Interview by Arto Lehtinen and Timo Hanhirova
Pics by Arto Lehtinen
The legendary Canadian Voivod have been crisscrossing Europe during the summer of 2009 doing a number of festival dates. The four piece made their first and highly anticipated visit to Finland at the Jalometalli festival in Oulu. It was therefore time to talk to the band’s soul and visonary Michel Langevin (aka Away) about the band’s most recent album INFINI. They albed just recently saw the light of day and has received positive reactions. Away sheds more light on the future of Voivod, talks about the new album, and takes a glance at the past.
Well, how are you doing today?
Oh, I’m- I’m great. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s just great to be back in Europe, you know, and we kept since– we- since the first show at the Swedenrock show and then going back to Montreal and then we had a festival in Quebec, came back here, went back to do our Canadian tour with Down and after Vancouver three days ago, came back here.
So you don’t suffer any kind of jetlag?
I seem to be alright but I know that Snake is waking up at five in the morning every day. Snake is kind of backward, but I’m fine.
This is your first time in Finland. You were awaited to get here in the 80’s – You visited Sweden in 97 with Eric and you have never played here, cos all kinds of things have happened like Ozzy has this accident with ATV?
We have skipped Finland many times. We are happy to come to Finland finally. I was hoping in 2003 to come with Ozzy, but everything got canceled and we ended up writing twenty-three songs that became Katorz and Infini albums
You haven’t done these summer festivals in Europe that much before, in general, until now you have done Download, Summer Breeze, Swedenrock and so on. Years ago you were supposed to play at Wacken, but it got cancelled for obvious reasons. In general, you haven’t played that many European festivals?
No. We did with Eric Forrest and we were going to do that more. But we crashed in ’98 and we crashed in Germany. And then one year we’re not doing at all. And then we started touring again in the clubs with Neurosis and we didn’t do that many festivals, but we did quite a lot in ‘95 and ‘96, and so it’s been quite a long time
Do you think there’s a new interest and attention from the metal people for VoiVod nowadays? More than 10 years ago?
Oh yeah. The past– I mean, it’s true that Jason brought a lot of attention towards the band. And last year when we started there was already an interest building up with the last couple of albums. And last year when we started playing festivals with Blacky the word spread really quickly about VoiVod playing the old catalogue, and now we’re getting a lot of offers to play more festivals. So next year I want to do even more than this year. This year we are doing maybe thirty festivals or so.
CREATING THE SETLIST
But does it cause some kind of problem for you because some people are more into the thrash era, like Killing Technology, and some people want the really old stuff, and some people are more into progressive stuff such Dimension, Nothingface or Angel Rat and the new stuff. So what are you going to do to please all them? It’s impossible?
It’s impossible. Right now though we have a good thing going with playing the first six albums that we wrote with Blacky and then a couple of songs from Infini. People seem to be pretty happy with this scenario. But many people ask me why we don’t play Eric’s material.
Are you going to play Eric era songs?
Not right now. But I hear that Snake really wants to. Snake has been asking me for many years and he really wants to play some songs because Snake really likes Phobos and Negatron but we’re not there yet and it’s like sometimes when there are career moves it’s hard for me to play the material that Eric – because of the clash that happened – and it’s hard for me to play the material all that material by Blacky when he was not in the band anymore. And right now it would feel strange for me to play a lot of songs that we wrote with Jason since Blacky’s in the band, so we only play two songs from the new album; all the rest are songs we wrote with Blacky. We try not to mix the different eras too much.
So this is old school?
Very old school, yeah.
ABOUT VOIVOD ‘s LINE UP
As for the band line-up, it’s a little bit confusing for some people. You’ve now got Blacky and you’re playing with Jason on albums and then you’ve got Daniel on the guitra.. And people are really wondering, “You’re going to have Blacky in the band and Jason on the CD; what’s going on now?”
Well, it is very strange because many places we play and in the papers they would put a photo with Jason, and Blacky is like, “Okay…” Yeah, because, you know…
I actually did this, but I didn’t find any photos of your new line up so I just used needed to use that. (showing the Jalometalli info magazine)
To us it’s natural because we are touring; we’re still promoting the new album. But it is confusing for most people. But I see it – VoiVod – I see it as a big collective now. And I really don’t know what is going to happen in the future.
But I had to include Piggy too.
It’s fine because, again, we are promoting Infini, the new album, so it’s all good. I don’t know what’s going to happen next year. We want to play more shows, but I don’t know who’s going to be in the line-up; I’m hoping that it’s going to be the same line-up as today, but you never know.
When you started looking for a new guitarist to replace Piggy, there were all kinds of Internet rumours, that it would be Andreas Kisser, stuff like that, but in general there were rumours.
Yeah, well, Andreas- I don’t think Andreas would. I mean, Andreas is in Sepultura so I don’t think he would have time to join VoiVod as a fulltime member. But the thing is, we wanted to do a special show – a tribute show for Piggy and Andreas was very interested in doing that specific show but we didn’t ask Andreas to join the band or anything like that, but he really wanted to help us any way he could. He’s a good friend and was an admirer of Piggy’s guitar style.
Are you in contact with Eric anymore?
Yes. He came to Hellfest. He came on stage to sing “Tribal Convictions.” And then we just played Barcelona with Sepultra and he came again to sing “Tribal Convictions” because he lives in Toulouse.
So there isn’t any problems between you?
When we split the band in 2001 it was not because we didn’t get along, it was because the spirit was not there anymore. We tried to gain the momentum back after the crash of ’98 and we were not able to; the spirit was not there. And then I decided to split the band. But it was not long before we wanted to get back into the action and so we phoned Snake and we thought about Jason to play the bass parts of the new songs we were writing, but we didn’t think that he would join the band. It was a decision that he took all of a sudden because he got excited about the songs and the recording and then all of a sudden he said, “I want to join VoiVod.”
And Jason.. When we talked last time that he’s kind of out of the band basically because of his shoulder. Is he permanently out – he’s not able to do any touring – What’s is his status at the moment ?
The thing is, Jason has a very strong connection with Piggy as a musician. They really got along. I’m not sure that Jason would be interested in working with the band without Piggy being in the band. But it’s hard to tell. Right now we’re doing this thing with Blacky, next year it might be another thing. Like I said, I see VoiVid as a big collective. But I would much prefer for Voidvod to be stable, but it’s been a chaotic band all the way through; it’s really not elements I can control because members leave. I’ve never kicked anybody out; they leave, so we have to find somebody else, then we have a clash, then somebody passes away. We switched record labels almost for every album. It’s quite a crazy career that I have.
INFINI – THE LAST ALBUM OR..?
Returning to the new album, Infini, I guess it must be asked several times that the working process was complicated for you, doing all that from the computer. But, in general, can you tell a little more about the new album, Infini – about the writing, recording process, about how everything went and could be done?
Well, it was very similar to Katorz in a way because it was from the same 2004 sessions. There was one difference on Katorz: we had the bass tracks recorded; on Infini there were no bass tracks, just guitar, very cheap drums, and very cheap vocals. And so Jason had to write the bass tracks last year and record them. After he was done- actually, I shouldn’t say that because while he was writing the bass tracks, I was recording the drum tracks. Then once we had the guitar and the drums together, we sent the tapes to Jason and he did the bass and then he sent the tapes back and Snake did the vocals. Actually, Snake was doing the vocals while Jason was doing the bass. Jason was doing a couple of bass tracks, sang the songs and did the singing while he was doing more in San Francisco because we did- Snake and I recorded in Montreal, Jason recorded in San Francisco, so we kept sending tapes back and forth. We didn’t re-amplify the guitars like we did in Katorz; we took them as they were on the laptop. It was Snake’s idea; he really wanted to hear what Piggy was hearing in his apartment while recording. It was pretty much Snake that pushed me into finishing the album, because after Katorz- the recording of Katorz was like a nightmare. I mean, it was great, but it was like three or four months after Piggy’s departure, so it was very sad. After that I didn’t want to do any more VoiVod projects. I did an online gallery – art gallery – so people could get in touch with me and commission some artwork. I spent a couple of years doing that and I started doing more art for other people. Snake started calling me and saying, “Man, we need to do something because…” I mean, there was also a lot of pressure on the VoiVod forums, online. People were like, “What’s going on with the new album?” There were a lot of demands from promoters for us to reform and tour. So, while I was thinking that people would forget about VoiVod, it was the other way around. People were asking more and more and finally, last year, I decided to say, “Okay.” Snake told me, the music is going to rot and disappear if we don’t record or go on stage again; we need to make the music live again and promote Piggy’s wonderful music. That’s really what convinced me, and now I think it was a very good decision.
So you are enjoying touring and playing?
Yeah, very much. And I also am very excited that we went into the studio and finished the album because I didn’t think we would ever finish it. Now that it’s done, I’m really proud that the final album is out and also, well, I had my fears– I also was afraid people would think it was a sacrilege to continue without Piggy, but Dan is very well-accepted by everybody and people think it’s a natural band, you know.
So Daniel didn’t try to emulate Piggy; he plays his own style?
Yeah. He learned to play guitar while listening to VoiVod, so he knew all the songs. But he definitely- he has his own playing. He might be a little more modern than Piggy; Piggy was old school, like Motörhead. Danny’s more like another generation.
Like Motörhead. You mentioned Motörhead – I read in an interview that Motörhead has had a big impact on the new album, as an influence.
And in general, some kind of punk roots.
Yeah, exactly. Because the album was put together from bits of improvisation, so when you improvise, the roots show up a lot, so in the punk rock roots, and also Motörhead and Discharge. But there is still some psychedelia. It’s not past-progressive, as some albums we did in the past, because normally there is part of the process in the studio where we make the songs a little more epic and complicated. We didn’t have that this time because Piggy was gone, so we were stuck with the embryos of the songs. So that’s pretty much what is on the CD.
When we were young kids, we were always told that when VoiVod put a new album out you could expect nothing from them. Is it an ambition for you to always make a different sounding album that doesn’t repeat the previous one ?
Well, I mean, you know, sometimes it was a tough choice, especially in the time of Nothingface when we knew that Nothingface was very popular and we knew that if we were going to do something different, it was going to be a bit of a career suicide in a way. But we did it anyway. We did Angel Rat; had nothing to do with Nothingface and people were totally freaked out and didn’t think it was a very good album at all. Now it has been rediscovered, but for a while it was a controversial album. So it‘s a tough choice, but I think the last three albums with Jason have a whole– well, we were not trying to push the boundaries as much on the albums with Jason; we were just writing naturally and didn’t over-think too much.
So Jason was responsible for mixing and taking care of the mastering of the new album in his home studio in San Francisco, right?
Yeah. Well, he did it at Fantasy Studios. He has his own studio but he preferred to go to a studio in Berkeley. Jason has helped us tremendously, not only as a friend and musically, but also financially. There were many things we couldn’t afford, being so underground – like a very expensive mix and a very big studio. So I find that it’s a plus. It’s a beautiful sound. It’s beautiful, it’s polished; the sounds are a bit raw, but the sound is beautiful. I don’t think that we would have been able to afford that without Jason.
What about the new music? Can you imagine doing something more with Daniel or somebody else?
It’s starting thinking. Many, many, many people ask me – or tell me – “Please write more music.” Next year, 2010, it will be the fifth anniversary of Piggy’s unfortunate departure. Time heals, maybe I’ll be ready to try something with Dan. My dream – I don’t know if I told you in Sweden – I dream of having an album with everybody involved, like Eric, Jason, Snake, Blacky, Dan; that’s my dream. It’s just a dream right now, but I hope to make it happen in 2010. That would be great.
But it’s going to be something totally different, because you just can’t just make sounds like Piggy.
No, Piggy was one of a kind and I know that I would never expect another musician to write Piggy’s music. Never. There is one reason why – I played with Piggy’s for twenty-five years, since 1980 ‘till 2005 – there is a reason why I wrote drum parts for his guitar parts. To me, he was just the greatest contemporary composter and I just wanted to write drum parts on his music. I was always blown away by his music, and I would never dream of meeting another Piggy in my life. I was lucky, and it was twenty-five years, it’s already quite lucky that I was able to share this experience with him. So I’m not really thinking about a Piggy imitator. But I really like Dan’s band, Martyr, and I think it could be interesting with Blacky, Snake and I, and maybe Jason and Eric, who knows.
Have you ever thought about a name change?
Well, yeah, but many times in my career I thought about changing the name of the band. The unfortunate part is it would be worth nothing in the sense that the promoters wouldn’t want to book a band if it’s not called “VoiVod.” Many, many people wouldn’t even look at the album if it’s not called “VoiVod.”
Because it would be a sticker, “Feat. VoiVod Members.”
Yeah. Or maybe call it VoiVod. Or something related.
Or you want something like Korgull ?! Do you know a band called Korgul The Exterminator ?
Yeah, I know. I saw it. They’re from Europe, right?
Yeah. I saw it online. I didn’t hear, but I think it’s cool myself.
VoiVod has the cult status in the metal genre and in other genres. But does it bug you that you never managed to become a big name like Faith No More or Soundgarden? Because you toured with them; you were a headliner. And when you hear people saying, “Do you know VoiVod?” “What?”- “Do you know Faith No More?” “Yeah.”?
I’m not pissed off. I’m not bitter about that because I don’t want to become a bitter musician. So I learned- you know, of course, when we tried very hard to be more- to have more exposure and have more recognition and be more established and then it didn’t happen and we were all a bit crushed. It was probably why Blacky and Snake left the band. But I didn’t want to let it bring me down. If anything, it just represents less financial security for my old days. But, again, you know, I’m a pretty positive person; I don’t really see it as a super negative thing where I would get drunk and complain about it. No. I mean, it would have been great to have been more popular and it would have been great because more people would have been aware of our music. Except for that, it’s been a pretty long career and it’s rare.
The last time Possessed played here, well actually Jeff Becerra with the back-up by guys of Sadistic Intent, I can’t help asking: you toured with Possessed with DeathRow in Europe and you played in Canada at the World War festival. What kind of memories do you have ?
Those were insane years because- in the mid-80s, when we started touring the USA, we toured with Celtic Frost, and then the first tour in Europe was with Possessed, and these were the big years for thrash metal. The clubs were jam-packed with people moshing, riots, it was very, very insane. These were very exciting times for us because we were part of a scene that was boiling and exploding and full of action and touring with friends. We were all a bunch of kids – twenty-year-old kids – and having a good time on the road with Destruction, Kreator, Possessed, Celtic Frost– I can’t remember everybody but it was very, very, very cool. I have very good memories of the mid-80s.
You mentioned riots – How many big riots did you see back then?
There were a couple in Germany, but it was because the security attacked the kids, and the kids responded and attacked security and it turned into a big fight. And the militia came with dogs and it was a big mess. To us it was exciting. Nobody got hurt, except for maybe for a couple of security guys. To us it was just part of the excitement of the whole thing. But what happened was the crowd jumped on stage to beat up the security, the security left the building, so they demolished all the equipment. That was the bad part.
Okay, last question because you have to leave. When you developed your sound, did the crowd change? I think they changed a lot from the early days – no more riots when you played Nothingface.
To me, I don’t mind it because after a couple of years of thrash metal with the big mosh pit, there were still some people getting hurt in the most pit, so after a while I didn’t mind that people calmed down a little and started listening a little more because our music was developed and matured.
The book covers Away’s art from the the 70’s and several known Voivod arts.
VOIVOD AT SWEDENROCK 2009