Voivod Interview

Legends. Pure and simple. The interview took place mere days after I submitted the thesis, the story of which is elsewhere. The upshot is that in my mind, at the time of doing this, I donít know if the zine is continuing. I donít know if this and the Neurosis interview to follow will ever be used, because at the time I donít know if this issue will ever get written. But Iíve been wanting to sort this out since before the stress set in. In fact I set up an e-mail interview a couple of years ago, but for various reasons it never happened. And like I said, Voivod are legends, and I want to do this simply because I want to be able to say to myself that I did it.

Obviously as it turns out, little of what I just wrote is of any consequence because this exists. But anyway, Voivod. Why are they special? Because they are. To my regret, I wasnít into them from day one. Or day two. My first album was 1988ís Nothingface. Their fifth. That left me with a lot of catching up to do. But what an album. To my mind, itís still probably the pinnacle of their career. They started out as rough and raw a thrash band as youíre likely to hear with Roooaaaaaaaarrrr and War and Pain. Then they evolved through Dimension Hatross and Killing Technology. The storylines involving the Voivod becoming ever more eventful, complicated and just out there basically. With Nothingface it all came together perfectly. Dischordant riffs, melodies, song structure, arrangement and great production. Psychedelic. Spacemetal. It was all of them. And with bass lines to die for. Moments that drew to mind some early Maiden as well. The album was cited as being their breakthrough. Some people expected them to be as big if not bigger than Metallica. The album was and to this day remains compulsory listening. They were headlining a tour in the States with Soundgarden and Faith No More supporting. Things went the shape of the Pear. Guitarist Piggy was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The record label sort of went belly up. Things conspire. Yet they were the original cybermetal band even back then. Fear Factory are not as unique as many of you may believe. Voivod were doing Jim Thirwell remixes way before. Wacky covers anyone? How about the Batman theme on the end of Dimension Hatross. They were there, theyíve done it.

The band lost original bassist Blacky after the Angel Rat album. Commercial again but it didnít make the breakthrough. Vocalist Snake left after The Outer Limits album and Eric Forrest was recruited on bass and vocals. The sound lurched back to the more abrasive thrash moments, with an industrial tinge. And it was this line-up and the Negatron album in Ď96 that gave me my first chance to see them live. Can you believe that. It took me 8 years after I started listening to them to actually see them. I never thought I would again. Then they returned a couple of years later in support of the Phobos album. One gig in London. Course I fucking went. Never thought Iíd see them again. Then last year they were involved in an accident with the tour bus. Eric broke his back. I NEVER thought Iíd see them again. But heís recovered, and although still requiring the use of a walking stick, the band are back over here to support Neurosis, and if you think the stress of the last month working on that thesis is going to stop me seeing them again and taking the chance to grab an interview with them, then you are sorely mistaken. The thought is, even if it never gets printed, Iím doing this one for me. Because quite simply, they are legends.

And so Iím a little nervous as myself, Eric and drummer Michel (Away) make our way downstairs in JBs to do this interview.

So, the first thing to ask is how are you doing Eric after the little incident?

"Accident, what accident" he replies with a wry grin, before continuing. "Pretty good. I mean it's been over a year. It happened in August '98 so day by day I feel pretty good."

Did you ever feel that there would be a time when you wouldn't be able to stand on the stage again?

"Uh well there were various thoughts running through my head at the time of course, but I took things day by day and believed in myself and got a lot of support from my family, the band and friends. But it took a while to get where I am right now"

Well it's good to see you back.

"I appreciate it."

And you come back and you've just done a couple of support gigs with Iron Maiden in Canada. How did that come about?

"Yes we did. It was a dream come true for sure. I think they were playing about 3 shows in Canada and they needed support, so they contact our management somehow somewhere, or we contacted them, I'm not too sure how it came about." At this point Michel interjects. "Well what happened was you saw Bruce on TV talking about some gigs, so we phoned our management, and our management phoned theirs to try and find out the chances of getting on it."

It kind of seems like a great mix to me, but also somewhat strange given the era that you came out of, the thrash thing, and that Maiden back then seemed somewhat indifferent to it.

"It was good though because of course it was the return of the singer (Bruce)"

And they were your first gigs back after the accident?

"Uh, yeah the Maiden ones and then Neurosis. Shaking Steve Harris hand, it was really great to come back you know, and play in Montreal to 8000 people.

I was wondering how come you're actually touring at the moment, because you've just released the Kronik album, and you've got the live album being mixed, so it seems a kind of strange time for you to be touring.

Michel picks things up again, "well we were trying to put out the live album before we came out on tour, but the management negotiations with the labels are a little longer than anticipated - as normal. So the live album is going to come out in November and then we're going to record the new studio album as soon as we get back. We just had the Neurosis guys ask us to tour and we couldn't really turn that down. So yeah, we're going to work on our new studio album towards the end of the year and it's going to come out at the begining of the year 2000."

How would you describe the Kronik album, because I listen to it, and to be honest I can't really get that far into it.

"It was intended to be an in between album, but then we had a longer break than expected. We had those tracks in the vault, and also live tracks, so we decided to put that together, got a couple of tracks remixed. We did it for the fans."

How do you feel about remixes in general? It's one of those thing that I always find strange.

"I think it's good, different." Eric offers up his opinion. "It's strange hearing songs that you wrote come out in a different way". Michel continues. "We just sent the masters out to our friends and let them do it and send them back. We didn't want to be involved because it would've sounded too much like the original if we'd be in the studio and looking over their shoulders. So it was quite a good surprise I think. Actually Piggy was a little bit against it, but when he heard the tracks he wanted a full album of remixes" finishes Michel as Eric laughs in the background.

So is there any chance of that?

"No"

I've been listening to Voivod now for too many years, but I'm not sure a lot of the people that will read this have listened. So how would you describe the sound and the whole theme that's always been running through the albums.

"It's just a mixture of hardcore, metal and space music. We were listening to like King Crimson mixed with Motorhead and Discharge, and I would listen to Iron Maiden at the begining of the 80s when they were really popular. But it's definitely metal."

And how about the theme that runs through the albums, are you continuing that on the next one?

"Yeah, once in a while we take a break with it, every couple of records. But with the next one, Eric wrote a bunch of lyrics during his convalescence and we're going to try and fit them in with the Voivod context. Like the next one is going to be the seventh chapter in the Voivod concept, and the final one."

Does that mean the final Voivod album?

"The final chapter of the story. No we're going to keep going" grins Michel in response to the look of worry on my face and panic in the voice. "Don't worry about that." Ah, thank whoever's upstairs or downstairs for that then. The continuation of Voivod is an important thing as far as I'm concerned.

There appears to me to have been three musical phases to the Voivod history, the first four albums through to Dimension Hatross, then the Nothingface, Angel Rat, Outer Limits trilogy which was a more melodic spacey sort of thing, and then a return to the harsher, harder material on the last couple of albums. Was that return Eric's input or a natural thing?

"A natural thing for sure" reckons Eric, who joined the band at the time of this return, hence my questioning. We came to jam and they had to get to a new single." "Well we'd done like four thrash albums, and then three psychedelic albums, and we kind of started missing the heavy stuff, so we started writing the heavy stuff again. Snake didn't like it and didn't want to be doing any yelling any more and left the band. And so with Eric joining we had to adapt to his approach, a really heavier approach and the songs. So it turned out to be much heavier than we were expecting, which was cool."

You've just said that you're going to be carrying on after the next album. How did you actually manage to stay together as a band when all your peers from the thrash era were splitting up towards the end of the 80s, with the exception of the bands that made it huge of course like Metallica.

"I don't know. I guess we just love playing music so much that we accept all the ups and downs."

Was there ever a temptation to keep going, but perhaps change the name of the band, as it was perhaps synonomous with a certain style of music, that in a way some people were prejudice against without ever having actually heard it?

"No, I mean Voivod is multi-dimensional, and is able to do this and do this and this, y'know. Some bands, like say AC/DC will still do their formula, and it will still work for them. But there's a lot of sides to Voivod."

Yeah, I would agree. It's kind of like looking back now, I see you as a band that were say the forerunners of the likes of Fear Factory and all the bands like that with this "cyber" metal thing, remixes and all that sort of thing. Do you ever feel maybe bitter or disappointed at other bands seemingly coming through and if you like, stealing your thunder?

"No, we were just talking to the Fear Factory guys, and obviously they grew up listening to Voivod. And the fact that we had an influence on younger bands just seems like a good thing y'know. It took a while before we realised that we had had an influence. But I realised when we started talking to the likes of Fear Factory and ok finally I feel that we can say we have had something to do with the evolution of metal."

Yeah, I can remember all the reviews from way back when saying how your sound was ahead of its time.

"Well you can only be ahead of your time for so long" reasons Michel not illogically. "Obviously people picked up on the sci-fi metal sound and took it further."

And you still doing a lot of artwork these days?

"Yeah, well I usually draw things, scan it and then re-work it with the computer."

And have you realised or are you planning a release of your art at any time?

"No. I've been working on a CD-ROM release for a couple of years now, and scanning everything and put it into order, it's such a large amount of work. And when it's all put together I need to sort out some way to finance it. I've been asked if I'm going to put out a book, but it's the same deal. We're such an underground band that it's hard for me to find a publisher and stuff like that."

Which to my mind is pretty criminal. That a band with the foresight and ability that they have needs to continue to slog away in order to finance releases, and the like, when others, no names mentioned, can come straight out of Hell on the long road, and write a book about it. Ah well, I'll be bitter for the band. It's what I'm good at.

Being a band that always appears to have embraced technology, how do you feel about the Internet as a tool for the promotion and dealing with music.

 

"I think it's an advancement. It's great in that it's the best promotion for indie bands that can't find a deal, use the Internet."

Would you ever consider using it to release an album yourselves?

"I've been thinking about using it to release some of the obscure tracks and live tracks on MP3. They belong to us."

And so is there any label deals in the pipeline at the moment?

"Yeah, for the live album we are dealing with Noise, Century Media and Basement(?) and trying to figure out who will be the best.

Throughout your years of experience, are then any lessons that you would feel are the best to learn from the industry that could be past on to younger bands.

"Yeah, there are many. But the main lesson I would say is never to sign a publishing deal with a recording company, and the same with the merchandise. It always has to be treated seperately from them. You sign a publishing deal with a publishing company and a recording deal with a recording company, don't sign both. Don't sign both with one company because the publishing company is supposed to sue your record company if they don't pay publishing. But if they are the SAME company they won't sue themselves. And it's happened to us. And the same with the merchandising."

After the European dates, what are the plans for the rest of the year. You mentioned the next album.

"Album begining of 2000. We need to sit down about it. The music is all written we did in jams last year. We recorded all of them and put together 12 songs. Piggy rearranged everything as he's the main songwriter. Eric and I have to sit down and put the lyrics on top of the music and then get it recorded. And it should then come out about the start of the year 2000."

Any hints as to what it's going to sound like (well apart from great obviously)?

"Yeah it sounds like Voivod" laughs Eric. "I think it's the same deal after playing thrash metal for so long we decided to go with the psychedelic sound then go back to thrash. And I think now we miss the psychedelic sound again, so we've added it back." "This one's going to be a little different from Phobos and Negatron for sure" Eric manages to get me licking my lips that's for certain. Yeah, I kind of missed those moments, and for me the Nothingface trilogy I guess is the "real" Voivod - mainly because that's the era that I initially got into the band.

"Yeah, there's definitely more of those moments on the next album. I'm actually going to sing a little more on it as opposed to just barking."

There are times live when I've heard you sing the older material that I do actually think that you sound similiar to him, I don't know if you've ever consciously tried.

"I had to learn all the old stuff, but I don't really try. There are some parts where I try to sing it to capture part of the melody. But I don't know." "Maybe there's just not too many ways you can sing on the top of Piggy's chords"

I think when I saw you down in London last time, it was Astronomy Dominae, and I closed my eyes and it sounded the same then.

How do you actually feel in that the last couple of times I've seen you, you've had to set your own stuff up on stage. How do you feel after all these years having none of these expensive road crew to do it for you?

"Oh expensive is the word. It costs money." "We've always been an underground band and we'd rather come home with a couple of thousand bucks each and set up our own gear instead of giving it away. We need to make a living out of the music, so we just go for it. I really don't mind because I'm having a really great time, and it's nothing to set up a drumkit. It's like I could be working 8 hours a day in a factory."

So as we come to the year 2000, does the millenium mean anything to you?

"Yeah it does actually, because I've been thinking about it since I was very little, so I'm actually very excited about it. To be alive at the turn of the millenium. It's a big deal. I feel the excitement on earth at the moment about it. I know everyone is making a big deal about the Y2K stuff, but for me it's just the thought of seeing the year 2000 is very futuristic."

And so with plans for the new album in 2000, are you going to return to Europe?

"Always. It's our main market. We've been touring Europe much more than the USA. We haven't been in the States since '96."

Are you planning on going back to the States?

"Absolutely. Neurosis asked us last night if we want to do 3 weeks with them." "Really? I didn't know that" states Michel, and a brief conversation between the two ensues. It's private, so no listening in now. Just whistle while we wait ok? dodedodododo do.

So how has the tour with Neurosis been going? (You can see I'm on a roll now with the deep, probing, incisive questions!)

"Great. Good guys, good people." "Oh yeah, everybody is super cool."

Well, I've taken up more than enough of your time, so are there any final words?

"Thanks to the Voivod fans man. It's just because of them that we keep on going and keep on coming back"

Well let's just hope it continues then.

"I ain't looking for no day job man" states Eric, and there's no better place to stop than on such an optimistic and positive note. Now, if you've taken the time to read this interview, cheers for that. Now do the honourable thing and go and search out a few Voivod albums. Get them back to the room, give them a few spins and just let yourself be sucked into their unique world. And then we'll see you all the next time they return to these shores. And with luck I can do an interview with them where I ask something of actual meaning. Oi, whoever said "that'll be a first" can leave now.