Where Are They Now? Dan Clements of Excel
Next to Suicidal Tendencies, Excel is still hailed as Venice, California’s best-known hardcore thrash band. Now, a decade and a half after calling it quits, they’re back to business – and business feels pretty damn good. “It’s not a reunion as much as it’s a ‘reunification’,” says vocalist Dan Clements. “We’re definitely picking up where we left off.”
Joining Clements are founding members, bassist Shaun Ross and drummer Greg Saenez. Chain of Strength‘s Alex Barreto has replaced guitarist Adam Siegel, who quit the band in 1990 to focus playing with Infectious Grooves and his own band, My Head. “Adam was asked and he didn’t want any part of it,” says Dan. “We’ve known Alex ever since he was the drummer in Hard Stance [Zach De La Rocha's pre-Rage Against the Machine/Inside Out straight edge ensemble] and he brings a whole different dimension that is completely, 100% Excel. It’s that spark we needed. We now find ourselves smiling and cracking up during rehearsal.”
Formed in 1983 under the moniker Chaotic Noise, Excel made its vinyl debut on 1985′s Welcome to Venice compilation with Venice Beach homies Suicidal Tendencies, No Mercy and Beowulf. Where the Venice Beach dress code was Pendletons and flipped-up Suicidal baseball caps, Excel were simply thrash-obsessed skaters intent crossing metal and punk years before that became de rigueur. “As much as I loved the whole Suicidal music and aesthetic, it wasn’t what we were about,” says Dan. “We’re from there but we never adopted any image or ideal but our own.
“Myself and Shaun were really big into the early hardcore scene, from ’81 or ’82,” the frontman continues. “We used to do the Southern California scene reports for Maximum Rock N Roll. I was really into the whole straightedge anthem sound: bands like Uniform Choice and America’s hardcore. Adam was into Hendrix and Iron Maiden. It was a really innocent time. We never said we were a thrash band, a punk band or a metal band. We didn’t know or care what we wanted to be. We wanted Excel’s music to speak for itself, which I think it, has.”
Listen to ‘Your Life, My Life’
Excel’s first two albums: 1987′s Split Image and 1989′s The Joke’s on You have become crossover thrash classics whose praises have sung by nearly every Reebok metal revival squad. At a recent Municipal Waste gig at Los Angeles, the Waste’s frontman Tony Foresta gave a massive shout-out to Dan and Greg who were both in the audience that night.
“It makes me realize that things weren’t done in vain,” Dan admits. “Excel never wanted to be the next Suicidal Tenancies or the next Metallica. Excel just wanted to be the first Excel. With all these bands acknowledging and paying tribute to us now, it’s validating. There was a time where I thought nobody got it. It almost had to die and be rediscovered. Then, when I was working at a store out in Echo Park, it was always a trip when kids found out that I worked out there. They wanted to come out and look at flyers and hear stories. It eased any bitterness I had at the time and proved to me that both we and our fans were onto something right.”
Shortly before Excel put the brakes on their career, they had released their third and then-final album, Seeking Refuge, through Capitol Records offshoot Malicious Vinyl. At the time, Clements and Ross were in the unenviable position of having to find a new guitarist and drummer. Sadly, interim guitarist Brandon Rudley would pass away from a brain aneurysm at the age of 25. While the record saw Excel detour into slower riffs and more straightforward rock trappings, it was actually a quiet personal success for Clements. Not only did Bad Brains vocalist HR hop aboard to contribute guest vocals to the track “Take Your Part Gotta Encourage,” but none other than skate legend Tony Alva was all-too-happy to put his personal stamp on the video for the track “Unenslaved” by allowing Excel to use footage for the video from his life “on the boards”.
Watch ‘Unenslaved’ Video
“Symbolically, that record was a big victory for me” says Dan. “Tony Alva was an inspiration and a big part of the video from that album. It was five years before the documentary Dogtown and the Z-Boys and it was ten years before the movie Lords of Dogtown. It was a three and a half minute version of both the film and the documentary. It was during the same time that Excel was struggling to find a new drummer and a new guitar player, Tony Alva was in a bitter business dispute with his partner and he actually lost the title for Alva skates. He had to take legal action, which cost him his marriage and his business. I said fuck it, if Tony Alva could reinvent himself from the level that he was at, Excel certainly could. Then, underlying blessing and confidence booster was HR saying that he had heard a lot of good things about us and wanted to be on our record.”
Pop culture alert! Who knew that Chris Brown was down with the crossover thrash contingent? Pictures recently turned up of the R&B-ster sporting a $5000 custom leather jacket that sports Excel’s logo next to fellow thrash history-makers as Corrosion of Conformity, DRI and Cro-Mags. Clements is sure that Brown (as well as ex-girlfriend Rihanna who sports the same jacket on the back of her latest album) is simply trying to make the scene. Can you say po-seur! “That’s from a company in Japan called Funny Weapon,” says Dan. “The Japanese are amazing with how they merge the punk and metal scene with the fashion world. Bounty Hunter clothing in Japan has done many different Excel rendition shirts.”
Listen to ‘Tapping Into the Emotional Void’
Speaking of renditions, anyone who has been following Excel knows of their long-running accusation that none other than Metallica may have been more than influenced by the 1989 track “Tapping Into the Emotional Void” whose intro and main riff sound remarkably similar to that of “Enter Sandman.” While it’s never been proven whether the four horsemen actually did consciously lift those signature chords, “It’s still something that’s still never been resolved,” Dan admits. “We don’t know whatever’s going to come out of it. Who knows, one day it may be like cashing a winning lottery ticket.
“When Excel toured the West Coast with Megadeth in 1991, [Dave] Mustaine would greet us at sound checks with ‘How are my future millionaires doing?’ the frontman laughs. “After all, he’s definitely contributed a few riffs to Metallica himself!”
For the minute, Excel is getting ready to hit the stage once again. “Let’s be realistic, sometimes people’s memories get far more exaggerated over time,” says Dan. “The next generation of thrash fans now has expectations we’re going to have to live up to. We’re not about to disappoint anyone. Like [Germs singer] Darby Crash said about the whole concept of Circle One – everything comes full circle. It’s about the intensity of our music once again.”