Diving into Voivod with Michel Langevin
I always try my best to obey my one true and mighty god, Word Count.
This means that some of the tastiest parts of interviews can get left behind… like that time the janitor from The Breakfast Club kinda flirted with me a little bit, or the time a star of The Young and The Restless totally slammed dating men when asked about her Valentine’s Day plans.
I obeyed my god yesterday, when submitting an advancer piece about Voivod’s October 19th show at the Rock House in St. John’s, but today I’m here to betray my god, with the transcribed “meat and potatoes” of a killer conversation with Voivod drummer Michel Langevin.
What was is like to be a heavy metal band from small town Quebec in the early 80s? What was the scene like?
The scene was a bit small at first when we started, in 1983. Most bands were still playing covers in bars, seventies rock – Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, you know. We were more influenced by the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and right after that, Venom and so on.
We were pretty much alone playing that stuff in ‘83 in Quebec, but soon after, only a year or two after, the thrash metal scene was exploding with Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica. In Europe, Kreator, Celtic Frost, etc. We started, in the mid-eighties, touring the world with people who were the same age as us, in our early 20s, in a scene that was exploding. It was pretty exciting.
How does it compare to the current Canadian metal scene?
Slowly, but surely, by the end of the 80s there were many bands in Montreal and some in Jonquière, most of them very technical, so it sort of became the Quebec sound in a way, because of the prog rock background. Progressive rock was so popular here in the 70s and early 80s. By the 90s, we crossed paths with many bands from Montreal; Cryptopsy, Kataklysm.
Everywhere we toured, we’d share stages with bands from Montreal. It was very cool. Nowadays, there are tons of bands. Where we are rehearsing in town (MTL), there are three floors of heavy metal bands rehearsing. We’ve been there since the mid-eighties. It’s a healthy metal scene here.
And 13 albums released, another in the works right now. Wow. Let’s talk about Katorz – the process behind posthumously using Denis’ riffs and following his instructions on how to use em. That must have been an intense project.
It was so intense. We had written what we thought would be a double album in 2004, with Jason Newsted and in 2005, Piggy passed away. In early 2006, we finished half of the tracks we had written, which would turn into Katorz, and it was so intense that we only finished the second part, Infini, in 2009, so there was like a three year gap, where we sort of recovered.
It was so strange for me, I’ve been with Voivod since the beginning and so was Piggy, so to be in the studio without seeing him, but hearing his guitar tracks in the headphones and stuff, it was very strange. After that, Snake maybe had the same feeling, because we took a step away for three years after that, and ended up finishing Piggy’s work in 2009.
You guys have been around along long enough to have a pretty valid opinion on this topic, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the music industry has changed over the years, with the invent of the internet, different music formats, etc.?
Well, it has evolved in many good ways, in the sense that we used to send demos and answer letters and do everything through the mail in the 80s. We’d send a cassette to a magazine and wait six weeks for an answer. (laughs) Now it’s just insane. You send a .wav file and a second later, you get an answer.
I also used to ship my paintings to Vernon or LA. I got them back, but it was a scary process. Now, there’s wetransfer.com. Those are all amazing technological tools.
It’s been great, even with legal digital downloads, what I see on my statements, you know. People actually buy songs. Of course, everybody knows the big disappointment is the streaming part. I’m very disappointed with what I see on my statements, where people will have listened to a song 3,000 times and I get six cents. That’s the drag of the new era.
We are selling CD’s and vinyl at the merch table, which is great on tour.
I’m glad you mentioned the paintings, because I know you have passions outside of the industry and I really enjoy the way you weave the two together, creating artwork for your albums, etc. How do you balance it all?! Do you sleep at all, man?
[Laughs], It’s been a crazy, crazy ride for sure. By the end of the year, we will have done like 175 shows or something like that. I did a little less art this year, but I have an amazing life in the sense that I do a lot of art for other bands, not only in the metal scene but also hip-hop and all kinds of other scenes … I spend half of my life doing art and the other half recording and touring with Voivod. It’s great.
After a while though, you know, I realized that I really had to be disciplined and set the alarm clock and work a lot of hours every day. I’m a freelancer in a way, but it’s really, really fun to work from home and then travel.
Earlier in the convo, you mentioned Jason and of course, like every journalist probably does, I’ve gotta comment on it. So, Kirk Hammett plugs your band on the Pepsi Power Hour in like 1989, which must have felt incredible. Years later, a Metallica member ends up joining the band. How fucking crazy is the universe?!
I know! They were really part of the exact same scene where everybody built on Motörhead, etc. Of course as soon as they showed up in Montreal, we partied with them. Same with Slayer. So by the time Jason was in the band, everybody knew each other in the metal scene. Before Metallica, [Newsted] was in Flotsam and Jetsam and we played together.
At the end of the 80s, he came to a show we did in San Francisco and brought us to his place, where he had set up a small recording studio. We started to jam and all through the 90s, Piggy, him and I had a project together. It was stuff we never released. We went to his studio in San Francisco many times.
When we decided to reform in 2001, we thought about phoning him immediately. We asked him to be a guest bass player on the album, but he loved the experience so much that he ended up joining the band.
It was so weird, because when I phoned him, we had a meeting with Snake, Piggy and I. We decided to reform, so I thought, ‘Oh, let’s phone Jason!’ So I call him and said, ‘What are you doing?’ He says, ‘Oh I just quit Metallca.’ And nobody knew about it. I didn’t know. It was just a weird coincidence that I would phone him right when it happened.
I asked him if he wanted to play bass on the next album and he was really excited. He was always promoting Voivod, wearing the shirts in front of tens of thousands of people. We had people promoting the band who really helped us. Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) and Jason are the most important, I would say.
34 years. Wow. Any big plans for 35? Gonna keep plugging away until the 50th?
Well, next year, we are gonna release a new album. We only released an EP this year, Post Society, so a full album. We are actually writing a concept album. We’re writing in the bus and recording in between tours, [laughs] so it’s a bit of a slow process but we’re gonna make it. So next year, we’ll have that and I’m sure a whole bunch of shows. Since we re-reformed in 2008, it’s been insane. It’s increasing numbers, the shows, and the band is gaining momentum. Every year it’s growing. Very cool.
Very cool infuckingdeed, Michel. Thanks for the chat. And thanks to Secret East for hosting the overflow! Stay cool.