5 Jul 2024

EXCEL to Release Long Lost Album Seeking Refuge

Excel photo by Becky DiGiglio
Excel photo by Becky DiGiglio

From the dark alleys and dead ends of Los Angeles, EXCEL have been delivering maximum crossover since crossover first crossed over. Their classic albums Split Image (1987) and The Joke’s On You (1989) remain linchpins of the genre decades after their release. The band continues to pack venues across the globe and appear at European festivals. On July 19, fans will have a chance to hear EXCEL’s long-lost album.

Originally released in 1995 while grunge dominated airwaves and MTV, Seeking Refuge offers a glimpse at an EXCEL many have never heard before. Out of print for decades, Seeking Refuge will finally get its due, complete with a guest shot from H.R. of Bad Brains (on “Take Your Part Gotta Encourage”) and a video starring Tony Alva for the anthemic single “Unenslaved.” “A lot of people who know EXCEL don’t necessarily know about this record,” bassist Shaun Ross explains. “It’s been out of print since ’95, and it was just kind of forgotten.

At the time that Seeking Refuge was recorded, Ross was working for Fuct streetwear and living in their warehouse. “One of the owners had a friend who knew H.R. from Bad Brains, and they just dropped him off at the studio,” the bassist recalls. “He ended up living with me for the better part of the year in the Fuct warehouse. It was a crazy time.” (As a result of H.R.’s appearance on Seeking Refuge, Dan and Shaun would soon witness firsthand the reunification of the Bad Brains.)

H.R. makes a guest appearance on “Take Your Part Gotta Encourage” while EXCEL incorporate elements of rock, funk, and grunge on tracks like “Plastic Cracks” and “Drowned Out.” For lead single “Unenslaved,” they hit a hallowed Dogtown landmark to shoot a video starring skate pioneer Tony Alva. They re-emptied the Gonzales Pool, a.k.a. Gonzo Pool, where some of Alva’s most famous moments had been captured in the movie Thrasher.

Watch / share the “Unenslaved” video feat. Tony Alva.

Watch "Unenslaved" video feat. Tony Alva.

Produced by Ron Champagne, (Jane’s Addiction, Alice In Chains), Seeking Refuge didn’t fit into any of heavy music’s prefab categories circa ’95. “We didn’t get a great response,” Ross recalls. “Between ’90 and ’95, the market for thrash and even punk kinda died with grunge becoming so popular. And we didn’t use our original logo, which in retrospect was a big deal because it didn’t look like an EXCEL record. We fixed that for the reissue.

In late 2023, Ross and Clements welcomed two new members to the EXCEL family: Greg Cerwonka of Chula Vista thrashers Take Offense will take over on guitar, while Damon DeLaPaz of pop punk vets Fenix TX will handle drums. “We’ve already started writing,” Ross enthuses. “The goal is to record in 2024 and have a new album out by 2025.

EXCEL’s Seeking Refuge was reissued by Southern Lord for Record Store Day 2024, and sold out. It will be available on red vinyl and on all digital platforms via Southern Lord, Southern Lord EU and Bandcamp.

Seeking Refuge, cover art:

LORD282 EXCEL- Seeking Refuge

Seeking Refuse, track list:

  1. Unenslaved
  2. Hair Like Christ
  3. Plastic Cracks
  4. Take Your Part Gotta Encourage
  5. Drowned Out
  6. United Naturally in True Youth
  7. Riptide
  8. Overview
  9. Downpressor

About EXCEL:

New Year’s Day, 1985: Venice crossover upstarts Chaotic Noise change their name to EXCEL after vocalist Dan Clements and guitarist Adam Siegel recruit bassist Shaun Ross and drummer Greg Saenz to join the band. Clements is working for Suicidal Tendencies’ merchandising company, Triple M, and Dogtown Skateboards, when ST frontman Mike Muir invites EXCEL to appear on the soon-to-be-legendary Welcome to Venice compilation alongside No Mercy, Beowülf, Los Cycos, and ST themselves.

Welcome to Venice put EXCEL on the map. “The early ’80s bands that were popular in LA were kind of falling off around this time,” Ross says. “We walked into the perfect window of opportunity with punk/metal crossover becoming a thing. The first wave of hardcore bands were already established, and then we stepped in and came up locally pretty quick.”

EXCEL’s early demos, Personal Onslaught (1985) and Refuse to Quit (1986), were, along with an appearance on Thrasher magazine’s Born to Skate (Skate Rock 5) (1987), already circulating among those tapped into the thriving speed metal underground. Pushead reviewed them for Maximum Rock N’ Roll, giving EXCEL instant cred.

Muir went on to release EXCEL’s full-length debut, Split Image, on ST’s own Suicidal Records. Hitting like a fist to the face in ’87, the album was produced by studio overlord Randy Burns, who’d helmed game-changers like Possessed’s Seven Churches, Death’s Scream Bloody Gore, and Suicidal Tendencies’ self-titled debut. “Randy produced a lot of stuff we grew up listening to, so that was a big deal for us,” Ross recalls. “He made us sound good.

They started writing their next album immediately after Split Image came out. Entitled The Joke’s On You, it added new dimensions to EXCEL’s signature sound. “With The Joke’s On You, we had more influences,” Ross explains. “We were able to hone in on our own thing. We came up with weird time changes without making it fusion-y. We were also influenced by bands like Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More, but we were still coming from the punk/hardcore side. We were also graffiti artists that listened to hip-hop. I think our lifestyle and our influences all came together on that album.

Released by Caroline Records in 1989, The Joke’s On You put EXCEL on the international stage. They toured the US and Europe with the likes of Megadeth, Overkill, Vio-Lence, and Dark Angel while becoming reliable attendance boosters for major California promoters. “We could play metal shows and punk shows—we were very versatile in that way,” Ross says. “If Goldenvoice wasn’t selling enough tickets for a particular show, they’d just put us on the bill.

In 1992, Siegel and Saenz left the band. At the same time, Clements’ and Ross’ tastes were evolving. Both changes became evident on Seeking Refuge. “Dan and I had to find a new lineup and write a new album, but the drummer we hired couldn’t play fast so the album ended up being all midtempo,” Ross explains. “At the same time, grunge happened between ’90 and ’92, plus we were hearing bands like Kyuss and Sleep, and we’d been doing hardcore forever. We just kinda wanted to do something different. I think it’s a very ’90s record, but it still sounds like EXCEL.


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