Few bands have created music that has had such a profound effect of me like that of the Canadian Progressive Thrashers Voivod, so arranging an interview with the band’s front man Denis “Snake” Belanger on the early evening of the band’s latest show in the capital of the United Kingdom was an occasion much anticipated by yours truly. Relaxed, friendly and, at times, quite emotional, “Snake” talked to us about the welcoming success of last year’s masterpiece “Target Earth”, the latest additions in the band’s, line-up, life sans “Piggy” and shared news for an upcoming Voivod release sometime next year. Enjoy!
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
- Hi Snake. Let me start this interview by saying what a great pleasure it is to be able to talk to you in person once more, being a massive Voivod fan and all. GRTR loves and supports all things Voivod and so we are most pleased to discuss the band’s current and future plans with you.
Snake: Thanks man.
- Is tonight’s show here London part of the tour in promotion of your latest opus “Target Earth”? I am asking as we have been informed that you will also be presenting some new material for us.
Snake: Well, we did release “Target Earth” quite some time ago but we are still in the mood of promoting it but, as you rightly mentioned, we do have some new material to present…actually it’s really only one song, as we are currently still working on new material.
For us what’s important is being on the road with Rocky (note: Dominique Laroche), our new bass player, and play together. We are pretty much on the road simply for the sake of being on the road. That’s what we did with Napalm Death in the US this past winter – a tour that went really well for us, so we really just want to keep going. I mean, it’s fun being in the studio, it’s fun writing new stuff but sharing our music with people on a live environment is the most valuable thing for us. It’s good to be back in London again (laughs).
- A couple of years ago you played an amazing gig at the Garage – a gig that will forever stick into my memory as the sound on offer was of the outmost quality and you guys seemed like you were having the time of your lives. Blacky (note Jean-Yves Theriault – ex-bass player) was still part of the band and things looked like they were working out really well.At the time “Target Erath” was advertised as “the album that was influenced by the band’s glorious past while confidently attaining the future, confidently pushing the band’s ever-expanding musical boundaries”. Not knowing how the material you’re currently working sounds like, where would you place the band’s current sound and style in relation to past releases?
Snake: Well, as far as the new material is concerned we are still at the early part of the creative process. There are various ideas that we have put together during the last tour, stuff that we came up with and wrote being in the bus with the help of small recording equipment (laughs). We managed to get these ideas all together and create new songs but these are still early days.
Each band member has contributed to these songs and, by the end of the day, we managed to create something new but also something that our long term fans can really relate with. Writing new material is always a fun process as you never know where this process will take you. The path is not always very clear and you’re often left thinking to yourself “is this material going to fit with the Voivod style”? At the end of the day, though, you do know if a song you have created is a Voivod song or not.
- I understand what you mean, however, you are one of those few privileged bands which have managed to be flexible and daring as far as musical influences and direction are concerned. I’d like to believe that Voivod fans will support rather than obstruct the band’s need toward further musical evolution. What I mean is that what constitutes “proper Voivod material” is a pretty vague term by definition, isn’t that so?
Snake: Yes, we’ve been blessed not to be cast in a simple style of music. Sometimes this is not at all helpful in terms of promoting one’s music but other times it has been a blessing. We have always been different than most bands. We have often been branded an experimental musical monster of sorts (laughs).
Both our new members have brought a lot of good things into the music. Dan (note: “Chewy” Mongrain – guitars) and “Rocky” both used to be, and still are, Voivod fans themselves and so what they incorporate in the new material is exactly the kind of stuff that our fans like to hear. What they write is exactly what one would expect of a Voivod song and Michel (note “Away” Langevin – drums) and I listen to the stuff they come up with and normally go “that sounds just perfect” (laughs). It’s almost like Away and I have planted a seed on the ground that is fast growing, a new life being born, and the other guys help grow even stronger. Dan especially…he has been so successful in reproducing “Piggy’s” (note: Denis D’Amour – band’s deceased original guitarist) musical spirit.
I never thought that we would ever be able to achieve such a thing, especially as Dan doesn’t copy “Piggy”, he doesn’t try to be him – he’s really being himself but his whole spirit is soaked in “Piggy’s” influence. I really don’t know how he does it. I am sure that it comes naturally to him and there are times that I get Goosebumps when listening to him playing.
- “Piggy” was taken away from us quite early and I say “us” as I believe that Voivod and their fans are one community, one family and what hurts one hurts us all. “Chewy” must have been under immense pressure to fill those ‘massive shoes’ that “Piggy” left behind – not only having to prove himself worthy being a member of a well established/legendary band but also in making sure that those people who love Voivod under “Piggy” had something to continue looking forward to in the future. How does one deal with such pressure? It must be the ultimate nightmare for every musician!
Snake: Yeah, I know what you mean. I do believe that has “Piggy” still be here with us he would most likely end up creating the same kind of music that you hear from this latest re-incarnation of the band. He was the kind of guy that always went with the flow – he never asked himself these fundamental kinds of questions like you do, you know? It was his style to create a riff that did not exist before and chords that may have existed but not in a trendy or fashionable kind of way. “Piggy” was quite bizarre but, at the same time, what he played was quite natural to him.
What Dan does is he gets inspired by same spirit of free experimentation and what he comes up with is very natural as well – it’s something that’s inherent in him. He is influenced by different styles of music and he incorporates elements into the songs that maybe “Piggy” would not have. I mean, at the end of the day, what we’re dealing with are two different people.
I am so chuffed sometimes by the stuff he comes up with – stuff that sound like things that “Piggy” would have written but which feature his personal touch! So, for us, the journey does continue, you know? “Rocky” has also contributed some interesting stuff to the new material. He’s really good at getting the bigger picture of any given song and adds a few ideas here and there which really fir the composition. These are tiny little adjustments we’re referring to which make a whole lot of difference to a song.
- In every profession, fulfilment is very important indeed – the one motivating factor that keeps people focused and happy. Now, you have been going on for more than thirty years, with a short break in the mid 90s. What is it at this stage in your life that you find most challenging about fronting a band like Voivod? What is it that gets you out of bed every morning saying to yourself “I still enjoy doing this”?
Snake: It’s the people, the fans that feed my desire to do this. Every time you get off the stage and you continue hearing people screaming your band’s name, you get a sense of satisfaction that no drugs or any other stimulant can replicate! It really is a wonderful feeling! I remember when I left Voivod for a few years I kind of missed that, you know? It’s very difficult to explain. When you play live there are so many things going on in your head and so many things that are happening at the same time like somebody jumping on stage or someone shouting something and people are a big part of this. I see fans as an integral part of our show – like a reunion of sorts…
- …a family gathering!
Snake: Yes, it’s a gathering. I am always amazed that I can go in places far away in this world from where I was born and where I live and get people to cheer us on and being super happy to see us. That thing alone is absolutely amazing! You go to places like South America and see these smiley people being all excited just for you being there…you simply cannot be in such a place and feel bored – it’s impossible (laughs). Creativity and fulfilment come from experiencing such things – trying to recreate such experiences through the medium of music.
Once you manage to achieve that then you have created your own world that many people wish to somehow live and develop in. Other people like to come up with their own interpretations of what it is that you’re trying to say and yes, sometimes what they come up with doesn’t quite make sense but it perhaps makes sense in a global way! The reward is not the money behind this; the reward is simply being close to your fans and sharing special moments with them.
It could be a quick photo, a chat…those fine details in life that I tend to really appreciate the more I get older. When I was younger I did stupid stuff like getting myself wasted with drink and not remembering anything the day after. Now, I’m more relaxed, more conscious about the world that surrounds me and I appreciate every moment being part of that because I have seen my friend die and neither he nor I could do anything about it. That’s life, you know?
You live and then you die! Piggy’s passing made me realise that I’ve got a chance to be a member of this band, to travel the world and I just want to be able to do it for as long as I possibly can. I mean, I could be gone tomorrow and the more I think about it the more I realise how lucky I am to still be here rocking!
I am fifty years old now and I’ve had some health problems to deal with lately which I am pretty glad I managed to get over with, however, you always have this idea in the back of your head like “ok, am I really doing good”? Every day you try to focus on what it is that you’re doing next but when things like us loosing “Piggy” made us realise how lucky we are to still be here doing what we do.
- I want to ask you the same question that I asked Eric A.K, singer of Flotsam and Jetsam, a couple of days ago as I believe you have a few things in common. You are of similar age, you both front bands that are legendary in status and you both served a period having MCA as your main label – a period in time that both bands would have potentially achieved much more had they enjoyed proper support by the said label. Do you believe that labels these days understand that bands like Voivod need their space and time in order to truly flourish?
Snake: I am personally quite happy with the way things are at the moment and that has a lot to do with the fact that record companies are not like they used to be in the past. I think that they finally realise that things are smaller in size and so they need to be far better planned than before.
Our label knows that Voivod are what you would describe as an “acquired taste”, a “special item”. Things are much different in comparison to twenty years ago in terms of support and representation. Back then MCA was perhaps a little bit too big of a label for a band like us…
- ….by the way, that’s exactly how Eric put it.
Snake: …yep, the label was a little bit too big and we realised at a certain point that companies like that would sign a band for the sake of doing so and if things worked by themselves then fine – otherwise it was simply a small loss at the end of the financial year with no real consequence to them. Now the reality is much different. The record companies are more concerned about doing a great job for both themselves and their bands as goals need to be shared these days.
We are not expecting to be able to sell millions of records; we simply want to be Voivod – a special band with a special place in the music industry and I believe that our label understands that! Both us and them do the best we can in order to give our fans what they want and to help continue the Voivod legacy.
- Ok, last question as I have been given the sign to wrap things up here. When shall we expect the next Voivod album to come out?
Snake: That’s hard to say because we plan on continuing writing material during the summer and summer is always busy for us. I would expect a new album to be roughly available sometime beginning of next year. We still have a tour planned for October/November this year but knowing how we like writing stuff while on tour this should not influenced the album’s release time. Spring next year, at the latest.
- Snake, thank you very much for your time. I hope you’ll enjoy tonight’s show, I know I will, and looking forward to hearing some new music from you guys!
Snake: Alright, see you in the pit.
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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