2010.03.16 DisposableUnderground.com Interview
HERE’S LOTS TO TALK ABOUT with Voivod. They have a new album, Infini, on Relapse in the States and Nuclear Blast in Europe. The circumstances under which that album was recorded is a story unto itself: Their guitarist, Piggy, passed away from cancer in 2005, but not before recording on his computer his guitar tracks for two Voivod albums the band wrote, Infini and Katorz. Drummer Away, vocalist Snake, and bassist at the time Jason Newsted completed the studio work for the albums.
Voivod finally returned to the live stage in 2009, playing the festival circuit and completing a tour of Japan, with original bassist Blacky and Dan Mongrain from Martyr filling in on guitar. With this lineup Voivod started a U.S. tour supporting Kreator, and D.U. sat down with Away after the first show of the tour.
Voivod has lots of releases planned, both on CD and DVD. They have two DVDs under their belts,
Tatsumaki, covering the currentlive incarnation of the band, and DVOD-1, which tackles the original lineup—Away, Snake, Blacky, and Piggy—which dates back to the ‘80s (the first Voivod album came out in 1984). The next DVD, DVOD-2, will document the second lineup of Voivod —Away, Snake, and Eric Forrest—that was together for most of the 1990s.
“It’s actually in production, along with the one about the years with Jason,” Away reveals. “I’m slowly working on DVOD-2 and DVOD-3, the ‘90s and the year 2000 and on … Bits by bits and putting everything into digital format. I mean, VHS tapes and all kind of different, um—mainly for the ’90 period, it’s really confusing because we have, like, chas discs and DATs and SyQuest cartridge and all,” Away shakes his head in bewilderment, laughs, “so I have to put everything in digital format like I did for DVOD-
1, and it’s always two, three years of—because I do most of it at home, and while working on the art book that finally came out, and also gathering enough energy to finish Katorz and Infini, and—yeah, so everything takes quite a bit of time, because I’m also very involved in doing art for other bands, tattoo design, lately I started to do book covers—so eventually it’s gonna come out.
“The thing I was working the most on were the reissues of [‘80s albums] Rrröööaaarrr, Killing Technology and Dimension Hatröss. They were gonna be remastered, and then I was in the process of putting out the Iron Gang files into DVDs for every single CD, like a bonus Iron Gang DVD for every CD [Iron Gang is the name of Voivod’s fan club]. And then halfway through my work, Universal bought Sanctuary, and everything went into bureaucratic limbo. But about two weeks ago, Sanctuary phoned, saying they finally cleared everything in their office so they can start working on the projects they put on hold for two years. So this year I’m gonna be working on finishing Rrröööaaarrr, Killing Technology and Dimension Hatröss. Rrröööaaarrr is all done. I put a very nice DVD together with the first shows of Voivod, and Morgoth Invasion, and high school, and the first show at The Ritz, New York with Venom. Tons of stuff: demos of us improvising and writing the albums. I found a cool collage of sounds from Piggy that dated from 1980, and as it was going into digital format it was just, like, disintegrating, so the tape was too old. So I lost quite a bit of it, but I saved about 40 minutes or so. Very avant garde for a kid, you know?
“So, halfway through Killing Technology a couple of years ago, Universal bought Sanctuary and everything stopped, so I’m back at it again this year.
“And what else?” Away asks himself, and pauses to think. “I mean, I don’t know
about writing new material or anything like that.”
This is a good question, because Voivod fans all over the world must be wondering about whether Away, Snake, and Blacky will stay together after touring and write an album with Dan.
Away takes up the subject. “Yeah, it’s a tough one. We all think it’s a tough one.We’ll see. But we do have live recordings of the last tours, one festival in Sweden, Sweden Rock Festival, and then we played Heavy Montréal Christmas last December, and everything was recorded and filmed, so there’s a possibility of a live album. We have enough master tapes; that’s something. Also, Jason has a lot of tapes at his home, because we recorded a lot of material at his studio. But, you know, I try to make everything available as long as it has a certain quality.
“There are two [solo] albums that Piggy wrote in 2004 and recorded before he was taken ill, and it’s something that Snake and I would love to finish. So there are two albums of guitar and bass that he did; it’s perfectly recorded, and then he did some vocals ideas and then some beatbox—kind of sloppy but to give a direction. So it’d be really easy for Snake and I to finish it. Again, because everything is self-produced, it’s a matter of getting enough royalties from another source to invest. It’s always been like that with Voivod: take some money from this and invest it on this, and so on. Yeah.”
At this point we can turn to technical matters. One of the things that makes Voivod such a special band is the guitar playing that Piggy brought to it. He was truly unique.
“Piggy tuned differently on different songs sometimes, and I know that Blacky tunes differently and I know that Dan [who replicates Piggy’s guitar riffs perfectly on stage] tunes differently. I can’t really say what is the tuning at all. I know that it’s a little lower than usual, than 440. And Piggy used to tune one string differently to make [drop D], something like that. And I know that through his career he tuned other strings sometimes differently, just on one song, just to have—‘cause he had small fingers and he wanted to, like, explore.”
Through the ‘80s, both Piggy and Blacky played Liberatore guitars live, named for the custom instrument builder from Montréal. But at some point around the early 1990s, Piggy packed them away.
“He probably got bored playing with these strange-shaped guitars and wanted to try, well, he played live with the Voivod guitars, you know? But at home, he always had Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster. So, eventually I think he got bored with the Voivod guitars and decided to play Les Paul and all these guitars on stage. He also really got into a 7-strings guitar back then and played it a lot. I think on The Outer Limits, Negatron and Phobos he played a couple of songs on 7-strings. One of the solo albums that Snake and I want to finish is only 7-strings.
While we’ve got Away, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask about his drum kit. Drummers sometimes realize over time that they can express themselves with smaller kits than they thought they needed. Away used to play a kit with lots of toms and cymbals, but on this tour has a four-piece kit.
“Oh yeah, I’m down to, like, the smallest possible. I even skipped the china on the hihat side. It’s been gone for many years. All through the ‘80s I had two kicks, and then starting in the ‘90s I went for the one kick with double pedal, and also through the ‘80s I was getting rid of toms one by one,”
Away laughs. “I would say that the last thing I got rid of was a second floor tom. I got rid of the smaller one; now I have only one. So one tom, one floor, one kick, one snare. I think I can do pretty much everything with a drum kit like that. Actually, it’s really, really efficient; when time comes to do a 10-minute change-over, it’s the best. Otherwise it’d be impossible. And I like the minimalist simplicity of it, and I like the range between one tom and floor. I dunno; it’s a choice. Especially in Japan, they were quite surprised by it. They have many questions about it, like, ‘Is that the kit you usually use?’ But I just like it like that.”
Getting back to future releases, Voivod previously announced intentions to reissue the Eric Forrest-era Voivod albums as a box set, on top of DVOD-2. But some of them have already come out with alternate covers.
“Yeah. I had nothing to do with that. It’s actually pretty ugly, yeah.”
But that begs the question whether Away will still release that box set, or whether those plans have been shelved.
“Oh, no, I will, I will. ‘Cause what I wanted to do was, to do like DVOD-1, where it was all the videos, some bootleg live footage, and some archives that we found at Musique Plus—it’s the MTV of [Canada].
“And so, for Eric it’s more like that; it’s all the footage that I have that I want to turn into a DVD. There was also a lot of movies on the road, filming sculptures and architecture. I’d like to put that in digital format also—these are mini tapes. There’s also one album that we wrote and demoed but never recorded professionally that I wanna put on there. And it’s actually the very last chapter of the [lyrical] Voivod [character] saga that we put into music and demoed everything
“Piggy and I demoed everything while Eric was at the hospital in ’99 for a year [from a bus accident while the band was on tour], and then he came out of the hospital and played the bass and sang the vocals. And we did a bunch of tours with Kreator and Neurosis in Europe and USA, and then time came to record the album. We had booked the studio, Steve Albini’s studio with Steve Albini, and,” Away pauses,
“I don’t know. In early 2000 the spirit was not there. We had lost the momentum, and I believe the accident in Germany was just too heavy, and we decided to split the band.
“I know that Eric is under the impression that he was fired, or we split the band to get rid of him, but it’s really not the case. Piggy and I decided to, like, terminate the whole project, and this was in 2000, and then we spent the year 2001 doing other stuff. That’s where I started to set up online galleries and establish myself a little more as a graphic artist. Piggy was working as a light man in the oldest theater in Montréal; everything was cool. But about a year and a half after, maybe two years, we phoned each other; we had to do something, and decided to reform with Jason and Snake.
“But it’s, you know, I have,” Away searches for the right words. “Eric is really somebody that I appreciated all the way through. He’s the only unlucky one in the whole deal, you know?”
Some Voivod fans are divided about that era of the band, but by D.U.’s measure the group released four amazing albums with that lineup.
“It’s really what we wanted to do at that time, like all the other period we went through. We played what we wanted at specific times, and it has played against us. But we’re still here,” Away laughs.
As Away explains, there has been talk about putting songs from the Eric Forrest era into the band’s live set.
“Snake really wants to. Blacky also. I dunno. It’s a special tour. The past couple of years has been special because we played the ‘80s material, and we include a song from the new album to promote it, because there are labels putting money into it, so we better promote it. My reason for that, it’s more like an ‘80s trip to me and to revisit some songs, which is great.
I love playing that material, ‘Overreaction’ and all that! Of course I have forgotten about many of these songs, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to play them again,” Away laughs, “but it looks like we can, so we might as well enjoy it.
I’m gonna try to stay on the road for as long as I can.
“I still dream about doing something with everybody, Eric, Jason, Blacky, Snake. That’d be awesome! That’s something I would love to do one day. It’s a dream that I have. We’ll see. It’s like a collective now, Voivod, because when Piggy passed away, it brought everybody together. It’s a good thing that there’s no more bad blood, even though we were always polite with each other. I remember when Blacky split and when Snake split, whenever we would meet, you know, we were never really angry with each other or anything like that. Everyone’s pretty mellow. We’re like metal hippies.”
Do yourself a favor and visit these metal hippies at www.voivod.com.