Interview by Avinash Mittur
Canadian heavy metal veterans Voivod have released their new album ‘Target Earth’ on Century Media Records. This is Voivod’s thirteenth studio album overall, and the first one to feature Daniel Mongrain on guitar, who is replacing the late Denis D’Amour. It is also the first since 1991′s Angel Rat with Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Thériault on bass. A couple of days ago, our man Avinash Mittur caught up with drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin, to discuss the making of the album, the influences he has brought upon for the writing process, touring plans, and various other things, in detail. Read the conversation below, and visit Voivod’s official website and facebook page for more info.
First thing Michel, congratulations on the release of Target Earth! I have say that the production is truly awesome, your drumming sounds tremendous.
Yeah! I’m really, really happy with Sanford Parker’s mix, and of course we worked really hard on the tracking of the album as well. I used my favorite drum set, which is a huge Gretsch kit along with the signature snare that I have from Drum Shop USA. All of that combined sounds like a tank!
This album also sees you using double bass drumming a lot more than in the more recent Voivod records.
Oh definitely! The music is more thrash metal and also reminiscent of the prog metal we did in the ’80s. The last few we did with Jason [Newsted] were more punk-metal with a bit of stoner rock- which is great as well! But yeah, there’s a lot of double bass drumming on Target Earth.
I understand that among the members in Voivod, you’re a big fan of hardcore punk and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Were you happy to see the music become faster again and become more thrash-influenced?
Yeah! I still listen to a lot of that old-school stuff actually, like Broken Bones, Discharge and the crust punk material like Doom, but if I want to listen to metal I play Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. These are my roots for sure.
On that note, I believe it was your idea to add the classic d-beat, the Motorhead beat, to “Kluskap O’Kom” from the new album?
Yeah, because after writing four of five songs, I realized that they were all very progressive! I like to have a few punk tracks as well so we ended up writing “Kluskap O’Kom” and “Corps Étranger,” our very first song sung in French.
You know, “Kluskap O’Kom” is one of Voivod’s most aggressive songs in years and years, I’d even say maybe your most aggressive since the songs from Killing Technology like “Tornado”.
Yeah, yeah! We try to have one d-beat song on at least every album. On Infini it was “Volcano”.
Speaking of some classic tracks, the band started playing “Jack Luminous” off of The Outer Limits last year.
We had never played it before because it’s so long! It’s almost twenty minutes long and it takes the space of many songs but it went over really well! We’re definitely going to keep it in the setlist.
That’s awesome! I’ve been wanting to see Voivod for years now, but I live over in Los Angeles and Voivod haven’t been here in a very, very long time.
Yeah, it’s been a long time since we’ve gone through the west coast, although we did play a couple months ago in Oakland with Neurosis. It was great! Jason came to the show and it was great to see him again. I’m happy he’s back playing music, his new material sounds amazing!
Yup! Jason’s coming back in a big way, and I would think that Voivod were a big part of it. The band was a creative outlet for him, and how often do you get to be in one of your all-time favorite bands, you know?
You know, he was also responsible for a resurgence of interest towards the band, so our relationship was nothing but good!
So when are Voivod going to come back to the west coast? I know the band has some touring plans in the works.
Since this is our thirtieth anniversary this year, this month actually, we’re planning a huge tour. First in mid-March, we’re going to play South by Southwest and in mid-April we’re going to do South America. Then May and June will be across the USA and Canada before we head to Europe. Then it’ll hopefully be Asia in the fall. In between the tour legs we’ll be trying to write new material.
Oh, cool! There was a four year gap between Infini and Target Earth, so will the wait be shorter for the next album?
I hope so! We have a pretty good catalog, thirteen studio albums and I believe nineteen when combined with live and best-of and such. We could have put more albums out but we ran into obstacles so if everything goes well, we’re going to try and be more productive.
About a couple of the albums in the catalog, Nothingface and Angel Rat- those albums have been out of print for a while. I know there were some plans to reissue them a while back, but has that progressed forward at all?
Well, we’ve been working on it forever but it’s been a bit of a bureaucratic mess right now. A few of our albums are not available and right now we are working on a box set containing Rrröööaaarrr, Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross along with some Iron Gang demos from the ’80s. It’s also difficult because Universal bought Sanctuary, who had the Noise Records catalog. Things have become very complicated, but we’re working on it though! Eventually we really want to do the same box set thing with Nothingface, Angel Rat and The Outer Limits.
Awesome! Well, you can still find The Outer Limits but I’d love to see the demos and other rare material you have from that era.
Yeah, The Outer Limits has been remastered and re-released in a limited edition of 2000 copies- from Poland actually! It’s out there though, the other ones are more difficult to find. We are on it though!
I’m suppose I’m lucky then! I was able to find an original Nothingface LP and an original pressing of The Outer Limits with the 3-D glasses. As of right now, those are really cool collectors’ items.
I was happy to see that the reissue of The Outer Limits had the glasses and the 3-D art! I’m glad they got ahold of the art masters.
I thought you were the artist for that album though?
Yeah I did the art, but I don’t have the original digital material. MCA has it.
Oh, that’s interesting. One would think that as the artist, you would own the original creations but I guess not.
Well, I have the original ink that I did but the 3-D treatment was done in LA and they have the digital masters over there. I was happy to see that the people who re-released The Outer Limits had access to it.
About the artwork for Target Earth- it features a lot more bold and heavy colors than you usually see from your art. What prompted this change?
It started when we were demoing the album and people were telling us that it sounded like all the eras of Voivod combined together. It made me think that I should use the colors from many of the album covers I did for Voivod. I also wanted it very colorful because I wanted it to look really good on vinyl. We’re selling a ton of vinyl nowadays.
Sorry to get off topic here, but last year Voivod played all of Dimension Hatross at the Roadburn Festival. Was that it a fun experience playing the album start to finish? Did it turn out as well as you expected?
It was very nerve-wracking, we had never played a full album in the past. Some of the songs we had never been played live actually! It went really well, and that’s also where we featured “Jack Luminous” for the first time. The whole experience was really amazing, I also had my own art exhibit- it is such a cool festival. We also had the honor of curating the event as well, so we were able to invite our friends and influences like Killing Joke, Doom, Anekdoten, Jim Thirwell, you name it!
I did notice though, you guys did not play the “Batman” cover!
Oh! People were asking for it. I mentioned it to the other guys, and nobody seemed really into it at all, so we skipped it! [laughs]
Going back to Target Earth- this was the first time in a very long while that you all had to write new material from scratch, since you used Piggy’s final riffs on Katorz and Infini. Was it a tough experience having to start from scratch for the first time in so long?
It was very fun, it happened over a long time. Both Katorz and Infini we had demoed in 2004. This time around it was different because we all live in Montreal, so were able to go the jam space a lot more often. We were able to arrange, re-arrange and demo the songs, so we came to the studio very prepared in early 2012. With Jason, it was more of a long-distance musical relationship. We had to trade CD-Rs- that’s why the songs were a lot more straight-forward punk metal, stoner rock, whatever you want to call it. It’s a different sound definitely, but I appreciate all the eras of Voivod myself.
So would you say then that having Blacky in such close proximity to the band helped make the music more progressive then?
We were able to rehearse a lot, also back then Blacky was involved with Piggy when it came to writing the complex music. This time he got involved with Chewy and they did a great job writing some intricate material.
Chewy’s been a great addition to the band, now Voivod are playing a ton of rare older songs from Killing Technology and the older albums. It’s been awesome to see videos of you guys playing all the old stuff.
Yeah, there’s definitely a new energy. After the release of Katorz we were pretty exhausted from the whole tragedy of losing Piggy. I didn’t think there would be a Voivod anymore until we reformed in 2008 for a couple of shows. It just kept going and going and now we’re entering a renewal of interest in Voivod from many generations and a resurgence of thrash metal in general. It’s a great time.
At the time Katorz was released, Voivod were planning on breaking up because of Piggy’s passing, but here you all are seven years later still kicking along.
Yup! Jason, Snake and I knew that we would play again eventually but we had no idea when. At the time, Jason was also recovering from his surgery in his shoulder. We took a couple of years out, then when we reformed in 2008 with Blacky and Chewy it was more of a live thing with a focus on the ’80s thrash metal. Those shows really gave Snake and I the energy to work on Infini in 2009 with Jason when he had recovered. For a while, there was a recording lineup and a touring lineup, but now this definitely the new lineup, the fourth one actually.
And you know, you were the one member consistent member in all four of those lineups. You were there to witness every change and the evolution of Voivod over the last thirty years.
Yeah when all the crazy stuff happened, I witnessed it firsthand!
Your musicianship obviously improved a ton between War and Pain and the progressive albums like Nothingface. Is it still fun to play some of the songs from War and Pain and Rrröööaaarrr that don’t demand as much from you on a musical level?
Yeah! It’s always great to play the thrash metal, as well as the prog metal, the industrial metal from the mid-’90s, the punk-stoner-metal from the Jason years- all these blend very well in our setlist strangely! Songs from War and Pain will blend with something like say, “The Prow” from Angel Rat, because the Voivod signature is there.
So on this big thirtieth anniversary tour you guys have planned, will we see songs from all the eras of Voivod represented in the setlist?
I believe so. We’ll try to cover the most eras as possible, but it’ll probably be most concentrated on the ’80s Blacky years and the new album. We always like to play “Global Warning” from the Jason years and “Forlon” from the Eric years too. We try to cover it all. We had started playing songs from Rrröööaaarrr when we reformed in 2008, which hadn’t been the case for a while.
Are there any songs that Voivod haven’t played live yet that we might see you pull out on this tour?
We’ll try to! Lately we started playing “Forgotten in Space” which we hadn’t played in a long, long time. This one along with “Jack Luminous” have become my favorite live tracks.
“Jack Luminous” is a favorite of mine too, along with the whole The Outer Limits album really. 2013 is going to mark twenty years of that album I believe?
You’re right, yeah! It came out in ’93, so yup, twenty years!
The Outer Limits almost exists in its own little bubble: it’s super progressive where Angel Rat was a little more commercial. It kind of stands alone in the Voivod catalog you know?
I think The Outer Limits years are sort of the lost years for Voivod. We were hiring bass players to go on tour and in the studio. It was between Blacky’s departure and Eric’s arrival, so it was a strange period for us. Like you said, it’s an album that almost stands on its own.
And now you’re back with progressive material on Target Earth, so it’ll be really interesting to see where you guys go from here.
Oh I think the new album is very representative of where we’re heading! More of the progressive thrash metal material with a new twist!
Alright, I think I’ve kept you for a bit too long so I’ll let you get to your other interviews. Michel, thanks so much for chatting with me!
Hey, thanks a lot, and we’ll see you on tour this year for sure!
Related: ‘Target Earth’ album review