Being a long time fan of Voïvod and on the occasion of their release of “Target Earth” I jumped at the chance to chat with founding member Michel “Away” Langevin about all things Voïvod.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to ThisIsNotAScene. I wanted to say first of all Happy 30th Birthday to Voïvod.
Thank you very much. It was a long and great adventure but we keep going.
Speaking as a fan Target Earth is one of the best albums Voïvod has ever released. How excited are you about it?
It was not that obvious to write a new album without Piggy but we have to keep the spirit of Voïvod intact. We didn’t really overthink it, we just wrote the music we wanted to play, basically and made sure that the album would be very intricate and progressive in its nature.
You certainly achieved that. It is progressive in the way that “Nothingface” and “The Outer Limits” were progressive. How much of that do you think is down to having Blacky back in the band for the first time since 1991?
Blacky back then was very involved with Piggy in the writing of the music and they were both influenced by sci-fi movie soundtracks and avant-garde music and contemporary classical music. Of course, Blacky’s bass sound is very recognisable and he was very involved with Chewy for this album in arranging the songs so it’s definitely reminiscent of “Dimension Hatröss” and “Nothingface” but there is a touch of “Angel Rat” and “The Outer Limits’” more of a pop approach. Also bits of the other Voïvod eras, the Eric Forrest era, and Jason Newsted period as well, I find. The fact that Chewy has his own style, it’s a bit fresh and new in terms of style but we tried to keep the Voïvod spirit intact of course.
Chewy has done a phenomenal job, not only paying tribute to Piggy (who was a unique talent) in playing those old songs but to take that style somewhere else and put his own feel into it.
Yeah and he didn’t seem very nervous about it. He seemed very confident when we started writing the album in early 2010. By then we had toured for a couple of years and we knew that the new line-up was very well accepted by everybody into Voïvod. It gave us some confidence.
When did those new ideas come about? There was Infini in 2009 and then a lot of touring and the band unit gelled in that time so when did new musical ideas start to emerge?
It was early 2010. By then we had mostly toured the 80s thrash material but when Infini came out in 2009 we added songs from that into the set list and then Snake asked me if we could play songs from the Eric Forrest era so we added ‘Forlorn’ from “Phobos” and by the time we started thinking about a new album in 2010 all of these different styles had rubbed off on us and were in our blood.
It really started when Snake and I heard a demo that Blacky and Chewy had done, I believe it was ‘Kaleidos’ and ‘Artefact’. It was only bass and guitar but we were blown away. It was very reminiscent of “Dimension Hatröss” so we were very excited and wanted to be part of it so we soon started to do improvisation sessions and recorded everything and some of the new material is picked from these impros but then again it was rearranged and put into Voïvod material by Blacky and Chewy. Snake and I added the drum parts and lyrics and vocals based on their work.
It’s interesting that you mentioned ‘Artefact’ as one of these demos which reminds me of ‘Time Warp’ from “The Outer Limits”. It has that same feel.
Possibly. Many people told us there’s a lot that reminds them of “The Outer Limits”. I must say that the mix of Sanford Parker really helped to bring up front the psychedelic side and the trippy side of Voïvod.
It really does. You guys always sounded futuristic because of the music but also because of the production and that has really come out in “Target Earth”. This is the first album that you’ve self-produced without a co-producer.
Yeah, we just went into the studio in early 2012. We were really prepared. We had worked on the material a lot and Pierre from Oblivion has a very nice studio outside of Montreal in the woods. We were snowed in for 17 days and we worked non-stop and whenever Pierre was too tired to track the band or not available Blacky was tracking the band because he’s a studio engineer as well so we didn’t really need anybody to track the album but it was great to have Sanford’s input for the mix.
It’s interesting that we’ve mentioned Blacky’s arrangements, his help with the production. I didn’t know the extent of his input before. Apart from being a phenomenal bass player I didn’t know about how he worked with Piggy for example on composition and now with Chewy.
Piggy wrote a lot of the music but he was very involved with Blacky on different parts of the songs. Piggy was very influenced by dark progressive rock like King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator, a lot of krautrock as well – Faust, Can and such. Blacky brought the avant-garde classical into the mix.
Which composers influenced Voïvod?
Mainly Bartok, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and a lot of the scary stuff of Penderecki. I remember we listened a lot to “The Shining” soundtrack and it helped a lot to light different dynamics according to what’s going on with the lyrics so that was a good apprenticeship.
That’s fascinating to me. King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator, I can hear. They’re two of my favourite bands as well but the classical side I wasn’t aware of before so that’s really blown me away.
Many people playing classical can spot bits there and there that we literally stole from composers. The very start of ‘Forgotten in Space’ on “Killing Technology” is an exact rip-off of the (Mad Max 2) The Road Warrior movie. I believe the soundtrack was written by Brian May (Australian composer).
I’ve got the Target Earth Limited Edition box set in front of me. As usual the artwork is beautiful. The artwork and Snake’s lyrics seem to go together so well. Do you begin the art concept after the album when the songs have been recorded or during the recording?
Usually I try to do the art as we are writing the album. This time around I started doing the artwork once the whole thing was tracked. “Target Earth” was supposed to be very space- and galactic-oriented but it slowly mutated into something more post-apocalyptic. That had a lot to do with the fact that in Montreal last year students took to the streets to protest. Soon the unions and the anarchist movement joined them, and people in general. Next thing we know there are 200,000 people in the streets and there were a lot of riots and mass arrests and helicopters above my building, because I live right downtown. They ended up tipping over the government actually, so it was very eventful and the helicopters above my building really influenced me. It actually fit a lot with the context of the album so it was a good coincidence.
It’s not only the futuristic and galactic aspect of it, there’s also a primitive, almost tribal feel to it. I’m thinking of Kluskap O’Kom which I think is a Native American Indian hero?
Yes. Mi’kmaq mythology. Snake told me it’s about a creature that comes down from the sky to destroy dinosaurs so humanity can survive. A friend of his told him the story and he went from there.
Snake isn’t here but I just wanted to talk about the lyrics of one other song. ‘Corps Étranger’ is the first Voïvod song that is all in your native language. Is that because of the subject matter of the song (Foreign Body in English), or is it something you have always wanted to do, to sing in your native tongue?
It’s something we always wanted to do and just kept pushing it forward in time. What happened was, in 2011 we played a show in Montreal with a French band who had built a huge festival where a band from here invited us to play a couple of their songs in French. So we learned their song and realised that Voïvod could sound good in French as well. It gave us confidence to write in French. It was a good experience actually.
It’s interesting that you mentioned that it’s related to the title because I actually never thought of it. I would have to ask Snake about it but it’s an interesting point.
What is this year going to hold for you? The album has just been released so you’re obviously doing a lot of press at the moment. Are you then going to take it out on the road?
We’re planning a huge tour right now because it’s the 30th anniversary of the band, this month actually, so it’s going to be a very busy year. First, in mid-March we’re playing SXSW in Texas, then in mid-April we’ll be in South America. May-June will be North America, Canada and USA, and in July we’ll be across Europe and then we’re probably going to go to Asia in the Fall as well but in between tours we want to write new material.
That’s great news! It’s almost a paradox – you guys have this new forward-looking band and album yet you’re celebrating 30 years. For fans it’s an exciting time but do you yourself feel that there is a paradox in there?
Well it’s hard for me to say because I was there all through the years and it’s the fourth lineup and it always feels like a continuation for me. Of course every time we have to start over it’s a bit of a struggle but right now, I mean we’ve been touring for the past five years and the energy is very positive and the new lineup is very well accepted by everybody into Voïvod. It’s exciting times for sure.
I’m proud of all the Voïvod eras. Eric Forrest and Jason are still really really good friends.
It was fascinating to hear earlier that it was actually Snake that wanted to play Forlorn, something from the Eric Forrest era. Those albums are fantastic.
Yeah, “Phobos” is a bit like “Target Earth” and “Dimension Hatröss” in fact. We put a lot of work on it and made sure that these albums sounded like a long journey. That’s why we put some interludes, intros, outros etc.
A lot of atmospheric segues on” Phobos” and also you covered ’21st Century Schizoid Man’. Your covers have always been astounding. I think ‘Astronomy Domine’ is the best cover version anyone has ever performed. Do you enjoy doing covers and putting your own stamp on those songs?
We don’t do that many but it’s always fun to play covers. ‘Astronomy Domine’ really helped us in terms of popularity. We got a lot of airplay on MTV all across the planet and it helped a lot. We ended up touring with Soundgarden, Faith No More, then Rush and it was great.
’21st Century Schizoid Man’ was more difficult. Piggy and I really worked hard on this one. The setup in the studio made it impossible for us to have visual contact so we played it by ear and then Eric Forrest added the bass and vocals afterwards.
I’m aware we’re nearly out of time so I want to wish you best of luck with the album. I hope it gets you a lot of new fans and I wish you success on the tour.
Thank you very much and I’m sure we’ll meet this year because we’re going to be all over the place.