Thrash metal and prog rock are no strangers to each other. Yet only a few bands are capable of seamlessly blending the two into its own unique sound. And over the course of three decades, despite setbacks caused by lineup changes, deaths, and simply changes in the music industry, Voivod has stood out as one of those bands.
While the Montreal metal staples came through New York City’s Gramercy Theater with Napalm Death earlier this month, we caught up backstage with drummer Michael “Away” Langevin. During our chat, Langevin explained how natural it feels to play with new bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche, discussed what inspired Voivod’s decision to record and release 7”s of new songs over the next year, and recalled what it was like to have Soundgarden and Faith No More open for them right as they each exploded in popularity.
I wanted to start off by talking about the band’s new bassist, Dominique “Rocky” Laroche. It’s been a few months now since he replaced Jean-Yves Thériault (a.k.a. Blacky), but the band has gone through its fair share of lineup changes over the years. What would you say is the biggest difficulty or challenge that comes with playing with a new lineup or new members?
To be honest, I really don’t see any difficulties. I mean, Rocky is as talented as Chewy [Daniel Mongrain, guitarist who replaced the late Denis “Piggy” D’Amour] and is a childhood friend of his. So there was no obstacle at all. I mean, Blacky parted ways like 3 days before a very important show and Rocky the whole set list and more with back vocals. So at this point, the ride is very smooth and we get along really well.
That’s great to hear how smooth of a transition it was for everyone.
You know, it’s the fifth lineup and I was there all the way through. It became so habitual for me to adapt, really.
Voivod recently released a new song called “We Are Connected.” Is this somewhat of a tease as to what the new album is going to sound like, or is it just a one-off?
It’s a one off… I mean, we want to release a whole bunch of 7”s this year. And it’s definitely the direction we’re heading for; thrash metal, but a lot of prog rock mixed in. spacey stuff.
Well I remember you saying previously that there was an idea to make a sequel for Target Earth. Is that still in the works or strictly 7”s for the time being?
It’s going to be 7”s, but eventually we’ll compile these into one album, but we’re gonna write a bunch of songs that won’t be released on the 7” to have complement [the full release].
What inspired this idea?
Well, since we had a couple of slow years; 2013, when we were supposed to do a world tour for Target Earth, Snake was taken ill. Last year, we parted ways with Blacky. So we didn’t play that many shows. This year we decided to play a lot of shows, so we don’t really have time to work on a full album. So we’ll do it bit by bit.
Have you found it more liberating to be able to work on music bit by bit rather than commit to a full album?
Yeah, the main worry was to find a way of working that could be repeated. So we found a very nice studio in the woods nearby Montreal where they have gear set up that we can use every time, and so it doesn’t sound different that much.
While on the topic of playing live… one of the most well-known/unique tours people still rave about is Voivod’s 1989/1990 tour with Soundgarden and Faith No More. This tour happened before either of those bands really blew up to mainstream success (and have gained resurgence in popularity during each of their reunions). Do you have any fond memories of that tour specifically or of touring with them?
Oh yeah! That tour was amazing, a highlight! It was actually early in 1990 [editor’s note: the tour started in Dec. 1989 and ended in March 1990], and this was a very big year for us because we had “Astronomy Domine” playing a lot on MTV, we did a tour with Rush in Canada and then that crazy tour with Faith No More and Soundgarden. We really, really got along with the other bands, and it was interesting because both bands sort of exploded halfway through the tour in terms of popularity. So by the time we hit the West Coast, there were WAY too many people at the shows, they were crazy.
I mean, the tour just kept growing and growing and halfway through the tour, Faith No More had the Top 40 hit in England. I think it was “Epic”, I’m not sure. They had to leave the tour, so we got Prong to replace them for about 3 weeks or so. So very good memories.
When the tour had just started, could you tell that there was something special about both bands just from the get-go?
Yes. I actually co-picked both bands. My management asked me, “Who do you want to tour with?” and I went for Faith No More and Soundgarden. I just wasn’t sure if they would go for it since we were so metal, and they did and it turned out that it was a bit of a precursor to Lollapalooza and stuff like that.
I mean, Voivod has been able to appeal to both metal and alternative crowds. If there was one band you could tour with that you haven’t yet, no matter how outside the box it may seem, who would it be?
It’s a tough one, because we’ve toured with many of my heroes like Motorhead, Dio, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, you name it. So… it’s something that couldn’t be done, but I’d love to tour with Van der Graaf Generator from England. They are a very strange, scary progressive rock band from the 70s.
Why Van der Graaf Generator?
Oh… [laughs] It’s stupid, it probably wouldn’t fit at all. It’s just that then I could watch them every night on my spare nights. They are my all-time favorite band.
So you really just want a ticket to the show. [laughs]
[laughs] Yeah, exactly. They’re still around actually. They’re still as heavy as before. They’re kind of like a King Crimson-type of band.