Jan 28th 2013 Interview – Voivod by Pete Woods
Just an hour and a bit before this interview was due to take place I could have literally killed technology as I had what can only be described as a bastard power cut. Surrounded by candles with analogue phone but questions on the useless PC I shouted at the electricity people who managed unbelievably to sort things out just before drummer and founder member of Voivod Michel Langevin aka Away rang. With the group’s excellent thirteenth studio album ‘Target Earth’ poised to hit there was plenty to talk about but de-thawing it seemed like the weather was a perfect icebreaker to open up the questioning.
AN: Good evening and congratulations on the new album. Before we start and being English we have to mention the weather as we have the somewhat rare phenomenon of snow grinding our country to a halt. I am assuming you are speaking to me from Canada and I guess you are a bit more used to dealing with all this than we are?
Away: Haha yeah actually we are snowed in and it’s pretty cold. It’s going to be like it all week but it’s my 50th winter so. Here we are lumberjacks so we can still make it through things.
AN: Much more importantly some sources are stating that Voivod have just turned 30 is this correct? Did you have an actual date marking this momentous event and did you celebrate it in any way, a special show or anything and apart from obviously a new album have you any other plans to perhaps release anything else to mark the occasion.
Away: Yes we are from Northern Quebec, that’s where we grew up, about 200 miles from Montreal and on New Year’s Eve there was a show celebrating the 175th anniversary of where we are from and they asked us to play one song, as there are many artists from Northern Quebec playing, so we took the opportunity to celebrate our 30th anniversary at midnight, so it was a great occasion. I remember that Snake auditioned for the band I believe it was the 7th or 8th of January 83 so this month is our 30th anniversary.
Target Earth is our celebration, we only released a single last year for the October Euro tour Mechanical Mind 7” but we decided on the album for the anniversary.
AN: Of course you have really been the one constant in the group throughout those years. Did you ever envisage the longevity of the band and did you ever consider that Voivod was going to be such an important band and pretty much a household name for anyone into extreme metal?
Away: Not exactly but when I was old enough to hitchhike and go and see shows I had to go to Quebec City and Montreal, it was a long trek and I remember going to see Motorhead, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in the early 80s and thinking this is going to be hard for us to sing in English and get the words right but when we formed the band we were really dedicated and didn’t play covers for too long. We played Motorhead, Raven, Tank a bit of punk and were very much into Venom, hardcore, Discharge and Conflict so we also had progressive rock and Kraftwerk in our blood us well. It is very popular in Quebec and bands like Van Der Graaf Generator are very influential. It was never obvious for us but when War And Pain came out it gave us some hope but we knew we had to move to Montreal so we went there in 85. We quit school and moved and lived in one apartment infested with cockroaches and I didn’t think about the future that much.
When we signed with Noise and released Rrröööaaarrr it became this frenetic adventure where we put all the time with the trash metal scene, Destruction, Kreator, Celtic Frost etc; these were crazy years. We also released an album a year and only like at the end of the 80s after working pretty hard and finally getting some airplay for Nothingface that I started to think that things could get bigger. A couple of events along the way though really made me think it could be over like our accident in Germany 98 and the passing of Piggy in 2005 but I am very surprised and its quite an accomplishment we have a new album out it’s our anniversary now.
AN: Obviously a huge amount has changed since you first delivered debut album ‘War And Pain’ in 1984. What would you say are the biggest changes that have affected you as a recording artist between then and new album Target Earth all those years later?
Away: Oh it’s the acceleration in technology, all aspects of it actually. We saw computer technology taking over full on from having to do things, manipulations to pro-tools and for me visually having to go from brush, air brush to photoshop so that’s intertwined and the digital technology versus analogue is the main thing for me on all aspects.
AN: The music industry is obviously in a real state of flux at the moment with all the problems of internet leakage of material and the traditional record store disappearing from the high street (HMV just going into administration). Would you say it is a lot more difficult surviving than it was around the time you were releasing the likes of say Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross?
Away: Yes and it goes with the same complex situation that comes with technology, you can apply it to CD’s or MP3’s there are a couple of downfalls, we have to suffer the illegal downloads and all that. We were all tape traders ourselves but the internet is such an incredibly quick way of promoting yourself. When we started we had to record the 1984 demo which was recently re-released by Alternative Tentacles and we had to send the cassette to the address on the back of the vinyl that we had and wait for an answer for a week. We did another mail order for the Iron Gang sampler we had set up and it was all done by mail. It’s a major, major change through the years and that’s what I mean when I say we were kind of lucky to watch it go from the early 80s to now in terms of home recording which really helped us in the case of finishing up Katorz and Infini for Jason, Snake and I. I think it would have been impossible to finish these two albums if Piggy didn’t record them on pro-tools on a laptop at home.
AN: Obviously the death of Piggy must have been a terrible thing to deal with. Was carrying on with the band something that you questioned at the time or was it imperative for you to do so and get his contributions put out on record?
Away: Well after we did Katorz in early 2006 Jason, Snake and I were emotionally drained from recording without Piggy and at this point we didn’t think it would be anything related to Voivod anymore. We just took a couple of years off. Jason, Snake and I knew that we wanted to finish Infini one day but even that was unsure. After a couple of years, it was summer of 2008 that we were asked many, many times by a festival here in Montreal called Heavy Montreal to reform for that festival and it was only meant to be one show. In 2007 when we were on hiatus Snake and I went to see Chewy and Blacky jamming together at a show. They were jamming a medley of Voivod with members of Cryptopsy I think and Snake and I were blown away, they had a really good chemistry and they were really fun to watch. So when we finally agreed to reform in 2008 for that one show we phoned them immediately but we were a bit scared and nervous that it would be sacrilege to many people and all that but the reaction of the crowd was amazing! The word spread and Chewy was accepted immediately and we were asked to play other festivals. The Heavy Montreal one was with Motley Crue and Iron Maiden and then we were asked to play another one in Canada in Calgary with Judas Priest and Ozzy and then Testament invited us to go to Tokyo for two nights, we ended up filming the concert and releasing a DVD and it just kept going. We started playing all the festivals in Europe, we were invited by Kreator to tour the USA and Down invited us for Canada and little by little we were enjoying very positive energy. With one line up on the road then Jason, Snake and I decided to finish Infini in 2009 and we added songs from that on the road with the other line up and then Snake asked me if we could play some of the Eric Forrest years so we added some songs from Phobos. By the time we started writing the album in 2010 all of the eras were in our blood. Of course most of the stuff we played, the early 80s trash metal material like the Blackie years really rubbed off on us when we started writing the album.
AN: I suppose and let’s move onto the new album fully now this question is again relevant as far as that is concerned as it was the first album with entirely fresh material without his contribution on. Did this make the recording of Target Earth a bit different for you?
Away: Well the last couple of albums we did with Jason were very hard to record for us as we had to add our respective tracks to his guitar tracks and it was not even done on a click track or anything. We had demos that were recorded in 2004. The new album was much easier because it was a band going into the studio and I had no insecurity. As soon as I heard the material which Blackie and Chewy demoed in early 2010 was how it started. There had been a demo for guitar and bass it was the songs Kaleidos and Artefact and Snake and I were blown away it was really reminiscent of Dimension Hatröss and we wanted to be part of it.
AN: A lot of people are already commenting on that and the fact that the new album sounds so quintessentially old style Voivod. Was it a group contribution as far as the writing of the album was concerned?
Away: Most of the arrangements are done by Blackie and Chewy and they both also have individual songs that mutated into Voivod material. We did a lot of improvisation sessions that we recorded and part of songs were poached from these but again they were arranged by Chewie and Blackie. Eventually I realised that the material was very intricate and I asked for a couple of trash metal songs with a Motorhead beat and we ended up writing Kluskap O’Korn and Corps Etranger our very first French song.
Target-Earth-FrontAN: I have to say that before you get to the music itself the cover art is excellent and really got my imagination at work being a bit of a dystopian sci-fi geek. What came first the song ideas or the artwork and where do you get inspiration from for it. I have to say first thoughts are we are going to be invaded and by the looks of what’s coming are completely screwed?
Away: Hahah, actually we had a discussion with the band and decided we wanted something that was more galactic and space looking. Then when we demoed the songs that I mentioned and noted that all the Voivod eras were presented musically, it made me feel that I could use colours from many front covers I did, that’s why it’s so colourful. I also wanted to do a series that would look good on vinyl. So I started working on that in Paint 2012 and the students and then everyone took to the streets here and there were at times 200 and 300,000 people passing in front of my house and there were mass riots with the anarchist groups right downtown from where I live. There were helicopters above my building all the time and it was the craziest summer so slowly with the cover coming together it was literally influenced by what was going on around my house. The three spheres were kind of like the three helicopters hovering around my house.
AN: I read that thematically the album deals a fair bit with conspiracy theories and control of information. Can you expand upon this a bit please?
Away: Well it has a lot of the recurring Voivod themes from through the years in terms of high-tech weaponry, mind manipulation, pollution, so technological disasters. Literally for the title track Target Earth its hackers taking control of armed satellites to blackmail countries. Continuing what has happened in the last couple of years there is the occupy movement, financial crash, Fukushima and Arab Spring before it was things like the Challenger explosion and nuclear war but our main worries are the same I guess.
AN: One thing that is bound to have people scratching their heads a bit is the title Klaskap O’Korn. Basically you what? Looking at the lyrics it suggests it could be about some sort of mythical figure from ancient times?
Away: It’s a first nation tale that Snake picked up from the Micmac mythology. It’s a creature who comes down from the sky to destroy the dinosaurs so that humanity can survive.
AN: That particular song with its strange chanting intro and the couple that followed with ethnic sounding beginnings kind of struck as a bit on the tribal side? Is this the effect you were looking for?
Away: I did the interludes and the intros and outros with Blacky, I like to use electronic equipment and he’s a huge fan of field recordings so we sort of mixed both for the album. We wanted it sound like a long journey, a bit like Dimension Hatröss.
AN: There are a lot of strong songs on the album, what was it that made you decide on Mechanical Mind as the single and the first taste to unveil on your listeners?
Away: We thought it was very representative of all musical aspects of the album. We could have used a shorter song and a more punchy one but thought that since the album is very progressive we might as well not hide from it and reveal a really progressive track first.
AN: If I had a gun to my head I think I would go for Resistance as a favourite, it’s got a real rollocking groove and it simply powers on throwing loads of good leads and memorable melody into the mix. It also takes me back to a song like Tornado a little. A lot of people seem to be commenting that this album is a return to Voivod of old, would you agree?
Away: Yeah well you know with Blacky’s blower bass sound and the song writing it’s definitely reminiscent of Dimension Hatröss and Nothingface with a little bit of The Outer Limits but Resistance also reminds me a bit of the Jason Newsted years in a way. There’s a bit of everything, definitely a return to the prog, trash and metal! 2012_Voivod_Logo_Crest
AN: The one thing that I just couldn’t gel with was that last number ‘Defiance’ it just gets going and frustratingly stops. What’s that all about, is it perhaps to be continued?
Away: Ha yeah actually! It’s meant to be the first song on the next album. It’s a lot like what Venom did with Black Metal and At War With Satan.
AN: Obviously the album has only been out a few days so guess you have more critic than fan reaction (although we can be both). How’s that been for you so far?
Away: Oh it’s been absolutely positive. I have yet to see a negative one yet. We try not to overthink too much when we write the material other than to keep it fresh and a fine balance. We do want to continue the Voivod legacy and keep the spirit of Piggy intact but wanted to write the music we wanted to play at this specific moment. It’s always a relief when it’s so well received.
AN: The London gig was great and it was really noted how much you all actually seemed to be enjoying yourselves. How was the tour, for you, what were the particular highlights?
Away: Well yeah, the highlight for me was the UK leg with Doom as I am a big fan. Then playing opening for Arch Enemy was amazing we had a great response and they are really class. We ended the tour in Russia and played Moscow for the first time, people were chanting Voivod for 20 minutes before we hit the stage so this was a highlight too.
AN: Voivod have always had an incredibly unique and immediately identifying sound. I very fleetingly mentioned Killing Joke on some of the riffs and The Young Gods on one song in reviewing the band (no doubt by language more than anything) but you are a band that leads to imitation rather than the other way. It makes me wonder what other music you listen to personally and rate?
Away: I’m quite a retro person, I listen to a lot of Kraut rock and a lot of progressive rock like Van Der Graaf Generator who are my favourite band. I listen to a lot of gothic material from the alternative period of the 80s like Bauhaus, Killing Joke and I have never stopped listening to hardcore, mainly anarchist and crust punk bands like Amebix. In terms of new material I like to listen to new prog like Anekdoten even if it is not brand new, anything is newer than Voivod haha. Blacky plays a lot of Baroness and Mastodon and I really think they are fantastic too.
AN: Any other projects on the go for any of you at the moment or are all controls full throttle Voivod!
Away: I used to do various side projects but when we reformed in 2008 it really took a back seat. Especially with the 30th anniversary we have a lot of touring coming up in South and North America, Europe and hopefully Asia. We will be going all over the place and in between tours we want to write new material. For the past 5 years we have been trying to get busier but we also have our own businesses. I do a lot of artwork and for books about heavy metal, Chewy is a guitar teacher at university
AN: As far as England is concerned a lot of people would like to see you added to Bloodstock Festival too.
Away: I would love to as well, with the new album we are applying to play at every festival so we will see what happens!
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