By “Jay Rollins”
Denis “Piggy” D’Amour (Never Forgotten R.I.P)
Michel “Away” Langevin / Denis “Snake” Bélanger / Dan “Chewy” Mongrain / Dominique “Rocky” Laroche
Isolation as a facilitator for inspiration has produced some exceptional art. Perhaps the Canadian wilderness was the underlying factor in Voivods distinctive sound. Each album is curated around an evolving wave of heavy progressive energy. Lyrically, Denis “Snake” Bélanger explores dystopian worlds which reflect our own societal shortcomings. The Original guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour has been credited with being the visionary behind the music by blending his taste for progressive music with the raw vigor of bands like Venom and Slayer. Piggy was a vital part of the Voivod life force whose untimely death in 2005, at the age of 45, left a void in the group. With 12 full length albums produced in just over two decades there was no possibility Piggy would ever be replaced; however, by the age of 45 Piggy had already influenced a new generation of young musicians with his unique style.
Once the band had a proper mourning period they realized that they owed it to themselves and Piggy’s legacy to continue on with the vision for which he had laid the foundation. Presently founding members Snake and Michel “Away” Langevin, mastermind behind the visual artwork since Voivods inception, are creating new music as they tour around the world with two new members in tow. Dan “Chewy” Mongrain grew up going to Voivod shows and had attributed his passion for the guitar to Piggy, so it was natural for the young musician to step up to the role in the band he already knew intimately. Chewy and his brother had co-founded the successful touring band Martyr, thereby demonstrating his tenacity and talent well before being asked to join. When the opportunity arose to bring in his long-time friend Dominique “Rocky” Laroche to solidify the quartet a new era of Voivod was incited. The recent EP Post Society embodies everything fans have come to expect. An intriguing, heavy, cohesive release polished with sci-fi luster. The new blood in the band is not only keeping up with the veterans but also reenergizing the spirit of music.
We had the chance to catch up with Snake and Voivods recent stop in St. John’s Newfoundland. My throat is still sore from yelling as I edit this a week later. Glad I spoke to him before the gig!
Metalheads Forever is here with Canadian metal legends Voivod before their first show ever in St. John’s Newfoundland. Thank you for doing the show we are proud to have you guys.
True Pioneers in metal, Voivod hit the scene in 198 introducing an intense style of progressive metal that had not yet been presented to the world. 1984 may not have brought an Orwellian dystopia but it did capture the raw innovation of Voivod on your debut album War and Pain, forever solidifying your place in the metal canon. Goin’ way back, what first drew you to playing heavier music?
I guess it’s a combination of things. When we started up the band we wanted to be, you know, the most horrific thing on earth, ha ha. We were listening to bands that were coming out back in the day, Slayer and Venom, and we grew up with Motorhead and stuff, and Iron Maiden, and all these bands, but we were living far out of everything so it was really demanding for us. Just to pick up albums we were hitchhiking to go to Quebec City, to the main center, to get new albums. So it was like a natural thing for us to go heavy. We wanted to create our own style as well. We were from Jonquière, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, we were not speaking English and so it started out with a different kind of blend. Also our guitar player Piggy was a little bit older than us and he grew up with progressive music. So we wanted to be heavy, but also sort of progressive. As we went on, we did War and Pain which was really heavy, and then Rrröööaaarrr was the thrash album, and then Killing Technology was more complex, you know complex structures and stuff like that. It started like, we wanted to be heavy but we wanted to be creative, and that goes with the imagery too, the sci-fi thing goin’ on. So, I guess it has always been a work in progress, in development. Still today, I mean we’re now working on a new album and we’re trying to figure out what it’s going to be like and that’s the fun part of it I guess, to be having our own style, and not trying to catch the wave of anything.
Being from Jonquière Quebec, 5 hrs away from Montreal, arguably Canada’s heavy metal capital. What bands did you get to see live when you were growing up and what stage shows influenced you?
When we started up the band, there were not so many bands that were going to Jonquière, but there was a few, like Anvil. Anvil was one of the only bands that was crossing that long forest road.
Yeah? Cool. I’m glad they’re still doing it, it’s fun. They were one of the bands that really influenced me because they were doing this for quite a while. I think that it’s one of the only bands that was going that far out to do gigs. But then we had to, once again, hitchhike to see some shows in Montreal or Quebec City, the closest. We went to see Motorhead, we went to see AC/DC, we went to see many bands like that. We were going to Spectrum in Montreal, and then we were doing our own shows. We organized the World War III later on in Montreal which was with Destruction, Celtic Frost, Nasty Savage, Possessed, and you know we were creating our own event, because there was nothing for metal back in the mid-eighties. There were not as many promoters that wanted to promote metal in general. It was started up, but there was a lot of fear about trashing, you know the clubs’ owners were like “oh my God these crazy people are gonna fucking smash my bar” and stuff like that, so it was kind of hard to organize things. Then we did the No Speed Limit Weekend. That was a period of, everything was growing, everything was exploding in the metal scene. So it was really exciting, and for us being part of it back in the days was like, wow, we’re catching that wave, we’re on the surf and we’re catching that wave of heavy metal. Then all of a sudden, it started pretty quick, we were touring around the world.
Over the years you’ve done a few renditions of other bands’ songs like Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”, Slayers “Chemical Warfare”, “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson, and the theme to Adam West’s Batman series. On the latest album Post Society you dig way back into Lemmy’s career and cover Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine”. You chose to feature the song before the icon’s passing, what drew you to cover this song in particular and not a Motorhead song which would have been a more obvious choice?
Well exactly because it would have been too obvious, ha ha. Yeah I mean we were worried about Lemmy’s health, you know as everybody I guess, and we were in the studio and we were doing a four-song EP but there was like a space for a fifth one, but we didn’t have any songs and we decided to do a cover. But a cover, what would be like a cover? And Lemmy’s health was all over the internet and we were kind of like “oh my God” you know, and there was a show that I totally missed. I couldn’t go there, but it was the last show in Montreal, and I wanted to go but I couldn’t and I was kind of pissed because of that. But we knew it was coming. And it was like Hawkwind is a cool band, when you listen to old stuff like Silver Machine and on the video it’s like they got bubbles and stuff and it’s like the video’s trippy, you know?
They’re also a good example of that blending of progressive and heavy.
Exactly, cause Motorhead is Motorhead and we love Motorhead, we grew up on Motorhead. But I think we wanted to show that Lemmy’s life is so wide, you know, in a different aspect. There was Motorhead, but before Motorhead and stuff like that. We wanted to represent a sort of like, trippy, a trippy Lemmy.
Like many artists that interest me, whether it be bands I discover through Metalheads Forever or authors, the notion of society degrading into a dystopian world is a reoccurring theme. This is especially true of Voivod songs when Snake is at the helm. Is this something you purposely write about for Voivod or is a dystopia something that you wonder about in general as an artist? In other words your Lyrics often include a dystopian theme with society degrading, is that something you specifically write about for Voivod or is that something you wonder about in your regular life?
Well I guess it’s a fact. Everybody’s looking at it, it’s the sort of thing that it’s always in your face, and you’re just part of it. And sometimes I am wondering what it would be like in fifty years from now? From the time I was born and grew up and everything like, the progress was so fast. And on the other hand, the destruction was as fast as the illusion of technology, and it was like going like this, you know [motions his hands away from one another]. It’s something that I’m worried about. I’m kind of, I’m an optimistic person, but everything that I look at puts me in a reality world that is like “okay we’re not gonna make it and that’s just it,” ha ha. And it’s weird because some people have such great ideas of making the world more conscious about environmental issues and stuff like that, and I’m amazed about how people can be so genius about recycling stuff, or creating a new way of powering stuff and you’ve got these people who are really fucking brilliant who try to make a change. And on the opposite you got these big companies that don’t give a fuck about anything, all they want is to make money and for a certain lapse of time, get rich and die or whatever, and leave behind them a fucking waste that is going to take ten generations to get rid of. The thing is like, human beings as it is, it’s obvious that there’s always good people and there’s not so good people ha ha. Like I said I’m optimistic but I’m kind of like realistic and sometimes defeatist about what’s going to happen, you know, seriously there’s a few things in the world that I look at and I’m like “nah, obviously it’s too late” or something like that, you know.
The band seems to have had strong political overtones at times and a progressive nature that encourages thought while challenging conformity. Would any of you like to comment on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the current direction of the country?
Well, yeah, Trudeau has good ideas I think, you know the only thing I was worried on the election was to get rid of Stephen Harper, that was my main goal ha ha. But Trudeau has a good, well first he’s young, so he’s more open for different questions in this world as it is now. He’s more open minded, he’s more open for different options, let’s say. As for marijuana he’s quite open about it and I hope one day it will be legalized. Still, you know, the thing is he’s a good man, I think, but how long before corruption gets into his team or whatever? That I’m worried about, because it’s always like that. You can have a good plan, a good guy, a good this, a good that, but as power gets into it, you know, the corporation, money and all that. They want things in a certain way and they’re gonna influence no matter who’s there, along the path along his terms, is it gonna go this way or this way? You know, it’s always about corruption.
Yeah, what’s gonna come at the end? You start out one way and you end up something different sometimes, not always good.
It’s like a newborn baby, you know he’s good, he’s pure but as he grows up…
And learns things
The musical synergy of the band right now is almost unbelievable considering you’ve been together over 33 years and endured the devastating loss of Piggy, your close friend, bandmate, and musical guru. On Post Society the essence of Voivod lays the foundation for yet another stellar album. What do you contribute to this lineups ability to perform so well on stage and in the studio?
Every album is different and an evolution but the Ep Post Society seems to be another staple and pinnacle release and I can’t wait to see the full album that comes from this.
Well we’re on a good stretch right now. Dan and Rocky brought so much, you know they’re the new guys, the new blood, they bring a lot of energy. The structure of the band, I mean the team itself is so positive now. We’re on a stretch you know, we feel lucky to be here still, we feel lucky to have these two boys with the amazing skills they have, and they’re used to playing together so that adds up, you know?
It’s like two new friends and two older friends who get to go on the road together and experience the world.
Yeah exactly it’s like we’re the veterans and the new blood is there to make it happen.
But the synergy is still there to create great music together, which is amazing.
Oh yeah, yeah and the thing is while we compose it’s always a question of what could be good for the song. It’s not because I have a good idea that it’s going to end up like this idea, it’s really a work in progress, and then, oh we’re gonna switch that to that, and we’re looking at all the options. So it takes a lot of work but at the end it gives amazing results I think. So we’re having fun on the road we’ve been touring like crazy, I think counting this year we had like 160-something shows or something.
I’m glad we’re one of them.
Ha ha, yes you’re one of them. So we’ve been really busy, and you know the boys that’s all they want, to be busy and to travel the world and be out there and rock.
You are on your way to the Halifax Pop Explosion, after growing up in Halifax I know how energetic the shows there can be and I am sure between St. John’s and Halifax you are in for two outstanding gigs. When was the last time you played Halifax? And what do you remember of that show?
I never played Halifax myself, because I was out of the band back in the days. I think Michel did with Eric Forrest, I think. And Dan with Martyr, he played Halifax as well. I never played Halifax so.
Exciting, well you’re going to have a great show.
This summer you had a solid headlining stint over in Europe and in a week or so you head on back over to Europe with labelmates Entombed A.D. Would you like to say anything about the upcoming tour or any other news in the world of Voivod before we wrap things up?
Well we’re gonna do a five week road trip with Entombed A.D. I’m sure it’s gonna be fun, it’s twenty-eight shows with them, and we’re on a good slot just before the band so it should be good. And we’re still working on new songs as well, we work on the road, we have no choice you know, we try to put ideas together on the bus or something.
So will that be early 2017 or probably later?
Uh I would say later. Yeah cause we’re in kind of the early stages, but sometimes it goes fast you know. Also the other boys, they’re involved in different projects, Michel plays with other shows, Dan [in Martyr], they’re all busy guys you know. Sometimes it’s hard, we’re on the road and then when we go home they’re still doing gigs here and there, so sometimes it’s hard to join together in the same spot and say “okay we’re working on this”. But eventually we’re going to have to sit and really concentrate on what we’re doing and we’re going to try and make it happen again.
Do you think it will build off Post Society?
I guess it’s going to, well it’s going to be like that. I think it has the same energy, we didn’t lose anything from that. I think it’s just gonna grow up more and more to try and be as Voivod as Voivod.
Thanks again on behalf of myself, the Newfoundland metal scene, and of course Metalheads Forever!
By JAY ROLLINS / Metalheads forever Magazine