1996.05 RIP magazine interview
Space Oddities by Janiss Garza
RIP May 1996
Reprinted with the authors’ permission.
“Do UFOs or Unidentified Flying Objects Exist?
Is there intelligent life in Outer Space?
Is there intelligent life in Canada?”
(Is there intelligent life in this story!? —Ed.)
—John Robert Columbo, The Blue Little Book of UFOs.
Montreal, Canada. The snow-flaked car resembled an early-model UFO craft… before aliens learned how to make them fly. Well, almost. It was in fact, Voivod drummer / artist / conceptualizer Michel Langevin’s mode of transportation —buried in the airport parking lot.
Despite its close proximity to the U.S., Canada border; it’s like a slighty twisted version of the States —familiar, but somewhat askew. In Voivod’s home base of Montreal, receptionists and restaurant hostesses seem
to greet you in some garbled language until they figure out whether you’re going to speak French or English.
Althought the coins resemble dimes, quarters and nickels, they’re not. The license plates in Quebec read “Je me Souviens.” “I remember,” translates Langevin, a French-Canadian, adding, “but nobody remembers what.”
Voivod’s rehearsal space is like entering another, even weirder plane. Not that it looks like some high-tech control room or space station. It’s a scruffy building, like most rehearsal spaces are, and the elevator is usually out of order. Time seems to stop here, or stretch out, warp and contort. Perhaps it’s because of the aura of Jamaican hash that permeates the room, but the melding of bizarre personalities that make up Voivod certainly is a factor. Guitarist Denis D’Amour (D’Amour means “of love”, non? Quelle last name —Ed.) the techno-wizard reponsible for much of Voivod’s harshly tripped-out sound, is fascinated by my little Radio Shack tape recorder. He turns it around and examines it like it’s some obscure intergalactic gadget. The brash and earthy new guy, singer / bassist Eric Forrest, listens to D’Amour and Langevin with no small amount of admiration. Langevin —who’s so plain nice that the other two can’t think of anything negative to say about him, even in a jest —is soft-spoken and humble, but nonetheless Voivod’ undisputed leader. “Michel’s the chief,” Forrest affably shrugs. “What more can you say?”
Through a series of unforseeable events, Voivod’s future looked unforseeable. First they lost their A&R executive at MCA, as a result were dropped from the label. Then, because of an overwhelming number of personal problems, singer Snake (Denis Belanger) had to leave the band. People were beginning to think it was the end for these sci-fi warriors.
“Everybody was talking about Voivod in the past [tense],” confirms D’Amour.
Adds Langevin, “People around us were telling me, like, ‘Legendary Voivod—'” “—they were great!'” chuckles D’Amour finishing his bandmate’s sentence.
The guys laugh about it now, but at the time they were angry. “It’s funny how people sometimes would like you to retire and it’s weird,” Langevin emphasizes. And Voivod could very well have called it a day, except for one important thing: Langevin and D’Amour both agreed they had more to say. Even in the darkest of times, their minds didn’t stop working, not even for a nanosecond.
Langevin claims to have an interest in learning alchemy, but the way in which he and D’Amour pulled Voivod from the ashes proves that, without realizing it, he’s already an alchemist. The alchemical idea of transforming lead into gold is merely simbolic for taking dense, negative energy (lead) and turning it into positive creativity (gold).
Voivod took the adversity that surrounded them and transmuted it into their latest album, Negatron (Mausoleum), their fiercest, most intense record to date. Negatron hearkens back to Voivod’s indie roots -the days of RRooaarr, Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross -and the fans seems glad to have that raw, unbridled power back in Voivod’ sound.
To make possible the transformation from negative to positive, there’s always the need for a third force, an “x-factor,” and that was supplied by the band’s manager , Pierre Paradis. He was the one who told Langevin and D’Amour about Toronto native Forrest, a self-professed
metalhead. He played bass, filling in the gap that Blacky (Jean -Yves Theriault) created when he left Voivod prior to 1991’s Angel Rat. And he sang, filling Snake’s shoes.
“We always wanted to be a power trio,” Langevin points out, “and at the very end, Snake was trying to play bass and sing, but he couldn’t achieve both thing. So it’s perfect that we found somebody that can do
Although Langevin comes up with the concepts that drive Voivod, he’s quick to point out that D’Amour’s music is often the inspiration .
“Sometimes when he gives me a tape of new riffs, I put that on and then i draw.” The lyrical visions often come from the drawings, and Forrest give verbal life to Langevin’s ideas.
Langevin relates, “There’s a kid who wrote in and said ‘How can you play such complex music without making one mistake? Are you connecting to a higher level?’ Well, sometimes it’s true that we don’t have to look at each other when we play —Oh, he’s gonna f?!k up there, I will f!?k up in the same spot!”
Like Voivod’s seven other albums (Not counting The Best of Voivod), Negatron’s lyrical content is enhanced by the massive amount of strange books, magazines and theories that Langevin seems to uncover. “I’m a big fan of nanotechnolog,” he explains. “The chaos theory was a big influence in Angel Rat, and pulp magazines were a big influence on Outer Limits, and nanotechnology was a big influence for Negatron.”
Langevin is quick to enlighten others on his varied interests, including nanotechnology. “It’s a microscience. They want to build cells, but with microchips, and inject them to cure cancer and stuff like that.” Uh, sure.
On the song “Nanoman,” Voivod takes that idea and adds a flight of futuristic fancy: “I was thinking about the army experimenting on soldiers and injecting bio-chips that could make them smarter, quicker, more efficient. And the first guy they try out is like a guinea pig.” With a chuckle, he continues, “Of course, they put in too much and the guy goes from normal to superhuman in a microsecond, and he cracks. It’s that microsecond we capture in that song.”
“‘Bio-TV,'” he continues, “comes from a real ad, This guy in Japan, he built a bio-TV and he says that the rays coming out of it are supposed to make you more healthy, as opposed to x-rays coming out of a normal TV, which give you cancer. So it’s healthier if you grab your kid and you make him watch TV all day! And ‘closer is better,’ says the ad. So I started to think about the two mutating together -a human becoming a walking TV and the TV becoming a walking human, both looking exactly the same…”
Sound a little “out there”? “People have always said we were a little ahead, but we always thought we were just in another dimension,” says Langevin in reference to Voivod’s futuristic leanings.
Langevin, who once talked to trees as a child, is now on extremely intimate terms with computer technology, namely the SoftImage program (if you saw Jurassic Park, you’ve seen what Softimage can do). He learned to run this highly complicated software in just five week, and spent many long hours at Softimage’s offices, working on the video for “Insect,” cheerfully animating the mechanical and which graces Negatron’s cover and the TV/human (or is that human/TV?) of “Bio-TV” —along with launching a flying saucer or two, naturally. For those computer-literate types, Negatron is an enhanced CD (with CD-ROM capabilites), and includes the video for “Insect.”
Not surprisingly, Langevin has known the mad industrial genius Jim Thirlwell (a/k/a Foetus), for a decade, and he asked Thirlwell to write lyrics and sing on a song, “D.N.A (Don’t No Anything).”
Langevin took the DAT of the tune to Thirlwell in New York. It was a memorable experience , to say the least. “We were having fun in New York,” Langeving recalls. “We’d party till two or three in the morning, and then we’d record till eight or eleven in the morning. Then i’d wake up [later] and he’s still singing! I tried to sleep two hours a night. He didn’t sleep at all for three days.”
Nanotechnology, bio-TVs, Foetus… what more does Negatron have to offer? How about conspiracy theories? “Cosmic Conspiracy,” Langevin explains, is about “aliens trading technological data, abducting citizens and stuff.” Conspiracies are a fascinating subject to him. Even at the Softimage offices, there was always the aura of software spies, thieves and security-laden hallways. There’s even a controversy surrounding the Weekly World News.
“There’s this conspiracy that it’s put out by the government,” Langevin says. “They make fun of all those subjects so people who, like, see a flying saucer will be ashamed to talk about it!”
But is there a Voivod conspiracy? Maybe it’s because of the strange paths our thoughts have been taking, or because of the mind-bending substances consumed, but a theory does hang in the air, thick as the smoke.
Could the group, who European fans call “the best band in the galaxy,” be in the league with ETs waiting to attack the earth? Or, perhaps, could the trio be themselves even be from out there, or just plain out of their minds?
“Well, the thing is to attack the right people, it’s true,” Langevin playfully deadpans. “And we’re not much of terrorists, so we prefer to talk about it and make people realize, you know, that it doesn’t necessarily exist —but it could be possible in the very near future! And it’s time now to understand.. what am i saying? I think i gotta go”