Interview with Michel ‘Away’ Langevin, The Globe, Cardiff
I met Michel ‘Away’ Langevin at The Globe shortly before the gig. When I got to the venue he was talking to fans that had gathered outside. As I found out at the interview, this was pretty typical of the man. After a quick introduction we went up to a tiny room at the very top of The Globe, where I got to ask the only constant member of one of the most influential heavy metal bands of all time, some questions.
MoM: The new album The Wake, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, it’s a great album, just stunning. I realise you’ve done an EP with this lineup, but this was the first album, how was the writing and recording process?
Away: It actually took a lot of time, at first we thought the Post Society songs would end up on the album. But then Century Media asked us to make a whole album from scratch, and Snake said “I would like then, to write a long story”, and then Chewy said “maybe we could do it like Dimension Hatross and we can bring back musical themes but rearranged throughout the album, and so on”. And it turns out it's a lot of work, plus, although Rocky found a way to set up a small studio on the bus and backstage with his computer, so we were able to write on the road and record some demo’s, which was great, because otherwise it would have taken more time, because we have been touring a lot these last few years.
So we started like maybe 3 years ago, to write the album, and we stated recording last fall when we came back from the euro tour, and we finished in the spring. So the whole winter we worked on it, put tons of layers of music, most of the material was composed by Chewy and Rocky, lots of riffs, I came up with quite a few beats, we did some improvisations that we recorded, and we picked the best parts, and Chewy rearranged it into Voivod songs. So, it was a bit of a slow process, but now that we found a formula, I think we’ll be able to release more albums, quicker.
MoM: The response to the new album has been pretty impressive.
Away: Yeah, it’s really amazing, actually.
MoM: Have you been pleased with the response?
Away: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, cause it’s always a bit of a stress, specially that the album is very intricate, and it’s not that obvious at the first listen, I would say, so the reviews are all like of 9.5 out of ten, and the people that are into Voivod are really digging it, and it hasn’t been out for a while, it’s only been out a short time, but so far the reaction to the first 3 singles, the 3 videos is super amazing, and the reviews in the magazines are fantastic, like we even got a 4 out of 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine so it’s helping us, we are gaining some momentum and the tour has been very well attended, so we are pretty excited.
MoM: I have been on various forums to see what the response has been, I’ve even been onto YouTube and looked at the comments, and I can’t find a single negative comment. In fact, the one comment that kept on coming up was that people were saying it was the best album since Nothingface. I don’t know how you’d feel about that, as you’ve played an all the albums.
Away: I’m proud of every album, but I am aware that people have a preference for Dimension Hatross and Nothingface. There is usually a debate with people into Voivod about whats the best between Dimension Hatross and Nothingface, so the fact that people rank it with these albums is pretty much elating for us. I think that we pushed this prog rock, fusion metal style very far on The Wake, and now the challenge is to push it further, explore other territories and I think we can do it.
MoM: You’ve now been on tour for nearly a month, so, how are you holding up?
Away: I don’t know if it’s 35 years of touring, but I feel great. Of course about twenty years ago, actually exactly twenty years ago, I stopped partying. Cause then I saw Whitesnake with Tommy Aldridge on drums, and he played double kick for ninety minutes, and I was thinking, if I want to do that at his age I better take care of myself. So, I don’t party on the road, and I try to eat well, and sleep a lot, so far so good, I’m kicking!
MoM: Excellent! Are you doing much of the new material from the new album live?
Away: We are doing the 3 singles from The Wake, the rest of it is, let's say, between War And Pain and The Outer Limits, but we also do some Post Society material. We have so many songs that we tend to skip the Eric Forrest and Jason Newsted era for now, but eventually it’s going to come back into the set list.
MoM: So, how are those 3 tracks from the new album going down?
Away: Oh wow, people seem to think that it’s sort of seamless with the other songs, that it fits right in, it’s the same old psychedelic, thrash/ punk in a way, so I think it fits right in.
MOM: Voivod have been going for a very long time, I don’t want to make you feel old….
Away: That's ok, 35 years is a long time.
MoM: Do you have issues with some of your fans in the way that, I think, Iron Maiden or Slayer have, where they only want certain songs in the set list? Or, are Voivod fans a bit more open minded and sophisticated?
Away: We had, eventually, we had to take out a few songs that were classics like Tribal Convictions and Astronomy Domine by Pink Floyd because we had played them too often, we thought that people might be complaining a lot, but no-one is complaining at all. People are just happy that we play songs off Angel Rat, which is sort of, an obscure album. They seem to understand that we have 14 studio albums, with the live albums and compilations we have 21 albums, so they seem to understand that.
MoM: Voivod have always come across as a band that's looking to the future, as to where the human race is going. Has that become more scary and disturbing, as time goes on?
Away: Oh yeah, as a matter of fact, it’s getting a bit harder to predict what is going to happen. It’s such an out of control planet. And like back then we were trying to think about the future, but it’s really happening now, what we talked about in Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross and such, so it’s getting harder to try to talk about whats going to happen 20 years down the road really, and the thing is there is much more information with the internet now, than back then, back then we used to read Discover Magazine and Only Magazine and stuff like that. Now, the internet is like the biggest library ever, but the thing is, there is as much dis-information as information, so it has become a bit of a weird thing really. More information, but lots of Dis-information as well. We do talk about both sides in our songs.
MoM: What are the main changes that you have seen in the music business in the time that Voivod has been going?
Away: I always try to see things in a positive way, there's a lot of adaptation to be done by the industry and the bands as well. Things are moving very fast, we have amazing tools, promotional tools these days because of the internet. Back then we used to send demos to magazines, and then wait 6 weeks for an answer, and then they’d send us a bunch of questions, we’d answer back and ship it, and then 6 weeks later, or 2 months later we’d get a fanzine, so now it’s really instantaneous, and that's really great. We used to send master tapes and art covers and have to ship it to Berlin or LA, now it’s We transfer dot com so things have changed a lot. Of course, in terms of piracy, we used to to tape vinyls a lot from friends because we couldn’t afford all the vinyl and so on, it never really bothers me, so when the downloads came, I was like: well, thats the new era, so be it. And then as soon as there was a proper structure with the legal downloads where it started to be lucrative, and we started to see in the statements that it was equally as lucrative as the physical CD’s or Vinyl. As soon as this was set up the streaming appeared and we have to start all over again, because for 2 or 3 thousand streamings we get 0.0001 cent.
So, it’s really a shame that the industry has to adapt again, to be able to distribute the money between the musicians, also even though there are lots of promotional tools with the internet, there are millions of bands on line, so it’s harder for newer bands to get noticed. But to be honest I don’t really feel that affected by these changes because for us since we reformed in 2008, we have sort of jumped into the classic thrash metal movement, where we can always tour the world and release albums. We cross paths with all of our old friends from the eighties: Destruction, Kreator, Sepultura, Exodus, all around the planet, so it’s sort of like a stable situation for Voivod, if anything we’re gaining momentum, for the last 10 years it’s been going uphill. We see our old friends, over and over, but I must say there are tons of new kids into thrash metal nowadays, and when we cross paths with lets say Testament we discuss that, because people show up at their shows too, young people, it’s really many different generations now, we are discussing with each other like “how come we are still relevant?”, I think it’s because a lot of the thrash metal bands talked a lot about the destruction of the earth which is still relevant, I think.
MoM: I’m going to be a bit self indulgent now, I reviewed your album for Musipedia Of Metal. The album is called The Wake, which has a connection to funerals, and the song titles and lyrics, I won’t say their not positive, but there's a certain seriousness about them. So, I’m going to read you the last few lines of my review “ Even though the album is called The Wake, and considering the tragedy that this band have experienced, this album feels joyful. There is something uplifting and positive about it. I could have got this completely wrong, I might have misinterpreted it, but it makes me feel happy. I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.” Even though I can see the seriousness that you are talking about, it genuinely feels uplifting and joyful, have I got it completely wrong?
Away: No, it’s the truth that the chemistry is really fantastic with this lineup, we are happy fellows, the live show is a happy show. The messages are serious, but it’s still a rock and roll show. We write and record music and play it live to have a good time and enjoy ourselves. So, there is a certain post apocalyptic feel to the lyrics and all that, but it’s still very uplifting music, like Motorhead or punk rock.
MoM: Awesome, so I didn’t get it wrong.
Away: No, you were totally right.
MoM: Over the last few years I’ve started to hear Voivod in a lot of other bands; obviously there's Vector, or there's a band called Vhol, who released an album called Bigger Than Sky, which I thought was very Voivod.
Away: Oh, Vhol, yeah, I heard that.
MoM: Whats it like to hear that when it’s your band? Are you proud to have influenced so many other bands?
Away: Yeah, for sure. I hear Voivod stuff in bigger bands than we are, but it’s difficult to tell if they are directly or indirectly influenced by Voivod, it might be through other bands or a mutual admiration for Killing Joke. Just before coming here to Europe, we played Heavy Montreal, a big festival with Gojira and I definitely heard some Voivod stuff in their music, they blew me away, it’s crazy how good they were. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the guys listened to some of Piggy’s chords in the past, but again it might be just liking some of the bands that we liked, like Rush or Killing Joke, I don’t know. But I did run into people that really told me that ‘yes, we were heavily influenced by Voivod’, like Fear Factory or Meshuggah, bands like that.
MoM: So there's never a feeling of “Hey! Stop stealing our riffs”!
Away: (Laughs) I think it’s flattering, and if these bands get a lot bigger than we are, because we’ve been underground for 25 years, I don’t take it personally. Mainstream success, it means financial security, but I try not to overthink that stuff, on the contrary, we are very lucky to have been able to tour and record for 35 years, we owe it to what we call ‘The Iron Gang’ it’s the people coming to the shows, and buying the album, they’re super loyal to Voivod. Some of the people we meet, we see some people we met when they were 15 and now they’re like 50 it’s just crazy to see them. It’s just fantastic!
That seemed to be an appropriate point to finish the interview. 2 hours later I was banging (http://musipediaofmetal.blogspot.com/2018/10/a-view-from-back-of-room-voivod-live.html) my head to some progressive, punky thrash. If you want to know how the gig was, read Rich’s review . I really enjoyed meeting Michel ‘Away’ Langevin. He was very friendly, and was exactly how you would want the leader of a legendary band to be; modest, self effacing, incredibly happy to have been able to be in a band for 35 years, and grateful to all of Voivod’s fans for making it possible. I’d just like to say, as a Voivod fan, I’m very happy they’re still going and still producing fresh, vital, inspiring music. Long may they continue to do so!