Warriors Of Ice: An interview with VOIVOD
TBR: First off, some very cool news hot off the press! “Roadburn is elated to announce the curator for the 17th edition of the festival: Voivod. After the band’s widely acclaimed and artistically inspiring performances at the 2011 festival, Voivod has agreed to curate our festival on Friday, April 13, 2012.”
Away: Well, we played Roadburn this year – that’s where we started our Euro tour and we played two shows. It’s just an amazing festival and we’re lucky enough that they asked us to be curators for a day in 2012. We’re pretty excited, of course, and already started to contact bands that reach the range of music that either interest us or music that was influenced by us. From punk to psychedelic to industrial to metal to noise, we tried to cover the whole spectrum.
TBR: Can you tell us a bit about how that came together and maybe a preview of what you guys have in mind?
Away: All the bands we’ve contacted haven’t responded yet. The ones that have seem to be really excited. Right now, it’s just a wish list that we have – hopefully it’s going to work out.
TBR: The word out there is that 2012 will see the release of a new album by VOIVOD. Are you able to share the title with us? Any hints about the release date?
Away: We have no title yet but we have about 10 songs in progress, four of which are pretty much done. There are elements of all the eras of Voivod within the music – we’ve tried to keep the Voivod essence intact. So we’re moving onward and hope to be recording in the winter. We’ll have a new album early next year and then go back on the road!
TBR: Through the years, Voivod has always balanced really vivid and imaginative elements in the songwriting with another side which is thoughtful and reflects on the sort of issues or problems that mankind faces. Can you give us an idea about any of the concepts or themes surrounding the album and maybe the lyrics? What sorts of things inspired you this time around?
Away: Snake is mostly responsible for the lyrics since we re-formed in early 2000. We have a lot of discussions and ideas but in the end, he’s responsible for the lyrics. There’s a lot to talk about nowadays so I’m sure it’s going to be at least somewhat socially oriented, as usual.
TBR: Musically speaking, it’s the first studio album to feature Chewy (Dan Mongrain). You guys must be very comfortable together spending so much time together now, but it’s also the first album without Piggy (Denis D’Amour). Can you talk a little bit about the songwriting process? How has it changed and how has it remained the same?
Away: It’s a bit of the same in the sense that a lot of the riffs come from improvisations that we record. Blacky and Chewy take care of writing the bulk of the song structure based on the riffs – they build songs based on these fragments. Afterwards, we meet up again and finish off the whole thing. It’s teamwork of course, but Blacky and Dan are more involved with the writing the music. Snake is involved with writing the lyrics and I’ll be the one doing a lot of the art.
TBR: When you first spoke with Blacky after his first couple of sessions writing together with Dan, what were his thoughts and impressions on that experience?
Away: Well, Blacky and Dan have been friends for a long time. We met Dan through Blacky before we reformed in 2008 and they worked on a couple of projects together so I know that they were comfortable together.
In 2007, Snake and I saw them perform onstage together. They were playing a medley of Voivod tunes at Club Soda with a bunch of members from other metal bands from Montreal. That’s where we first saw Dan and Blacky was back in town after spending a long time on the West coast. That’s where we realized that they were great together. When we reformed in 2008, we phoned Dan and it’s been working really well.
TBR: That’s so cool – even through all the lineup changes, you guys have never held any grudges or aired out any negativity in the press. Personally, I think that’s another reason that the fans have stayed true.
Away: Yeah! I mean, when Blacky left the band in ’91, he left for the West coast immediately. Of course, everybody was bummed and we really didn’t get to cross paths except for a couple of times when we played the West coast as a trio in the 90’s. But yeah, every time we met, we were all very polite. Now, the split-up was 20 years ago – it’s such a long time, it almost seems unreal that it ever happened. (Laughs)
TBR: Have you chosen a producer for the new album?
Away: Right now we are demoing at the jam space on ProTools. We’re slowly trying to find a plan for the winter where we could hopefully record in Montreal. We’d love to record at home.
TBR: Do you know which label will be releasing it?
Away: We don’t know right now. Indica released Warriors Of Ice, our live album, in Canada and Sonic Union in the US and we’re trying to release it in Europe. It’s going to be much easier for us with a studio album to license it but we have nobody in mind – we’ll just decide next year when it’s done.
Hopefully we can pay for the recording ourselves. We’ve been touring a lot the past few years so we’re sitting on a bit of money that we can spend on an album so that would be the best scenario.
TBR: People obviously have a special connection to the original members of the band. You guys managed to move through some changes to the lineup and keep the band active the fans always stayed with you. What was the key to moving through these changes so successfully?
Away: We were just playing the music that we wanted to play at every specific time in our career. Sometimes it has played against us, other times it was good timing but you can’t really think about it that much. The thing is that even though we were doing exactly what we wanted, we always tried to keep the Voivod signature in there and many people stayed loyal to it. We did have a couple of periods where we were we were a bit more low profile – especially in America – but then we could always go to Europe and play the festivals all these years. It’s pretty cool that we’ve had a career for 28 years right now and still have that same Iron Gang family following us.
TBR: Is the Iron Gang active now?
Away: It hasn’t been active for I would say more than 10 years now, but we’re trying to rebuild it and make stuff available online as an IronGang.com project.
Right now, we are re-releasing all the Iron Gang demos through DVD’s or reissues – like for Christmas, there’ll be a re-issue of three albums from the 80’s: RRROOOAAARRR!!!, Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross and they’re being re-mastered and they come with a bonus CD of Iron Gang demos – every one of them.
Away: The very first demo, To The Death, from ’84 will be released as a double vinyl this year but eventually, it might be easier for us to have it available as downloads online instead of manufacturing DVD’s and CD’s.
TBR: You mentioned Killing Technology in there. It was a real evolution from RRROOOAARR!!! and really, from everything else that had ever come out at that time. I’m interested to your memories and your thoughts on what the discussions were in the band at the time. It must’ve been a very thoughtful process. Or was it more a natural occurrence? How did you guys approach it exactly?
Away: I would say that it was more events of the time that really, really affected us: the Challenger shuttle explosion, the Star Wars project and all these new concepts gone awry, you know? The first couple of albums were a lot about the possibility of the destruction of the Earth from nuclear warfare.
Starting with Killing Technology, it got a little wider, concept-wise. A lot of it was based on the militarization of space. That’s the main thing – the mid-80’s was pretty scary, technology-wise, all of a sudden.
It’s always been very obvious to me ever since the 70’s and my drawings were always related to that. I had an eye-openers: events at the end of the 70’s, a documentary called, If You Love This Planet – a documentary that really opened my eyes to the possibility of nuclear war. And of course bands like Dead Kennedys, Crass, Conflict and Discharge helped me understand that there were nuclear stockpiles all across the globe.
There were certain interviews I did – mainly in the 90’s and early 2000 – where people were telling me… all of a sudden, it was not fashionable anymore to talk about nuclear weapons. People would tell me, “How come you’re still scared of that stuff? The new generation is not.” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know – they’re still there. They’re getting even more technological.” I do believe that something that might happen - Some loss of control, eventually.
TBR: Another thing that has always been a point of interest with Voivod are the names and the distinct personalities of the band members. Obviously, over 30 years, you guys have been through a lot together and grown through the years. If you were to boil it down, what is the one central thing about their personality that has remained the same through the years that means the most to the band? For Snake? For Blacky? For yourself?
Away: Snake is very goofy, very funny stand-up kind of guy. He’s never changed. We all met him when we were kids and he’s still the same.
Blacky is also quite a funny guy. I guess we met because we were all funny in a kind of way, but Blacky’s also really, really energetic and needs to spend it. He’s always been the “punk rocker” of the gang even though he was more into alternative punk like Killing Joke – Snake and I were a lot more into traditional punk like Discharge and stuff like that. He’s still exactly the same.
Piggy and I kept going all through these years and he also never changed. He always stayed very humble and was the “wise man” – doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s right on the ball.
I guess people don’t really change. Of course, there was a time where we were more inclined to stay the four of us in a very small apartment with cockroaches when we 20 years old. Now, it’s a different setup where we meet to jam a little less often and stay in our own separate apartments (laughs). But when we get on tour, on the tour bus or when we meet to jam, it’s exactly the same vibe as when we started in the early 80’s – it’s the same trip.
TBR: That’s great to hear. At the same time, I’m sure that you guys must have grown in some ways. It’s been almost 30 years!
Away: Well, yeah, in the sense that when we got back together, the three of us in 2008, everybody had his own thing going because we were on hiatus so many times, we had to have something to bounce back to. Everybody has his own business and the Voivod business is when we are together to write music or to be on tour. You have to keep in mind that from ’83 to around ’89, we rehearsed every night and we all lived together from ’85 to ’89. It’s different when you come back together 20 years later.
Everybody has changed but I would say for the better because eventually you leave your ego at the door – that’s the big difference. When you’re in your 20’s, it’s very explosive and that’s why the band split up in ’91. It’s hard to control.
TBR: You guys recently released a live album, Warriors Of Ice. Taking it back to where and when it was recorded, I understand it was the first headlining show in here in Montreal for over 10 years. It must’ve been quite a special night! Do you guys have any memories of the evening or comments about that particular show?
Away: Yeah! (laughs) I have memories of the first half of the show! It was sponsored by Jaegermeister, so when the time came to edit the tracks in the studio, we were laughing so hard because as the show drags on, the interplay between songs are more and more stupid and longer (laughs!) and the music gets a little sloppier but we were able to salvage the whole thing eventually.
At this point, we had gone to Japan with Testament and did all the festivals in Europe. We did the Heavy MTL festival here in Montreal – that’s where we re-formed in 2008. We also did Monsters of Rock with Ozzy and Judas Priest in Calgary. It was mainly the European tour of 2009 that gave us the drive.
By the time we finished the tour here in Montreal, our hometown, we were really energized. At this point, we had also released Infini with a totally different lineup. There were tracks from the album that we started in 2004 – Snake, Piggy, Jason Newsted and I – and so that’s why we included two songs from Infini on the Warriors Of Ice set, because we had that album released in the year. Except for that, it’s all 80’s and early 90’s material that we wrote with Blacky on the album.
TBR: Awesome choices – it’s a great album! If I understand correctly, it was the release party for the Tatsumaki DVD which documents your first tour of Japan. Knowing a bit about Japanese culture and their appreciation for things that are unique and maybe a little “quirky”, I can see Voivod going over incredibly well. What was your perspective on your experience in Japan?
Away: I had the greatest impression because it was our very first time there and there were people who thought that they would never see Voivod. Some people were even crying in the front row so I’m really glad that they had the facility at the club to document the event so we were able to release the DVD at Club Soda in Montreal.
When we did the release party for Tatsumaki, we also had the opportunity to have Glenn Robinson -who recorded a couple of Voivod albums – he was able to come to Club Soda with a mobile studio and record the Warriors Of Ice album. It all turned out really good.
TBR: You guys played the WWWIII festival (November 30th, 1985. Montreal, QC) and to this days, it stands as a very impressive lineup: Voivod, Celtic Frost, Possessed and Nasty Savage Do you have any particular memories of that event? Funny stories?
Away: (laughs) I just remember that when Possessed played, the crowd went SO insane and the security people had no idea what was going on. It was amazing! (laughs). Possessed really was the heaviest band at that time.
Of course, I have great memories of seeing Celtic Frost for the first time and meeting with them; Handing them a rough mix of the RRROOOAAARR!!! album so we could get a deal with Noise, their label in Germany. That’s how we got a deal with Noise.
Also, I think it was the bass player for Destruction got lost. He went outside for a walk and didn’t come back. Eventually, they went looking for him. The show was gonna start and he was totally lost and they brought him back in the nick of time.
I remember going to party in Possessed’s hotel room and they trashed it REALLY bad. (laughs) We were all like 19 or 20 years old – it was really great man!
TBR: You mentioned Celtic Frost who, along with Voivod, were real pioneers in terms of introducing elements of the “avant garde” into heavy metal. What was your relationship like with those guys? I think you went on tour with them around that time?
Away: We actually shared the same tour bus, which was really great because we got to share our music. We were heavily into krautrock and really obscure progressive rock and they were really into strange alternative music like Alien Sex Fiend and Legendary Pink Dots. Martin Ain was a freak for the Misfits and Samhain. We shared a lot of the same tastes in music but we made each other discover some new stuff. It probably helped both bands in their research for new sounds.
TBR: As a drummer, what were your thoughts about Reed St. Mark?
Away: Man! He’s was great! I think he still lives in New York but I haven’t been in touch in a long time. He was a nice guy and a great drummer.
TBR: First show outside of Canada was at the Ritz in New York City with Venom and the Cro-Mags… Amazing! Any memories you’re able to share from that gig?
Away: It was really crazy! It was one of the craziest. That one and another one we did in Bohm, Germany with Kreator – these were the rowdiest crowd we’ve seen. But that one at the Ritz with Cro-Mags and Venom, all I could see was satanists fighting with bouncers fighting with skinheads fighting… I man you know? It was just insane. It was really violent – and outside the club before and after the show. The funny thing was that the bands got along really well backstage. (laughs)
TBR: I know that all of you guys are pretty open minded when it comes to music and through the years, you turned a lot of people on to some other cool bands. Who are some of the new bands – either inside or outside of Metal who are that you and the rest of the band these days?
Away: That would be a great question for Blacky because he really keeps up. Me, I’m really retro (laughs). Although whenever Blacky plays Baroness, I really like it. Of course, I think that Mastodon are great also.
I’m more inclined when I listen to metal to listen to NWOBHM because that’s how I grew up. As for new bands, I’m more into it if there are some progressive elements to it, I will like it. Voivod is so old, to me, anything younger that Voivod is new (both laugh).
TBR: You’ve been the driving force, visually, behind Voivod. Have you ever shown any of your work in a gallery setting? Possibly next year at Roadburn?
Away: At Roadburn, I will definitely organize something where I have some stuff on the wall at a gallery by the club and try to sell some prints. I only did two exhibitions: one in Portland and one here in Montreal.
TBR: Yeah, I’ve never been but I hear that Portland is a pretty cool city.
Away: It was a lot of the cross-punk artists had stuff on the wall like Nick Blinko and Rob from Amebix so there were quite a few people. I was not alone it was a collective exhibition.
Away: Yeah! It’s called Worlds Away: Voivod & The Art Of Michel Langevin. It came out in 2009 and has between 700 and 800 drawings in it. You can order it from www.voivodbook.com. There were 3,000 hardcover copies made and there’s probably a little less than half of them left.
TBR: In addition to the actual artwork, you’ve always had a very interesting vision in terms of the storyline in the early years. Have you ever considered or done any writing either related to the world of Voivod or any other sort of fiction or prose?
Away: No. I mainly wrote the concepts in the 80’s. After Nothingface, we had a discussion and decided to leave the concept aside for awhile – that’s where we wrote Angel Rat. After that, I didn’t write concepts for awhile until we did Phobos. Then I did another concept for our last album in the year 2000 and that’s about it.
The main goal when I was a kid was to do comics. I was influenced by Heavy Metal magazine – I still buy it today. That was my main goal, so I never really wrote a story or fiction. Hopefully someday, it would be cool to have an animated movie based on some Voivod characters.
TBR: You were also commissioned to do the cover art for the Probot album. How did that happen? Did Dave Grohl just call you out of the blue one day?
Away: We met Dave a long time ago, actually. I met him here in Montreal at Les Foufounes Electriques – a famous undergound bar. He played with this punk band, Scream. This must have been around ’88 or something like that. He was probably too young to play in that club and he was already amazing! So I spoke to him a little after a show and he told me that he was a big fan of Voivod and we kept in touch. Every time we played in the USA at the time – Washington or Virginia or Seattle – we’d always run into him. So it was great when he decided to do the Probot album, that he phoned both Snake and I to be a part of it .
TBR: Any message to the fans or anything that you’d like to say to close things out?
Away: Well… I don’t know what to say except that the stuff that we’re writing is really energetic and really, really intricate and psychedelic and punk and metal. We’re really, really confident about keeping Voivod intact.
Warriors Of Ice OUT NOW on Indica Records/Canada