VOIVOD : Target Roadburn!

Interview by Jens Hellroute
Photo credits: Jacob Dinesen + Scott Heller. There's a a youtube of 'Target Earth' from roadburn, the title track off their upcoming album.

 Any lover of strange and iconoclast music must surely be familiar with Canada's VoiVod. Through incredible persistence, the star-crossed band has become a perennial favorite of discerning musical weirdos everywhere. Which makes them a perfect interview subject here at Wormwood!

Indeed, this is the second time around we've chewed the fat with the band's visionary drummer Michel "Away" Langevin. We also spoke with part-time bassist and big-time supporter Jason "Jasonic" Newsted. But its been quite some time since the Wormcrew has ventured into the nuclear wasteland of the mind that Voivod calls home.

This year the band returned to the highly regard European cult festival Roadburn, where they acted as "curators", selecting 15 diverse bands to play. Wormwood's resident wildman Jens Hellroute, whose own band Tumor Warlord is inspired by VoiVod, got to hook up with Away and get the lowdown on what's happening with the band in 2012. His report follows forthwith...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Great show last night.

 Away: Thanks.

 WC: You performed all of the ’Dimension Hatröss’ album in it’s entirety on the Main Stage.

Away: That was quite an experience. We have never done that before. Some of the tracks we had never performed live before.

 WC: It was a challenge?

 Away: A huge challenge! The show we did Thursday was more of a retrospective set, and much easier. And after ‘Dimension Hatröss’ we decided to do a 20 minutes version of ‘Jack Luminous’ which was also a challenge.

WC: I saw Voivod the first time in Copenhagen in 1987 at the ‘Killing Technology’ tour.

Away: Yeah. With Kreator.

WC: Exactly. Voivods two first albums, ‘War And Pain’ and ‘Rrröööaaarrr’, were like thrash metal records, but then ‘Killing Technology’ took the band in a different direction. And with ‘Dimension Hatröss’ one could argue that it was the one that established the ‘Voivod sound’.

Away: Yeah. It’s sort of a peak of what we could achieve technically. After that we made things a bit less complicated. More back to our roots. As far as the progressiveness of our music it is the pinnacle of our career. It was a turning point for us. And after a couple of successful videos we were able to sign a major deal for ‘Nothingface’.

WC: It differs greatly from other ‘thrash metal’ bands at that time.

Away: Yes. I can’t really think of any other bands who tried that, except from Celtic Frost.

WC: Were they an inspiration for you? (Tom G. Warrior was actually spotted at Roadburn this year--Jens)

Away: In some ways. We toured the US with Celtic Frost in 1986 with the ‘Rrröööaaarrr’ album, and became good friends and maybe we influenced each other.

WC: I saw Voivod twice during Roadburn 2011. You never played Roadburn before, and now you suddenly played four shows here.

 Away. Yeah! And hopefully we get invited again. Maybe with ‘Killing Technology’ next time, that’d be great. ‘Forgotten In Space’ we have been playing for many years, that’d be interesting.

WC: I think Voivod fits perfectly for Roadburn, and this year you were curating the festival?

Away: Yes. We chose 15 bands. Last year we didn’t know if we’re appropriate, but we went over so well that Roadburn let us curate this year. And everybody is very openminded here, so we invited very diverse styles of music. Anekdoten, doom, crust and progressive metal, soundtrack music. I saw many different bands yesterday, and they all went over really great. And I met an original member of Cactus. Amazing festival.

WC: The last band I saw last nite was Doom. They were great.

 Away: They were the highlight for me. We saw them at Maryland Death Fest, and I told Walter (top Roadburn booker) that we had to have them in the program. They were worried because they weren’t a sludge band, but everybody loved them. The place was packed.

WC: I noticed that you have an unusually small drumkit compared to other metal bands. Has it always been like that?

 Away: In the 80’s I had the big metal kit with double kick drums. As the years went by I slowly got rid pieces by pieces. In the early 90’s I ended up with a kit similar to this.

WC: Does it take a certain kind of technique because you have a massive drum sound. Also it must be easier to fit a smaller kit in the van.


Some classic artwork from Away.
Away: It’s good to hear that because I sometimes wonder about that. In the mid-90’s when we were a trio we’re a bit more underground and played smaller places opening for bands it came really in handy when we played in the corner of the stage.

 WC: At Roadburn 2011 it was the first time I saw Chewy on guitar. It must have been quite a task filling in for Piggy who was a iconic figure of Voivod. He did a really good job.

 Away: I know. In a way he’s like Piggy, he’s a musical genius and very humble. It was very hard on us to find somebody as talented as Piggy. Actually Piggy recommended him to us, before he died. He was in a band called Martyr with his brother. They still exist. Very technical band from Canada . Chewy was a very good friend of Blacky.

 WC: From the early start you did the artwork for Voivod.

 Away: Actually I started doing the Voivod art before we formed the band. I wanted to be a comic artist for the ‘Heavy Metal’ magazine, that was my main goal. I started the concept and drew all these characters. When we formed the band in 1983 we discussed the concept of bringing the art into the music.

WC: I read that you were inspired by the French band Magma’s album covers.

Away: Yes. They also had a concept of their own planet. Christian Vander was the one who created the concept, and I actually copied some of his art. So much I became the ‘Christian Vander Of Metal’, haha.

More amazing cartooning from Away...

WC: Have you seen the animated sci-fi cult movie of the early 70’s called ‘Fantastic Planet’?

Away: Yeah! The artist who did the design, Roland Topor, is one of my heroes as well as the director, Rene Laloux. I love all his movies. He had one drawn by Mobius, ‘Time Masters’.

WC: He just died.

Away: I know. It’s really sad. ‘Fantastic Planet’ is my favorite movie along with ‘Heavy Metal’.

WC: Your vision is kind of similar to ‘Fantastic Planet’. A post-apocalyptic near future. Robots. Dehumanization. Machinery.

Away: Absolutely. It’s a mixture of 80’s cyberpunk and crustpunk. Fear of nuclear war. Science Fiction. A main concern of mine has always been nuclear weapons.
WC: We are sorta the same age. When I was a teenager I was very paranoid regarding the future and nuclear war. The cold war, Reagan, Thatcher, Russia , missiles. I thought we all were gonna be wiped out within like 5 years back in the early 80’s.

Away: I had exactly the same experience and fears like that. Our first album, ‘War And Pain’, reflects my thoughts on how nuclear war was be like in the future.

WC: The sci-fi movies back then, like the 2nd ‘Mad Max’ movie and ‘Escape From New York’…

Away: Yeah, those movies had a big impact on Voivod. Actually we copied a bits of the ‘Road Warrior’ soundtrack on ‘Killing Technology’. Brian May from Queen did some of the soundtrack.

WC: You were also inspired by crust bands?

Away: Oh yeah. Discharge, Conflict, and Doom which we invited for this year’s Roadburn. My favorite show. Doom came to visit my exhibition today at an art gallery in Tilburg , and I was so excited. Took photos with them. They are the real deal. I invited Discharge this year to Roadburn, but they couldn’t make it.

WC: New Wave Of British Heavy Metal?

Away: Totally! The first Iron Maiden album is the still my favorite metal record of all time. Also their covers were an inspiration. And Venom and Motörhead.

WC: Krautrock? Prog rock? Spacerock?

Away: Hawkwind for sure. Faust. Can. My favorite krautrock is Van Der Graaf Generator. They recently reformed and I’m gonna see them in July. Bought my ticket just before getting here. I’m really excited! I was too young to see them when they came to Canada in the 70’s. Prog rock. I really like Rush and their 70’s records. We toured with them recently, they are still really good. I also like postpunk like Killing Joke, who played Roadburn this year.

WC: The Canadian metal scene of the early 80’s was great. I did an interview with Anvil last year.

Away: They were the very first heavy metal band who came up to north, Quebec , where we are from. They’d come to our town, Jonquière, and play for a week at bars, two sets a night. In 2010 we played with Anvil, and Lips remembered us. ‘Yeah, you were the kids sitting in the front row!’. 30 years later! I have a lot of respect for them. And the first really serious Voivod gig was opening for Exciter. And last year we played with them again. Amazing. Razor. Dead Brain Cells. Right now there’s a really good technical death metal scene in Montreal .

WC: Now about Voivod in 2012. You are here without a new album or a label?

Away: We just recorded an album. And on Monday we’re going back to mix it.

WC: The title?

Away: Maybe ‘Target Earth’. Yesterday we played a new song with that title. Hopefully the album will be out this summer, so we can come back to Europe in the fall. Right now we’re shopping around for a label to release it.

WC: When is the 30th anniversary for Voivod?

Away: Next year. We will try to make it special. Right now Sam Dunn who did ‘Metal: A Headbanger's Journey’ is doing a documentary on Voivod. He has a crew here at Roadburn. So we’re hoping it will be released next year with the band’s 30th anniversary.

Jens inspecting the local brew at Roadburn...