1996 Hellfrost Interview
This interview originally appeared at Hellfrost.com (which is now defunct)
VOIVOD are a band I found out by accident. As a youth, well before I had discovered metal I remember seeing ads in the paper for the local club and seeing this band with the strange name who were playing, and it stoked my curiosity many years before I had even heard their music. In 1990 my friend Philip had painted a huge replica(on his floor) of the surreal Voivod, the hopelessly lost character that has crept through many of the band Voivod’s albums since their inception in the early 1980’s. When I saw this surreal painting on Philip’s floor I had to go out and get the CD Nothingface right away, and from then on I have been obsessed with the obscure concepts and music of Voivod. This interview, of drummer Away, took place in 1996 shortly after the release of their album Negatron. I very much would like to do another Voivod interview, time will tell.
The new LP Negatron sees the heaviest, most angry Voivod material since 1987’s Dimension Hatross. It the aggression presented here a result of all the hassles the band has dealt with in the last five years or is it just a return to your roots?
Away: It’s been a little of both. Of course there’s been a lot of frustration, but it’s also a throwback to the early aggressiveness, with the weird chords and thrashing guitars and a little paranoia in the music, and stuff like that. A bit of both.
How did Erik Forrest come into the picture? Was he in any bands beforehand and how well do you think he does in playing older Voivod songs, the more psychedelic ones in particular?
Away: He came into the picture because we wanted to replace both Snake and Blacky with one guy….we really wanted to be a power trio, and we mentioned it to our agent. One of our managers had seen Eric playing with Liquid Indians in a bar, and was really impressed so we called him. Eric lived in Toronto, so he caught the first bus to Montreal and he was the first guy we tried out and it was a perfect match. We could tell from his range of voice that he could do both early stuff from War and Pain and the Pink Floyd-oriented music as well. It was a really good match.
The actual character known as “Voivod” has come and gone throughout your albums, in different forms and images. What does the Voivod character have to do with the Negatron concept?
Away: Actually, the Voivod character kind of went into a coma on Nothingface. He hasn’t showed up since…but we’re thinking more and more about bringing the Voivod back on the next album. We’re trying to put together another Dimension Hatross, but for the 90’s with the Voivod involved. That’s the plan right now.
One of the most interesting songs on the new LP is “Cosmic Conspiracy”. The concept the that song has been kind of a centralized theme throughout Voivod’s history. Can you give me your own views on the subject?
Away: Any conspiracy I think is terrific. But the main one, the one we are most interested I think is the cover-up of alien abduction and stuff like that. In “Cosmic Conspiracy” we wanted to talk about some ‘new world order’-type scenario. Trading abducted citizens for technical data of aliens. It’s kind of a traditional abduction story but I think it’s very fascinating.
Another very interesting facet of Voivod’s history was a story I read about a factory in your hometown, which has a giant red lake behind it. Can you elaborate about the lake and your life living near the factory?
Away: Well, first it was very awful because of the smell, and the air was very corrupt. The sights and sounds coming out of the factory really impressed me, with my drawings, and a lot of the music we wrote. So a lot of the music was influenced by the factory surrounding our home town. The red lake was also very fascinating, very surreal. We liked going to the red lake on acid, when we were like 15 or 16 to trip out. Now I realize that the lake was very, uh, chemical(laughs) and it’s probably not healthy at all!
It’s true that you can go in this lake and come out without your feet?
Away: (laughs) I’ve never really tried, I was told so. Nobody really dared going near the shore of the red lake. We just stood around and looked at it, we just couldn’t believe…it was totally red! There was a river coming out of the factory and the lake where it ended, and nobody dared going too near.
As far as bass players are concerned, how would you compare Eric Forrest to your former bassist Blacky?
Away: I don’t know, it’s pretty hard to tell. I think Blacky had a distinct style that was influenced by Motorhead I think. Eric is more into…his approach is more modern, like Sepultura or Biohazard. More hardcore. I don’t know how to explain it because I am not a bass player, but I think Blacky’s roots were more in 80’s metal and Eric’s are more in the 90’s.
My favorite song off of Negatron is “Reality?”. What is this song about?
Away: That’s a cool song. Eric and I wrote that one together, and it’s more ‘down to earth’ compared to some of our other songs, which are more sci-fi. I think “Reality?” is about, in really cheap words, how fucked up the planet is. I would have to ask Eric, that one was written 2 years ago. Sorry…
One of the best songs Voivod ever did is “Jack Luminous”, from 1993’s The Outer Limits. What is your opinion of that song looking back and of that LP as well?
Away: The Outer Limits was a trip. We wanted to go as far as we could in the ‘space’ direction, the psychedelic direction, and it sort of accumulated with “Jack Luminous”. It’s a very good LP I think, it was far, far away from anything happening musically at that time, whether it be grindcore, or grunge, or anything. It was a very daring attempt to create psychedelic metal for the 90’s. As far as “Jack Luminous”, the concept of that song still exists today, like with these viruses on the internet and some kind of digital prison is appearing on everyone’s computer screen. I don’t think it will ever become outdated.
Though you’ve always had a strong sci-fi feel similar to some industrial music, you’ve always struggled to keep things organic. How much does technology have to do with your sound? Has it increased on the Negatron?
Away: Yeah. We’ve kept things organic because we consider ourselves a rock band, so we try to make sure that the core of the music is drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. Then we add sampling and atmospheric sounds around it. We want to avoid adding the guitar to programs and stuff like that, we want to manipulate it ourselves. That’s our approach.
Do you think your use of technology has increased on Negatron?
Away: No. Actually, we tried to stay away from it a little bit. Of course we used the best technology available in the studio, but as far as sequencing and sampling we tried to stay away from it(on Negatron). We wanted it to be more…hardcore. Also, we didn’t want to sound like new bands, like Fear Factory and bands like that, because, I mean we love those bands but we didn’t want to sound like anyone else. We wanted to stay Voivod.
You know the sequence in the middle of “Planet Hell” where it gets real atmospheric?
Is that part using a keyboard or some kind of guitar synth?
Away: It’s a guitar. The guitar effects, also we sampled some stuff from a T.V. show.
Another one of my favorite Voivod songs is “Sub-Effect”(from Nothingface). This song has a desperate, very manic vibe to it. Is the song’s concept about someone being stranded on an island?
Away: I remember that was one of Snake’s ideas. That was written a long time ago. I think it’s actually the Voivod sort of drowning in his brain. It’s the Voivod going into a coma.
I read an article about how you had a traumatic automobile accident at a young age, and that the accident had a great effect on your creative input. Can you elaborate on this?
Away: I was running from a guy who was trying to beat me up and I ran across the street without looking and I got hit by a car, and somehow it triggered something…I began to be obsessed with contact of mechanical stuff, metal stuff, organic stuff. Also I went into this phase where I was just talking to trees and stuff like that. Then I started to draw those characters, and dream them. It turned into sketches and drawings. When I was 12 I wanted to use them for my comics, and later, when I was 17 or so I used the same stories as a part of our music. It was always a part of my life, musically.
Jim Thirwell(of Foetus) wrote the lyrics to the song “D.N.A.”. How did you hook up with him?
Away: A long time ago we played in New York, we opened for Venom, and Jim was in the audience. We were a big fan of his music and a mutual friend introduced us, we kept in touch. In early 1990 he asked me to work with him on some projects, and I did. I wanted to invite him back to work with us, so he wrote the lyrics to “D.N.A.” The song is about cloning experiments gone awry. Jim was able to express the message of that song perfectly.