Those are the songs that your fans want to hear, that's what you have your fan base. Those songs made you popular, why would you not want to play them? Why would you do a half-assed rendition of the song? Play it like it was the first time that you played it, that's our attitude.
NEW RIFFS WRITTEN
Luxi: Is there some new stuff coming in the near future?
John: We started to write when we reunited in 2014 but the songs haven't developed. They sound good, they sound like classic Exciter, but we're not a full-time band. We're getting these gig offers from around the world to play in South America, Japan, the US. Every time we start writing songs we get sidelined because we must rehearse the set for the next festival, the next show.
We set the new material aside and unfortunately that's where it is right now. We start and then we stop. What I can say, it sounds like classic Exciter, I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing because some people have commented, maybe we should try to keep up with the times, but I'm not sure if that's a good idea. We play well, the style that we play, we don't want to change it too much.
Luxi: From my perspective, I believe that most of the fans want to hear the classic Exciter sound, specifically your first three albums. Why change something that isn't broken...
John: Well, the music we've come up with does sound like the early stuff. Hopefully, the material is strong enough that it will stand up to a lot of today's music. Like I said before, there are so many good bands, it's hard to compete. Back in the early '80s, we were cutting new ground and that's different from today. Today, every crossover of Heavy Metal has been done. Every lyric has been done, every song title has been done.
Luxi: Yes, I agree with you. Heavy Metal has basically gone full circle. It's really tough to do something that sounds different. I mean, everything's been done and if you want to do something totally different perhaps it won't have the essence of Heavy Metal any more.
John: To offer something really, really fresh that has not been done before, that's a big, big challenge. We're going to release the album and if people like it fine and if it doesn't go over that well, at least we tried [*laughs*].
ANALOG MEN IN A DIGITAL WORLD
Luxi: The world has changed a lot since you recorded your debut album, Heavy Metal Maniac, in Québec, Canada, in 1982 using analog equipment. Do you feel like you are analog men in a digital world are you the kind of old-school guys that prefer recording using the analog equipment over digital?
John: We were discussing this when we first started to write the songs and talk about how we were going to record it. We're going to try to record analog and maybe later transfer to digital, but initially the basic tracks will be analog because our first album, like you're saying, was recorded on a reel-to-reel 8-track tape machine in very primitive conditions.
You probably heard this story many times with all the interviews we did over the years, but it was recorded in the basement of our sound technician's house. Half the basement was renovated, the other half which was concrete walls. We set all of our equipment up where the concrete walls were. Then we ran the cables and everything to the next section of the basement where the control room was, and we loved the sound. That's how we got that really raw sound.
Luxi: In your case I honestly believe that people would prefer an analog recording, just to keep that old-school Exciter vibe in your sound...
John: We're going to record analog. We don't know how we're going to do it or where yet. I don't think we've ever recorded digital, it's always been analog but we always get the garage sound anyway. Even if we did record digital, we would still sound like we're playing in somebody's garage somewhere. You know what I mean? It sounds very raw, it sounds like we are in the room playing in front of you [*chuckles*]. When you hear us live, we don't sound too different from the record.
Luxi: That's one of those things that people respect about bands in general. If you can sound the same on your records and when performing your songs live, even better...
John: Yes, we don't sound too much different, so that's a good thing.
ORIGINAL EXCITER REUNITING
Luxi: You got the original lineup back together in April 2014, gathered around a table asking yourselves WHAT IF we bring this lineup together again, what kind of things we should consider and pay attention to. It surely isn't as easy as people might expect...
John: That's exactly what we did. Like you said, we sat around the table said, "Okay, how are we going to do this?" Back in the day we had lot of ups and downs, disagreements, "we're going to do this all over again?" If it's going to be all one big stressful situation, we don't want that. We decided we would just do gigs, as many as we get offered, write new music and hopefully the audience will accept us. We're going to keep going until we can't do it anymore.
If somebody is not happy and they want to pull out, fine, no problem. There won't be any bickering. We're just thank God, we're past that point. When we get together, we make good music and then we do our own thing because we're three separate people. We have different interests. I mean, our music is just too good not to be in existence. We have to continue. We all agreed with that kind of attitude for our reunion. We will see how far it goes.
Luxi: I bet you have had people asking for years why the original Exciter lineup doesn't reunite and start playing shows...
John: Yes. Since I put the other Exciter together in 1996 and we played Wacken a couple of times and Bang Your Head, the fans were very good to us but would say, "You guys are really good but too bad the original band wasn't back together." I heard that so many times. At that point I had no idea we'd ever get back together. I had my doubts and I was surprised when we did get back together.
Allan and Dan approached me after the other band dissolved. I had no idea that they even had any desire to play with me again. I heard journalists that I did interview with say, "You guys put on a great show tonight, but I preferred the original Exciter." And now, here we are and we are fulfilling a lot of people's dreams because a lot of fans never saw the original band.
Luxi: Yeah, I know, it is one of my dreams too. ;o)
John: Including you. I know that. One fan that we spoke to after a show, I can't remember where it was, but she said, "My life is complete now that I've seen the band."
Luxi: Would you say there's a good chemistry within the band at the moment? You are no Mötley Crüe, hahah!
John: No, no. Generally, we've always gotten along okay. It's just the pressures of the business sometimes get to you and there are differences of opinion on the business level and that creates a stressful situation. But yeah, we get along fine. Something that would have agitated us back in the old days doesn't anymore.
Luxi: All of you can always say, "Ok, never mind...", and simply just back off...
John: Yes, exactly. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it and we haven't had that situation for any reason. We get along both musically and on a personal level. Everything's good in the band right now.
Luxi: There's this Exciter tribute album, titled Pounding Metal, released by Skol Record in April of this year. Would you like to talk about that?
John: Yes. Bart Gabriel, who's from Poland, he's a big fan of Exciter. For many years, even during the other era of Exciter, he'd send me emails saying, "I'm a big fan and I'd like to work with you if you're interested" but it didn't work out that way but when the original band reunited. We played Bang Your Head first. No, sorry Keep It True festival in Germany. Bart and his wife were there and I met him for the first time. And big fan, oh my God. He was so happy to see us play live, oh my God.
A few months later, well actually a year later, he contacted me and said, "I want to do an Exciter tribute album. I have bands already interested in participating", and that's how that came about. We gave him permission to go ahead and do it.
Luxi: You didn't pick any of the bands?
John: No. We left it all up to him.
Luxi: How do you like it?
John: It's good. It's excellent [*laughs*], I mean...
Luxi: You'd say all the bands that are a part of it have done a great job?
John: They do [*laughs*]. They all do great versions of our songs. It's good to hear someone play their version of our songs because we don't hear the songs when we play them the same way and we're always very critical of our own music. When I heard it, I thought it was great. We're very flattered there's actually an Exciter tribute.
We've had two other companies approach us about doing other Exciter tribute albums, but we just felt it was not the right time because this one just came out. It'll be too much of a conflict to have two or three tribute albums out at the same time. We're very flattered that these companies have the interest and these other bands play our music. The liner notes that the bands wrote on the album sleeve were very humbling. We're glad we influenced so many bands and musicians.
There are a lot of times I'll be at the breakfast table at a hotel and some of the bands will be there and they tell me how much of an influence we are to them and the reason I play the guitar is because of you or the reason I play the drums is because of you and it's like, well, I'm glad we accomplished something with our musical career.
Luxi: It just tells you that you have done something right in the past I think [*laughs*].
Luxi: Have you had any talks within the band about releasing an official live DVD or even shoot a video for one of your new songs when you are about to release a new Exciter album?
John: Well, it all boils down to finances. We just can't afford it basically. We've had video production companies approach us, "Yes, I can do really good, ten cameras," but we can't afford it so we just pass on the whole idea. The only one that is really sleek that comes to mind is the "Rain of Terror" video. I don't know if you've seen it.
Luxi: I remember seeing it many years ago. Did MTV show it back in the day?
John: Hmm...I don't know about MTV but there was a Canadian music channel like MTV called MuchMusic. It's a Canadian channel and they played it quite a few times back then in the 90s, but if you google Exciter "Rain of Terror" you'll probably see it. It sounds like a rehearsal. We had a warehouse back then, so part of it is shot there and then it goes to some outside scenery. The other good one is when Jacques Belanger was in the band, during the Dark Command, Blood of Tyrants and New Testament era. We played Bang Your Head and they did a tenth anniversary Bang Your Head video and it was just very sleek.
Luxi: It was shot with pro cameras and everything I suppose?
John: Yes, it was very well done and I was surprised. The sound was very good. I was really surprised. As far as professional videos those are the only two I can think of. Everything else you see is just live footage from someone taping the band but to answer your question [*laughs*] it's a matter of finances.
Luxi: Do you have any old Exciter live footage stored somewhere in your basement that you could possibly use for DVD, like a full Exciter concert from 1984-86?
John: We had one video production company in our hometown of Ottawa approach me. They wanted to do the live story, but we started gathering the information and doing short video interviews and they lost interest [*laughs*].
Luxi: That's such a pity to hear.
John: They just fell apart.
Luxi: Do you still have the original master tape for it?
John: No, they...
Luxi: They kept it?
John: I have no idea what the guy from the company did with it. First of all, this company really didn't know who we were, they didn't know any of our accomplishments. To them, it was going to be an investment. They knew nothing about us. The only reason why they took interest is because I happened to meet this particular person and he happened to be the president of this video production company and he started to ask me, "Are you a musician?" [*laughs]* yeah [*laughs*].
Luxi: So, that's how it all started?
John: That's what happened. I started telling him all the stories and the whole history and he was very absorbed in what I had to say, being a local musician in the city of Ottawa who had accomplished all these things. He said, "You know, we are going to do a story on you," but like I said, they didn't really know anything about us. So that's why they probably lost interest.
ON TOUR WITH MOTÖRHEAD AND MERCYFUL FATE IN 1984
Luxi: If we go way back in time for a couple of questions, what can you remember about the tour you did with Mercyful Fate and Motörhead in 1984? I read that you only got 15 minutes of playing time in New York. Do you remember what happened at that gig?
John: I don't remember that exact incident, but there must have been a reason. The three bands got along so well. We became really good friends, but there was a reason why they cut it so short. We were fine with that. Maybe the show was running late, maybe the venue had a curfew. I don't remember but we were okay with it.
Luxi: It didn't have anything to do with Lemmy and his difficult personality at that time?
John: No, no. If it was anyone's decision, it was probably the road manager or the venue. I have nothing but good things to say about Lemmy.
Luxi: It's just that sometimes smaller and less known bands aren't treated so well on tours, when bigger, headlining acts seem to make all the rules, at least that is what I have heard...
John: Any alterations during the tour, like with the time of the set or changes, was just because they had to be done for one reason or another. It had nothing to do with the band or the headliner telling the smaller bands what they could or could not do. There was never like that.
Luxi: I guess it was a pretty healthy scene back in those days when there's respect between opening and headlining acts.
John. Yeah. We've gotten along with every band we've ever played with.
TAKE A HIKE!
Luxi: How was Mr. King Diamond from Mercyful Fate as a person? Did you talk to him a lot on that particular tour and was he friendly and polite towards all of you?
John: King Diamond is... [*laughs*] they are great people, very nice and down-to-earth. We shared the same tour bus, so we sat on the bus going from city to city many times, talking just about life and family, you know life at home. It was very pleasant.
Luxi: Just talking about all kinds of normal stuff I guess?
John: Just normal stuff. And, since you mentioned him, when we played at the Sweden Rock festival with the other Exciter in 2010 maybe. We were in the VIP area where we were going to have lunch and there was this big tent. We walked in as he was walking out but I didn't recognize him, so initially I walked by him and he turned around and he goes "John, John, John...!,", he goes like this, "King Diamond, King Diamond." [*pointing at himself*]
Like that, and I went, "Oh my God," big hug and everything else. He told me, "you know, I had a rough time", and I'm not going to get into details, but he said to me, "I'm happy, I'm just here". And he says, "Tonight is my first comeback gig and I hope everything goes smoothly." I said, "I'm gonna be there in the audience so I'm sure it'll be great." So again, we chatted and then he had a bodyguard with him who was saying, "Hurry up, hurry up," and King Diamond kept talking to me, and he just looked over at his guard and he just went, "Take a hike!" It was very nice.
Luxi: You also toured with Motörhead for the 2nd time in Europe in 1986 along with Manowar, when you had released your fourth studio album, Unveiling the Wicked.
John: Well, the thing is, I wasn't in the band then. That was the era where I was out. That was like '86, '87.
Luxi: Ah, I am sorry... That's right. I simply forgot this completely now. Shame on me!
John: That tour happened right after I left the band in August 1985. Brian McPhee was playing guitar during that time. If you want to ask me about Manowar, we briefly met in London, England because they were there on other business and we were there to record our Long Live the Loud album. By coincidence, we were at the same hotel.
I got to meet Joey DeMaio and chat with him and Ross "The Boss". Ross wanted to see my custom-made guitar and we started talking about guitars. We hung out a little bit, but that's the only time I met them. During the tour, I wasn't in the band.
That was the album Unveiling the Wicked, then the next album was just called Exciter. I wasn't in the band for those two records.
TRADE BEING MADE FROM MEGAFORCE TO MUSIC FOR NATIONS
Luxi: The original Exciter lineup recorded for two different labels back in the day. First you were on Megaforce and did two albums for them and then you signed to Music for Nations and recorded your third album, Long Live the Loud. Was Exciter treated well by both labels and did you guys get your royalties for album sales?
John: First of all, we had no problem with Megaforce. I mean, at that time we just wished they would help us do more touring because back in those days the mentality was if you did well in the United States, then you would do well all over the world. We had broken into that market. We hoped at that time that Megaforce would help us tour more. They did get us a few shows in the US.
One was Exciter and Anthrax and then Exciter, Anthrax and Talas. Talas is Billy Sheehan's early band. We did a couple of shows like that. What happened was Megaforce did a deal with Music for Nations. Now, I'm not sure about this is what I think happened; they traded us, they traded our contract to Music for Nations for a different band.
John: Yes, "Let's do a trade."
"I give you Exciter, you give us those two other bands back."
Luxi: It all sounds like some organization in football teams. "We give you this player and you give us these two players back."
John: [*laughs*] Yes, that's what I think happened, but I'm not sure.
Luxi: Neither of these labels tried to cheat you guys or anything?
John: No. Never. That never happened, no.
Luxi: The music business nowadays can be very raw and ruthless and, as you know, many bands have also been ripped off in the past by labels. It's hard to prevent things like this from happening.
John: Well, yes, I know, we've had some experience like that, but it happened so many years ago. Unfortunately, stuff like that happens, but you can't control everything. It's impossible and if you try to pursue it and take legal action, it's not worth the chase.
Luxi: Yeah, exactly. You need to pay for the lawyers and it takes a lot of money out of your pocket.
John: It's everything that you said. It's all about economics today and even back in those days when we were still starting out, we had limited means to pursue any legal matters. But we never had a problem with any of our labels.
PLANS FOR 2018
Luxi: Okay, we are reaching the end of this interview, but before that I would like to know how 2018 looks for Exciter? Do you have plans as far as playing live for example?
John: Well, we are booked in Europe next year. Some of them I can't announce yet, because the promoter is going to announce the line-up at a later date, but one for sure is that we're playing at the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise in February 2018.
Luxi: Damn, I'm going to miss the boat this time. I have been there three years in a row, but decided to skip the cruise this year. I'm glad I get to see you guys tonight.
John: Yes. So, we are booked for 70,000 Tons of Metal. We are playing a show in Canada. This is all next year. We are playing a show in California. I can't be specific, you will find out. And then we are playing one in Germany, a festival in Germany in August. So far those are the shows. We just play one off shows. We're not into touring so much. So far those are the dates for 2018.
Luxi: Do you prefer the European festivals or some other festivals in the world or does it not matter as long as they treat you well and take care of things properly?
John: The European concerts are the most organized ones as far as taking care of the artist and making sure everything is good. They fulfill their part of the contract. Audience-wise, I think South American audiences and European audiences are the best. Way better than American or Canadian audiences. As far as the crowd going crazy and over the top, it's usually South America and Europe and Scandinavia, as well.
Luxi: I have read that Japan has also been a favorable territory for Exciter so far, right?
John: Yes. I've been to Japan twice, once with the other Exciter and with the current, the original line-up.
Luxi: They are quite die-hard Metal fans in Japan.
John: That's true. There's one promoter whose name is Mickey, and he's the guy who's brought us over to do the shows. He is a hardcore fan and he puts on a 2-day festival called the True Thrash Festival (TTF). A small venue, it's probably going to be something like tonight's size-wise, but it's two nights. But yes, the Japanese fans, they really like Exciter.
Luxi: Okay, I will let you go. Thanks so much for your time, John. It was nice talking with you.
John: No problem. Thank you. It was nice to see you in person.
|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|
|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)|
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