Interview: Zeynep Çolakoğlu
Photos: Tarık Gök (İzmir Voivod concert/16.12.2019)
Voivod, progressive thrash metal of all times came to our city, Izmir on December, 16th 2019. I could never miss a chance to do an interview with Away, drummer of this enchanting band whom I read his book many times and delved into graphic arts in countless times. Thanks to Dystopia Promoters, the dream came true, Voivodians had meet&greet in our metal bar, Dinozor; experienced an extra-long setlist including both old and new material and Fix My Heart after 25years at the breath-taking Voivod concert! What is more this exclusive interview found its place in Black Metal Chronicles pages!
Throughout its history, Voivod has come across many things; being a band from a small town in northern Quebec called Jonquière, Canada back at the beginning of 80s, guitarist Piggy’s lost from cancer, bass guitarist Blacky’s absence twice, but reformed in 2008 and still standing in the full force with fired up! In 2019, The Wake album hit the shelves having the line-up Away (drums), Snake (vocals), Chewy (guitars), and Rocky (bass guitar).
This interview is published in Turkish on Headbang Bookazine Farewell Issue in September 2020.
This interview is published in Turkish on Headbang Bookazine Farewell Issue in September 2020.
Z: How’re things with you and the band at the moment? Referring to the album name “The Wake”, it seems like a real wake of Voivod as you have started touring and even came to İzmir/Turkey finally!
A: We feel really fantastic, the new album doing very well, people love it since it came out last year September. The shows are doing better, people show up, we play in front of crowds, we enjoy it a lot. Especially it is more exciting to be here in Turkey for the first time, so it is wonderful.
Z: This time only Izmir…
A: Yes, yes, next time we will be in more cities.
Z: Japan, Australia, and Europe tour with “The Wake” album. How are the observations so far? Is it different in the Far East for such concerts as I see that many bands are willing to play there lately?
A: The reaction is always great, it is different in South America, they are more old school and they have huge moshpit, in Japan they are more reserved during the songs, but between the songs, they applaud a lot, so every country is sort of different, everybody seems to be into thrash metal these days, so there has been lots of energy in the crowd.
Z: The new album has some frequencies that make me think where I did remember this part at this album or at which Voivod album that I heard this before, etc. How did you web these melodies so interbedded, was it intentional?
A: I think it is because Chewy and Rocky do love every period of Voivod, Snake and I bring the old school touch, punk, so there are old ingredients of the past plus a new twist. I think it is more fusion metal what we have done for “The Wake”.
Z: Speaking of “The Wake” universe, there is a puzzling song called 'Sonic Mycelium' in the album. Could you please talk about the one who hasn’t discovered yet?
A: Well, first it was supposed to be 2 minutes long and instrumental, but then Snake decided to bring some parts of the songs on top of it, Chewy just went crazy and made it into a long song, and now it is like a very complicated ending of the album, so I am not even ever sure if we can play it alive, but will eventually, but it was something that actually we wrote in the studio, so it was a bit difficult.
A: And also Snake sings lyrics from the different songs from this album. And there are also some hints of ‘Jack the Luminous’ from the “Outer Limits” album.
Z: Is it in a melodic or lyrical sense?
A: Lyrical. A couple of sentences come from ‘Jack the Luminous’. But also a couple of music parts give hint to ‘Jack the Luminous’.
Z: Throughout the Voivod history, 4 bass players. Started with Blacky (Jean-Yves Thériault), Eric Forrest, Jason Newsted, and now Rocky (Dominique Laroche). Jason Newsted had quite a reputation back then. After 2005, can we say Jason Newsted was a driving force to finish the pearls (2003’s Voivod, 2006's Katorz, and 2009's Infini) left from Piggy and move on after Piggy’s lost? How was working with him?
A: Jason was very important, we did 3 albums with him, he has his own record label, own studio. Like you said he was a driving force for these 3 albums. Also, his bass playing is close to Black Sabbath so it was a good challenge for me to adapt to this style, I loved it. It is a more stoner style.
Z: If I am not wrong, Voivod bass players are playing with the pick as well. Does it have a specific contribution to Voivod sound or anything? Lemmy is the musician that always did things his way like playing bass with the pick, and in doing so he paved the way for so many other bands.
A: Yeah, all the bass players we have, play with the pick. Piggy was very insistent on that. Our riffs are more appropriate for playing with the pick. Rocky, he likes to play the Voivod songs without the pick and it is perfect as well, both would work. For me, I am a big fan of Iron Maiden, Steve Harris plays with his fingers and I am a huge fan of Lemmy from Motörhead, he plays with the pick, so I can understand both styles. But for Voivod, it might be more appropriate to pay with the pick.
Z: “The Wake” is Dominique Laroche’s first album. What about the chemistry?
A: It is amazing. The chemistry, the new line up are all fantastic. I think that’s why the new album is so well received. We worked a lot on it and there is no way that we could have worked as hard on this album without having that type of chemistry right now. So things are doing very well and we have started writing new material!
Z: What wonderful news! Waiting for the new album eagerly! Let’s talk about the setlist now. You have chosen songs from the first 7 and last 2 albums. No songs from Eric Forrest and Jason Newsted era, what is the reason for this?
A: It is difficult now because we have too many albums. But sometimes we play ‘Forlorn’ from Eric era, sometimes ‘Global Warning’ and ‘Treasure Chase’ from the Jason era, but at this moment we play songs from “The Outer Limits”, new material from “Post Society” and “The Wake”. But this is for the moment. We have been discussing playing the songs ‘Mercury’, ‘Nanoman’, so eventually, it will come to the setlist.
Z: What will you play from “Outer Limits” as it is my favorite album?
A: ‘Fix My Heart’, for the first time in 25 years. Besides we will have an extra-long setlist this time.
Z: It is wonderful to hear that! Can’t wait! So, after all, you have 35+ years career, how do you interpret in terms of fans, festivals, shows, the feedback you have received? How do you interpret the metal scene these days?
A: Metal is very healthy nowadays, in the 90s we had a couple of tours which was more difficult, metal had a lower profile than in the 80s or now at that time. So during the grunge act years and then after the techno year, it was more difficult but these days there are young people into thrash metal all around the world. And we tried to look like what we had looked back then and we see them singing the lyrics of the new album as well so it is very exciting.
Z: It was amazing to see Voivod at Montreal Jazz Festival on 30 June 2019 as a jazz fan and a Voivodian. How did it happen?
A: Yeah, it is. Organizer always dreamed of having Voivod at that festival so he finally asked us so we prepare something special for him including a brass section. Actually, we have a new video that is coming out for ‘End of Dormancy’ so we got the same quintet in the studio to do the special version that is based on what we had played at the jazz festival.
Z: Great! How was working with the jazz composers when you compare with the rock?
A: Well, Chewy wrote the chart for the brass section, he composed everything so it was very natural. Anyway, it was great working with these people because they have never played with a metal band before but always dreamed to play with a very rock ensemble. They told us that it was their favorite show this year.
Z: In the previous year, Van der Graaf Generator was at this jazz festival, right?
A: Yes, they were there and they are my favorite band of all time!
Z: Which album of Van der Graaf Generator you like most?
A: “H to He” and “Pawn Hearts”. But I love all the albums and also new ones. I also went to see them at the jazz fest in Montreal.
Z: I really love the ‘Darkness’ song from “The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other”. It is amazing.
A: Yeah it is amazing. I met them two years ago. We won a progressive award in London so I went there to take the trophy. Peter was there and I spoke to him and he spoke to me in French. He is a super nice guy, I was really impressed, and he is my hero.
Z: Are you still seeing such division among the fans about Voivod eras of thrash metal (RRROOOAAARRR”, “Killing Technology” and “Dimension Hatross) and progressive metal (Nothingface, Angel Rat, Outer Limits). What do you think?
A: Not as much as in the past. When Angel Rat came out, people didn’t like it, many people like the 80s thrash metal style, so they didn’t understand “Outer Limits” or “Angel Rat”. But now people love these albums. Now most of the people like all catalog which is great.
Z: Nothingface has the uniqueness in concept by taking a step into Voivod’s brain so psychedelic, missing details of its personality so nothing face, alienation of the outside world meaning living into a sort of hypercube. Missing Sequences is related with Alcan Al factory knowing causes to Alzheimer, sub-effect is paranormal, the inner contribution is about alchemy. Voivod’s mercury symbolism started by this. Maybe you know, mercury was considered the spirit of any given material in ancient times. Paracelsus explained it simply as such, saying: "For Mercury is the spirit (as mind), sulfur is the soul, and salt is the body, and mercury was thought to transcend life/death and heaven/earth”.
A: Oh really? I didn’t know that. When I was a teenager, I read a book called “The Morning of the Magicians”, and I really interested in alchemy for a lot of things that were based on mercury. I went to college to study chemistry because I was so obsessed with alchemy. We also talked about mercury in the “Phobos” album.
Z: I am a chemical engineer, like you, I am interested in the topic hence chose to study.
A: Ah ok. I got interested physics, quantum physics too so when I went to university it was more into science not in chemistry but in physics.
Z: It was the reason that you called Away because of being away when there was a rehearsal, right? Then you directed your career towards music. What do you think right now when you look back? Are you satisfied with your choice?
A: I will never know if it was a good choice, I don’t know what would have happened to me if I was going to keep on studying at the university. But it was impossible to go because of the whole work, so I decided to try music. By the way, I did go back to school twice, but it was studying in 2D, 3D animation. I never got back to school in science. In the end, I am very satisfied with what happened in my life, I am happy with all those travels I did, all the friends I met, new friends, old friends. I have a fantastic life also because when I am not touring or recording with Voivod, I am doing art for other bands at home.
Z: Your art is very famous in the metal scene actually. As I heard that people want specifically your style, similar to Voivod for their band also.
A: Yes, yes, they are looking for that signature.
Z: Do you have any plans for your second book?
A: Yes, actually it is an art that I did on road, every city after the night, I drew my impression on the city, so the next book is going to be all the art that I did on the road since the last booking, 2008, since we formed with Chewy. I have done thousands of drawings so far. It will be the same publisher, Spider Press, it should come up next year.
Z: Will it be with Martin Popoff as well like the previous one?
A: No, Martin won’t involve because there won’t be as much text as the first book, it is going to be minimum text by myself. And also backstage passes, flyers, posters, a lot of photos and a lot of drawings.
Z: Can’t wait for that! Special memento to Voivodians. As for Voivod İzmir concert organizer, you met in Prague concert years ago, right? How do you remember those times?
A: I remember very well, he was outside and I gave a pass to him to get in. And I saw him after in London, I was in touch with him all the time, Prague and 3 years after, London, a couple of times since then, but we kept texting each other.
Z: Who are your favorite graphic artists?
A: Probably Philip Druillet from Heavy Metal Magazine, Moebius, Bilal but especially Philip.
Z: What are you listening to lately?
A: I love buying new albums of the old bands. I love the new Judas Priest album, new Iron Maiden album, new Van der Graaf Generator album, new Discharge album, and new Subhumans album. These are the bands that I saw recently, that I still love and they still kicking, so I buy their albums. From the new bands, they are not a new band anymore but we played with Gojira last year and I really love them.
I would like to mention something when I met you here. I am a horror story
author, I wrote a story that influenced by Voivod song ‘Le Pont Noir’ including
a character called Eric Le Pont Noir who
is the last original vampire, book, and LP collector. There are also many Voivod
songs references due to the context as it is a puzzle story that only a Voivodian
can understand, what is going on really.
It is a gothic horror storybook called İstanbul'un Karanlığında (Within the Darkness of Istanbul) having two authors both have 3 stories
and will be published this year.
A: This is interesting (laughing). Le Pont Noir is
influenced by an old folk tale. Whenever people build a bridge in Quebec, it was
said that the first person who would cross it, there was a chance that the
devil hiding under the bridge, take his/her soul, so all the time the creature who passes the bridge first is a black cat, so devil takes its soul
instead of a human being.
Z: Thank you for the interview, can you define Voivod’s meaning in your life in a word?
A: It is liberty, freedom, I have been a free person in my life because of music. Thank you too.
Few notes from organizer Dystopia Promoters
How was the dream concert in your words? Voivod’s İzmir observation, meet&greet party, show, audience? You have had a long-time dialogue with Voivod. You met with them in Prague, London concerts years ago. How do you remember those times?
Since 1984 I've been a follower of Voivod's sonic journey. I even recall exchanging letters with Euronymous, his pushing me into underground bands, me, pushing him into Voivod. When the internet was available in Turkey around 1993-4 my first search was on Voivod. In a short time with luck I get to meet their manager and then reach Away online. A connection with Away since then has been slowly building up the İzmir Voivod gig. In the meantime, I had visited Voivod during Negatron tour in Prague and during Phobos tour in London, hanged around with the band members and have fond memories of their down to earth & intellectual personalities, and their unbelievable quality of music. Both gigs were in small bar-venues since the 1990s weren't good for metal bands but Voivod was delivering their unique setlist to their hardcore fans. Later when I started to promote band gigs, the initial plan was to have both Mekong Delta and Voivod on the same bill in 2014, but due to Voivod's position only MD played.
Having a Voivod gig in my mind, I couldn't miss the chance when Eric Forrest was playing a few shows re-visiting his Negatron-Phobos era Voivod by only playing songs from those two albums so I invited E-Force to İzmir to fill the stage with his sound in 2017. Without knowing at the time I'll have Voivod in 2019, I became the only lucky one to have both bands and thus resulting in getting to hear all eras of Voivod live on the gigs (as of now Voivod hasn't played live any Negatron-Phobos songs with current lineup) I promoted.
But after another fail in August 2019, finally in 16th Dec 2019 Voivod walked in İzmir. My partner in crime IronFist Organization and I had a great couple of days with the band and they enjoyed their time here. It was the most eastern part they had ever visited and they enjoyed every moment. They had been in Europe for a month full of gigs, living on a tour bus and supporting Gwar! and after that snowy tour, İzmir was a sunny welcome with climate, people, and food. Their visit to Dinozor Metal Bar to meet fans was cool on Sunday night, especially as the band entered the bar the intro of Star Wars was played, kinda amused the band. Since it was the only headline show for Voivod in this tour, and first ever in Turkey they decided to add a few more gems in their long setlists like Tribal Convictions which was never before played live with Chewy and Rocky. A Monday night and İzmir don't go hand in hand for metal shows but around 150 people showed up. The backline, setup, and sound engineering were top-notch, and Voivod gave all they had on and off the stage, creating both a sonical and social trace in the audience. Voivod went back with great memories and promised to come back for a Turkey tour on the next album's tour.
AWARDS OF VOIVOD
2019 Polaris Music Prize Long List Nomination.
2017 “Visionary Award” at the Progressive Music Awards in the U.K