Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interview with Xcel

Yes, this really was the fashion! Xcel back in the day.

Recently I had the great pleasure of sitting down and talking with cult eighties power metal band Xcel. Their album, "Deliver This Dream", is getting a re-release thanks to the fine folks at Arkeyn Steel Records. You can read my original review of the re-release, a simply shredding affair!, at the link at the bottom. Much thanks goes out to Xcel for taking the time to chat with us. Be sure to pick up your own copy of this killer, limited-edition, re-release! It's a must have for eighties heavy metal fanatics!

HEAVY METAL TIME MACHINE – ‘Xcel’ US Interview, April 2013

Andy-Could you introduce the members of the band?

Kevin: Well it is Barry Duncan and I on guitars, Kevin Luke - lead vocal, Peter Voight - bass guitar, and Dag Gabourel - drums.
Andy-How did Xcel originally come together? 

Barry:  Xcel was born out of a band called Wizzard.  I had left Wizzard to play guitar with another group of guys.  Wizzard replaced me with Kevin Cox, at my suggestion (See?  I told you he was good!).  Several months had passed and I got contacted by one of the Wizzard guys to come out and see them play at a local bowling alley.  I was blown away!  There was so much life and energy in the band that had gone missing over time.  They had new, original music.  I was astounded.  I called Rob Duplantis, the drummer, and told him I’d like to come back if they lost their other guitarist (not Kevin, mind you).  A few days later he called me back and said, “Come back!”  That move caused a bit of strife in Wizzard and they subsequently lost their singer too.  So, we’re left with Rob Duplantis on drums, Peter Voight on bass, Kevin Cox on guitar and me rejoining the band on guitar. 
The four of us sat down and made a conscious decision to change the direction of the band.  A new name, a new look, new original songs (not so many cover songs).  Wizzard, in my opinion, was already headed that direction naturally, we just made the decision to push it in that direction.  That’s where the band “Xcel” came from.
Peter: We were getting good feedback on our originals, so we decided to take our music in a different direction.  We performed only our originals and would fill in with covers as needed. I knew Kevin Luke from him singing in his high school pop choral group, so I told Kevin Cox I knew of a guy that could sing. So Kevin Cox & I went to the local skating rink where Kevin Luke was working, and asked him if he wanted to audition for our band’s type of music. Getting Kevin Luke in the band led to the association with Dag Gabourel from them going to school together. I was very impressed with Dag; he had the musical ability and the looks to go with it.
Kevin: The guys have pretty much summed it up on the formation of Xcel.   But before Wizzard, I was in a band called ‘Bandit’ that just wanted to hang out and get wasted and I was anxious to get out and play.   I knew the guys in Wizzard, was already friends with Peter, had seen them play several times, and really looked up to Barry, so I became a roadie/guitar tech for them a bit.  So when they asked me to come and audition after Barry left, I was nervous but I couldn’t wait for the chance.  So I guess the chemistry was already there before I came in and having Barry come back made it perfect.  We then set out to find the remaining pieces of the puzzle in Kevin Luke and Dag Gabourel.  And we were lucky when we found those two, it just all fell into place.
Andy-And the name?

Kevin: I keep hearing it was me!  But then I thought it was Barry.  Who knows? I don’t remember honestly.  There’s not some cool story behind it unfortunately.  But the thing I think we ended up focusing on was the fact that it was a positive name, energetic, and was associated with achievement.  So it made perfect since in one regard.  You want five guys who are going to work their tails off for something really important to them?  Well you’ve found them!  And they happened to be called Xcel!  Brilliant!
Barry:  I don’t think anyone really knows where the name came from.  Some say I was the one that came up with that name.  I don’t remember that, to be honest.  And, oddly enough, I do remember I didn’t particularly like the name “Xcel”.  I couldn’t tell you why, I just thought it didn’t sound too good; it didn’t roll off the tongue.  However, it took on a whole new meaning for all of us and has come to mean a great deal over the years.  Also, the logo design, I think, looks surgical...and, that’s how our music was developing, into this surgical, precise, progressive style.
Peter Voight: I don’t think anyone really remembers who came up with it. I do recall us considering the name Mako at one point. Kevin Cox came to practice with “Excel” and its definition written on a piece of paper; we all like the meaning of the word, and agreed it fit the direction we were headed with the band. Barry designed the logo and shortened the name to “Xcel”. I was impressed with the design’s looks and everyone agreed to go with it.
Andy-Who were some of your influences when you started off?

Peter: I grew up listening to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, BTO, and Black Sabbath. In my teen years I began listening to KISS, Judas Priest, Rush, Iron Maiden, Queensryche.
Barry:  Everyone had their favorites, but I especially liked Queensryche and Iron Maiden.  I’m sure it’s not too hard to see those influences.  But, there were a lot of others:  Fates Warning (I still love those guys), Dio, Black Sabbath with Dio on vocals, Whitesnake.
Kevin:  For me it started by listening to KISS Alive II and staring at the inside cover of that album for hours on end.  I used to listen to my older brother’s Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, Deep Purple, etc.  I love the early Queensryche when they had Chris DeGarmo, and of course Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.  I still, even today, gravitate towards the power guitar and riffs.  I listen to a lot of Primal Fear, Brainstorm, Accept, UDO, and Disturbed now.  Notice the mostly German theme there?
Andy-I've just got to say that "Deliver This Dream" is a really cool album. Tell us a little about how it was recorded (and how you ended up at a studio more known for country and western than rock and heavy metal!) and what you remember from that time period.
Barry:  Well, to be honest, I don’t think anyone of us really realized that the little studio we recorded in was a Country and Western studio.  For me, I didn’t care what you recorded, if you had lots of equipment, you should know how to use it, and how to use it for whatever genre of music you were recording.  That wasn’t the case.  I’m sure there were studios out there that could do that, but we didn’t have access to them or the money to afford the really good studios.  So, our ignorance got the best of us.  Remember, there was no Internet at that time and there was no really good way to research a studio.  I guess we could have gone to Houston, but again, that was money we didn’t have.
Peter: Recording studios were surprisingly hard to come by in our area of Southeast Texas, considering some of the big name talent that has come from here. The owner of Tri-Plex Studio was a music professor at Lamar, and one of us must’ve known him from that. Country music was very popular at the time, so the studio was probably just catering to the trends of the time. We recorded the majority of the album at night; I remember being very nervous about getting all my parts right on the first take, in order to keep costs down. It was also my first opportunity to see each band member perform individually, and I remember being very impressed with each member’s ability & talent.
Kevin:  As Barry mentioned, we really didn’t know any better.   We thought we were doing what we had to do to get noticed, and that was hit a studio and get it out there.  Along with Peter, I’d have to say what I remember the most about being in the studio was getting to watch Dag specifically.  Since the rest of us were usually out front in shows or rehearsals, I would stand and watch him through the glass during the recordings and think “wow, I didn’t know he did that!  This is cool.”  The other thing was being a bit stressed to get it right in as few takes as possible so that we could keep costs down to the penny in all areas.
Andy-What happened in the end? What made you guys decided it was time to put Xcel to rest?

Peter: To make a long story short, I saw Xcel’s popularity start to plateau, and the economy at the time was declining. We lost investors, and I only had a year of college left to graduate, which seemed like the more practical opportunity. There were no arguments, no fighting, no disagreements; we’re all still friends even today.
Kevin:  Man, that was a tough time.  I remember it well.  It was a 5 way divorce that no one wanted to do.  But I think that we ran out of options and there were no opportunities coming our way where we were.  The desire was there, the avenue and money to do it was not.  Picture having this dream you’ve always wanted, it is right there in your grasp, and then you come to the realization that it is not going to happen and you don’t know what to do next other than go to college.  I was sick about that for a long time, which is why I moved away to start school.  I just had to reboot.   We have always remained friends and I would consider them close friends.  It is nice to talk music again with all of them and re-live a part of that.
Barry:  I was just burnt out.  I had put in 2+ years of my life into Xcel and gotten nowhere.  A lot of time invested in creating the music, getting it recorded, trying to push the product and no real results other than lost time and spent money.  We had a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything, but the goal was to get signed and go on tour.  We never got close.
The coup de grâce for Xcel was losing all of our potential investors.  We had been working with several different people about investing into us (yes, we perceived Xcel as a business venture) and then October 1987 happened.  “Black Monday”.  The stock market fell.  All of the investors we had gathered up said they could not/would not give us any money because they had lost in the stock market.  I think that really deflated everyone.
Andy-Were you surprised at all to see Xcel turn into a cult heavy metal band over the years?

Peter: Yes, very surprised. I guess it was in the mid-90’s that I realized it due to receiving calls from Europe asking about the band and wanting to book shows. It’s still amusing to me even today how many search results you can get from Googling “Xcel Deliver This Dream.” Also, I had mixed feelings when I heard that someone had bootlegged our album without our permission, but without that coverage, the dream would never have stayed alive this long.
Kevin:  Aw man, most definitely!  Like Peter, many years later I too started receiving phone calls even from different people here in the US.  There was one in particular at some rock festival in Chicago.  If I recall, this guy read about us online and somehow found me?!  I thought it was someone playing a joke at first.  Now, I’m hearing from some people associated with the worldwide South By Southwest music festival showcase in Austin, TX asking us to play, and using that as an Xcel kickoff of sorts.  This thing still breathes life, and you just sit and scratch your head.  I’ve been approached by entertainment lawyers as well who have heard about all this.  It's just crazy.
But without question, the people in Europe who love this type of music, as well as record collectors and others, are the ones that have kept this alive.  This ‘cult’ status as you put it is thanks to them.
Barry:  Yeah!  I would have never guessed that!  We knew our stuff was good, we just never knew so many other people thought so too.

 Andy-Can you tell us how the deal with Arkeyn Steel Records came about? 

Barry:  Kevin Cox had discovered looking around on the Internet that the name Xcel popped up on a few websites.  One guy in particular, Chris Papadakis, had some really nice things to say about the album at his Forgotten Scroll website (link below), I mean, really nice, Kevin e-mailed the guy and told him, “Hey, I’m one of the members of Xcel and just wanted to say ‘thanks’ for the nice review of our album.”  The guy freaked out!  He e-mailed Kevin back and said he’d been trying to find us and this and that, and before you know it, he’s telling Kevin that he’s part of a record label and would we be interested in re-releasing the “Deliver This Dream” album through that label.  Geez, are you kidding me?!?  We couldn’t believe it.  We all said “yes” and we’re now a part of the Arkeyn Steel family.
Andy-"Deliver This Dream" has held up surprisingly well. Who wrote the bulk of the material or was it a group effort?

Peter: Most of the songs for Deliver This Dream are written by Kevin Cox and Barry. They would present their ideas to the band and the other members would take them in their own direction.
Kevin: Yeah, I think that our bringing in ideas and letting everyone run with it and add their own interpretation is how we developed our own sound.  However, Peter and our sound guy, Andy Owen, were also starting to contribute ideas to the mix and they were some really cool songs.  Andy had some great ideas and we were fortunate that he had the ability to work with writing the lyrics that worked in the music structure.
Barry:  Everyone did their part to each of the songs.  We really let everyone stretch out and didn’t limit anyone unless it simply didn’t work.  We worked and arranged for the song, not to highlight any particular member.  As for the writing, I wrote the lyrics and composed several of the songs on the album and Kevin C. wrote the others.  And, several had some collaboration: Kevin Luke had written the lyrics for “I’ll Make It Someway” and brought it to me to write the music.  Other parts of songs might have just needed a little tweaking or a segue into another area.  Since we never put restrictions on each other, I think that helped the songs come out better than we even imagined.
Andy-Did you ever think when you were recording it that all these years later you'd be getting such a royal treatment for a re-release?
Peter: No, not in a million years.  Of course, we had hoped that we would get signed at the time, but when nothing really came of it at the original release; I pretty much dropped the idea.
Barry:  No way.  Chris and Kostas at Arkeyn Steel have been great to work with; “royal” is definitely the correct word to use.
Kevin Cox:  Ha, not even remotely!  I don’t think we planned on it turning out the way it did originally, much less reading about us 26 years later and gaining fans in other countries.  
I completely agree with the guys on this one.  Kostas and Chris at Arkeyn Steel have been great.  They do quality work and release professional grade results.  It’s funny, we’ve seen more promotion for Xcel in the past year than all 26 plus years combined and I am humbled by it.  They have definitely given us the royal treatment and appear to really appreciate our music.  For that I am grateful! 

Andy-What does the future hold for Xcel? Do you guys have any plans to release new material?

Peter: It’s hard to say at this point; I, for one, would love to record new material. However, we all have responsibilities to our families and careers, which makes getting together rather difficult. Let’s just say it depends on the success of this re-release....
Barry:  There’s a lot up in the air for us.  The band members have moved to different cities over the years and it’s proven difficult for us to get together, even just to visit and hang out.  All of us have families, from toddlers on up to college students and that takes a lot of everyone’s time and resources.  So, logistically it could be troublesome to release more material.  The good news is, we actually do have new material.  When I say “new”, I mean unreleased material from 1986, 87 and 88.  Any “new” release would be our “sophomore” effort from that time.  I believe that we’re all hoping the “Deliver This Dream” re-release goes ballistic and gives us some real motivation to record some more.
Kevin: Man, it’s hard to say at this point.  I’m probably pushing the hardest to make something else happen.  But, I’m also one of the ones that live in a different location from the rest of the guys.  Although, I’m not going to let that stop me.  I want to do something with it.  I think what excites me the most is, if people like what is on Deliver This Dream then I am confident that they will like the “new” stuff we have.  I thought it was more powerful and heavier personally, and I would love to get that out there and let the world hear it.  I think it is good even by today’s standards and songs that are out there. I’ve had many people ask when Xcel will do shows so they can see us.  I’m all for it, but we’ll have to see how this re-release goes over and if the market even wants it.  I’m also not opposed to doing it just for ourselves, so we can have a copy to keep.
Andy-What would you say to all of the fans who have kept the spirit of Xcel alive all these years?  It's got to be pretty amazing to think that your lone record had that much of an impact on people right?

Kevin: Wow, just a great big “Thank you!”  You guys are amazing.  There is no greater satisfaction to have something you’ve poured your heart and soul into go on to be enjoyed by others.  I really hope we can bring you more in the near future.  Our engineer, George Coyne in Austin, TX is the one that made this happen when things looked bleak with our master tape.  Chris and Kostas took a chance on us and brought it to you.  So if you are fans of metal of any sort, show these guys your gratitude for what they bring to everyone.  You US metal fans need to go out and show support for these bands.  Demand the music and demand the shows. 
Peter: All I can say is “Thank You” for all the support; it’s been a blast!  I feel as if the entire band is humbled by the recognition, and that we would never be where we are without the fans.  I also want to wholeheartedly thank Chris and Kostas from Arkeyn Steel for giving us this opportunity as well as seeing what we believed our music was.
Barry:   I’m still numb from all this.  I had no idea there was this whole underground International metal movement…and we were in the middle of it!  God Bless all of our fans and a heartfelt “Thank You” from Xcel for keeping this little album going!
We’re really hoping everyone enjoys the re-release of “Deliver This Dream”.  The remix and re-master was an amazing process and we can’t thank George Coyne over at Parrot Tracks Studios in Austin, TX for bringing out what we truly had in mind for this album.  Also, a huge “Thank You” to Chris and Arkeyn Steel for jump starting this whole process and bringing our music to even more people!
Andy-I'll wrap things up by letting you have the last word.  Final thoughts?  Are there any words of encouragement to other eighties heavy metal bands trying to start things up again? The mic is all yours!
Barry:  You’ve heard the phrase “Never say ‘never’”?  That certainly applies here.  We would have never thought we’d see this amount of recognition and this amount of excitement from the music community.  But, here we are, about to re-release an album from 1986.  How outrageous is that?!?  I’ve always felt, and told people, that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.  A lot of the lyrics and messages in our music said that too.  There will always be people who tell you that you can’t do something.  Call me stubborn, but you’ve just given me that much more motivation to prove you wrong…so, don’t give up!
Peter: If any other heavy metal bands get a similar opportunity, I encourage them to take it!  Life’s too short to miss out on magical moments like these. You don’t realize how much you miss it until you get back into it.   Andy, I want to thank you for your time & efforts in pushing this project.
Kevin:  When we stopped, it was as if a part of me was taken away.  So when you get the taste of it again, it is even sweeter because you didn’t realize what you were missing until it wasn’t there anymore.  If you enjoy it and the music moves you, and you are passionate about what you do, then keep doing it.  It is a drug that will never be replicated.  You’re going to have those that have nothing good to say about what you’re doing.  They’re going to try and find every reason you can’t or shouldn’t.  There are those that hide behind a computer screen on some blog and spew hate, so what!  Do what you love to do.  If you have that opportunity to get together with your band mates again and do something special, then what are you waiting for?!  PS: Go buy the album!

You can check out the Forgotten Scroll article here:

Read my review of the re-release here:

Order yourself a copy here on Ebay (while supplies last!) 

Labels: , , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see there is no interview coments from Dag Gabourel. Why is that

9:42 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

Messed up my previously comment so I'm re-posting this. But anyway, it usually simply depends upon who is available at the time when you set up interviews (whether live and in living color or even when you are doing e-mail ones). Nothing more and nothing less.

7:14 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home