VOIVOD’s Away Talks Early Beginnings, Classic Reissues, METALLICA’s JASON NEWSTED - “He Lived The Dream Twice”
June 15, 2018, a month ago
Every country around the world can lay claim to their own unique sound when it comes to music, but not being biased, I truly believe the early roots of extreme metal were nurtured and influenced by just one key pocket of uniqueness from the Great White North. We all know the bands, and if you don’t, do your ears a favour and seek this material out, because you will be destroyed by the likes of Anvil, Razor, Exciter and of course Voivod. Each with their own heavy metal brand that was key to the early growth of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. Yes, there was a Big 4 BEFORE the Big Four.
While creating their latest masterpiece, The Wake (due out late September worldwide release via Century Media Records), BraveWords caught up with Voivod drummer/visionary Michel “Away” Langevin and talked about the long and winding road of the under-rated Quebec-based innovators.
BraveWords: The fact that you are still an active band must touch you deeply. Did you think it would last? 35 years in this business deserves a ton of respect.
Langevin: "No. Actually when we released the first album - we actually waited for the first album War And Pain to make a small impact before dropping out of school, because we were not too sure, especially being from the French part of Canada, up north. We were like ‘who knows what’s going to happen?’ It seemed kind of impossible for us to make it. But here I am. It’s great.”
BraveWords: You created a sound - in fact I wanted to ask you your opinion because you look at the bands from that era in Canada and they all sound so different. You go all the way out west for Annihilator, you got Ontario with Razor, and Anvil, and Exciter, and then Voivod creating something entirely different.
Langevin: "We didn’t know though - in the sense that we only started to realize that when we did the first tours in ‘86 with Celtic Frost and Possessed and that’s where we realized that the style we had developed for a couple of years was not really known at all. I mean, we did play with Watchtower and Celtic Frost and they were sort of avantgarde in a way, but that was pretty much it. A couple of years after there were a bit more progressive rock, metal bands. Progressive rock music was really, really big in Quebec.”
BraveWords: It still is.
Langevin: "Yeah, it’s huge. Even obscure bands like Vandergraf Generator were pretty big. When we started to tour, I was doing interviews, and people in North America, outside of Quebec, they knew about Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd - but when we mentioned King Crimson and Gentle Giant they were not that well known. And we were the first to be surprised. That’s when we realized that progressive rock was much bigger in Quebec than anywhere else. And the bigger prog rock bands played the Olympic stadium in Montreal, but it was unique to Quebec, in a way.”
BraveWords: And you were like a heavier version of progressive rock.
Langevin: "Yeah! When we were 13 or 14 or so, we were listening to a lot of hard rock and punk rock and prog rock, but soon enough we discovered hard core and what we called alternative music - Killing Joke, Bauhaus - so we included that style of music when we formed in ‘83. All that mixture came naturally, but of course at first when we were in high school we were listening to Kiss and Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. But it’s really when punk rock showed up that we were like ‘Oh, wow!’”
BraveWords: The pissed off street attitude, right?
Langevin: "Yes. And when we tried Snake out in January ‘83 we asked him to sing ‘The Ripper’ from Judas Priest, but he was very much into The Dead Kennedys and Iggy Pop and Sex Pistols…”
BraveWords: I’m trying to picture him singing "The Ripper".
Langevin: "It was funny because he sang it like Johnny Rotten. And we were like, ‘okay, this is REALLY weird, but REALLY cool.’ And it actually gave us a direction to go that was unexpected. It was a really, really cool turn of events.”
BraveWords: Now, did you know that you were influencing so many bands around the world? With the Canadian scene as a whole there was a big 3 or 4 or 5 before the Big 4 - you guys were such an influence.
Langevin: "Then again, it took a while for me to really see it in younger bands, it took years. I couldn’t really tell if we had any influence at all, and then I would say it was more in the ’90’s when I heard Fear Factory, Meshuggah - more of a technical metal music, that’s when I thought ‘maybe they’re listening to Voivod.’ Then again, I was not too sure, it was hard to tell. It took a while before I was able to say ‘all right, maybe we do have some sort of influence.’”
BraveWords: Do these bands approach you and say that sometimes?
BraveWords: Being a humble soul, how do you take that kind of compliment?
Langevin: "Well, it’s always an honour, especially because even though over the years we kind of became legendary, we always stayed underground and most of these bands became much bigger than we ever were, everywhere. It’s always fun to get people coming to you and telling you. Newer bands, they come to us and this is another great thing - bands that are just starting are influenced by Voivod and it’s pretty impressive after 35 years on the road. Thrash metal is pretty popular with young kids all over the planet. We see kids that look like they did 30 years ago, really into thrash metal with patches everywhere - you know, Destruction, Kreator, Voivod it’s really cool.”
BraveWords: Well, we’re about the same age, so don’t take this as an insult, but you could be some of these kids’ fathers or even grandfathers.
Langevin: "Oh yeah, for sure. Some of them could be my grandkids for sure. I was telling Andreas from Sepultura recently, he doesn’t age, it’s really crazy. And I ran into a couple of the guys from Exodus, and it was the same thing. They sort of look the same as when we met in the mid ’80’s you know? I mean we all got grey hair.”
BraveWords: Or no hair!
Langevin: "It’s so cool.”
BraveWords: We have to talk about these Noise reissues that came out which are just spectacular. You had to have a hand in it - you had a pretty big hand in it, right?
Langevin: "It’s pretty much me who did that for the past ten years, five of which was in limbo because Universal bought (Sanctuary) which had the Noise catalogue. I was actually approached by Sanctuary ten years ago to start the process and we were almost done with it when they were bought by Universal and it ended up in some vault. It’s only when BMG ended up with part of the Universal catalogue that they got in touch with me. I was trying to find out who had those CDs. Finally BMG got in touch with me and they asked me if I wanted to finish it, and I was like ‘yeah, for sure!’ Because that’s money we could have made for ten years. Over the years people handed me tons of shows from way back on DVD and so I was able to include a lot more stuff than ten years ago. Alternative Tentacles reissued the very first demos (To The Death 84) and with that, I think everything from the ’80’s is out now. I looked through my archives and I think pretty much everything is out there now.”
BraveWords: Will you do expanded editions of other material aside from the first three, like Nothingface (1989), Angel Rat (1991) or The Outer Limits (1993) for example?
Langevin: "That’s a difficult one. My next mission is to get Angel Rat, Outer Limits and Nothingface released either in a boxed set or individually.”
BraveWords: And they’re so fucking good.
Langevin: "And it’s been out of print for so long, I don’t understand why. We’re not very top priority for MCA, but with Voivod, it’s like they don’t know who we are.”
BraveWords: Well, your label mates Flotsam And Jetsam were in the same position, right?
Langevin: "Yes, many, many people. For the Noise reissues, it actually took somebody from BMG to find out that they had the Helloween, Celtic Frost, Kreator, Voivod calatog. The guy could not believe they had that and didn’t know about it. I think it’s probably the same case with Universal where nobody really knows that they have this gold mine of music. It’s a matter of reaching out to these people and convincing them, but we’re working on it.”
BraveWords: And it’s probably really confusing where you’re getting paid, or if you’re getting paid. You’re probably losing money because you gotta pay a lawyer to try to get paid.
Langevin: "The main problem is that when you sign with a major label they tend to put a lot of money into the band where you’ll sign a deal where you have let’s say 250K to record, 250K for publicity, 250K for touring - but you need to sell $1 million, $2 million to get royalties. So we’re still un-recouped with Universal from way back. Because they did spend a lot of money on Voivod - back then everyone wanted to have their alternative metal band - like A&M had Soundgarden, Warner I think had Faith No More, so Universal wanted us, and they spent a lot of money to break us out. Indie labels were much better at sending statements and royalties because they didn’t spend that much on us.”
BraveWords: Have you had much contact with Jason Newsted?
Langevin: "Yeah, yeah, of course, Jason is a good friend and two years ago we played in San Francisco and he jumped onstage with us to play Voivod, it was really amazing. And whenever we play San Francisco he shows up, and I still phone him every birthday of his and he’s one of my favourite people on earth, and he’s such a cool guy.”
BraveWords: Well it was pretty incredible when he actually joined Voivod.
BraveWords: That obviously brought your level of exposure up way high.
Langevin: "We actually phoned him when we reformed with Snake in early 2000. We phoned him to be a guest musician, a bassist on the album, and he ended up joining the band because the experience was so amazing. We were surprised at first, but we really had a blast. When Piggy (late guitarist Denis D'Amour) passed away Jason was more focused on releasing the material that we had recorded when Piggy was alive. He had such a strong music relationship with Piggy, that he was not too sure that he wanted to play with us live or anything like that, but he really really wanted to finish the two albums that we had started in 2004. So we did it over the course of three years.”
BraveWords: He’s kind of disappeared in the last year or so - after the Newsted project.
Langevin: "Yeah, I think he’s painting a lot, he’s enjoying life and he still plays with friends but mainly some sort of a hillbilly music, a fast hillbilly music. I’m not sure what he wants to do musically in the future - if he wants to play music live or anything like that but the last time I saw him he was in a very good mood.”
BraveWords: He’s lived the dream twice - Metallica and you guys.
Langevin: "That’s what he told us, yeah.”
(Live photo credits by CMM: Katja Borns, Marc Feike, Jens Hecker, Myriam Francoeur, Tom Couture, Lars Johnson. BraveWords jersey photo by Sephora Hosein)