1989.12 Sheet Metal Fanzine Interview
Sheet Metal Fanzine Article
Voïvod by Ian Christe
Originally published in Sheet Metal [U.S. fanzine], Vol. 1 No. 7, Dec./Jan., pp. 6, 19.
© 1989 by Jake Wisely/Festering Publications.
It’s hard to present Voïvod as a band with problems when they’ve got Lydia Lunch raving hard on their bones in avant-garde dictator of cool Forced Exposure and a four-star exaltation as the “best metal band on the planet” in bigtime B. Dalton bookseller mag Musician. With the entire planet happy to see them, and a big new album on the way, you have to go back to times like guitarist Piggy’s bout with thyroid cancer and sour deals with early record companies from which the band never saw a cent to really see Voïvod as an underdog.
Yet the image of a great band that has yet to come into fruition as musical godhead for the decade persists, and a certain amount of struggling has been necessary for the completion of each of the band’s previous four albums. The four French-Canadian rock experimentalists with the names Piggy, Snake, Away, and Blacky have been showing music fans visions the future of music, of the planet’s future, and of the future of Voïvod, while pulling themselves through with belief in that future.
After five years of starving in a cold, tiny Montreal rehearsal studio, Voïvod were finally signed to major MCA metal subsidiary Mechanic Records in late 1988. While this long-awaited and well earned accreditation gives Voïvod opportunities they could never have found on their former label, Noise International, the transition from underground cause celebre to full-fledged professional artists can require the surrender of certain liberties in return for the financial support a big label offers. The question in this case is what expectations did Mechanic have in areas where the band had previously been limited only by their imaginations?
“The only thing I had faced from that is the cover song, ‘Astronomy Domine,’ ” says Voïvod frontman Snake. “We’re not that type of band, playing covers on our albums, but the label did a lot of favors for us, and they asked for it, so we said okay. They don’t bother us about the money and they don’t bother us about anything, and we are in good relations with them. Anyway, we chose a good one, because Pink Floyd’s a band that I respect a lot. It just sounds great with the digital sound. Some bands change a lot sometimes, when they get on a major label, but us, we’re gonna keep it the same, I think.”
Indeed, the first record for Mechanic, “Nothingface,” is very much a credible progression from 1988’s widely acclaimed “Dimension Hatröss” album. Voïvod’s progress musically and intellectually has been symbolized by the “same-ness,” the Voïvod character depicted on each album’s cover. Snake explained the latest development in the ongoing story indicated by the cover artwork, “After ‘Dimension Hatross’ it was hard to put the Voïvod in another situation. It’s kind of a different mix of songs on this album. We’ve got a couple of science fiction songs, but we’ve also got things about the interior of the Voïvod, he’s just sitting down and asking where he’s from, and there’s some songs about the state of mind of Voïvod, about his interior state of mind. It has something to do with current evolution, of course, it’s a Voïvod album, y’know, but it’s kind of different. The Voïvod in this album is in a different kind of situation. It’s kind of science fiction, too, like we did before, but I think it’s kind of different.”
And where does the impetus for writing this musical presentation of psychological science fiction come from? “Oh, different kinds of things — imagination. We’ve always been influenced by what we talk about to each other, in our rehearsal place. We talk about what we’re gonna do with different stories; we watch different kinds of things; we’re reading books, that gives us ideas; we’re reading science magazines, like Omni and stuff like that. We pick up many things from everywhere and put them in the Voïvod concept. We create a situation around the Voïvod in a certain circumstance. It’s a fantastic kind of science fiction, I think it’s not like the usual kind of story. We try to be really original in our stories, too; we mix reality with fiction, and then into the Voïvod concept. There’s about three things you can move in and out, and it’s good for the listener, too. Music is for feeling different than normal life, I think that’s what I expect from music. It’s like getting trippy, sort of.”
He continues with explanations of two songs from “Nothingface,” “Pre-Ignition” and “Missing Sequences,” both of which refer to a make of robot known as YB-1. “It’s kind of two songs in one, kind of bizarre. It’s about aluminum disease in a big factory on another planet or something. ‘Pre-Ignition’ is pretty wild, but ‘Missing Sequences’ is about the fact that from aluminums you forget everything from Alzheimer’s disease. Then it changes the robots, it makes things flash in their heads. They think that they are real robots, and don’t have to be a slave in the factory, but can move and be free.”
One result of the band’s marked growth and maturation has been a transition from playing innovative metal-based music to a form of music that, while remaining guitar heavy and fast, draws influence from many different contemporary forms, the appeal of which goes far beyond what regularly passes for metal. It would seem that association with heavy metal would attach such a stigma to Voïvod that would not surface otherwise, but Snake disagrees: “I think we’ve never been part of thrash metal. We’re not into being associated with one kind of metal. We’re never able to put ourselves into categories or whatever, so I think we’ll never be trapped for that. We’ve never been trapped because we’ve got the musicianship to do whatever we want to do. We also experiment on music. That’s the way for Voïvod to progress — to involve the music and continue the concept of the Voïvod, wherever it’s supposed to go. It does happen to bands sometimes. The band’s doing a certain thing for four years, and then they have to switch onto another thing, but for Voïvod, I don’t think we’re gonna end up somewhere, because we’re always evolving.”
“Nothingface” marks the first occasion on which primary band lyricist Snake wrote lyrics in collaboration. After sketching out the rough ideas of each song, he, drummer Away (who is also responsible graphically depicting each album’s concepts through the cover art), and a female friend of the band’s worked the basic ideas out into their finished form. Snake enjoyed working this way, but believes that conceptualizing the initial idea is the most difficult part of lyric writing. “When you’ve got an idea, it’s really easy to elaborate on it. You go with your pen, and it makes you fly sometimes. I like it. Sometimes inspiration is not that quick. It’s like a spark in your head, and you gotta have a pen when you got it. Sometimes you’re walking on the street, and you get a good idea, and you don’t have a pen — or you don’t have a walkman — and then you forget it. Sometimes it’s bad, because you know it was a really good idea, but you forgot it. Sometimes you sit, and start to work, but you don’t have inspiration. and you listen to a different kind of stuff and it makes your inspiration come. It depends.”
One of the ways that the accomplished integration of themes in Voïvod’s material can benefit from collaborative scrutinization is in streamlining the linguistic changes between the band’s native French, and the English form in which the material is presented. Growing up with a French-speaking culture in the Western Hemisphere posits the members of Voïvod with a different global outlook than other Canadians and their American neighbors to the south. “We had a problem in our past, and it’s still there from 300 years ago. We have the English-Canadian, and the French- Canadian, and with the United States speaking English … In North America, we’re the only ones who speak another language. French-Canadians want to keep their culture and their language, and they try to push away the English people, and that creates a bad attitude, that creates a strange atmosphere sometimes. I’m not into it really, I don’t really care about it. I love my country, okay, but I don’t think there’s no matter of speaking English. People from Japan, they speak English when they talk to other people. Russia has to speak English, you know? I think everybody has to speak English. We got no choice. If we’re living in Quebec and don’t want to talk to anyone who’s speaking another language, we’re gonna close all the doors for the market and for everything, like breaking up our relationships, y’know? Those people who really care about the culture are pissed off, but sometimes I’m thinking about it, and maybe in a couple of centuries all people on this planet will speak the same language, with the technology of communication and stuff like that. I think everyone will speak English, maybe, Culture is there, but it has to change, that’s the normal evolution.”
So Voïvod are the sound of the future, [their] semi-natural musical and intellectual progress relatively unaltered by commercial pressures, sophisticated product, and they are internationalists. The immediate future will see the release of Nothingface, the realization of plans for a large-scale world tour, a great deal of enthusiastic press, and the limited circulation of a fan magazine named Crow’s Nest, containing art, humor, and commentary produced by the band. If they hadn’t been granted a slight modicum of success after their first album, they probably could have found something better to do with their lives than trying to match the product of their individual desires with the needs of a global entertainment industry. Lucky enough for music consumers, however, Voïvod are now ensnared to the point as music producers that they are forced to play their instruments for self-sustenance, giving the curious an interesting band to follow over further development during the years to come, especially now that things have begun to get complicated.