Voivod – Anarchy Reigns

Tuesday, 15th February 2022

Visionaries setting the bar high from Canada, Voivod have seen a resurgent interest in their brand of avantgarde heavy metal. Evolving from a thrash base, these gentlemen have never been afraid to embrace a forward-thinking attitude – no matter what is popular from a commercial perspective. Almost forty years together as a group, their latest album Synchro Anarchy contains a mix of progressive rock, metal, and thrash aspects – injecting the Voivod-ian personal touch their long-time fanbase expects and appreciates.

We reached out to Away for a conversation where we learn more about the isolation differences that make the new record energetic and different, how revisiting older albums for special live streaming shows kept their chops up, more talk of the future band documentary, artwork and videos, plus lots of special memories in the history of Voivod.

Dead Rhetoric: Synchro Anarchy is the 15th Voivod studio album. How do you feel about the recording and songwriting process for this set of material – and where do you see this album slotting in the catalog of the band, especially in terms of approach and what you want the listeners to get out of this record?

Michel ‘Away’ Langevin: Well, so far I’ve been told by the people who’ve heard the record that it’s a good continuation from The Wake. We didn’t write it with that in mind. I know Chewy (guitarist Daniel Mongrain) wanted the album to be a bit more thrash metal. I put a lot of double kick drums on this. With the opening track “Paranormalium”, the chord progression at the beginning of the song is the same progression as the end of The Wake. It was planned, and also one difference from the previous album is the process that we had to use to make things happen. Part of the work was done in confinement – so for a while we had to share files online, and program the drums for the demos. This was done while socially distancing, and that was a bit hard. Eventually we were able to get into the studio and record the whole (album), but we were not 100 % prepared. Because of the circumstances we were writing at times while we were recording.

You can feel the urgency of the situation on the album.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the band chemistry in that regard helped to get the work done under different circumstances?

Away: Yes. It took a while before the restrictions were over and get into a studio. This was in the middle of last year. Prior to that, we had done some shows online. Starting at the end of 2020 and over 2021, we did shows where we revisited Nothingface, Dimension Hatross. In the meantime, we were trying to build the album out of snippets we had written during 2020. For a long while it was a process of trying to build a puzzle. In June of last year, we were able to record this in a studio. We started in June 2021, but it was also the time when the festivals in the province of Quebec started again, and we were playing festivals on the weekends and recording during the week. So it was pretty intense.

Dead Rhetoric: Were there any songs that came easier this time for the record, or a specific song that may have been challenging to get across?

Away: I would say a couple of them came together faster because we had recorded bits of ideas in early 2020. “Sleeves Off” is one that was quicker as it’s a shorter, punk-style song. A few of them like “Memory Failure” was pretty challenging personally on the drums. I put a lot of double kick drums on there. The album is fairly intricate, aside from a couple of punk metal songs, it’s very progressive rock. It’s a very intense experience. Usually before going into a studio we can rehearse a lot, we wanted to be prepared but this time we barely rehearsed at all. We realized we had to deliver the masters by the end of September 2021. We were men on a mission.

Dead Rhetoric: “Planet Eaters” is the first video clip from the record – an animated effort with the U&B Sasu Bruno Beaudouin production company and directed by Pierre Menetrier. Discuss the concept of the clip, does it bring the lyrical content to life, and how does the discussion take place between band and crew to flesh out what we take in for the final effort – as I imagine your audience appreciates the time and energy you put into videos?

Away: It was early last year that a video popped online, it was made on the song “Nothingface”. The video was made in animation on a computer in the early 90’s by Pierre, he was at school. He had rediscovered a copy of the video thirty years later. It was the first time people had seen it, including me. I was blown away by the video. In the 80’s and early 90’s I worked with a Commodore Omega and I know how hard it was to achieve anything. I thought the video was phenomenal, so I contacted Pierre and I asked him if he was willing to do something for the first single. He was really into it.

Since we were playing on the weekends, we did many different sessions, and every time I would do a black and white drawing based on the song we were working on in the studio. I supplied him with all the art I did during the sessions, and the art will be featured on the booklet of the album. After that he started asking me for specific drawings, like spaceships, factories, he really wanted to represent the lyrics visually and through the music. I ended up supplying black and white art from 1983 all the way to 2021- he integrated the art and the work of Voivod perfectly in the video. I had no doubt the results were going to be spectacular.

Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to come across with the lyrical content on this album?

Away: Snake could tell you more. At first when we started the process, I asked him what he wanted to talk about and he said he didn’t want to talk about COVID. In mid-March 2020 the confinement started and we didn’t have access to our rehearsal space. Snake said he would build a studio in his house so we can rehearse and write the new album, but as soon as he finished isolating one room, the restrictions became much more severe, we couldn’t meet in the private house. He did the lyrics partially in isolation, and I can tell. It was representative of the isolation and alienation that is going around on this planet right now.

Dead Rhetoric: Being together now as Voivod for forty years, what are some of the key takeaways you have to your career – and how does it feel to be an influence not just on multiple generations of music followers, but also fellow musicians who cite your work for inspiration?

Away: It’s always an honor for sure for me when I see that younger bands are wearing our shirts, I think it’s amazing. It took a while for me to notice. January 7, 1983 is when the band was formed with Snake, I’ve been in the band all the way through working super hard. At first it took a while to get noticed, I started hearing the Voivod-ian chords when I heard Fear Factory and Meshuggah. I wasn’t too sure about that until we played festivals together and then they said yes, they listened to our albums a lot when they were younger. I still can hear it these days in a band like Gojira, I’m not sure though if they’ve listened to us as it’s hard to tell. We have definitely opened the path to exploring a newer metal in a way. We probably should thank Piggy for that.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned earlier that during the downtime you worked on some streaming live performances. How did it feel to revisit the old records and were there some songs you had never performed live that had to be worked out?

Away: Yes there were songs like “Extreme Mirror”, I don’t even remember playing that live anymore. These were tough albums to put together again. It kept us from working on the new album a bit, but it had an influence on the new material I think, the fact that we revisited these albums. We found a good formula to get our sound. With Francis (Perron) who has been recording us since Post Society. It helped us to find our sound for the next album as well. We are fine tuning our product, we are reaching a sound that we are very happy with. It’s a lot of work but it pays off in the end.

We had to work to a plan. Now the European leg of the tour that was supposed to happen early in the year has been postponed until the fall. If we can’t tour for a while, we may go back to revisiting other albums online. We may revisit Angel Rat or Killing Technology, maybe even play the new album, we will see.

Dead Rhetoric: You launched a Kickstarter campaign for the Voivod documentary We Are Connected – which was successful in reaching its goals for funding. What can we expect in regard to the film, its approach, and do you enjoy this medium of crowdfunding to develop special materials for your fervent, ardent fanbase?

Away: Well, we had never done crowdfunding before for any project. We knew that if we wanted to wrap up this movie, which we started in 2006 or so, we needed the help of the Voivod listeners. I thought at first we were aiming a little high moneywise, but we passed the goal by far which is amazing. We have a very loyal following, and now there is a lot of archive material that has been supplied to Felipe Belalcazar, who did the Death by Metal documentary. We are aiming at releasing the movie this year.

The travelling part has been slowed down again, because of crossing the border to the USA is more complicated. Felipe needs to do an interview with Jason (Newsted), and he needs to interview Snake and I still, and Rocky. I think pretty much everything else is done.

Dead Rhetoric: What gives you more of a charge as a musician – studio work and the development of new material, or the energy and rush of audiences taking in your work on stages small and large, far and wide? Or do you find equal appreciation for both aspects and their unique qualities?

Away: I find that what really kept me going is traveling around the world and meeting my old friends and new friends. That’s what keeps me coming back to Voivod, even when we have had a couple of breaks. The live aspect keeps me committed. I am always excited to go into a studio and record new material. Like I said, the people into Voivod are always so loyal so we think they deserve new material, new albums. During the pandemic that’s why we focused on the live albums, last year we did work on some reissues of the older catalog that are going to come out this year to keep the name out there.

We really miss going out on the road. That’s why at the end of 2020 we went and started doing live shows online. At least we could get together in a studio, even though we had to be two meters apart. We have to keep in mind it’s always great to go on the road with a new album.

Dead Rhetoric: How does a veteran band like Voivod handle the ever-changing music industry landscape – where things have moved from physical sales/mediums to more of an internet-based, streaming/digital consumption model?

Away: We are lucky because we are on Century Media, they have the full infrastructure to be on every platform you can think of. The one thing that is really helping us is the people into Voivod really love the physical material as well as having a digital catalog. We sell a lot of vinyl, CD’s. If there are seven colors of the vinyl, people will buy all seven versions (laughs).

Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about you as a person when you have free time and energy to step away from your music/creative endeavors?

Away: People wouldn’t be really surprised because when I’m not doing art for Voivod or recording/touring for the band, I’m doing art for other bands, commission art. I spend half of my time doing art. I managed to get an online store going with artpress.com and I can make my art available, and it has kept me busy shipping things all over the world. That’s pretty much what I do with my time, and became a very independent artist in a way.

Dead Rhetoric: When looking back at the history of Voivod, what would you consider some of the key successes or distinctive markers where you knew you were gaining importance for your work – and how has the band overcome specific obstacles and failures over the years?

Away: There were a few highlights. I would say the Nothingface period when we toured with Soundgarden and Faith No More, Rush, those were amazing times. Also when Jason joined the band and he joined Ozzy’s band, allowing us to tour with Ozzy for all of 2003. A great highlight for me. Winning a Juno for The Wake album as well during 2019. The whole tour was a highlight, the places were packed and the shows were well received. Touring with Gwar in Europe at the end of 2019.

Of course the obstacles were also heavy. The crash in Germany in 1998 put us to a stop for almost a year. It was super hard to get back from it. When we lost Piggy due to his unfortunate death in 2005, it really brought us down. It only was in 2008 that we decided to play live again.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you say your approach to drumming has evolved or changed over the years? What do you consistently work on or think about these days to make things stronger?

Away: I learned in the 70’s, at first it was The Beatles, Kiss, and Alice Cooper, and then I jumped into Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, and Deep Purple. Then the punk movement happened, and I added more tribal beats to my sound. The real trigger was in 1980 when I discovered Iron Maiden, Motörhead with “Ace of Spades”, Judas Priest. The NWOBHM is where I took things seriously, the post-punk and hardcore with Killing Joke, all of these styles. I like to listen to progressive rock.

Eventually I started to get involved with the avantgarde scene, towards the end of the 80’s. There is a lot of improvisation involved in that scene, and that is what opened my style the most. I do projects these days with drone artists, we will just record hours of improvisations. It opens new paths for me in terms of acquiring new styles. I try to apply it to Voivod all the time.

Dead Rhetoric: Do people ask you for advice on the music business or music in general, and if so what do you talk about?

Away: I think if I had to give advice to a starting musician or band, it’s important to find your own signature and not copy too much the bands that you like. Even if you are a part of a movement, it’s important to try to make sure people will recognize you the first couple of bars of a song. That’s the main thing. If you try to copy too much, by the time you write the album and record it to put it out, the band you are copying may not even be popular anymore. You have to do your own thing. It has played against Voivod at times. Let’s say in the early 90’s when grunge came out, we put out The Outer Limits, it was not noticed that much. Nowadays, some people these days worship those albums. It shows us we were doing the right thing.

Today we are respected because of that. It paid off in the end.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Voivod over the next twelve months or so? Will there be any special activities to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band?

Away: This year aside from the back catalog coming out again, we are hoping to finish the documentary. We want to play North America this summer, we want to go to Japan, Australia, South America and all that. Next year for the 40th anniversary there will be a book coming out as well, and we will have some kind of best of if we can. We will just keep working on Voivod, I don’t intend to stop because we are gaining momentum and getting more and more popular every year which is great.

Voivod official website

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