1993.07 Rip Magazine Interview
Voivod: Out There by Janiss Garza
RIP magazine (July 1993)
Reprinted with the authors’ permission.
“He doesn’t talk to anyone. He’s got a staff on standby.”
Voivod producer Mark Berry is talking about the band’s studio neighbor, an enigmatic, alien like figure called Prince. No one in the Voivod camp has caught sight of him yet. “He pays 75 grand a month for the rooms and shows up about one week out of the month,” Mark continues. There are two engineers sitting in there, just hanging out, waiting for Prince to come by. It’s bizarre.
“I wouldn’t do that to you,” Voivod drummer / conceptualist Away assures him.
So, have Voivod hit the big time? The French-Canadian trio are mixing at the Record Plant in Los Angeles next to the likes of En Vogue, Seal and the aforementioned Purple One. In an era when cyberpunk graces the cover of Time magazine and dystopia seems to be a reality instead of some dark, sci-fi fantasy, it’s obvious that the future is now. Voivod has been trying to tell us this for the past decade, and this time around maybe we’re ready to listen.
I’ve come down to the Record Plant to check on the progress of Voivod’s latest opus, The Outer Limits. We’ve spent most of our time thus far holed up in the band’s personal lounge, yakking up a storm and glancing occasionally at spiders mating in big-screen glory on the Discovery channel—porn for intellectuals —but the guys also want me to hear some of their new songs. We take a special trip into the state-of-the-art studio to listen to their epic piece, “Jack Luminous,” and it’s a transcendental 17 minutes Mark Berry turns the lights down low, and I sit next to the shadowy figure of Away as the song alternately assaults me with dissonant crunch and embraces me with warm electric melody. In front of me is some form of oscilloscope, its lights pulsating, dancing and exploding in time to the music. The effect is hypnotic. Back in the lounge, I m still breathless.
“Jack Luminous.” the band explains, was inspired by a folk tale, which Voivod took to sci-fi proportions. The character of Jack, Away remarks, “comes from an Irish legend about a phosphorescent guy hidden in a swamp. They called him Jack Luminous because they could see him at night. Now they’re beginning to realize that it could have been an extraterrestrial that had crashed in the swamp.”
“Back then it was just folk tales,” vocalist Snake explains. They were hiding real stuff in those tales, but they couldn’t say it because they were scared of being crazy.” The band took this glowing figure and created a narrative around him based on computer technology and theory. “People who are working with computers, what they do is, they try to achieve the real thing,” guitarist Piggy relates, his ideas at times exceeding his grasp of the English language. “Say, for example, an actor—they’re going to make someone real on the screen, but this person will not exist. He exists in the software. They can invent people.”
Thus the plot of “Jack Luminous” involves a president totally created by computer technology who hypnotizes the people through television. Jack Luminous comes to Earth to try to save its population, but, as is usual in the world of Voivod, he fails and, with a shrug of his noble shoulders, flies off to save some other planet.
“We had a bunch of stories, and we had a 17 minute long song,” Away relates. “We kind of elaborated on the scenario with all those characters, but I was already seeing Jack Luminous as some kind of messiah who was not accepted.” “So he’s sort of a Jesus Christ—” Snake interjects. “From outer space!” Away finishes with a laugh. The silver Christ from Mars!”
Of course The Outer Limits has lots more to offer besides “Jack Luminous.” Songs like the brash “Fix My Heart” ooze Piggy’s infamous otherworldly riffs but also ring out with something Voivod’s never had before—a powerful accessibility. Some —”Wrong Way Street” for example—are even somewhat akin to plain old great rock ‘n’ roll.
“Sometimes you want to write songs really close to what you live,” Snake reasons. “It depends on what you’re feeling when you write it, and also the music. Sometimes you’ve got a riff, and you cannot see a UFO in the music but you might see some thing else.”
“Yeah, like the LA riot,” Away says with a soft laugh. “Then there’s one called Time Warp,'” he adds, “and it’s pretty much the typical— “Time warp thing!” Piggy interjects. Other songs, like “Le Pont Noir,” are disturbing and quite spooky. “Le Pont Noir” is French for The Black Bridge,” and it comes, says Away, from “something I read, a legend about the Devil building a bridge to have the soul of the first person who crossed it.”
“We kept the French name because you can’t translate it,” Piggy tells me. “It’s fun hearing English people try to say it!” “it’s got sort of the Angel Rat side,” Away continues, “except we had to get into the cyberpunk thing with the Voivod prestige stuff.” All of us dissolve into a fit of giggles.
Oh, yeah—does anybody remember Angel Rat? Voivod’s follow-up to the acclaimed Nothingface seems like a lost album. This had nothing to do with the record’s quality—the band still stands firmly behind it. No, Angel Rat disappeared because of a technicality: Voivod’s old label, Mechanic, and its distributor, MCA, parted ways a mere two months after the album’s release.
“We were stuck in between,” Away says. “During the legal stuff MCA bought our contract off Mechanic, and we couldn’t tour, we couldn’t do anything.”
“Mechanic didn’t want to put any money on the project,” continues Snake,
“and MCA didn’t want to put any money on the project either. They wanted an MCA album, not a Mechanic album.”
“So you guys didn’t get to tour at all?” I ask, shocked at the injustice of it all.
“Just a few gigs in Quebec and Ontario,” replies Away.
“Geez! That’s like an L.A. band only playing the West Coast,” I huff.
“Like the Hangmen,” nods the drummer. “Do they still exist?”
His query stops me short for a moment. Let me clarify: The Hangmen are an obscure gutter-rock bar band from Hollywood—not the kind of group Canadian techno-metal wizards would normally regard with respect or esteem. But I keep forgetting the guys in Voivod aren’t your average Canadian techno-metal wizards.
“They were the greatest band, really, for a glam-rock band,” Away adds. “Great songwriting.”
Once I get over being tongue-tied, I explain that the Hangmen got a deal with Geffen, and that eventually everyone in the band was let go except the singer. Away can’t figure out the reason for the change. “They were good” he insists.
Not that Voivod hasn’t had its own experience with losing a band member. Before the release of Angel Rat they’d already parted ways with bassist Blacky. “He couldn’t really handle the industry anymore,” Away shrugs. “We just didn’t have the feeling we were together any more, so it was more like a relief. He was a friend since we were kids. We’re still friends”
The band, however, hasn’t replaced him. Piggy wrote the bass parts for the album, and a hired hand played them. The same thing will most likely happen when they hit the road. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do,” Away admits.
“What about the Hangmen’s bass player?” asks Snake. “What’s he doing now?”
“He’s a Hollywood guy,” I stammer. “He’s probably around somewhere.”
“That’s the guy we saw falling down at the Rainbow!” Away laughs.
“Actually, the Hangmen aren’t the kind of guys who would hang out at the Rainbow,” I inform him. They would probably hang out at Small’s or, more likely, Boardner’s.”
“We should have seen you earlier!” groans Piggy.
“Yeah,” Away agrees. “You should have come by at the beginning of the month.”
So much for the great Voivod bass player hunt. We go back to discussing Voivod’s gradual transformation. It started with Angel Rat, when the band digressed from its usual outer-space adventures to explore the world of folk tales. With “Le Pont Noir” and “Jack Luminous” on The Outer Limits, Voivod continues to examine this theme.
“I realized after reading folk tales from every country, every nationality, that it was all the same. It comes from one original point,” Away theorizes. “Nobody actually said that in a book; it’s just the connection I made, reading books about the past and books about folk tales. I started to research, and I put the puzzle together. Nobody really did research about that. In fact, I was asking people who are specialists in folk tales, and they didn’t know what I was talking about. I said, ‘I read a Russian folk tale, and it’s exactly the same as an American Indian folk tale. The animals are not the same, but it’s the same story, the same moral.’ Then I started to read about original Sumerian writing.”
“How did you find out about that?” I inquire.
“Reading books about the origin of the Bible. You find put you have to get the extraterrestrial back into the picture, because, from what I’ve read, it comes from Sumerian writing that comes from extraterrestrials. So folk tales could come from out there, you know.”
“So it all boils down to—”
“You cant avoid those guys!” he laughs. “Maybe the missing link is the extraterrestrial.”
So perhaps it isn’t so odd that Voivod has added folk tales to its repertoire of space-age scenarios. Blame it on those crazy ETs. But reading Sumerian writing and old Irish legends isn’t the only way in which the guys delve into the future of times past. Away’s lurid, colorful artwork, which graces the cover of The Outer Limits, owes a lot to sci-fi of the ’30s and ’40s, the days of Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction.
“We wanted to keep the weirdness of back then,” Away reasons. “A landing UFO was weirder then than it is now, ’cause now we’re about to go to Mars.”
Even the album’s title comes from good, old science fiction—it’s the title of a popular TV show of the ’60s.
“We were really into it when we were young,” Piggy tells me. “It was called Au de la Dureel.”
“In French!” explains Snake.
“Yeah,” Piggy recalls. “We’d ask our parents if we could stay up to watch it.”
“The only night in the week that we could stay up,” Away reminisces.
“We recorded a few of them on video,” Piggy continues. I got a lot of musical inspiration from the soundtrack of the series. I used it in different places. Nothingface has got part of it, but now we’re making the thing obvious.”
“Yeah,” Away agrees. “We were looking for a title, and we were talking to each other, and the only thing that Mark, the producer, could hear was, ‘Blah- blah-blah, Outer Limits! Blah-blah-blah-blah, like in Outer Limits? Finally we had to call it The Outer Limits”
With this brilliant new album Voivod has reached a creative pinnacle. The Outer Limits is light years away from the band’s early, raw vibe on War and Pain and RRRoooaaarrr. These three musician/theorists have taken the high-tech approach of the classic Dimension Hatross and combined it with earthy, low-tech emotion. Humanity and science finally join hands. The band would even prefer to go back to their given names—Michel Langevin, Denis Belanger and Denis D’Amour—but at this point the personas of Away, Snake and Piggy are far too ingrained in the minds of their fans for them to make the switch. In every other respect, though, the sky’s the limit for these guys—if there is a limit at all.
Suddenly, our conversation is interrupted by a strange figure. The odd little fellow standing in our doorway is dressed in a gold lame bodysuit, his black helmet of hair adding six inches to his height. Surrounding him are several other alien creatures wearing pale imitations of their .master’s outfit. We ail look up in anticipation, but instead of saying, “Take me to your leader,” the stranger mumbles, “Excuse me,” and exits hastily. It takes us a moment before we realize that we’ve just been invaded by Prince.
Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. Even science fiction