Interview with drummer Away from Voivod
Interview for Metalegion Magazine by Estelle & her friend Kristof on the 15th of September 2018
Away and Estelle – Voivod concert, 15.09.2018, Budapest
Estelle: Hi Away, thank you very much for taking the time and doing the interview for Metalegion! You surely experienced it yourself that the metal scene has changed a lot since you started with Voivod. What has been the biggest change in your opinion?
The physical products, that we are selling a little less. There is a compensation with all the downloads but then it’s counterbalanced by the streaming scenario that’s happening right now. So that things are changing so fast, that’s the main difference. All through the 80s and 90s it was pretty much the same except for maybe a very small period when grunge was so popular, where the metal had a downfall in North America. But in Europe it was always healthy so we just kept doing the festivals and all that. I think the main change is just selling a little less of CDs in general, although we are selling tons of them at the merch.
E: Would you actually like to go back to the 80s considering the atmosphere?
Not really because the crowd hasn’t changed that much. I mean Voivod has sort of a steady crowd – not a huge crowd but at least Voivod’s fans are really supportive and loyal. So I wouldn’t really go back to the 80s and 90s and so on. It’s also that the chemistry in the band right now is so amazing that there’s no way I would go back to older lineups.
Voivod (from left to right: Rocky, Chewy, Away, Snake)
Kristof: About the lineup, is it true that Daniel (Chewy) is the most _musician_ musician in the band ever? The most educated one out of all?
Yeah, because he studied music in high school and in college. Chewy is also teaching music in college so he’s very educated, that’s why he’s able to do the tab books. So we have Voivod tab books among the merch. And Rocky is very educated as well. The interaction between the two is sort of fusion metal. You have to be more aware of what’s going on and very cautious.
K: You’re more cautious?
Yes. Because it makes me play more in a progressive rock way, makes me a bit less punk-thrash and more prog rock, psychedelic. So I’m more focused.
K: And does this take away any harsh and coming-from-the-heart energy?
In my opinion no. Especially live not. But it’s possible that with the advanced technology in the studio we can put more layers of music and the sound is bigger and better. It probably doesn’t have the punk energy of “Rrröööaaarrr” or “War and Pain” which costed couple of thousands of dollars to record. So maybe now we have a style that’s more psychedelic but the roots are still thrash metal. So we try to keep the double kick happening and the thrash metal happening, try to keep the energy going, but of course it’s not raw like in ‘84-’85.
K: There’s certainly more thrash metal than in “Angel Rat”, right? I love it though.
Yes, “Angel Rat” was a controversial album. It’s a lot different so it’s strange but now it has become some people’s favorite album. We are really proud of “Angel Rat”, that’s where we were at this time. I wouldn’t remix it or anything like that, it’s like “Rrröööaaarrr”. “Rrröööaaarrr” I wouldn’t touch. It sounds like the band is going down the stairway, but it was meant to be that.
K: One more question about Rocky. Was Rocky Chewy’s recruitment?
Yes. Rocky is Chewy’s childhood friend and Snake is my childhood friend so it’s a very good team right now. When we parted ways with Blacky, Chewy said that he knows somebody and we were like “sure, he can do it”. We did an audition and it was perfect.
Voivod – The Wake (2018)
E: Of course I’m gonna ask you about your new album right now, you know? (laughs) “Target Earth” was released in 2013, it’s kind of a long pause in between that and “The Wake”. What was the longest or hardest part of recording the new album?
It’s just that since Rocky has been in the band, we toured a lot. And so we were able to release 7 inch and split singles with Napalm Death, At the Gates and Entombed A.D. and finally we compounded everything into the Post Society EP. But when we decided to write “The Wake”, Snake immediately said he’d like to write a long story and then Chewy decided to do something like Dimension Hatröss where certain musical parts would come back but rearranged. And then we decided to put tons of layers of music and then we decided to put intros, outros, interludes… Since we were touring a lot, we had to write in the bus or backstage with a computer and we demod the album on the road. Finally it turned out to be quite a puzzle, it took one or two years. We started recording after the last Europe tour last fall. We recorded over the winter and ended the recordings in the spring. It was a lot of work. But the album is super and we are really proud of the extra work that we put into it. Chewy was responsible for a lot of that, it’s like his masterpiece. We are really happy that we have Chewy in the team.
E: In which way is it actually a concept album? How did you build it up thematically?
Snake wrote the lyrics as we were writing the album, so we did everything together. With The Wake everybody was involved – this is also part of the fact that it took a long while. The lyrics had to fit the music and then I also tried to represent it visually that the lyrics and the music are connected. So as we were mixing, I was asking Snake about the lyrics, doing sketches… We wanted everything to be very coherent. That was the main goal.
E: What about the music video of the song ‘Iconspiracy’ being released just yesterday (14.09.2018)? Was it you who worked on that as you do with Voivod’s artworks?
No, it was Carsten (Drescher – ed.) from Romania, he did a lot of work for Napalm Death and At the Gates and Century Media. He also made a poster for us for the Roadburn festival in 2012 and he’s a super talented artist. We were fully confident when we asked him to make the video, we just gave him some art I did for the new album and the lyrics, and he worked on his own and did amazing amount of work, we are blown away. In one day the video had more than 20.000 views so for Voivod it’s amazing.
E: Is there any song on The Wake which is personally really important for you?
I think the new song that we just released, ‘Iconspiracy’, I think it’s my favorite. Not because of the lyrics, because Chewy had the brilliant idea of writing a piece for string quartet and when I hear it, it reminds me of The Beatles which was my favorite band since I was a kid. It’s my first band. And so I have something for that song.
E: This is completely a different question but it just came to mind: I read somewhere that Béla Bartók was among your influences. He was a Hungarian composer and I was just curious how that comes.
Piggy was a huge fan of his. For me, it’s mainly when I heard the music from the Shining, it has music from Bartók and (György – ed.) Ligeti. These composers were very important for Piggy and he was the one who introduced us to them. Bartók is my favorite of all them.
Piggy back in the day
E: I don’t know if you like to talk about Piggy but I was about to ask about him as well. Til the album “Infini” you were using the riffs of Piggy on the albums and also songs that you recorded with him, and from the “Target Earth” you started to write completely new material. How did the songwriting process and the feeling of the whole recording differ from the times when you used Piggy’s material?
Kristof: You were talking about the chemistry in the band.
Except for “Infini” and “Katorz” which we recorded after Piggy’s unfortunate passing, the process was exactly the same. Quite often we improvise material and we record everything and pick the best parts, and then Chewy will rearrange it. It’s sort of what we did with Piggy. Also, Piggy came often with full compositions already done that we adapted, and Chewy does the same sometimes. He has a full song that we sometimes involve into Voivod. So basically it’s kind of the same process.
K: So with both guitar masters it can happen that you just jam together from zero?
Oh yeah, from zero. And even Snake, it’s not necessarily with lyrics, he just improvises sounds. Being French you can’t really improvise in English – he’s just like “whaablawhaba” (laughs). He builds melodies around all that. And quite often if Chewy does a riff, I will think “normally I would do that on the drums, let’s do the opposite, backwards”. And then it will surprise everybody but after getting used to it, it makes sense. I learned that from a band called Van Der Graaf Generator, where the drummer quite often plays the backward-beat. So I copied it.
K: I’m always curious about Snake’s personality. There’s something about his on-stage presence that is very different from that of other frontmen. He’s like a goofy sci-fi shaman or something like that – I can’t describe it but you must have something in your mind about a sort of role he has in the band.
Snake – then and now
He’s also different than other thrash metal singers because he’s very into Johnny Rotten, Iggy Pop and Jello Biafra so he brought this side to Voivod, some punkish, snarly side. He has a very unique vocal style and he’s very theatrical. That’s what we were looking for when we started the band. He was in an improvisational theatre so we knew that he could be theatrical on stage. On the audition, we first asked him “Can you sing?” and he was like “I can try, I don’t know” and then I asked him to learn ‘The Ripper’ from Judas Priest. He was like “Oookay” because he was more into punk and when he came to the jam space and started the song, he sounded with the Judas Priest song like Sex Pistols. We thought that was interesting. So from the start he gave Voivod a strange punky signature.
K: So it’s a different interpretation of it, that’s interesting! We were talking about the “Angel Rat” era. What my musician friends love about it is that it’s still the panels that you invented but it was simplified into rock structures. Was it a forced simplification or were you craving for it?
We were just heading this way. The songs got shorter, the music got more psychedelic. We went in the direction of Rush so it was a different approach and unfortunately nobody really understood it and it didn’t sell that much. So we were a bit crushed. Also, it’s a strange period because Blacky left while we were mixing the album. So it was sort of a weird period for Voivod but now it has got to be many people’s favorite album.
Today is the Day/Voivod/Neurosis/VHK concert in Budapest, 1999
E: You’re touring so much. Do you have any memorable or crazy stories from all the tours?
K: Do you remember your Hungarian gig in 1999 for example? Do you like VHK, the band that played with you? I wish I have been there but I was too young.
Yes, there was a lot of traffic around the border so we were running late. There was nothing, everything was closed between the border and the venue and we couldn’t eat. It was hours without eating, I remember that. But we were really excited to play with this legendary band, it was a wonderful gig, I’ll always remember that. And what I remember the most is going to the street and watching the buildings. There was nothing like that on earth. This afternoon today when we came into town we had this flashback, we do every time, of so many years ago. It’s a really beautiful city. Prague and Budapest are my favorite cities on earth.
K: Monarchy architecture (laughs).
E: I remember seeing you opening for or playing with so many bands from so many directions and genres of metal. There is no band like you.
That’s right, I mean we opened for Rush and Faith No More and then we toured with Kreator, Destruction, Possessed, Celtic Frost… We can do it with anybody. It’s wonderful for us. But look at today’s opening band Maggot Heart, this band is amazing, they’re very different but the people into Voivod are very open-minded so I think it will go very well.
E: Are you actually still nervous before going onto stage or before an interview for example?
I’m still a bit nervous. Sometimes more – like last year we played with Metallica and a 100.000 people showed up. But the next day we did a surprise show in the street and I was more nervous there the next day because they were standing right there. It took me a couple of songs before I could look at them in the eye. When it’s 100.000 people, it becomes a big blurry mass and I forget about it. And when we opened for Rush in 1990, I was super nervous. Also, I have seen Rush playing and the opening bands were getting usually booed off the stage because people wanted to see Rush, so we were afraid, but it went very well and when we played Astronomy Domine which was a video that was playing a lot on MTV, the crowd was louder than the music so I was like “huhhh” (laughs).
E: Could you select up to 5 albums that you consider your all time favorites and share why they are special to you?
Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden (1980)
The first Iron Maiden album. When I saw the cover in the store, I was like 16, they were immediately my favorite band. I had no idea how they sounded like, I grabbed the album and I was like “this is my favorite band”. And when I got home, I played it, it started with ‘Prowler’, and they sounded exactly like I wanted them to sound. Like punk-metal-gothic. When I came to doing the “War and Pain” cover, I remembered the first Iron Maiden album, the power of attraction of the covers and I tied to capture that as well. Something that would stick out among other covers. So the first Iron Maiden album is like my ultimate favorite.
I like Broken Bones’ “Dem Bones”, and I like Van der Graaf Generator – “H to He”, the Sex Pistols – “Never Mind the Bollocks”, it will always be one of my favorites. I even looked like Sid Vicious back then. My mother was really pissed that I cut my hair. And then “No Sleep Til Hammersmith” by Motörhead. I could say “Ace of Spades” but it’s just that I hitchhiked hundreds of kilometers to go and see them in Montreal because we were way up North in Quebec. When I saw them, it’s where I decided to become a professional drummer and that’s where I reached out to Piggy. It sort of started from that show, No Sleep Til Hammersmith. Fantastic album.
E: Could you please talk a little bit more about your world views that are captured in Voivod songs?
We try talk about world views a lot in the songs, even though they are sci-fi in a way, we still try to get our message out. To me, my world view, even though I’m a pretty positive person, I find that we are living a recurring nightmare. In the 80s because of the Cold War I was afraid of nuclear war. And I’m still afraid of it. Back then we were freaked out by Chernobyl and Hiroshima, and now we are freaked out by the ozone layer and the global warming, so to me it’s just a constant state of anxiety. But I myself live my life the happiest way ever. I’m really a chill and happy fellow. But I will always have this anxiety of the destruction of this planet, that’s a point of no return.
E, K: Thank you very much for your time and honesty Away!
Thanks a lot for the interview. See you after the show!