In the realm of music, but particularly rock and heavy metal, something described as “progressive” usually means that it is pushing the boundaries of modern sounds into new ground or horizons. Typically, this brings to mind thoughts and images of the future. One of the most influential bands to incorporate this technique within the realm of extreme or underground metal is Jonquière, Quebec’s Voivod. Originally forming in 1982, the quartet is credited for helping to spawn several music movements within rock and metal, through their own unique career.
Throughout several lineup changes, including the death of a founding member, Voivod’s own sound has also evolved and experimented within itself. Combined with lyrics anchored in an appreciation and fascination for science fiction, fantasy, comics, horror, and cyberpunk, it’s no wonder that Voivod has had such an impact on now multiple generations of metalheads and music fans over the past three decades.
Before embarking on a headlining North American Tour in early 2016 with support from Vektor, Eight Bells, and local friends Black Fast (on select dates), I had the chance to speak on the phone with Voivod drummer and artist, Michel “Away” Langevin. The enthusiastic and positive-spirited percussionist was eager and more than happy to enlighten me on many topics – some of which contributed by some lucky fans of Damnation Magazine – even despite some technical issues at the beginning of our interview.
I, myself, have had the opportunity to interview many metal and rock musicians. But, I have to say that, personally, this was one of the best and most interesting that I have ever had the opportunity to conduct. Both “Away” and I (as well as Damnation Magazine as a whole) share many common interests; particularly in a certain post-apocalyptic movie franchise. “Away” candidly elaborated on Voivod’s many members, past and present, their most recent recordings, as well as their experiences while touring in Europe in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, France in November 2015.
The E.P. is coming out on February 26, but some of the songs were released last year on a split 7” vinyl, one with At The Gates, and one with Napalm Death. So we have three new songs on the E.P. It’s five songs together, including a cover of [a] Hawkwind [song].
Cool! Can’t wait to hear that. Is there a connection between Post-Society and Target Earth?
They’re totally separate, especially that it’s a different lineup. “Blacky” [Jean-Yves Thériault, bass, 1982–1991, 2008–2014] left the band, and we have a new bass player, “Rocky” [Dominique Laroche; bass, 2014–present]. So the E.P. is new recordings with the new lineup.
What was it like recording with a new member?
It was absolutely fantastic! He’s a childhood friend of “Chewy” [Dan Mongrain; guitar, 2008-present]. Actually, their first show was Voivod when they were thirteen, and then they bought guitars, and now they are in Voivod! [Laughs] It’s great, and they’re really, really good musicians. I think that when they saw Voivod back then, we gave them a direction to go towards, sort of technical metal. And they really pushed it, they’re excellent musicians. They actually made me play better, you know? I’m more alert; they’re very surgical, so I have to be on my toes all the time.
It’s really interesting that Rocky and Chewy were actually fans of the band before becoming members. It kind of reminds me of that Mark Whalberg movie, Rock Star, which I think is based on a true story…
Yeah! I think it was based on “The Ripper” [Tim Owens] who replaced Rob Halford in Judas Priest.
That’s right! Now I remember, that’s exactly what it was based on! Oh man, I think I need to watch that movie again, now. [Laughter]. So, when Rocky and Chewy joined the band, were they ever like, “fanboys?” Or are they even still a little star-struck? Was that ever an issue with them being in the band, or were they always professional?
Well, they are very professional. But I can tell they are very honored to be part of the band. They’re excited, and I know that Rocky told me that he sort of has to find a good balance between being in the band and a fan of the band. But it happened to Jason Newsted as well, where he was such a fan of the band. He was very reluctant… We had to push him to make the bass louder during the recording. And he was like, “Really? You want me to play louder?” We were like, “Yeah! We need to hear the bass!” But he was so respectful of the band. He was fully integrated quickly, but he couldn’t believe it! [Laughs] It was cool.
Was it a similar situation with Rocky and Chewy?
Well, I think that lineup is very natural. When Chewy showed up in 2008, the very first rehearsal, Blacky was back in the band, and “Snake” [Denis Bélanger; vocals, 1982–1994, 2002–present] was there and all that. The spirit of “Piggy” [Denis D’Amour; guitar 1982–2005 (deceased 2005)] was intact in his playing, and we really felt a natural progression from Piggy to Chewy. And it’s the same with Rocky. He showed up in the band; there was a bit of turmoil because Blacky was parting ways and all that. But everybody loved him immediately. It’s really easy to work with him. It’s like a dance; the departure of Blacky and the landing of Rocky [laughter]. It happened really quickly, and we didn’t feel like we were going off the road or anything. It was very smooth, and now this lineup is on fire; we really enjoy it.
I find it very interesting to that Jason Newstead was reluctant in turning his bass up, as you said. Do you think that maybe has to do with his time in Metallica, where it was kind of the opposite? About a year ago, Kirk Hammett [Metallica; lead guitar/backing vocals, 1983-present, Exodus; guitar 1979-1983] came out and said Lars [Ulrich, Metallica; drums, percussion 1981-present] turned down all of Jason’s bass tracks on …And Justice For All.
He was very discreet about it, and we didn’t ask many questions. It was strange because when he left Metallica… It was weird timing. Because when Snake came back in the band – it was around 2001 or something – and we started writing material. And I phoned Jason to invite him to play bass on the album we were writing. So I said, “What are you doing nowadays?” And he said, “Well, I just left Metallica.” It was like, one or two days before! I thought that was pretty weird… Leaving the biggest metal band in the world must have been difficult, but he was very discreet about it, and we didn’t dare ask him questions. At first, we invited him to play on the album. So we wrote a bunch of songs and went to his studio in San Francisco, and we started recording the songs. I the meantime, people were coming to his place with cameras for the movie… maybe Some Kind Of Monster? So it was a very strange thing for him. I could tell; it was a bit strange for him, the whole situation. And for us, too. But we got along with him so much, and he was so excited to do the recording, that he ended up joining the band. And the funny thing is that he ended up joining Ozzy [Osbourne] as well. So we spent the year 2003 – after releasing the album – touring with Ozzy, and he [Newsted] was playing two shows a night! It was insane.
He must have been tired every night!
Oh yeah, he told me at the end of the Ozzfest and [when] we opened for Ozzy in Canada – and at this point, Ozzy was doing more than two hours a night, because he wanted to play longer than Paul McCartney [laughter]. And Jason was playing three hours a day, it was insane. He told me he suffered from exhaustion at the end of the year. So we took a couple of years to record what we thought would be a double album, but then Piggy unfortunately passed away in 2005, and it turned into two posthumous albums.
I remember that; I was in college when those first came out, and that was the first time I had ever heard Voivod. Moving on, I actually have a few questions from some of our followers that are big Voivod fans. Brian wants to know about Snake leaving the band and then coming back. What was that like?
It was tough, because Snake’s punk singing nature on his vocals was very distinguishable. But, you could really tell [when] it was Voivod because of the vocals. So it was a bit of a departure when we became more of a hardcore trio. With Eric Forrest [“E-Force”; bass/vocals, 1994–2001], he had more of a Sepultura approach to metal. So I think Snake, around the time of The Outer Limits in 1993, got really disillusioned with the whole thing, and wanted to try something else. He opened a couple of restaurants, then eventually joined back eight years later. At this point, as a trio, we toured a lot in the mid-‘90s, and ended up having a very bad crash in 1998 with our van. We really lost the momentum. In the year 2000 after an Australian tour, we decided to split the band, Piggy and I. And it was about a year after that we got antsy, and started writing material, and that’s where Snake joined the band. And then, that’s where we asked Jason to play on the recordings, and ended up doing three albums with him.
Voivod is well-known for lyrical content regarding space and science fiction. I guess my question is, why? What is the interest to put those topics into your music?
I think the common thing that we shared – because we met when we were teenagers – a love for the TV show, The Outer Limits. We were like, obsessed with The Outer Limits to the point where we stole bits of the soundtrack of the television show; it’s integrated into many parts of many songs [by] Voivod [laughs]. And also, of course, we were big fans of Rush, every one of us. So that certainly had an impact. For me, I became of the magazine called Heavy Metal when I was a teenager. There were tons of great artists like Mœbius, and Bilal, and Chilled Voljier, and tons of artists started there. I became really interested in fantasy and sci-fi art, and I created this concept for comics in the ‘70s, with Voivod which was influenced by The Lord Of The Rings and the book Dracula. And then with the planet Morgoth and Korgull, and all these characters. But this was for comics that I wanted to do for the magazine Heavy Metal, which is still sold today. But it was later in the early ’80s when we formed the band that we were looking for a name, and I mentioned Voivod. They were like, “What is that?” and I explained the concept, and they thought it was really cool and agreed to develop it musically and lyrically all through the ‘80s. So, we had a great run.
It definitely works for you; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! It sounds like you and the band kind of encompass everything we love and cover here at Damnation Magazine: Metal, sci-fi, fantasy, comics… It’s a little serendipitous. I feel like we’re kindred spirits, it’s very cool!
[Laughs] It’s cool because, aside from when we formed the band, thrash metal was happening, but also hardcore was happening. But what we called “alternative music,” like Killing Joke and Bauhaus… It was a good time for early cyberpunk movies like Mad Max and Bladerunner, and these had a really strong impact on us. We also, sort of picked bits of the soundtrack and included that in Voivod’s music. Especially Piggy; he started to buy vinyl of movie soundtracks from The Thing, the [John] Carpenter movie, and also The Shining and all that. And sci-fi movies; Mad Max and Bladerunner. And we realized that there was a lot of Shostakovich, Ken Barokie, and Bartok in the soundtracks, so we started digging for these composers, and it bought a very cinematic feel to our music, I think.
[Laughs] You are really stealing my thunder here. I mean, you just mentioned The Thing; that’s my favorite horror movie of all time. And Mad Max, I mean… Oh man, I’m on a Mad Max binge right now; I’m watching all four movies like, every other day, and I actually cosplayed as Max Rockatansky last year at a couple of conventions. I actually won the costume contest at one of them! But once again, getting back to the interview [laughter].
You mentioned all of the different types of music that were going on at the time when you were forming Voivod. There was definitely that shift from metal towards grunge in the 1990s, and there was your Nothingface tour in 1990 with Faith No More and Soundgarden. What are your thoughts on metal, rock, progressive, or thrash, in regards to the changes both then and what you’ve seen throughout your career up to now?
Well, the thing that influenced us the most was the New Wave of British Heavy metal. We were all like, fifteen, sixteen, it [was] 1980; we thought it was our decade, our music, and that first Iron Maiden album, Ace Of Spades, Judas Priest’s British Steel, and so on and so on… that had the strongest impact. But by the time we hit the end of the ‘80s, we had become more alternative [or] progressive and all that on Nothingface. In 1990 when we did that tour with Soundgarden and Faith No More, I had this feeling that – as ten years before – the new generation were like, “That’s our generation, the ‘90s,” and “That’s our music.” I could really feel the wind change. We started the tour with Soundgarden and Faith No More in Montreal. By the time we hit the U.S. west coast, they were huge; both of them had exploded in popularity. We were still headlining because they had full-on respect for Voivod, but they were getting really popular. So we had a sort of a taste of the explosion of college rock right there; right before it really happened with Nirvana, you know? We could feel it.
Of course we had been fans of Sonic Youth and Steve Albini’s material, and all that. But that was a new thing, with just the [movement] of the crowd while the music was playing was different. It wasn’t a thrash metal mosh pit anymore, it was this wavy-thing; it really had a powerful effect, the grunge music. Soundgarden was really groovy, and the mood was sort of post-apocalyptic in a way. So yeah, we really did feel that it was a new wave of music coming. But you know, being in the parallel dimension that we were always in, it didn’t affect us that much. I mean, we didn’t become grunge or anything. But at this point, we were exploring a more psychedelic side of Voivod with Angel Rat  and we did the album with Terry Brown, who produced Rush, and so on. So we were doing what we wanted to do at that time, but it had nothing to do with what was happening at that time. We’re used that. During the time that metal took a bit of a lower profile during the grunge years, we were still going to Europe, playing huge festivals like Roskilde or Dynamo. And soon enough, in the ‘90s with Fear Factory and Machine Head and all that, metal was back. And then, of course, nu-metal happened. In a way, I feel like metal has always been healthy somewhere, somehow.
I couldn’t agree more. We all know how much fans like to complain one way or another, but we at Damnation Magazine try to put out a representative of everything and let the fans decide what it is that they like. But it’s always good when a band sticks to their guns, like Voivod has. I think I have time for one more question. I wanted to ask you about the show in Paris just a couple of months ago when you were on tour with Carcass, Napalm Death, and Obituary. That seemed kind of special, because Voivod brought Carcass bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker on stage during your set, and then Napalm Death brought Carcass guitarist Bill Steer on stage to kind of “re-join” the band. Tell me a little about that, because that was after the terrorist attacks, including during the Eagles Of Death Metal show at Le Bataclan. What was the purpose behind that, and how did it feel to you?
Honestly, I don’t think it will ever feel the same again to tour in Europe, for anybody. We started that “Deathcrusher” Tour; all the places are packed everywhere, we really get along, it’s amazing. And then we play Leipzig in Germany. Then coming off the stage after the show, we see all the bands and crew and the staff of the club in one room watching one laptop. And they’re watching Paris live; the attacks live, the hostages being taken, and all that. And then everything turned into [a] stressful, weird tour from that moment. We had a band meeting the next day, “Are we going home?” Because we play death metal, and we’re on this tour called “Deathcrusher,” and there’s Napalm Death, so we’re all pretty puzzled as [far as] what to do.
Many bands are going back home; Lamb Of God, Foo Fighters, and we don’t know what to do. We decided to keep going, and I must admit that the show in Paris was very stressful. I mean, all the shows were stressful from then on, but the one in Paris was very stressful. The staff from La Cigale, the theater we played, they showed us all the closest exits and all that. I’m always aware of the closest exist, because the unfortunate event that happened with Great White back then, and all that, but this was special. I play a lot with my eyes closed, but for half of that tour, I had my eyes open watching the balconies and the crowd. And then eventually, it was OK after a few shows. But it’s a changer; it’s something that will probably be in the back of my mind every time I play in Europe. It’s a strange thing, that’s for sure.
Well, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time out to talk to me today. I can’t wait to see Voivod play The Firebird with Vektor and Eight Bells at the end of this month, especially since our hometown heroes Black Fast are opening the show, and will also be playing some dates with you.
Oh yeah! I love them.
Yeah, they’re great people, great musicians, I’m sure you’re going to have a lot of fun with them. And hey, I may even wear my Mad Max cosplay at the show!
[Laughter] You know, if you watch the beginning of The Road Warrior, we used the music from for the intro for the song “Forgotten In Space” on the Killing Technology  album; it adds a Mad Max touch to the album.
I’m going to look that up and listen to it right now. [Laughter] You don’t know how much I love Mad Max; that is one of my favorite movies and franchises of all time.
As [another] note, the song “Post Society,” is based on Mad Max.
That certainly makes a lot of sense!
[Laughs] At first, we called it “Mad Trax,” [laughter] and then we changed the title.
That would’ve been a little too obvious, so that was a good choice keeping it a little more cryptic and vague [laughter].
Special thanks to Ebony Jeanette of Concrete Marketing for setting us up with this great interview with Michel “Away” Langevin! Voivod’s latest E.P., Post Society, is available now via Century Media Records. Check out Nick’s photos from the St. Louis date of Voivod’s North American Tour with Vektor, Eight Bells, and Black Fast at The Firebird, here!