1989 Metal Hammer Magazine Interview
F A C E N O M O R E
MICHEL LANGEVIN AND MARK DAY GET OUT OF THEIR FACES
by Mark Day / Metal Hammer
This is the band that could probably be called one of the world’s biggest cult Thrash Metal bands (possibly the very biggest), without actually being a Thrash Metal band.
VoiVod emerged at the same time as Thrash, share common ground with many Thrash bands, and certainly benefited greatly from the fact that an audience was growing ‘hat was willing to listen to much more extreme forms of music than before (had they emerged a few years earlier, I very much doubt there would have been a Metal audience ready to accept them). However VoiVod stand apart. While the likes of Queensryche have absorbed concept into their Metal, VoiVod have simply absorbed Metal into their concept.
A concept that’s as much to do with Science Fiction, with future visions and with the band’s extremist artwork (first drawn by drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin, now generated by his work with computer art). Their music has more in common with Killing Joke, The Swans, Public Image Ltd or Hawkwind than with the skull and crossbones Satan.
In relatively recent times the band (Dennis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour-guitar, Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Theriault-bass, Denis ‘Snake’ Belanger and the aforementioned ‘Away’) have braved two storms. Firstly they signed to Mechanic Records, the ‘specialist Metal’ label under the wing of MCA Records, home of Bay Area brutalists Violence and New York’s retro-rockers Dream Theater, rather than renewing their association with well known Metal indie Noise Records. Secondly, and shockingly, ‘Piggy’ experienced the unthinkable when he was diagnosed as having a cancerous tumor near his brain. Although he has made a full recovery from treatment, the band were forced into some deep contemplation about their future. If anything, they seem to have emerged strengthened in their resolve.
‘NOTHING FACE’ is the title of the fifth VoiVod album. The distortion’s been dropped, but the dischord’s still there, only now you can here more clearly the dissonant playing and experience VoiVod properly, as musicians, perhaps for the first time. The spiraling twists and waves of relentless multiple tempos are still there, only this time they’re stripped bare to draw you in all the more.
The concept, which I won’t go into at length here, concerns an inner exploration of the mind of the VoiVod, touching on paranoia, schizophrenia and depression, Away’s explanations of the song themes including references to both external and internal subjects, such as “…privacy starts to fade when you are scrutinized by your own mirror image” (‘X-Ray Mirror’), “The logic dripping into a cuboid (cubic) upside-down cell” (‘Into My Hyper-cube’) and “The frustration of a character trying to find his way out of a synchro-freeze state” (‘Nothing-face’).
Concepts are often the last refuge of bands struggling to find some easy hook to hang weak music around. They can be clumsy, ill-conceived or even laughable. In the wrong hands they can be ludicrous (witness the inane ‘piracy’ motif of Running Wild or anything at all by Warfare). Yet VoiVod enjoy a rare respect for their use of concept. Their inteligence sets them aside from the mass. When the band talk of VoiVod warriors, post-nuclear scenarios and alternate dimensions, you don’t feel the need to enjoy a cheap laugh at their expense. Their Sci-Fi angles are closer to Arthur C. Clarke or Issac Asimov than any cheap pulp sensationalism.
That VoiVod have chosen to cover a Pink Floyd track on the album says more about the band than any words could. That they’ve chosen ‘Astronomy Domine’, a track from the Floyd’s early Syd Barrett era, rather than something from Roger Waters’ angst ridden world reveals even more.
Some would say Barrett was a genius. In 1989 he’s almost certainly a mad man. After consuming several drugs too many during his time with the Floyd, Barrett’s now a virtual recluse and burned out acid casualty. Yet he still commands a worldwide underground cult following. For people like VoiVod, Barrett will always remain a man with vision. Despite their own huge underground metal following, VoiVod’s terms of reference have always been much broader. Their metal twists and turns, an experiment in psychedelia, an experiment in industrial noise, mutant music for a mutant future.
THE TRANSATLANTIC phone line that connects me to Michel ‘Away’ Langevin is not a good one. Add to that the fact that Michel’s French Canadian, his English coming wrapped deep within a thick French accent, and you end up with a rather stilted conversation. Bearing that in mind, this is what we talked about…
The album’s got probably the best recorded sound you’ve ever had.
“Well, we decided to record here in Montreal. It was a question of putting more money into the studio instead of paying for hotels and plane tickets we decided to put all the money here in a studio called Victor. We are the producers with Glenn Robinson, and we took our time. Also this time we had a lot of pre-production rehearsals. When we got into the studio every song was perfect. What happened in previous albums is we got into the studio and had to change some parts of the sound because there was not a lot of pre-production. With the new album we didn’t have to change nothing, everything was perfect.”
How does this album stand in relation the over-all scheme of VoiVod?
“It’s pretty much an inner trip into the VoiVod brain this time. But it’s not one story, as ‘Dimension Hatross’ was, not from beginning to end. It’s more like eight different states of mind of the VoiVod. To represent those states of mind we tell eight little stories, which are related to each other only by the fact that it’s all a state of anguish or paranoia.”
Can you eventually see the band dropping the concept all together and working in a more direct manner?
“Well, I think that we’ll always use the concept to put over our point of view, since it’s a good way to be direct and at the same time it’s good for people who’re into the entertainment of the Science fiction part of VoiVod.”
Have the band started gigging since ‘Nothing Face’ was completed?
“Just after the recording we took a one month break. Then we went back into the rehearsal place. We still have no plans for touring yet, but we have started to write songs for the next album. Pretty soon we’ll have to practice a show of touring, but we haven’t played since the last U.S. tour. We’ll try to play most of the new album, and some of ‘Dimension Hatross’ and ‘Killing Technology’. We don’t know about the first two albums, we’re kind of sick of playing those songs.”
Are you integrating into any kind of Canadian music scene or are you still outsiders?
“We’re pretty much standing alone, but I notice there are a few bands who’ve changed their music direction for something more progressive, which I think is an influence they took from VoiVod. But I think we’re still alone in this kind of vein.”
You’re making a video for ‘Astronomy Domine’, aren’t you?
“Well, yes, we had a meeting yesterday about the next video and we’re going to work with people who have a lot of ideas. Also it’s obvious that we’re going to put a little bit more money into the creative side of our music. I think that in the past we could do original things with nothing, so the results will be excellent with some money. We’re going to expand the creativity. For example I’m buying new programs for my computer so I could do good animation for the videos and for showing on screens live.”
I’m sure VoiVod would be capable of making an excellent extended concept video of album length. Could this happen in the future?
“Yeah, we thought abut that before, doing a little movie a thirty minute movie or something like that. But we never developed the script… maybe we’ll do that someday. What would be interesting for us would be to do a movie soundtrack. That’s what we’re interested in doing.”
Now that you’re working with a major label, do you think you can expand on your following, or is your music just to inaccessible for most people?
“Well, y’know it would be a little bit frustrating to end up like Van Der Graaf Generator, they were genius to me. They just stayed a big cult band and never really got…I mean they couldn’t get as big as Genesis or Yes because they were doing something much darker. I think we’ll always be a big underground band but I just wish that more people could be aware of what we’re doing. It’s O.K. to be a cult band for the underground, but to continue our evolution we need a certain amount of money. I don’t want the money factor to stop us.”
Are your budgets a strain to work on?
“We always manage to have some money from the band so we can concentrate only on the VoiVod project. It really began to happen, since we signed to Mechanic, that we’d have enough money to live on. Nobody has to work, so we can concentrate on our art. When we moved from North Quebec to Montreal, and we only had one album out, ‘War And Pain’, we couldn’t find a contract for a second album at the time and we had to get day jobs to survive, for sure!”
What were you doing?
“I went to a school, ‘The Canadian National Teacher’s School’. I worked there during a certain time classifying books and stuff like that. I got every member of the band into working at that place. We ended up, all four of us, there for a year before we started to tour. It was quite interesting, there were a lot of books I could find there that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Old books on Impressionism and Surrealism, so I got pretty aware of good books by people I’d never read before.”
Well, it makes a change from bands who hated their day jobs (see Faith No More feature elsewhere this issue).
While many of the bands who emerged at the same time as VoiVod are now running out of steam, or ideas, ‘Nothingface’ proves that this is one band with a future.