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Interviews   

Snakes in the studio


Recently, Voivod released a statement about their upcoming new album, the first to have been entirely written without Denis D’Amour or « Piggy », who passed away from colon cancer in 2005. Indeed, up until now, the band had released its albums based partly on Denis’ last recordings before his death. The band with its new guitarist (once live guitarist) Daniel Mongrain will be under heavy scrutiny.

Vocalist Daniel Bélanger, also known as « Snake », was invited at « Anarchy X » on Tuesday October 4th to talk about the bands state of mind and the direction taken in this new album.

Listen and read the interview.

« It’s a miracle that Daniel came into the picture. There aren’t many guitarists on earth that can do and reproduce what our friend Piggy was able to do. »

Listen the interview :

[audio:interviews/interviewvoivod.mp3|titles=Interview Snake (Voivod)]

Radio Metal : We’ve got Voivod’s vocalist, Snake, on the line. Hello!

Snake (vocals) : Hey, how are you?

I’m fine and you?

I’m doing great.

How’s the weather in Canada?

It’s starting to get foggy.

Winter’s starting to settle in?

Slowly, yes. Soon it’ll be snowing and freezing.

Let’s start this interview by talking about live shows. Voivod has been doing quite a few tours lately; we particularly remember your show at the Hellfest, two years ago. How did this tour go, with Daniel Mongrain filling Piggy’s shoes? How did the fans accept the band with this line-up?

It’s a miracle that Daniel came into the picture. There aren’t many guitarists on earth that can do and reproduce what our friend Piggy was able to do. It was an extraordinary tour, the one with the Hellfest and the one we did last year, which was more in clubs. It’s as if Dan fell from the sky. We didn’t have any solution to replace Piggy, and after all, we end up with this guy who’s amazing. He’s a great guy, dedicated, he puts all his time and energy into music. That gives great results because he also teaches music. He actually started playing by covering Voivod songs among others. The roots go deep. He’s the best replacement we could possibly find.

You said you had a hard time finding someone who could reproduce what Piggy played. But you’re in a genre where the musicians tend to be very, very good. How is it possible that you had such a hard time finding a guitarist to replace him? There are plenty of great guitarists in metal…

There are plenty indeed, but actually, Piggy had his own chords, he had his own personal touch with his use of the triton, which is used in slightly dissonant chords. Not everyone could do it like he did in traditional scales. It’s something that Dan understood very young. He spent a lot of time studying music in general, but when it comes to dissonant chords, he mastered them by listening to Voivod, by trying to cover our songs when he was a teenager. Little by little, he became a master at that. Generally we don’t use the traditional heavy metal scales. What Piggy did was really special. But we didn’t really have a hard time, he came like that. He was a friend of Blacky’s (ED: Jean-Yves « Blacky » Thériault, bassist), who came into the picture as well. He brought that guy, they played together. I knew him by name, he had played at a few metal shows here in Montreal. But his name had been passed around, he was hired everywhere in big productions, he played with other known artists from Quebec. He’s able to do just about anything, he’s very sought-after. The first time I saw him, at the audition, I had chills running down my spine. I thought Piggy was next to me, it was unbelievable. Musically, but also in his personality: he shares a lot of traits with Piggy. It happened naturally.

The fact that he’s a big fan of Voivod’s must have helped. I knew him from before, with his band Martyr, they had a great cover of « Brain Scan ».

Yeah, it came from the heart and the soul. It all fits together when you do it all the way. For him, it’s like achieving something that he’s worked on for years. He’s the guy on stage now, it’s really cool.

What’s the status of his other band? Does Martyr still exist?

Yeah, actually he just came back from Calgary, they did a show there. They’re still going on, I think they’re writing some new material. Last year we did a mini-tour in the winter with them, here in Quebec. They’re great guys, it was cool.

About the live shows again, you recorded a live album, Warriors Of Ice, which came out early last year. What motivated you to record that live album now? Was it to close a chapter?

Sort of, yes. We wanted to do something that would reflect the actual Voivod, with the new line-up including Dan and Blacky. We had the opportunity to record a show during the Christmas holidays in Montreal. We had a lot of fun doing it, we recorded the full live show, and the vibe was there! The show was really relaxed, it was special. We were home and sponsored by Jägermeister, the black drink, as we call it! When we started the show, we took a few drinks on stage, the speeches got longer and more stupid every time! (Laughs)

You’re telling me you were completely wasted?

Yeah, at the end I think we were slightly drunk!

That explains a lot! Shortly before the interview, we listened to « Nuclear War », and your intro was… interesting!

And you didn’t see everything, we edited a lot of things in-between the songs. Blacky and I were cracking jokes with the crowd. We had a time limit for the songs so we had to edit in-between the songs because it would’ve been too long. The cool thing is that we were home, we had just come back from touring, we were happy to be there, everyone was glad to be there and to party. That explains a lot of laughs on the album! (Laughs)

Why didn’t you release it as a DVD aswell?

That could happen. I know we have the footage which we could use eventually. I can’t really say anything about that. The video recording is great as well, so maybe we’ll release it some day.

Was it also a way to have the ultimate approval from the fans when it comes to the actual line-up with Dan Mongrain?

The goal was to put everything into perspective. When we started over, we concentrated more on the old Voivod for the live songs. Everything was worked on the reflect the Voivod spirit. For the fans, I think the album reflects what we are today.

Not too long ago, a year or two, you said that you weren’t sure you were going to continue under the name Voivod without Piggy. Where are you at with that now? Will the next album come out as a Voivod album?

Yes, we’re working on an album and we’re going to keep the name Voivod.

We asked ourselves that question when we were starting over, and there were a lot of « ifs » and « maybes ». But ever since we reformed with this line-up, we really enjoy doing what we do. I think Piggy would’ve wanted us to keep on going , so that’s what we’re going. We don’t know how to do anything else than what we’re going so we might as well keep on going! (laughs) With the album we’re working on right now, there are new stuff. Lately, what we have been releasing is songs with Piggy on them. This is going to be the first one without Piggy. Dan and Blacky write most of the structures, and it’s going to be really cool. It’s Voivod and it’s new. A lot of Piggy’s touches are still here; I don’t really know where they’re coming from, but there are bits where you can recognize him. They’re little winks. Piggy’s there in our approach and everything. It feels strong, it feels like a renewal of Voivod. I can’t wait to start recording. Actually, we are supposed to start recording in January. Right now I’m working on the lyrics, doing some pre-production to get ready for January.

You’re saying that Piggy is still there, in the writing of the songs, even if he’s not writing them himself. Don’t you think that to finish mourning and to move on, you should turn the page and stop thinking about him when you’re writing songs?

I think the page is being turned. Mourning takes time, and as you said, we talked about Piggy a lot with the other albums because he was still part of them, he was actually on the albums so we had to talk about it. Now it’s different. Anyway, Daniel has his own view of things, his own style and I think that’ll bring something new in the band. When I’m talking about winks, I’m thinking about some sounds , some effects, a little bit in the approach, there are still some of Piggy’s dissonant chords, but these are entirely different songs, with a different guitarist, it comes from another mind so it’ll be something else. When it comes to the style itself, Voivod fans will recognize it, they’ll notice it’s not a completely different band.

« I think Piggy would’ve wanted us to keep on going , so that’s what we’re going. We don’t know how to do anything else than what we’re going so we might as well keep on going! (laughs) »

Don’t you think Daniel could feel like he’s stuck in Piggy’s shadow? Maybe in general or from comments from fans?

I haven’t seen anything like that. I was expecting it, because there are always whiners or people who are going to criticize. But what can you do about it? Piggy is gone, we can’t change that. Then, if someone were to criticize Dan Mongrain’s work… He would really need some guts, because I don’t know anyone who could do it and do it right. We didn’t have a single negative comment. Most of the time it’s : « My God! I wasn’t expecting that, how well Dan can reproduce the songs! », everyone’s just blown away. I think people are with us in this wierdish adventure called Voivod. We’ve had some ups and downs. It was a tragedy, really, but people support us and understand our situation, they understand that we’re doing everything we can to go on, so it’s for the greater good.

As you earlier, Piggy had a really unique style, it’s true that his playing almost made the bands identity, and it’s true that Dan manages to play the songs live right, but composing in Voivod’s style is something else entirely. Do you think he pulled it off?

Yes, what he shows me sounds right. He manages to put everything into perspective, I don’t know how to explain it.

Over the years, we learned to know each other on tour. He knows exactly what musical direction we want to take for the next album, there’s no doubt about that. I think the direction we’re taking is the best. I’m sure that when the album will come out, there will be all kinds of criticism, and I hope most of them are going to be positive, but come will probably say that he’s not Piggy. I’m expecting anything but as a band and as a composer, I think he’s following the right path, he understands where to go and how to get there.

It’s true that Voivod has followed different musical directions. Should we expect a more complexe style, kind of like you did on the old albums like Killing Technology, or should we expect a more direct Punk / Rock approach like on the latest albums you did?

I’m thinking more about albums like Dimension Hatross, Killing Technology, Nothingface. I think it’ll sound more like those rather than the latest ones which were more straight forward rock. We have some seven-minute songs with several musical parts, so there’s a link towards a Dimension Hatross album, a Killing Technology album or a Nothingface, so I think the fans of those albums will be positively surprised by the next one.

Off the air, you were telling us a funny story about a show in Paris. What happened?

It was cancelled, apparently the tickets didn’t sell right, which is strange because we usually manage to fill our venues. Anyway a few days prior to the show, the promoter decided to cancel the whole thing, but we still needed to go to there to get a stock of t-shirts that had been sent to us. So we were outside the club, and some fans showed up and noticed that we weren’t going to play, they were really disappointed, so we had our boxes of t shirts and we started to sell them on the sidewalk…

Right there, in the street?

Yeah! (laughs) The fans wanted to buy at least a thing or two, we had the boxes with us, so we opened them and we started to sell them on the sidewalk. It was kind of weird, but things often get weird in rock n’ roll… (laughs)

How come the fans weren’t aware that the show had been cancelled?

We were waiting to see what the promoter really wanted to do, because it was only a week prior to the show, we were on the road and performing every night. We didn’t really know it, but he didn’t announce it, there wasn’t even a sign on the door saying « No show tonight », there was nothing on the web. The disappointing and frustrating thing was that some fans came from really far away, a couple came all the way from Poland and didn’t know about the cancellation. When you come such a long way it really isn’t funny. They could’ve had the decency to announce that the show was cancelled, it would’ve saved a lot of trouble to some people. What I don’t like is that when it happens it’s bad for the band. « Why was it cancelled? Was it the band? The promoter? » People don’t know and it’s not always our fault and it’s disappointing but you know… that’s the way things are sometimes.

Why didn’t you take the amps out and play in the street? (laughs)

We couldn’t really do that (laughs), we could’ve gotten a big fine. It was fun because we got to meet plenty of fans and we hung out in a café at the end of the street for a few hours, trying to explain what happened. But the promoter and the club didn’t do anything. After all, they should think about the fact that when we’re on the road, we’ve come a long way, we’re burning fuel and we have expenses. You can’t just cancel a show like that, three days prior, it’s just stupid!

I would like to clear up the bassist issue in Voivod. Apparently, it’s official, Blacky is back in the band, is that right?

Yes, Blacky came back. As I said earlier, he brought Dan into the band because they were friends. I’m glad to see him back in the band. I’m happy because he’s a really Voivodish guy in his art, and he goes all the way. He’s one of the original members and he has his place in the band.

And what about Jason Newsted? Because he didn’t take part in many live shows, but he recorded the three last albums.

Actually, Jason was really involved in 2002 / 2003, we did the Raismesfest together, we toured a lot at the time. When Piggy passed away, there were a lot of unanswered questions. I think he wanted to help us in the studio because we already had the albums Katorz and Infinity which featured songs we had written with Jason and I think he wanted to finish the work we had started with Piggy as well. I think he really wanted to finish the work that had been left unfinished after Piggy’s death. He helped us to continue the work to release Katorz and Infinity. I think he was much more involved in the studio. Actually, I don’t think he does that many live shows, I know he also does stuff like painting. I don’t think he wanted to come back as the bass-man for the live band, but he wanted to finish what he had started. It was the right thing to do. He really helped us at that time, I’ll always be grateful towards Jason for what he did for Voivod, he’s a real musician, dedicated and all, he brought us a lot.

Do you think he wanted to use the notoriety he gained with Metallica to promote Voivod which he really liked?

Yeah, I’m sure he knew his fame would help Voivod. I remember when he did the TV show Super Nova, it was a reality-show where you had to put together a band, and he always wore a Voivod shirt, that alone was great publicity for us! I don’t think he was allowed to wear band names at CBS, but in his contract he specifically asked to be allowed to wear any t-shirt he wanted, and it was always a Voivod shirt.

On the other hand, wasn’t it annoying that Voivod, kind of like Flotsam And Jetsam, was just labeled as a band where Jason Newsted of Metallica played?

It always depends on how you look at it. I remember some articles saying « Jason’s band ». We’ve been here for a while, we’re not some new-comers but some people have a limited musical culture and only know what you give them. In music, if you aren’t a fan, you only look for famous bands, so some people see us as « Jason’s band » in articles.

(About Jason Newsted) « I remember when he did the TV show Super Nova, it was a reality-show where you had to put together a band, and he always wore a Voivod shirt, that alone was great publicity for us! »

For that reason, do you feel closer to a band like Flotsam And Jetsam who was in the same kind of situation? Even if it’s kind of the other way round, since Jason started with Flotsam And Jetsam, whereas Voivod already had a long career before he came into the picture. I mean, I’m talking about how people saw Flotsam And Jetsam as Jason’s band like they did with Voivod…

As I said, I think there’s also a bit of ignorance in there. If you’re a fan, if you read the articles, you’ll know that Voivod already has a twenty-eight-year career, and people would understand that Voivod is not a newcomer. I think most people, sometimes, in music, love artists because they sell albums, and they say they’re the best because they sell. It’s not my case: it’s not because something is well promoted and well sold that it has to be what’s best to listen to. I look into all music, and I find great stuff from people who aren’t famous. I think that, generally, you should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. For some people, recognition is due because they know you deserve it, but other people see it as « if everyone agrees that… then I agree as well » so it’s kind of an ambiguous situation. People often tell us that we are underrated, that we never had the recognition that we deserve. On the other hand, people like Jason, like Dave Grohl, people in the industry and well known artists praising Voivod, and that touches me. You have to learn how to read in between the lines, and not take everything for granted when you read a newspaper, a magazine or anything else. I think longevity gives you recognition beyond doubt or not, as long as you keep on going, it doesn’t matter. And we like what we do, if you do too, good, if you don’t… fuck it! (laughs)

By the way, do you have new from Jason Newsted? We don’t hear much from him these days…

I don’t hear from him that much, sometimes we send each other best wishes, messages like that. I know he paints and I think he lives well from it. When he did an exposition, he sent me a leaflet with his paintings, he’s really good, I was really surprised and his paintings amounted to a lot. Anyway I think it’s a strange career change. Artistically he’s really enlightened, may it be musically or anything else, I think he likes do get involved in plenty of things, so good for him.

So he’s a complete artist?

Yeah!

A question from one of our listeners: Do you have shows in France planed anytime soon?

I know we’ll take part in a show in Holland in April, the RoadBurn Festival, we’re the curators this year. So we decided what bands were going to play there. I think it’s the 13th, 14th and 14th of April, after that I think there’ll be several shows in Europe, I can’t confirm France but it would be cool to have a few shows there in that small tour we’ll be doing in April. Let’s hope so.

As you were saying, you’re taking care of the booking for the RoadBurn festival, how does that work? Can you really select any band you like? Do you have complete freedom?

It’s not really total freedom, I think we should target bands that stand out because RoadBurn is a special festival that operates in rather prog music, avant-garde music. We have to target either bands that have brought a lot to music and that are still here, or newcomers and more underground bands who deserve more exposure. It’s a long process and there’s a limited budget, so we have to negotiate with the bands to see if they can do it and for how much and take care of logistics: is the band already on tour? Of do we have to bring them across the Atlantic just for the occasion? There are plenty of parameters to take into account, it’s a bit complicated, but we get help from Walter [Hoeijmakers], the president of the festival who takes care of the financial side of things and the logistic side, etc. Also, bands that we ask to play are most of the time really excited and say yes unless the circumstances keeps them from doing it. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out because the artists are in the studio or something like that. Up until now, we’ve had positive answers, we still have bands to finalize and we’re waiting for a few more replies, so it’s all falling into place little by little, I think we’ll have an interesting line-up of bands.

Do you have some names to give us?

I don’t know if I can give names right now… I’ll let the promotion take place when it takes place. I’m sure plenty of people will be surprised of what they’ll see on the bill. It should be sold out in half an hour. (laughs)

On the website they’ve announced Coroner…

Coroner? No, I don’t think so.

They’re on the website though! (laughs)

A listener is asking if NothingFace will be re-edited. Recently you’ve announced that you were going to re-edit your 1984 demo… It’s also true that old Voivod albums are often hard to find, so do you plan on re-editing all you catalog?

Yes, we have to re-edit NothingFace, we’d also like to re-edit Dimension Hatross, Killing Technology and all that, but it’s more a legal problem: we have to get some copyrights back, this has been going on for some time but it’ll be done soon. I know we’ve been saying this for some time but it’s something we’d like to finalize to have those albums available for the fans. I can’t give you dates either but I know we’ve been working on this for some time but it’s complicated because of certain laws and certain people involved. When it comes to To The Death 84, it should come out under Alternative Tentacles. It’ll be out soon, I saw the prints, the cover and all, so it should be soon.

About the album you’re working on, you said in an interview about the lyrics that we are currently living an information war. You said it was hard to know where the truth lies today because everyone has his own vision of it. Was that not partly inspired by the recent death of Ossama Bel Laden with some people saying he wasn’t really killed or he isn’t really dead – or even that he was working for the US. Was that not some sort of trigger to talk about that issue in the album?

Actually, when I look at the evening news, there are a lot of triggers. I don’t know if it’s 2012 getting closer, but something isn’t right in the world, what we’re told to believe, what’s true… I remember exactly when Ben Laden’s death was announced: we were in Paris actually. It was the time the show was cancelled. People were saying they didn’t believe it, that it was all set-up, they took the body, they threw it to the ocean so there wouldn’t be any evidence… We were all around a table, drinking beer and talking about it but no-one knew what really had happened, and everyone was saying just about anything about it.

That was kind of the boiling-point, the paranoia or misinformation. It doesn’t take much to have people panic and go all around the place because we’re living in permanent doubt today : what’s real? What isn’t? What was set-up? What isn’t? You know, people say that the 2008 financial crisis was prepared, and all that. There’s no end to it! Who’s really pulling the strings in our society? It’s kind of disturbing. But in the end, all we want is to live in the best world possible and try to make the best out of every situation, but on the other hand some people are pulling the big strings for their own interests and manage to destroy all the efforts of people trying to make the best world possible. Those people don’t care about anything else than their own interests, and they have the power in their hands. Of course, that’s enough inspiration for plenty of songs. It’s unbelievable to see how much we’re all trying all kinds of things because no-one really knows what’s happening.

Are you often inspired by the world in general for your songs? I’m thinking about the song « Global Warming » for example…

Yes, because Voivod has always had a rather « science-fiction » side, but with the social side of things. As artists we have kind of a duty to denounce certain things, a duty to try to improve things, saying that’s right and that isn’t. Even if it’s rock’n’roll and not really aimed at the crowds, it’s still there to wake people up, light little fires in peoples brains about the world that surrounds us. I have my own opinion about certain things, I can’t talk in anyone else’s name but there are some things that shock us, where we say « No, shit! That shouldn’t happen! It should be that way instead of this way. » That sometimes reflects in our lyrics, and in our songs unconsciously. Through some sentences that can be about other things, we put our signature about where we stand when it comes to this or that issue. Obviously the power to write songs, to be free-spirited in that, I think it’s the positive side of being an artist. It’s not making millions, we love what we do, we have a protesting side to our lyrics, I think it’s an artists mission if you may.

A listeners question: When is Voivod going to do a featuring with Canadian artists such as Celine Dion or Natasha St-Pier?

(Laughs) I’m sure it would be interesting! We were once nominated in the same category as Celine Dion. I’m not joking! It was her first English-speaking album. In Canada they handed trophies to French-speaking artists from Quebec. Celine Dion had released her first English-speaking album that year and she had to win something with it, so they made a category just for her. That’s where we ended up, Voivod, and all the other English-speaking artists with some success. At the time we recorded so we were almost at the same level because we were part of that category « most represented artist outside of Quebec ». But that’s because she had released an album in English…

So in the end, Celine Dion / Voivod, same thing!

Yes, we were nominated in the same category, which is unbelievable! (laughs)

For the information, I think Celine Dion’s album was Unison, released in 1990; what was Voivod’s album from that year?

I think it was NothingFace

Listener’s question: Blonde or brunette?

Brunette! (Laughs)

Do you have a last thing to add?

I really hope we can come to play in France soon since it didn’t work out last time…

Didn’t the Hellfest approach you this year?

Since we did it not too long ago, as for all festivals, it takes some time to come back.

You’ve announced the next album will be released before the end of the world, so it should be before the end of next year. Do you have a more specific time-line?

If we record it in January, we hope to release it before spring. It would be cool to release it at the same time as we go on tour…

Phone interview conducted on the 4th of october.
Traduction: Stan.

Voivod website: www.voivod.com



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