1999.04.14 Interview with Blacky
Interview with Jean Yves Thériault (Blacky) 1999.04.14 by Greg Godin. Translated by Patrick Denis.
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
Q – How did four guys from Jonquière decided to create a band in a then fairly new style, Thrash Metal?
At the time, Piggy and I were totally into that style. I was working as a DJ at a local pub, and Piggy and Away jammed with another bassplayer a couple of months before that. He was Jean-Fortin, who later formed the lesser-known band Deaf Dealer (and later he proclaimed to be our sworn enemy). Piggy approached me as in if I was interested to put a rock band together. My answer was like the intro to Motorhead’s “Motorhead”, the kind that would shatter his sleepy ear, and I obviously accepted instantly. I had a long way to go, since I had never played the instrument before. So he lent me his bass, and showed me some basic ideas and techniques, and how to play along records. All we had to do from that point on was finding the remaining members, a name, a concept, songs, a label, everything else, y’know. Metal was and stayed out first choice, no doubt about it.
Q – Was there a real idea about the concept or history behind the songs at the time of WAR & PAIN, and later RRRoooaaarrr?
Always. Since the beginning, when Away joined the band. He wasnt too sure about it at first. He was just getting started at the Univerity and he had to choose between a fruitful future or a wacky band. That must have been a tough decision to make, but eventually he joined the band and brought the name and concept with him. From the very beginning, from the first song we wrote, everything was based on Michel’s ideas, and I believe this hasnt changed to this day.
Q- What were your influences at the beginning, and your personal influences?
In the early days we used to play alot of covers from Motorhead, Venom, Raven, Thrust, The Sex Pistols, Judas Priest, Holocaust and even more obscure bands. We were always into those rare bands, and even the more famous ones, like AD/DC and Metallica….so we didn’t really have any influence from anything else. Actually Piggy had a larger scope of influences, because I’ve got to tell you, he has a practically perfect ear, and he only needed a few listens to go and play songs by Rush, YES, Gentle Giant, etc.. I’ve always had the utmost respect for that guy. My personal influence was Lemmy from Motorhead, his sound… man that was something! But I couldn’t play on a Rickenbacker, it kills your wrist.
Q- Did you all have precise functions within the band? Was there a solid organisation?
Ok. Away (Michel) had the concept and lyrics. Piggy (Denis I) – songwriting. Snake (Denis II) – lyrics. Blacky “Black Cloud” (me) – songwriting and organisation.
Our functions have sort of changed along the way, but basically they were the same for the first nine years of the band. We used to split everything equally, much like a cooperative, where everybody does his own thing then we’d communicate between each other everyday.
Q- Why the nickname “Blacky”? And how about the others?
The nicknames first appeared as a necessity, being anti-citizens, and since we belonged to a gang, the Iron Gang
Blacky was actually my dog’s name, a german-sheppard, who was poisoned by my neighbour when I was fourteen. It was my best friend, so it made sense. Blacky also means black mind, the one who’s bitching constantly… actually this hasnt changed much since.
Piggy, well, Denis is a bit chubby and has this tendency to let himself go, but like a pig he’s quiet yet hard to approach. Also because he smokes weed like a hog!
Away, ok. His name was given to him because he wouldn’t show up for practice for long periods of time, he always had a good reason. He was either down at the pub or at his then-girlfriend’s place. With Snake, it’s physical. Huge penis, big mouth, the Led Leppelin type of singer.
Q- How would you explain the differences (enormous according to me) regarding the songwriting between RRRoooaaarrr and Killing Technology?
Easily. Besides Piggy, we all learned to play better. Denis simply continued what he was doing perfectly already, but also, personally, my input in the songwriting process was getting bigger. Piggy and I started this strategy where we would influence each other, mutually, like we used tape recorders, and record basic ideas (guitars and bass), then we’d edit some of that and then we’d refine and re-develop everything at every listen. This was a techinique which Denis and I used and perfected continually.
Q- Which memories remain with you about your recording experiences in Berlin?
For sure, the wall. Every night when I’d go back to my hotel from the studio, I had to walk along the wall, and believe me, thoughts and chills overwhelmed me each and every time. The studio was located close to the “Check Point Charlie”… You go through or you dont, believe me.
Q- Let’s talk about Dimension Hatross. How did the idea came about to create such an album? How did the recording sessions go?
Well, as far as the concept is concerned, we had to find a logic sequel to the Voivod itself. After a man-machine (War & Pain), a machine (RRRoooaaarrr), a space ship (Killing Technology), DH had to go further. Exploring the limits of the 3 dimensions in the past, a fourth one, the one of the mind, had to appear. I wasnt really convinced of that direction, but it was the next logical step in Michel’s mind.
Q – What thoughts are you keeping from that album?
Actually it’s more of a foggy memory when it comes to the actual writing of the album. The fact that we went to Berlin again was a highlight for me. Also from that album on, my songwriting partnership with Piggy was getting even more fruitful, we were really working well together. Actually, at that time our assistant manager would refer to us as The Two Headed Beast (Piggy and Blacky). Y’see, sometimes our exchanges would be loud and explicit, and people around us thought we were ready to kill each other, but it was normal. Y’see Denis is a genius, but he had no motivation so i’d kick his ass to get him to work. That was a good, productive association, we were the best of friends, like brothers, for better or worse.
Q- Nothingface was the record in which the bass so really important. According to several sources, conflicts and pain plagued the recording of that album. What exactly happened?
Really? Where did you get that from? In fact it was the best album, the best produced, thanks to Glen Robinson, a young engineer who wasn’t afraid of confontations and always in the pursuit of excellence. Ok so I dont think I remember everything, and I dont try to get revenge or say that certain people in the band were pretentious or liars, but I’m not exactly surprised to hear that. Actually the worst recording sessions for me were for Angel Rat, also now refered to as Angel Fart. But more on that later…
Nothingface from a musical standpoint was created by Denis and I, I could even say that Denis wrote 70% of the material while I wrote 30%. The conceptual subject matter and the lyrics were by Michel and Snake, while harmonies were by Piggy and Snake. We’d write and then later we’d get together at rehearsal as a unit. When we were ready, we’d do pre-production demos, which I produced along with the band. Glen was a hell of a guy. He didn’t care to stop a session in the middle if he knew it wasn’t working. Away had a hard time with either X-Ray Mirror or Pre-Ignition, he couldn’t get his bassdrums together, so Glen was really demanding of him. So maybe what you heard is from that. We all suffered in the studio, it’s just part of the job, but the results were great. It really was our best album, maybe more accessible but the most elaborate. Hats off to Glen.
If i had to choose which one out of all the producers we worked with, which one was the most efficient and collaborative, Glen would surely be my number one choice. Harris Johns (KT, DM) was also very productive and a nice guy, Mike Amstadt (Rrroooaaarrr) was our live soundman from 1985 so he was the choice by excellence for his collaboration, and also he was a good friend.
If I could just add a little personal thought… I’ve produced and collaborated with different artists in the past, and I would say this: Musicians are spoiled brats for the most part, and you can’t always have everything you want or how you would want it constantly, and it’s just part of the job in progress. Suffering is good and necessary.
Q- The headling tour with Faith No More and Soundgarden in 1990, what memories do you keep from that? From that era, one can mostly remember the difficulties of the audience to get into the songs?
Absolutely. If I may say, Voivod’s songwriting was always too hard to swallow. In fact, we always worked hard on that. How worthless if it’s too easy (AC/DC). There is surely a number of bands that give you instant satisfaction, but not Voivod. You have to work on it.
Touring with FMN and SG was the highlight for us, even if more tour support from Mechanix/MCA would have surely changed things, but what could we do.. we just didn’t have a clue, which was one of the reasons I left the band. FNM were a bunch of weirdos, I mean they were very different musicians. The keyboard player was of course the genius in the band, but without the rest of the band he wouldn’t do much. I only had distant exchanges with them, to tell you the truth, the only one I hung out with was the drummer from Soundgarden (Matt Cameron). He really was a nice guy. Alas, the last time I saw him was in 1995, here in Vancouver while he was on tour.
That being said, this was really the greatest era in our carreer. It’s just too bad that things started to crumble down since.
Q – Angel Rat, the last album you were involved in… Did you contribute any material to it?
Yes, of course! Honestly, 50% of the material was mine, rather, 25% me and 25% Piggy, 50% from the both of us. Away and Snake wrote the lyrics.
Q- Did you announced, before the recording of the album, that you were leaving? How did the other guys reacted? How was the overall mood about it?
Well, that album’s problem was the constant influence of people outside of the band. The label wanted a hit, the producer wanted a hit, and of course we did as well. It’s too bad that we couldnt really control the album really well, because there was alot of potential in the material. To me, the pre-production demos, which I still have a tape of, sounded ten times better than the album itself. Actually I never even kept a copy of the album. I got tapes of the final mix, which I hate. It’s all a waste, really. At the time I had ideas to pursue and develop a new career, without getting in the way of the band. I was seriously interested by electronics, and production, recording. We even had a little studio, where the band used to rehearse every day, and we produced stuff for the band and other projects there. Piggy was really into, and Away also. He even shared the loft-studio with me.
A lot of things happened along the way that caused more and larger dissentions between us. But the straw that broke the camel’s back, if i could say that, is the fact that nobody else in the band could make the decision when I figured we were heading for a catastrophy working with Terry Brown as producer. The label was heading for bankruptcy, too, and I told that to everybody but they wouldnt believe me! We were in the middle of recording the album when all these events occured, and it didn’t help. I have nothing personal against Terry Brown, but as far as his direction is concerned, he went completely the wrong way… a simple listen will confirm this eternally. The only thing that could have saved that album, was to have a different producer for the final mix and for some of the vocals, but after a meeting with the band, they wanted to carry on with Terry, which ultimately led me to leave the band. The recording sessions went that way: Terry wanted us to take every song and edit them in order to produce a hit album. I was extremely pissed off with that, and I know Piggy wasn’t very happy with that either, though in the end he resigned himself to that, while I kept my stand. So we did a week of re-pre-production, then we started recording the drums, bass, then guitars and vocals. I took a week off after I was done recording my parts, that went allright. Then when I came back, the rhythm guitars were on tape then vocals were recorded, but during my time away from the band, it had become a three-against-one situation, and to this day it was never explained to me. I had voiced my doubts about using Mister Brown to produce Angel Rat, and that everything will end up in shit. So I went back in the control room, and I couldn’t stay in there for more than a few minutes, because Terry told me not to get involved at that point, which was absurd and frankly stupid from his part. So I left for Montreal, and asked for the recording sessions to be suspended so I could have a meeting with the band, or else I was thinking of pulling out and not attending the final mix.
We had two meetings, that never amounted to anything solid, and that actually forced me to decide to leave the band. Y’see Voivod used to be a democracy, but it didn’t work that way towards the end. Michel wanted to control the band and so did I, so I pulled out. Too many chiefs, not enough indians.
Q – Why did you leave the band? Because of internal problems or because of your outside projects?
Ooops, I think I pretty much explained everything in the last answer. But I’ll explain this point: At the time, my personal projects didnt have anything to do with my leaving the band.
Q – What do you think of your Voivod adventure? Are you still in contact with your former bandmates?
I’ll always have the highest respect for every member in the band. We were really good buddies and good associates. Piggy was definitely one of my better friends, but all things good must end, and that ended about 8 years ago for me. I had contacts with them on several occasions. I met them in San Fransisco, Montreal and Vancouver. Even recently when their accident with Eric (who I have never met) happened, Michel and I exchanged e-mails, but nothing more than that. You see, I don’t think they’ll ever forgive me for leaving the band, even less telling me I was right about the Angel Rat fiasco. So they never contact me, I have to contact them. I think it’s absurd and too bad. Voivod for me was a wonderful adventure and I will always keep fond memories of every album, every tour and every moment I shared with the band and our entourage.
Q – Did you listen to Negatron and Phobos? What do you think of Eric Forrest?
No, not at all. I don’t know if I’d appreciate it.You ‘see this isn’t what I listen to nowadays, at all, but I’m sure Eric does a great job. I hope he recovers well from the accident, and he can pursue his career.
Q – What exactly did you do after leaving Voivod?
My girlfriend at the time and I put a dance troupe and multimedia performance together. She is a choreographer and I write the music.
Q- You are the owner of VKool Communications, you have your own Ex-Voto label, and you have Holy Body Tatoo. Can you tell me about each one of these? And today your projects are?
VKool is a company that I put together in 1994 with Christopher Harslow, and we specialize in providing a presence for different artists, companies or non-lucrative entities on the internet, since the beginning. (http://www.vkool.com). Just like in music, I learned how to do it by myself. School and Blacky don’t mix, believe me. VKool is about to embark on its next phase, the e-market, or the V-market, so everything should continue to do well. I formed Ex-Voto to release the music I did for the Holy Body Tattoo, but now I’m rebuilding it into VKool Recordings. (http://www.xvoto.com) We should release some albums soon, not only of my own music, but also from Craig Riddock (who wrote part of Poetry & Apocalyspe), Scott Morgan, Christopher Halcrow (vkool partner) and more. The Holy Body Tattoo was the company I formed with Dana Gingras and Noam Gagnon about 7 years ago, and we toured all over the world. (http://www.holybody.org) but a few months ago I decided to leave the company. Not that I don’t wanna play live anymore, not at all, but there is this brand new company, Faux-Pas (http://www.faux-pas.net) who will go into a much more post-modernist direction and will include various elements of theatre, multi-visual, dance, physical theatre and of course music. As you can see i’m rather busy artistically, now let’s see if i can deliver.
Q – Do you think your experiences with Voivod helped you with your current projects?
Absolutely. Experience is something you always have to recognize and appreciate. Even if i have nothing to do with the metal scene nowadays, you can always hear some of that heavy sound in my music. You see, even from the very beginning with Voivod, I always considered myself a really lucky guy, and a guy that knows how to make decisions (decisions that looked wrong at first, but when you look back at them, they make sense).
I’ll always be an artist who takes risks.
Q- The other day we were talking about you on the mailing list, and a long-time fan wrote this about you: “Yah… Blacky..It sorta pisses me off that a bassplayer so talented and a demi-god at it prefers makin’ cheap ass weirdo dance music for a fruity dance troupe. Ah well. More power to him *half-sincere*” …What would you tell this fan?
You know when you loose faith, you’ve got to make decisions. That’s what i did, and you know what i have done is still the most obscure and intense stuff that the modern dance scene has ever seen, a sort of ‘Ministry’ crossed with ‘test department’ meets ‘LaLaLa Human Steps’ but with balls… Standby for the next shit, my friend.