Daniel Band: Comin’ Home

Daniel Band is well known to music aficionados as one of the select forerunners to the Christian metal bands who perform today. I had the opportunity to speak with Dan McCabe, frontman of Daniel Band, prior to their show at “The Way Inn” at Bendale Bible Chapel in Toronto. Returning to the very church where they had begun three decades earlier, Daniel Band performed before an expectant crowd for this highly anticipated show. This was not so much a reunion of the band, but rather a reunion of the many fans it has captured over the course of the band’s career. Dan provided me with some insight regarding the early days of Christian rock and how Daniel Band influenced performers yet to be born.

The Antidote: In 1979, when you formed Daniel Band, Christian rock was in its infancy.

Dan McCabe: Oh yeah, in 1979 there wasn’t a lot heavy stuff out. You know, Resurrection Band were fairly new, other than that there wasn’t a lot of really heavy stuff. Servant was out too, but again, they weren’t really heavy. That was, sort of, new ground back in 1979. For us to come out with the kind of music that we did, we didn’t think we were coming out with anything strange or different; we just played the music that we liked.

The Antidote: Was the main idea of starting Daniel Band to be an outreach or was it because you enjoyed the music?

Dan McCabe: Well, Daniel Band wasn’t planned. We didn’t sit down and say “Hey guys let’s start a band”. We were a fill-in band for other bands that couldn’t make it. We just kind of said “Oh, we’ll do it” kind of thing. Tony [Rossi] and I both played in Harvest together. There came a time when some of the guys in Harvest couldn’t keep playing as frequently as they were and they would have to turn down engagements. So Tony and I started taking them and just filling in. One night we filled in at Bendale [Bible Chapel] when there was a cancellation. It was never a plan to be a band, it just grew into that. Even when we first played together we weren’t even called Daniel Band, we were referred to as “Little Harvest”, because of Tony and I playing in Harvest. It wasn’t a plan, it just turned into that.

The Antidote: So how accepting was the church and the Christian community with your music?

Dan McCabe: Not at all. Our home church here, Bendale, was very accepting; they understood what we were doing. They knew us personally; they knew our lives; they knew what we were all about. They took the time to look at what we were saying in our songs and they realized that this was having an affect on young people. One magazine that was called Guitar Player Magazine, which was a secular guitar magazine, referred to us as “the grandfathers of contemporary Christian music”. And so, it’s often said that we carved the way through the difficulties with Christian music and styles and sort of made the way for what band are doing today [and not receiving any opposition today].

The Antidote: It’s true. Stryper, Whitecross and Bride all came to follow.

Dan McCabe: Yeah and they didn’t have a lot of opposition like we did. We really took a lot of the heat for it. Eh, it was fun.

The Antidote: So, who was most of the heat from?

Dan McCabe: A lot of churches. We had more heat. Of course, some Christians at the time would say, “this just proved you were wrong”. We had more heat from Christians than people who weren’t Christians. People who weren’t Christian actually respected us. They said, “well, you know, I don’t really agree with what you are saying, but, I really like what you guys are doing, and you have the right to say it”. I remember when we won third place in the Q107 [Toronto secular rock station] contest. I phoned up the station and said: “Hey, I just want to thank you guys for choosing us. You guys know that we’re a Christian band. I think that really says something about you guys, that you would choose us”. Their answer to me was “Well, you know, we play ‘Highway to Hell’ so there is nothing wrong with giving the alternative”. These people, who weren’t Christian, saying this kind of stuff, the Christians really could have taken a lesson from them. I think too that a lot of pastors were really afraid that they were going to lose their youth. They didn’t understand what we were doing. They thought this might be an evil thing and that all their youth would be going to hell in a hand-basket if they started to listen to our music.

The Antidote: What kind of music did you listen to as a teenager?

Dan McCabe: Oh! I listened to Rush, Kiss, and Triumph…

The Antidote: Because there was no Christian music…

Dan McCabe: Right! There was no Christian music to listen to! I think that was what Tony and I felt like. We should just play the music that we like and write about the things that are important to us.

The Antidote: Were any of these bands or musicians a particular influence to your Daniel Band?

Dan McCabe: Yeah, like Geddy Lee from Rush. I really loved his bass playing and I loved his sound. So, I went out and got a Rickenbacker, the black and white 4001. I took the guitar to the same guitar tech that he used and the tech redid it so it would sound exactly like Geddy’s. Some of the vocal styles that were around, like Queen – I really liked their stuff a lot. Some people thought that vocally I sounded like Geddy Lee, Zeppelin, a lot of stuff like that.

The Antidote: How did the first album On Rock come about?

Dan McCabe: I know that people find this hard to understand, hard to believe. We had talked about doing an album. Someone else really felt that more than we did. A wealthy family came to us and said “I see the kind of impact that you are making on our own family, and teenagers. We think that you should seriously consider doing an album and send us the bill”. We walked away from that and thought “Wow, maybe we should make it”. We sat down and talked about the purpose of the album. It wasn’t an instantaneous decision. We really took some time and prayed about it. We came to agree that, yes; we should go forward with it.

The Antidote: It’s great to be able to afford recording an album, but how do you go about distributing it?

Dan McCabe: There was a company that stepped forward. It’s interesting how God brings people together for a particular purpose, you kind of cross paths. There is a purpose in that, it is no accident. I was working, at the time in a studio. One of the fellows who worked out of that studio was a fellow named Carl Mernick and he was doing a lot of kids’ albums for a company called Lawson and Falle, you know, who made all the Christian plaques for the walls. He went to Dave Falle and said, “you’ve really got to hear this band, they’re Canadians and I think they’ve got something here.” So Dave Falle picked us up and signed us to a distribution agreement with Lamb & Lion, at the time, and it went from there.

The Antidote: How was Daniel Band accepted in the U.S.?

Dan McCabe: Very well, we were much bigger in the U.S. than we were here. In fact, everybody in Canada thought we were from the U.S. We were playing out in Saskatoon and everyone thought we were from L.A.; that we weren’t Canadians. That’s how Canada is. You have to go to the States and do well there. Then you come back here and they take you seriously. When we went to the States, we would do very well in all the towns we played.

The Antidote: When you were touring what kind of venues did you play in?

Dan McCabe: We did all of the festivals, which was great. Icthus, Creation and Cornerstone. We played Cornerstone a few times. It was really neat, you got to hang around and meet some the people you really respected and listened to as well. We developed a friendship with Mylon [LeFevre] as we met him on tour all the time. One of my favourite bands back in the early 80s was AD.

The Antidote: Kerry Livgren [ed. note:  Kerry Livgren was previously the guitars, keyboards, synthesizers player for the mega-group Kansas].

Dan McCabe: Yeah, Kerry Livgren and Dave Baldwin and those guys. I used to actually drive around and listen to them and warm up vocally to Michael Gleason. He was the most incredible singer, so I would always play him and sing his stuff all the time and also Kansas, with Vinyl Confessions and Drastic Measures – great albums. It was great to play at Cornerstone with those guys [AD]. I was right on stage and talking and saying how much I like their stuff. Asking “How do you do this, how do you do that?” It was just a great experience. In the hospitality room later, sitting around with Kerry Livgren and actually having a conversation with him and I’m kind of looking around me, thinking “This is really cool!”

Dan McCabe: So, we played a lot if those types of venues, also a lot of high school auditoriums. We didn’t play a lot of churches. Of course, the reason being, a lot of churches weren’t ready for it, you know, to have this in their church. I think a lot of the churches that did bring us in understood that it’s better to have it in a neutral area, not in a church, but rather in a high school auditorium, where people wouldn’t feel uncomfortable, but where they would all come. If they thought it might be some weird Christian thing, they wouldn’t show up.

The Antidote: What do you think of some of the Christian bands nowadays who wouldn’t play a church, but are OK with playing bars and clubs?

Dan McCabe: Yeah, the older I get, the less hung-up I am about that. There was a time when I would have said that I was very much against that. Maybe, that was because, all that I had seen, it never ended well. A lot of bands would have said “OK, we are going to minister to people there” but, it never seemed to turn out that way. If I had seen more success stories, I would have felt differently about it. I sit here now, turning 50 in July, and I look back it now and go “Well, whatever God has called you to be, be faithful and do it”. Be faithful, it can be a very hard thing to do.

The Antidote: Difficult to stay the course.

Dan McCabe: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, it’s a very difficult thing to do.

The Antidote: So, you guys opened for Rez Band. What kind of a relationship did you have with them?

Dan McCabe: Oh, we were really close and still are. Glenn [Kaiser], somehow, got a hold of our first demo tape when he was down in Chicago. Glenn always had a real love for Canada; a real burden for Canada. So he got this demo tape from us and he listened to it and he goes, “I really love this; this is great!” So, we ended up having him and the Rez Band come up when we did a concert here and we opened up for them. We just hit it off, right from the word “go”. We are like-minded in what we thought, how we handled music and preaching. Glenn and Roger [Heiss] came up and helped us produce the first album. We didn’t know what we were doing! They spent a whole week with us to do the mix-down. Glenn stayed at my place with me and we hung out and mixed the album. That’s why the first album sounds a lot like early Rez, since they had a heavy influence on the sound of it.

The Antidote: What about the change in style that moved Daniel Band from straight rock to a metal sound?

Dan McCabe: We took a little bit of a turn. We did the first album [On Rock] which people love to this day. They still say that was our best album. The second favourite album, for them, is our third album, Run from the Darkness. The second album, Straight Ahead, you could sort of pick up, from me anyway, the Kansas influences. We became more creative in our writing. We started introducing some riffs and orchestras and this kind of stuff. We sort of turned away from the heavy rock and experimented with that kind of stuff. I wouldn’t say that it failed, because the album did very well, but it didn’t do as well as the first album. So, the third album we said “OK, let’s go back to what we do best”. We came right back to a style that was very similar to the first album. After that we went into the fourth album which was Rise Up, which was starting to get a little heavier. By the time we got to the fifth album, Running Out of Time, which we literally ran out of time, that’s when we ended our playing. At that time I was getting into heavier bands like Doc, and of course I was always a big Def Leppard fan. You can pick up on a lot of that stuff coming through.

The Antidote: The band finished performing because…?

Dan McCabe: We never really quit, we never really broke up. We just felt, that with children coming along, and commitments in our lives that it was tough to keep performing. We had to make a decision that we couldn’t carry on as a band and take care of our families properly. We saw a lot of bands try to do that and in many cases it ended up in devastation. So we just said, “We’re not going to do that.” We really felt that our first responsibility was to our wives and children. It didn’t stop me from ministering, I minister to my family and I can also minister to others in my local church. Bill Findlay always said “I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to play guitar. I can teach Sunday school”. When Daniel Band stopped, really just stopping taking engagements. I took about two years off and wasn’t doing anything, because my son wasn’t well and I needed to be around our house, to help my wife.

The Antidote: How does music play a role in your life, now?

Dan McCabe: I very busy with music. I’m on staff at a church called Carruthers Creek as one of the worship leaders. I’m very involved with that on a regular basis. I play bass for one of the other worship leaders, Allen Froese, you hear him on the radio all the time. Now my son, Josh, is a drummer, he plays professionally with a group called Esterlyn; he’s on tour with them right now. He just finished the Disciple tour.

The Antidote: Yeah, I listen to Esterlyn.

Dan McCabe: My daughter is a worship leader as well and plays with me every Sunday that I play. She is leading the worship for the youth. My youngest daughter doesn’t isn’t musically inclined. She loves music, but has very different gifts. Wherever help is needed, she’s there, taking photos, baking. If musicians are there with young children, she will be helping organize them, so they aren’t running around. So, we are a ministry family.

The Antidote: What are the plans for Daniel Band now?

Dan McCabe: Well, the record company that we are with in the States wants to re-release our first album. That will be our third re-release with them.

The Antidote: Retroactive Records.

Dan McCabe: Yup… is that right? Yeah, I think it is? [laughs] That’s terrible! I don’t even pay attention to the name of the company! [laughs] I just talked to the fellow there. He is a great guy.

The Antidote: [laughs] …Am I getting a cheque?

Dan McCabe: [laughs] He has been very helpful along the way. All of the copies of On Rock are gone, unless you go online and grab one somewhere.

The Antidote: I’ve been trying.

Dan McCabe: That’s why another release of On Rock is coming out. Retroactive said “We need to do something different”. Tony Rossi and I talked and decided to go back in the studio and we recorded two, brand new songs. They will be bonus tracks on the CD. The CD is about 80% finished right now. I let my kids listen to it and they said “It sounds like Daniel Band, but modern”. So, that is exactly what we went for. In fact, before we went in the studio, I went online and asked a bunch of people, “If Daniel Band came out with a new album, what should it sound like? Should it be like the Daniel Band of the 80s, or should it sound like something current?” Overwhelmingly, everyone said it should be like the 80s Daniel Band. So, we went in and did what we do, but with new technology, which you kind off pick up on in the sound of it.

The Antidote: What do you think of all the retro bands coming back into action?

Dan McCabe: I think it’s fantastic! My kids are, of course, a lot older now and Tony’s kids are grown up. Bill is just starting out with young kids. I was talking to Tony a few weeks ago and asked him if he thought we should put out the word that we would be available to jump into the retro thing again. Tony said “Yeah, maybe we could go on tour with a few of these things in the summertime”. I don’t think I would have time for that, but maybe we could do a few festivals. We did Cornerstone a few years ago.

The Antidote: 2001. You recorded the live CD.

Dan McCabe: Yeah, the live CD. That was great! What was really exciting about that was that the tent was full. There had to be 800 people there. There were people there that had never seen Daniel Band, but had always wanted to. You know, they were big fans and had all the albums, but they had never seen us play live. It just blew me away that they were so excited about seeing Daniel Band live. One guy – this was so funny – he said, “I’ve always wanted to see you. Now I have seen you guys. Now I can die”. [laughs] Oh, come on! I remember playing “Run from the Darkness”. I’m starting the vocals. I’m looking at this guy, tears coming down his face, I’m going, “this is like…” It was fun.

The Antidote:So there could be a chance of seeing you again in the future?

Dan McCabe: Yeah, you never know, yeah. I mean, these two songs we’ve been working on have been taking forever. So, I don’t know how long it would take us to do a new album. We’re open to it, and, you know, we’ve already talked to the record company about it, and they would love us to, of course. So I think where we’re at with it now is that, we’re just going to go in and do it two songs, and we’ll do two more songs, and two more songs, and when we have enough we’ll just throw it on a CD [laughs].

The Antidote: So what do you think now about how the market works now for Christian music? I mean it’s changed.

Dan McCabe: Yeah, it’s really different. We’re on iTunes; so they’ve set us up on iTunes. ‘Cause occasionally I get a cheque for it, that’s how I know! [laughs] And the record company, too, says they’ve have a lot of people asking for ringtones, so I have to go in the studio and edit some stuff for ringtones that people are wanting to buy, so that’s kind of funny too. I find that amusing. [laughs]

The Antidote: Okay, here, Woody Woodland from LIFE 100.3 had a question for you; he emailed me. He said: if you were stuck on an island, and could take only one record with you, what would you bring?

Dan McCabe: Oh, wow! That is so tough. Because my taste keeps changing, you know? It depends what phase I’m in right now.

The Antidote: Okay, who do you listen to now?

Dan McCabe: You’d laugh if I told you!

The Antidote: You’d laugh at what I listen to!

Dan McCabe: [laughs] I was at a Diana Krall concert last night at Massey Hall. I think she’s fabulous. And live, it was just outstanding. Like, “Wow, the musicians and the sound and….” You know, I like that kind of jazz, which people wouldn’t expect.

The Antidote: Now are you going to have to repent for that?

Dan McCabe: No man, that’s okay! We can get through that. And uh, to tell you the truth, I don’t listen to music much. I very rarely listen to music. I listen to the radio; I listen to talk shows and stuff. But one of my favourite singers of all time is Don Henley, from the Eagles. I just think that he’s an amazing writer, and I love his voice. And probably people are listening to this going, “Oh, he’s not saying any Christian bands,” but you know, I have my favourite Christian bands too. You know, Chuck Girard from way back was a huge influence on me. We became friends as well, and he probably played the biggest role in my life in Christian music. Of course,along with Glenn Kaiser. Although Glenn and I are really, really good friends, I was never really a big Rez Band fan. You know, I liked their album covers, but that was about it. Other than that, I didn’t really listen to a lot of Rez. But that’s okay, you know, we’re just good friends, right? [laughs] And of course I liked AD a lot, and Kansas’ stuff. But my tastes are changing a lot, like right now I’ve been listening to Diana Krall and I’m listening to the Eagles, you know? If I listen to anything at all! [laughs]

The Antidote: Well my kids are appalled, because I’ve taken the progression, actually getting even into hardcore and screamo….

Dan McCabe: Oh! Yeah, well you know my kids listen to all that stuff. But yeah, my kids listen to all that stuff too. You know, I like all that stuff. I have a real cross-section of stuff I like, just no one particular thing.

The Antidote: Good for you!

Dan McCabe: But again, I like Def Leppard a lot too. A friend of mine, who’s a pastor, right? He’s from the UK, and so he never really got to see a lot of the bands from the ’80s and so whenever one comes in, he phones here and says, “Can we go and see….” So he and I went to Def Leppard together. So, you know, things have changed a lot, like when a pastor of a church will go to see Def Leppard with you. Things have changed a lot from what we were doing in the ’80s.

The Antidote: It’s true. My salvation was doubted because I was saved at a Petra concert.

Dan McCabe: Yeah, it can’t be real, right? And then, the funny thing was, a few of us went up – um, you know, guys are really going to be upset with me when I tell you this – a few of us went up to Casino Rama to see Boston.

The Antidote: Oh yeah.

Dan McCabe: And they were fantastic. And, lo and behold, the guitar player is Michael Sweet –

The Antidote: Of Stryper.

Dan McCabe: – that we toured with. So I’m going, hey, you know, this is great! This is good! But you know, I always bring it back, though. I went to school, and I learned math and I’d learn science and I’d learn music from all those teachers there, and none of them were Christians. So they taught me some very valuable things. So why do we look at music differently, that I can’t learn musically from people who aren’t Christians?

The Antidote: True.

Dan McCabe: I don’t have to necessarily agree with what they’re saying. But there’s a lot of things that I can learn from them as far as the art is concerned, you know? Or the skill? When I see that, I think, “That’s really good, I’d like to be able to play like that guy.”

The Antidote: So, this is sort of your thirtieth anniversary show.

Dan McCabe: That long, eh? Yeah, I guess it is! [laughs] Yeah, wow!

The Antidote: Is it making you feel old?

Dan McCabe: Yeah, but… ’cause I’m going to be 50 in July, but I don’t feel 50, you know? I don’t feel or think any differently than I did when I was 20-something. In fact, strangely enough, I’m singing better now at 50 than I was when I was playing in Daniel Band when I was in my twenties. Which I can’t understand or explain, but….

The Antidote: It’s just how it is.

Dan McCabe: I think it’s just: I’m taking better care of myself. I’m making sure I get enough rest; I’m eating better. You know, all of these things that I never did in my twenties. You know, you live a little recklessly; you don’t eat right, you don’t sleep enough.

The Antidote: Even after all the hours that you put in at work.

Dan McCabe: Yeah, I said, “that’s it, I need a rest!” [laughs]

The Antidote: Well, listen, is there anything else you want to add?

Dan McCabe: Uh, it’s just great to get together and talk about this stuff.

The Antidote: It’s been fun.

Dan McCabe: We’ve been trying to do this [interview] for a long time. I’m really glad we got a chance to do it, and I’m looking forward to tonight. We don’t have anything else scheduled after tonight, so we’ll do this, and we’ll see where God leads us.

The Antidote: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Have a great show.

Dan McCabe: Thanks.

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