Despite the hard to bear lockdown measures in most countries, music activity, either way, finds a way to go on. Voivod remained active during the confinement period, preparing their new EP, “The End of Dormancy”, and working on new ideas. Michel “Away” Langevin, the band’s drummer and one of founding members, was very friendly and kind to inform us about the current Voivod’s issues regarding the forthcoming EP, the next live album and the eagerly-awaited 15th studio album. Though, he didn’t hesitate to share with us some thoughts about the band’s past, present and future, and of course science fiction and Dune, since he’s a genuine sci-fi geek! Read the very interesting interview that follows.
by Alex Nikolaidis
Hello Away, how are you? I hope you are healthy, safe and above all COVID-free.
I’m fine. I live in Montreal, which was hit pretty hard, but I’m confined at home working on several projects, so life is OK and I’m healthy.
The band is due to release a new EP next month, “The End of Dormancy”, which contains a brass version of the title track. Why did you choose to make an alternate version of that specific song from the last album (“The Wake”)?
Well, it started the summer of last year. We were invited by the Montreal Jazz Festival to play a special show and Chewy thought it would be a great idea to invite a brass quintet for the song “The End of Dormancy”. So, he wrote the score for every musician and we performed the song live. The reaction of the crowd was really amazing. When the time came to work on a video for the “End of Dormancy”, we thought it would be interesting to invite the same quintet, which we call “The metal section”, in the studio, to record on top of the original studio track (but just for the video). In the end, we wanted to release both the brass version of the video and the live version of last year’s Jazz Festival on vinyl. Also, we added a live of “The Unknown Knows” from “Nothingface”, performed at the same festival.
The video was actually shot in November last year and we were debating about its release, since we live in very sensitive times due to COVID and many deaths. So we were not too sure if it was a good timing or not, but we decided to proceed as planned because the scenario was pure science fiction. It was a strange timing indeed.
Also, we are mixing a full live album from a show last year in Quebec City. I’m working on the front cover art of this album right now.
At the same time, we keep on being very busy because, even though we are under social distancing, we are writing a new album, sharing dropbox folders. We try to move on, as all Voivod’s concerts have been cancelled this summer. So we just want to remain busy.
How difficult or demanding it is to perform with jazz musicians? It’s something that we don’t see it happening every day.
Actually it was surprisingly easy. We only had one rehearsal and did the song two or three times. Then we did it again at soundcheck. These are very seasoned and professional musicians. They’ve been playing a lot in Montreal with avant-garde jazz outfits. Hence, not only was it easy for them to adapt, but also for us, since we always had a progressive rock approach to our music. So, somehow the Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson style of Voivod ties with experimental jazz.
“The End of Dormancy” is an extremely peculiar and technical song. The addition of brass instruments gave a more theatrical or cinematic feeling. Do you think that Voivod could compose the soundtrack of a sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie? Have you ever thought about it?
Yeah, we always dream of doing a soundtrack for a sci-fi movie with Chewy’s knowledge of writing music and composing scores for musicians, since he is a music teacher in college and a jazz music teacher as well. His knowledge of the subject would make it quite easy for us to write an interesting soundtrack with lots of dynamics. Chewy did such an amazing job on “The End of Dormancy” with the quintet and I am fully confident that we could do something interesting for a dystopian movie.
Let’s talk about the upcoming album. The band is in the composing process. How’s it going on? Are you satisfied with the process so far? Are there any delays?
Well, the only obstacle for us is that the studio is not available right now due to the pandemic situation. It just opened on June 1st but it’s still really uncertain to go there. It’s a huge building, three floors of heavy metal bands. So we’re not too sure if we should rush to the jam studio right now. Before the lockdown we had already recorded a bunch of improvisations and had started some embryos of songs and we’re trying to build on that right now, sharing files online. As soon as we are confident that we can go back to the rehearsal safely, processes will be accelerated significantly.
On my end, I have a lot of work as I’m using these confinement months to prepare publications of my art, to release more books. There are tones of art on the road and I’m scanning all of that right now. I have a book ready. I’m very busy with publishing material.
The fact that we decided to release a live album, hopefully before the end of the year, is a lot of work for me, just for the layout, and for everybody, listening to the mixes and trying to have the proper balance. It’s a constant work. What we learnt from the situation is that you have to keep going on and doing homework. That’s a new structure and it’s going to be beneficial in the end, because we learn from it.
When do you think the new album will be available? Is it too early to talk about it?
We were aiming at early next year, but I think it’s more probable it will be completed next summer. It depends on what will happen in the next few weeks, because they are putting people out of confinement slowly here. Now everybody’s talking about a second wave. Since the Montreal is the place that’s been hit the hardest in Canada, we are taking small steps right now. Hopefully, if everything goes well, we’ll have the live album available by the end of the year and the new album next spring or summer.
Can you give us a clue of how the new album will sound? Will it be somehow related to “The Wake”, or it’ll be something totally different, exploring new musical landscapes?
Well, we try not to repeat the same things. These are tough choices, as I feel like I’m back in 1989-90, when we did the very successful “Nothingface”. Everybody was hoping for “Nothingface Part 2” and we did “Angel Rat”, which was a totally other spectrum. These are risky moves that can play against you, but that’s the way we are. Right now, the material doesn’t really sound like “The Wake” at all. We enjoy a lot of success with the “The Wake” and it made the band bigger. We gained a very good momentum. It’s very tempting to go into that psychedelic prog path again and enjoy the same success. But so far it seems like it’s gonna be a bit different than “The Wake”. It’s obvious it’s gonna be experimental again and maybe proggy, because that’s the band right now, but I suspect there will be more post-punk songs, like Killing Joke and staff like that as well. We’ll see!
Do you think that Chewy had a major influence in the band’s sound and way of composing? What are the differences between the Piggy era and Chewy era?
Chewy was able to capture Voivod’s essence perfectly. He comes from a different background than Piggy. Piggy was a lot more old-school and he had a sort of a boogie-metal style. Chewy is more of a surgical, technical metal background. It’s a different approach and makes me play differently. However, when we write songs and Snake adds his vocals, it ends up morphing into a Voivod material. The way Chewy and Rocky play and interact with each other makes Snake and I approach the song a bit differently. In the end, it’s Voivod but with a different sound than the Piggy era. There’s probably a little more fusion in the way now instead of a mixture of prog, thrash metal and punk music. It’s all that, plus some short of a jazz feeling to it. That’s the way I hear it myself. Regarding live, it’s the same old Voivodian mixture of thrash, punk and prog. I feel the same when I play live, but when we write songs I can feel the difference.
Voivod is a highly technical band. Out of the 14 albums, which one of them has the most difficult and demanding drumming patterns?
I’d say “Dimension Hatröss” or “Nothingface” have the most intricate parts, but I think “The Wake” is at the same level with these albums in terms of difficulty.
Do you listen to other progressive metal bands? Have some new bands drawn your attention?
Gojira! They played in Heavy Montreal two years ago. I thought, I have heard a lot about these guys, so let's check them out. We ended up watching the whole show with our jaws to the floor. They are more in the Meshuggah school and they are really great, popular and very intricate. This band really struck me. I’m very old school and I only become aware of newer bands because we play at lots of festivals around the world. That’s where I see new material. I’m not really familiar with buying CDs or downloading or streaming material from newer bands. I’m very bad at that!
I’d like to ask something about Canadian bands now. In recent years many new bands from Canada have emerged from the underground scene, with a more classic heavy / speed metal sound. All of them have released critically acclaimed albums of high quality. Why does the underground scene of Canada thrive? Is it a matter of tradition, or just a coincidence? Do you have an explanation?
Well, it’s a difficult question. When we started, there weren’t that many bands (Exciter, Razor, Anvil), but the excitement for heavy metal was already there in Canada and in Quebec particularly. All of a sudden, everyone was into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Venom, Slayer and the newer bands of Metal Blade (which we became a part of) made metal popular very quickly.
Around 1986-87 bands started to form in Montreal. We were rehearsing in a building where most bands were rehearsing at. Half of them were hardcore and the other half were metal. We all hung out with each other and listened to each other through the walls. Crossover, between hardcore and metal, emerged quickly in Montreal. Many bands engaged in technical metal, with a mix of punk and hardcore, and just developed very rapidly. All of a sudden, when we were touring the world, we were meeting bands from Montreal all around the planet, like Cryptopsy, Kataklysm, Gorguts. So, the scene has always been super active here. I don’t know if everything comes from Rush in the 70s, but somehow the Canadian metal is very technical. No matter the background you come from, hardcore, progressive or some short of Canadian technical metal, which has a very good reputation with Annihilator, there is in a way some short of a Canadian sound in heavy metal.
I know you are a sci-fi fan. Are you looking forward for Dennis Villeneuve’s Dune? You may know that he was born in Quebec, as well.
Yes, of course! I can’t wait for the new Dune, but I’m still dreaming of Jodorowsky’s Dune with Magma’s music. I’m trying to imagine it! In the past few years movies have become really mind-blowing due to the high-tech approach of the special effects. I was already a sci-fi fan in the 70s and the early 80s when the first cyberpunk movies were shot, like Mad Max and Blade Runner. These were spectacular for me, but now it’s just insane. If you also have the chance to see a movie, like the remake of Tron, with 3D glasses, it’s just mind-blowing. Now with virtual reality, helmets, glasses and all that, watching movies has become a sci-fi experience. It’s really amazing!
Do you think we’ll see Voivod in Europe again, possibly next year, when conditions will be more normal? Is it early to discuss about this?
As soon as we are allowed to travel and play, we’ll do so. As I said before, the summer shows are cancelled. We do have a European tour planned in the fall that’s not cancelled, but I’m not counting on it right now. We have some Japanese shows as well planned this year, but I don’t know what’s gonna happen with these. Everything is postponed, but as soon as we can get back on the road, we’ll do so. The last 2-3 years we’ve been playing more than ever, with so many shows per year, so it’s strange for us to just stop touring. There is a lot of catching up to do right now, in terms of mixing the live album and writing new material. Thus, we are sort of using the opportunity to catch up with many things. So, the business goes on! We’re not about to stop. In terms of playing live, I don’t know how many years we have still in us, but we can definitely record material for ever. The chemistry between Rocky, Chewy, Snake and I is just wonderful. We enjoy so much success that we just gonna surf on it.
Away, thank you very much for this contact. I wish all the best to you, your family, all band members and the crew. Stay healthy and creative and we’ll be very happy to hear further news from Voivod in the upcoming months.
You will! Thank you!
Thank you! Be creative, be active!