Interview: Voivod

With bands like Mastodon winning Grammys and all that, that helps us a lot, you know, and also, sci-fi has sort of caught up with us. And it's probably easier for people to absorb what we've been talking about. It's hard to tell, but we definitely have momentum, and we are more popular than ever these days.

On February 11th, Canada’s own progressive sci-fi metal innovators Voivod released their 15th studio album, Synchro Anarchy, via Century Media Records. Our own progressive guru, Matt Stevens, spoke to drummer Away about the new album, his gear, and much more.

E&D: Congratulations on the new album. It sounds like classic Voivod, but a progression on what you’ve done before. How do you feel about it?

Away: We’re pretty happy. We’re aiming for something and we’re finally reaching it. Francis (Perron, producer) is helping us a lot. I think that on this album we individually sound better. For this album, I used a huge Gretsch drum kit that Jason Newsted gave me in 2003 and it’s massive and sounds like a tank, I’m happy with that choice for sure.

E&D: Yeah, I see you’ve brought the double kick drum work back in as well.

Away: We wanted the album to be more thrash metal and I put a lot of double kick drums everywhere, which is great.

E&D: I thought he had a bit of a Dimension Hatross feel with the time signatures changing, really intricate.

Away: Yeah, last year we did some online shows where we revisited Dimension Hattross and Nothingface I think it might have rubbed off on the new material in a way. It definitely helped us to find a quick raw sound.

E&D: Was the new album made over the course of lockdown? By exchanging files online?

Away: For a while. Yeah, because, of course, the lockdown happened in mid-March 2020. And we had recorded some ideas early in 2020, improvising ideas. And so we were really stuck with a bunch of snippets of ideas that we tried for months to build it into something coherent and cohesive and it was a lot of adaptation. Like you said, sharing files and I programmed the drums for the demos. Like eventually I started programming drums without music. So there are a few of these on the album and I think that one of the things that might have helped the album to be a bit like the old classic albums when we were like in prog-rock mode is the fact that at one point I was trying to arrange everything into one album. And I was sticking together bits that were rejected. And sometimes these bits had nothing to do with the other. Not the same time signature or the same speed. I was just having fun with the big puzzle. And so I think that it might have given a bit of the feeling of when we were turning on a dime.


E&D: My friends and I sometimes talk about what were the greatest runs of albums ever and Killing Technology through to The Outer Limits are some of them, how did you go from the punk thrash thing with prog bits into total space rock with The Outer Limits? And Angel Rat, that’s so original. And, you know, at the time people must have thought that’s not thrash metal at all, was it a big shock for people?

Away: Yeah, of course, totally, it went under the radar, especially that everybody’s eyes were turned on Seattle at this point and the grunge movement and we just did our own thing, even though it was influenced by the tour we had done in 1990 with Faith No More and Soundgarden supporting, where the music was more and more just becoming more alternative So it was sort of our alternative album in a way, but nobody really paid attention. And I remember in 1992 we were in LA recording The Outer Limits and went to the record store and there were a whole bunch of copies of Angel Rat in the bargain bin for sale for very cheap and I thought, oh that might be a sign.

E&D: My friends and I thought it was a great album, we couldn’t believe it because it was taking what we loved about metal and using clean guitars and delay. Everybody in that band was so original. Piggy’s guitar playing was so innovative and then the vocal melodies were really clever, really interesting, I really hope you know people love that record.

Away: I know that both Angel Rat and Outer Limits are kind of worshipped these days, 30 years down the road. But it was definitely out of sync with anything back then. But we’ve always been evolving in a parallel dimensional way. So we do our own thing. We write the music that we want to play around the planet and so that’s the way we move along.

E&D: Snake’s vocal melodies once again on the new record are great, especially on ‘Mind Clock’. It’s got a bit of an Angel Rat feel, then it gets heavy at the end.

Away: Yeah, reminds me of ‘Into My Hypercube’ (from Nothingface). I can hear it because Chewy and Rocky are being fans of all eras of Voivod, I can really hear all the ingredients from every album in a way, with a new fusion metal twist that I love and is challenging for me as a drummer, but I love it. Really, it’s almost jazzier. But I grew up listening to Soft Machine, Van Der Graaf, and King Crimson, my jazz side comes from the prog-rock, like Terry Bozzio with Zappa. And so I really feel at ease with that. I just tried to integrate my funk beats and thrash metal beats in there.

E&D: You should be really proud of the new record, especially 40 years into your career.

Away: We work super hard because The Wake was so well received and that was an intricate album. And as soon as it came out, in 2018, we were starting a tour in Romania going across Europe. And everywhere we played they had moved to shows to bigger rooms in certain cities. And so we ended up winning a Juno in Canada. So we basically gave us the pressure to release something as good as, if not better than The Wake. Last year we were playing during the weekend and recording during the week, like the old days of Black Sabbath and the Deep Purple, you know, and so it was super intense. And we are quite relieved that the first three singles (from the new album) are doing great. Yeah, good reaction

E&D: Chewy’s lead playing is sort of somewhere between some Holdsworth and a more arranged Cardiacs thing.

Away: Cardiacs and Allan Holdsworth Yeah, sure, Chewy is a huge fan of both.

E&D: Do you feel like you’ve been a very influential band? When Foo Fighters came out with All My Life and I thought that’s very Voivod, it must be really weird to see the influence you guys have had on so many people.

Away: Well in the 80s I started to meet people at shows that were from other scenes, like Thurston Moore or Jim Thirlwell, more from the industrial or an indie scene (who liked Voivod). In terms of metal, it is only I would say in the 90s when I heard Fear Factory, Meshuggah that I started to hear some Voivod and all that. I wasn’t too sure until we shared stages at festivals and the guys told me that they were huge Voivod fans. So it took a while and these days I can probably hear it in let’s say Gojira. But it’s hard to tell because they might be influenced by bands that we might or they might share an appreciation for Killing Joke, as well. It’s great when I see the guitar player from Slint with a Voivod t-shirt on because it’s so different. It’s always really great for me to see heroes of mine wearing the shirts, like Bruce Dickinson or KK Downing or Lemmy, you know that’s really great.

E&D: Your artwork is so distinctive, were you influenced by other bands like Iron Maiden, that had a very distinctive style.

Away: Their first album, was a lesson for me, because when I got into the store in 1980, and I was like 16, or 17, and really looking for newer music and their album covers stuck out amongst other vinyl in the store and I immediately went for it, and grabbed it and then flipped it around. And then I looked at the cover again, and I thought this is my new favorite band. And when I bought it, just because of the art, and when I put it on at home, they sounded exactly like I wanted them to sound! And later on, when we did War and Pain in 1984, I had that in mind, that I have to capture the music, and have to make something intriguing, to get the attention. It was my homage to the first Iron Maiden album cover in a way, the War And Pain cover.

E&D: As a band, you always seemed to have your own world, musically, lyrically, and with the art

Away: There’s something I really like from the prog-rock albums I was listening to in the 70s. Like, a good example is ELPTarkus, where they would have a drawing for every song. Yeah, so you could really follow the story while listening to the music. And all of a sudden, you were transported into some landscape. And so as much as possible, I tried to do one drawing for every song. And that’s what I’ve done for the next album.


E&D: When you were signed to Noise records, did you feel sort of part of the scene then? With other more experimental/avant-garde metal bands like Celtic Frost?

Away: Well, the first US tour in 86 was with Celtic Frost. And we really felt like we were part of the same thing, some sort of avant-garde metal scene. We did the Euro tour with Possessed and then a world tour with Kreator, we jumped right into the thrash metal movement, at the right time. So it’s great that we got the deal with Noise for three albums and were able to go to Berlin to record and do some great touring. And so yeah, it was a pretty, fairly popular movement. And it’s still really, really popular, actually.

E&D: Do you think at the time people really got what Voivod were doing? Do you think they get it now?

Away: With bands like Mastodon winning Grammys and all that, that helps us a lot, you know, and also, sci-fi has sort of caught up with us. And it’s probably easier for people to absorb what we’ve been talking about. It’s hard to tell, but we definitely have momentum, and we are more popular than ever these days.

E&D: I think that’s brilliant. You guys deserve it so much, you were a massive deal for me and my friends growing up.

Away: We’re having such a great cycle, that the chemistry is so great. It’s really what we miss the most. And that’s why as soon as we could get into a studio with the sanitary protocols and all that we started doing online shows. So we can get into a room even two meters apart just to jam on real instruments. The Euro leg (of the tour) has already been moved from the spring to the fall. We hope that the summer part of it in North America will happen and then if not, we’re gonna go back to revisiting classic albums online. It was a great experience.

E&D: What other bands mean a lot to you?

Away: I’m very retro. So when I buy new albums, I usually buy the new album of people I have been into like, for all these decades. I think that Van Der Graaf, Killing Joke, Judas Priest still release fantastic music. So it’s a great inspiration for me. And as for Voivod, if anything, I’ve been like dedicating my life for 39 years now and at times, people were telling me you’re crazy. Mainly when the band had more of a lower profile, but it paid off in the end. And if anything, I think we will be remembered as being very perseverant. I also had good examples to follow, like Ozzy or Lemmy, Lemmy definitely passed with his boots on.

E&D: Yeah, you’ve created a catalog of music that’s really special. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

Away: Stay safe, and hopefully we’ll see each other this coming fall.

E&D: Thank you so much. It was really nice talking to you.


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