interview by - Riven
Voivod, the legendary Canadian progenitors of thrash, pioneers of progressive metal, authors of some of the heaviest records of the 90s. Their influence can be heard in all kinds of extreme music, from Darkthrone through Mastodon to Deathspell Omega. Appreciated by rock celebrities such as Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Down), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Killing Joke) or Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys)- yet they never really managed to reach a wider audience. After the tragic demise of the musical genius Denis "Piggy" D’Amour, the band’s future seemed bleak. Yet it turns out that with a little stroke of luck and lots of hard work, the Voivod vampire is about to rise again.
This is what the brain behind the unique artistic vision of Voivod, Michel "Away" Langevin told us about the new album, the problems with record labels, the coming successor to Target Earth and a few other things concerning his extraordinary band.
Greetings from Poland, Michel! First of all, thanks for having the time for an interview for Masterful Magazine. I bet this must be an exciting time for Voivod - as much as for the fans. The new album has been released just a few days ago and it coincides with the band’s 30th anniversary.So how are things in Morgoth land today?
Things are absolutely great since all the reviews are amazing right now and we’re getting ready for a lot of touring for our 30th anniversary this year, so we’re pretty excited.
Many people were a bit afraid that Target Earth would be more of a tribute to the 80s, not so much a stand-alone album. Instead, it definitely has its very own character that cannot be reduced to the proverbial walk down the memory lane. This is a tremendous accomplishment that very few returning bands manage to achieve.Was that your conscious aim in the process of making the album? Were there any musical assumptions like "hey, let’s do something more progressive this time"?
Honestly, we didn’t think about a direction, but I guess that we knew that we had to keep the Voivod spirit intact. We just wrote music that we wanted to play. Blacky and Chewy wrote the most of the music, and the way they write results in sounds that are very progressive and intricate. My two special requests were to have a couple of songs that were more thrash metal, so that’s why there is Kluskap Okom and our very first French song - Corps Etranger - both have more of a Motörhead beat to them.
Yeah, you can definitely hear that! By the way, since this is your first song in French and well, since many of your fans don’t speak French, could you shed some light on what it is about?
Well, Snake wrote the lyrics and it’s about a virus taking over your body. "Corps etranger" means "foreign body" and I suspect that he had Piggy in mind when he wrote the lyrics.
You already mentioned Blacky - his legendary blower bass definitely makes a great come back here. I know that he and Piggy had a very strong musical relationship when composing albums. Did Chewy and Blacky work as closely when making Target Earth?
Yes, they worked very closely together. We also did a lot of improvisation sessions that were recorded, and many parts of the album were pulled from the improvisation sessions. But everything was pretty much arranged by Blacky and Chewy. Of course I wrote my drum parts and Snake wrote the lyrics, but the music is mainly Blacky and Chewy - just like back in the days when Piggy and Blacky were writing most of the music.
The intro to the track "Empathy for the Enemy" is played on an eastern sounding instrument, and I suppose it is done by the guy that is mentioned in the booklet, Periklis Tsoukalas. How did this come about?
We were playing in Athens, and Perikles showed us around; he took us to the main tourist places in Athens - which was great - and then at night he played for us his instrument called oud which has a very traditional sound. He played it on the roof of the hotel we were staying at downtown Athens, and we thought it was amazing, and we wanted to incorporate that to the new album.
Let’s now talk about something which has always been an integral part of the Voivod machine, namely your artwork. The cover art is very different this time. The drawing itself ispurelyVoivod style, but it’s by far more colorful than ever before. Was there a specific idea behind this choice of colors?
Yes, actually when we started writing the material and we did the first demos around 2010, many of our friends said that the music sounded like all the Voivod eras combined together, and it made me think about using colors from the many front covers I did for the band all on one cover, and the main idea was for me to draw the scenery very colorful, so it would look great on vinyl.
In reference to your art - in one interview you mentioned the Polish author Bruno Schulz as one of your favorite writers. Are you also familiar with his graphical works?
Of course! Yeah, I always loved the way he illustrated his tale and I’m a big fan of his writing and art as well.
Several albums by Voivod are more or less based on a concrete concept. Different steps of evolution of the Voivod vampire can be seen on subsequent records - from a primitive warrior, to an entity transcending space-time. Did you have any specific theme in mind for Target Earth?
No, not exactly. The other guys asked me to write a concept for the next album that would involve the Voivod, and I’m gonna try to work on that during the touring. But for this album, I’m sure that Snake was influenced by the events that happened since we started writing the album, like let’s say the Occupy movement, the Fukushima nuclear accident, the economical crash, probably the Arab spring. So there are tons of events that are very influential when the time comes to write an album.
Kluskap Okom is one of the best track on Target Earth and I think it is safe to say that it is on par with Voivod’s greatest classics. Can you shed some light on the lyrics? Cause the intro suggests that there are some Native American themes in it, am I right?
Yes, Snake got it from a friend that is ... I think he has a friend, a girl that is a Micmac from one of the First Nations here, and if I remember well, Snake told me that it’s a folk tale about a creature coming down from the sky to destroy dinosaurs so that humanity couldlive, and he took it from there and developed on it.
When I was a kid I spent a few months in Canada. I remember visiting one First Nation Reserve and it was a pretty desolate place with lots of poverty and unemployment... The whole history of the native populationof North Americais pretty depressing. What is you approach to the whole situation as a Canadian?
It’s very sad in North America. You only realize it when you go through a reserve, that’s where you see the extreme poverty. And of course in the main centers,the main cities, you see a lot of Native Americans on the sidewalk drinking and sniffing glue and all that... and um, it’s a very sad thing. Now, here in Canada, the First Nations are protesting because their lands are slowly being exploited by corporate companies - and they’re starting to have a lot of support from the people, fortunately. But the government here is very conservative in Canada, and I don’t know if their claims for revindication will be heard at all.
I see. A few more questions about the latest album. Chewy did a great job as the new guitarist. He manages to incorporate a fresh approach to the classic Voivod sound.Apart from being a metal musician, he is also a professional jazz guitarist who teaches jazz musicat a college. Considering that, do you see any difference between the approach that Piggy had, who as far as I know,was a self-taught guitarist, as opposed to Chewy?
Well, Piggy studied music, he studied violin, but not for very long. He was very self-taught and so they’re a bit different - Chewy is more academic, but they really have the same approach to writing; they use very irregular chords and strange time signatures, and a lot of guitar pedals and rack effects, so I think that Chewy is from the Piggy school!
Yeah, that definitely shows! As far as I remember, the album was recorded in early 2012, so that would make a full year after it was released - why did it take so long?
The album was self-produced with money that we got from touring for a couple of years. And then, once we recorded the album in early 2012, we went back on tour again and we mixed it only in the summer, and we signed the deal with Century Media in the summer, so it would be a bit rushed to release it for the October Europe tour. What we did was release a 7" vinyl - Mechanical Mind - for the tour, and decided to release the album for the 30th anniversary this January - because we founded Voivod in January 1983.
One thing about Target Earth that has been a mystery for many people is the final track, cause it ends before it even properly begins. I must say it’s a bit frustrating, since the track sounds completely amazing. What’s the story behind that one?
Well, it’s a lot like what Venom did with Black Metal and At War with Satan: Defiance is the first song of the next album. We actually are gonna meet this Monday and try to finish it.
That’s a great explanation actually! Now a more general question: Voivod is a band that sparked many approaches to metal music. With your early albums you were instrumental to establishing thrash, but also black metal. Many extreme bands, such as Mayhem orDarkthrone were heavily influenced by you.I think that it is safe to say that Voivod has been at least as influential for the whole genre as Slayer or Celtic Frost. Do you keep track of what’s going on in the metal scene of today?
Yeah, but Blacky is more up to date that me, I’m very retro and I still listen to the stuff that I listened to in the early 80s. But I really like it when Blacky plays Mastodon or Baroness in the bus, I think it’s great. I’m more into what we call neo-prog music like Anekdotenand stuff like that.
You also played a gig with Neurosis as far as I know.
Oh yeah, we like Neurosis, and we played with them two months ago in San Francisco. Jason (Newsted -author’s note) came to the show and it was great to see him again.
That’s cool - I’ve heard that he’s releasing a new album, right?
Yes, he’s just released an EP online and it’s fantastic. It’s really good, it’s very metal.
In "Worlds Away" (a book dedicated to the art of Away and Voivod - author’s note), you enumerate several bands that influenced you as an artist, such as Dead Kennedys, Discharge or - from the more progressive side of the spectrum - Van Der Graaf Generator and Magma. That is a pretty diverse set of musical styles, and yet Voivod manages to combine these seemingly remote ideas into a coherent musical creation. Do you think that there is something in common in all of these different styles that drew you to their music?
Yes, I tend to like it when it’s a bit dark, and that’s why I don’t mind listening to Van Der Graaf Generator, right after I will listen to Doom, and right after I will listen to Bauhaus, you know? So I really like when it’s a bit scary and it probably comes from when I first heard Black Sabbath when I was very young.
The song Kaleidos - it’s very plot-driven. This reminds me of the approach you took on Dimension Hatross, where there was a story behind the whole album, but also on Nothingface, where the main character tells about the things that are happening to him at the moment of speaking. Kaleidos is similar in that respect, but what is it actually about? Cause the lyrics are very ambiguous!
Hehe, I think it was influenced by when there were some experiments done on CIA agents, without them knowing, I think that they took acid without knowing and some of them either went crazy or committed suicide, and I think that it’s a parallel to that story - it has a conspiracy theory side to it.
Ok, I see. In "Worlds Away", you also said you wrote stories and drew sketches that you would give to the rest of the band in order for them "to enter the proper dimension", as you said. Did you do that for Target Earth as well?
No, actually, I started the art when the album was recorded, last year, but all of the art inside (the booklet) was done on tour. I draw a lot on tour and I did ink in the recording studio as well, but the front cover was done based on the music.
The world is changing extremely fast, in ways that are explored by Voivod along its career - this is probably one of the reasons why the band remains so remarkably relevant. What do you think about the direction technology is taking, especially considering the tremendous growth of the Internet? Do you think that we should be concerned? Could the Internet be the new home of the Voivod, taking his vengeance on mankind?
Well, it’s a pretty scary planet. Back then I used to try to think about what would happen in 25 years down the road, right now it’s really hard for me to even picture the planet in 25 years. I’m still afraid of the same subjects like pollution, high tech weaponry, social disintegration -- these are still the main fears. Of course the Internet... hacking - it’s pretty worrisome. Target Earth, the title track, is about a hacker taking control of armed satellites around the planet to blackmail countries. So that’s pretty much what’s going on on the album. Voivod was always about the loss of control of technology so it’s still a recurring scenario in Voivod’s albums.
And one more down-to-earth thing - given the recent surge in interest in the band, are you planning on re-releasing some of the older albums?
We’ve been working on that for many years but it’s a bureaucratic mess, because Universal bought Sanctuary, that bought Noise, and so it’s very hard for us to re-release our material from the 80s and early 90s. But we are working on it. What we are aiming for is having a box set with Rrröööaaarrr, Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross with the demos, the Iron Gang demos, and another goal would be to have another box set with Nothingface, Angel Rat and Outer Limits. So that’s what we’re working on right now -but it’s hard with Universal to be top priority.
After all these years what do you think about the Eric Forrest era albums?
Well, I’m very proud of all Voivod’s line-ups and releases; with Eric we were heading for a heavier direction when Snake left the band in 1994. That’s why we picked up Eric, because he had a very heavy approach towards singing and playing. I’m very proud of that period, especially the album Phobos, which we worked on very hard. It didn’t sell that much though.
Yeah, I think that it’s the one of the most underrated metal albums out there, I think it’s at least as good as Nothingface, so hopefully more people will appreciate it over time. Do you keep in touch with Eric?
Yes, he lives in Toulouse, France, and whenever we play around he comes on stage to sing Tribal Convictions with us.
That’s awesome. I’ve seen videos on the internet of his band E-Force performing some songs from Phobos and it was quite amazing actually. Have you guys thought of doing a tour together?
Well, we were supposed to play Forlorn with him last year, but he was not able to come to the show.But eventually it’s gonna happen I’m sure.
One last question: do you have any more concrete plans as for the tour that you mentioned?
Yeah, we have a lot of touring being planned right now, first in March we’re going to Austin, Texas, mid-April is Brazil and Chile; then May-June-July we’ll be in North America and Europe, and we hope to go to Asia in the fall.
Ok. Michel, thank you very much for the interview and once again, congrats on the new album!
Thank you very much, see you soon!
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