EXCITER (John Ricci) INTERVIEW
How many Metal bands do you know that have been around since 1978 which are still recording music nowadays? Not many, right? Certainly not many who have been operating predominantly in the underground scene throughout most of their career and which have never contemplated giving up! Lack of commercial recognition was never enough of an obstacle for John Ricci, founding member and guitarist of the Canadian quartet Exciter whose eleventh (!) full-length album “Death Machine” came out only a few weeks ago! I initially opted to arrange for a phoner with John but when that was deemed impossible, I had the chance to address my questionnaire to the Canadian axeman – one that he returned in not time!
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
1. John, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. First of all, I want to wish you a happy new year and my hopes for health and personal happiness! How are things in the Exciter camp at the moment?
John: Everything is going great; we are rehearsing for our mini- South American tour, March 24-27. This will be the first time that I will be in South America so I am very excited about experiencing a complete different culture than North America. For years we’ve had fanmail asking when we are playing there and now is the time to blow them away with the intense performance we always deliver.
2. Congratulations for the release of the band’s tenth full length album “Death Machine”. Now that this nine track beauty is more or less four months old, what is your current impression of the compositions on offer? Are you still satisfied with the overall result?
John: I’m very satisfied with Death Machine, the record is basic and in your face. I prefer metal music that is straight to the point without too much flash. There are a lot of shredder metal bands out there but they lack the power and the delivery of what metal should be. Death Machine has the same musical vision as our first record “Heavy Metal Maniac”. The reviews have been very positive so I am very happy with the outcome.
3. My impressions of “Death Machine” are that of an honest and organic sounding album which operates with classic Exciter formulas in mind. As a long-term fan of your band, this is the kind of stuff that certainly makes me happy; however, I would be interested to know what it is that an 18 year old fan of Metal will make of it. Do you believe that the music on offer is capable of attracting the attention of a younger, more modern orientated audience?
John: It seems every Exciter record sounds like it was recorded in a garage no matter what studio we record in. I don t know why this is. We have recorded in low budget studios and high budget studios over the past 30 years but we always sound the same. Maybe it is the actual tones of our instruments which are not a processed sound just raw and loud. I think old and new fans will like this record because like you say the record sounds honest and organic. You can always tell when a band plays their music from the heart – in this case right from the metal heart
4. Exciter has always invested in singers with characteristic voices and Kenny “Metal Mouth” Winter is certainly one of them. How happy are you with his personal contribution to the album and how much do you feel that his voice helps shape the character of this band?
John: Kenny is a great singer and frontman. He has a high vocal range – exactly what we were looking for. I think his contribution has been very positive; he puts his own twist on the vocals even though I write all the melodies and lyrics for the most part. As an individual Kenny is very intelligent and has a great sense of humour. It’s always a laugh a minute with him – maybe it’s his NYC attitude. Overall, we all get along with him and believe me that’s a very important thing when trying to keep a band on solid ground.
5. We all know that there have been many line-up changes throughout the band’s career, the current one of four years being responsible for the release of two albums so far. Do you see this group of people as capable of sticking together in the long run?
John: I hope this line-up stays together for a long time but you know, generally speaking, there’s always shit that happens between band members but nothing that can’t be resolved. I feel we are a strong unit. We’ll see what the future holds!
6. What was the inspiration behind the creation of “Death Machine”? Is this yet another brainchild of yours or the result of a more collective effort?
John: Every record since 1996 I’ve done most of the writing. The topics are predictable: war, destruction, death, Satan, torture etc. In my opinion if you write aggressive music you must write about dark and aggressive topics. This time because I enjoy horror movies I decided to write about sadistic torture and the sick individuals who carry out such senseless acts. So, it’s like mixing fantasy with reality. Every day you hear in the news about people being held captive for years and tortured. How could one individual do that to another? It’s a sick, sick, world. So, the message of this record is that it condemns torture, not supports it.
7. Three of the compositions that I feel very strongly about are “Razor In Your Back”, “Hellfire” and “Power And Domination”, with the latter being, in my humble opinion, the highlight of the album! Can you give us a few details on how these three great tracks came to life?
John: “Razor in Your Back” is a typical Exciter speed riff. When I write a riff I just think of the 80s and what Exciter originated which was fast, out of control guitar playing. The lyric content of this song is torture of course and it also has a double meaning of being betrayed by a previous fellow musician. “Power and Domination” is basically my Sabbath influence, if you notice most Exciter records have at least one slow doom and gloom song, again the lyrics talk about one individual dominating another. “Hellfire” was our bassist Clammy’s idea. The main riff is his idea and the rest of the song was finished by me including the title and lyrics.
8. The much fitting and quite organic production was achieved with the help of Manfred Leidecker at his studio in Ottawa/Canada. Why did you choose to record your album in that specific location?
John: The only reason we didn’t record our previous record (note: “Thrash Speed Burn”) with Manfred is because his studio was in the middle of renovations so it was not possible. But this time Manfred was ready to go. Manfred has been working with Exciter since 1990 so he knows exactly what we are going for. We don’t have to explain for hours to him what we want. Since he is a bassist himself he can relate to us as musicians. Somehow over the years he has tapped into our vision of what Exciter is all about.
9. How long did the recording process take place and what is it that you did differently in comparison with the recording process of “Thrash, Speed, Burn” two years ago? Any funny or weird stories that you wish to relay with regards your time in the studio?
John: We started recording in July and finished, including mixing, by the end of September. We decided to record all the instruments separate at different times in hopes of getting better definition between the instruments. Since Manfred’s studio is small to set-up the whole band at the same time – we would have too much leakage and bleeding between the instruments. There were no funny moments in the studio but on the very last evening of mixing, myself, Clammy and Rik stayed in the studio till six am doing the final mix because we were passed our deadline for the master to be delivered to our record company Massacre.
10. John, knowing that the front cover was a personal inspiration of yours, I would like you to explain how it is that you feel that it relates to the music on offer.
John: The front cover is a mix of sex and torture. The chained topless woman and chainsaw is a tribute to slasher movies. Every time you watch a slasher movie there’s always a pretty girl that is butchered. All of this of course is not to be taken seriously. So, the cover illustrates domination and torture.
11. Have you come up with any specific strategy that will help you promote “Death Machine” apart from the typical interview cycle?
John: I’m not sure what kind of promotion is out there to promote the record. Here in Canada we are kind of cut off with what’s happening with the rest of the metal world except for the internet of course. I’m not sure what Massacre is doing for promotion.
12. John, one of the negative things about having grown up in Greece is that I have never thus far seen the band live, something that I hope will change in 2011! Apart from a few days in the Americas that have already been announced, the only European date is that of the 7th of May in Spain. Do you have plans for a more comprehensive tour in Europe and, if yes, is the UK going to be included?
John: We actually played a gig in Athens a couple of years ago at a venue called Texas Acropolis! It was a small club with about 300 fans in attendance. We haven’t played the UK since 1985 at the Hammersmith Odeon supporting Accept. If we get invited back to the UK we’ll definitely accept the offer!
13. Many young bands tend to release a DVD right after their second full length release sees the light of day – how is it that a band with a thirty-three year old career such as Exciter has not yet exploited such a format? Are there any plans for such a release in the near future?
John: We are working with a local film company that’s called Neuron Mirror here in Ottawa to develop a documentary but the project is moving very slowly. If it ever gets finished it will be at least another 2 years.
14. John, I strongly believe that Exciter has not received the respect and recognition that it deserves for its contribution to Metal music throughout the years! Surely this must be quite an annoying thing for you! What would you attribute this situation to?
John: It does not bother me we never got the recognition that everyone keeps saying we should have had. All I know is that we still have a record deal and we travel all over the world to play for appreciative fans.
15. Canadian Rock and Metal bands have always had a very unique approach to music, from the likes of Rush and Anvil, all the way to Annihilator and Voivod! What is it in your opinion that is responsible for the creation of such a healthy and impressive scene?
John: I think Canadian metal bands are unique because we are not influenced by each other. In the early 80s when the whole metal thing was starting to emerge I think Canadian bands had different influences from the previous era of metal. I find European bands’ sound the same and sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish one from another.
16. Apart from music, are there any other interests that you have that you might consider pursuing on a more professional level in the future?
John: Apart from music, I do have a regular day job working as a sales person in a music store and I also enjoy working and restoring classic cars.
17. How would you describe an average day at the John Ricci household?
John: My average day is work all day and then rehearse with Exciter two nights a week and on the off nights spend time in my garage.
18. John, once again, thank you for taking the time to do this interview! A message to your fans in the UK as your closing words?
John: I really appreciate the continued support from the fans for over thirty years and hopefully we can deliver more metal music for years to come! Metal Never Dies!!!
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