In December, Stylus caught up with drummer and graphic artist for legendary Québec metal band Voivod, Michel Langevin. Their latest album Target Earth, was released January 22nd through Century Media Records. In its 30 year career, Voivod has made a name for themselves with a prog-rock/trash metal sound, thought-provoking lyrics, and an eerie science-fiction vibe. It was a chilling cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” from 1989’s Nothingface that broke the band, reaching number 114 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
Stylus: How are things in Montréal?
Michel Langevin: Things are great. We’re enjoying a bit of a break here, after much touring this year and recording and mixing. I’m back to doing some graphics at home so that’s great.
Stylus: How does being a drummer and a visual artist work for you?
ML: I’ve been pretty much spending half my time doing graphics and the other half playing music for the past 30 years, so it’s been absolutely great for me. I didn’t really try exploring other stuff than digital art and drumming. But I can connect both very well with Voivod.
Stylus: Is it a different kind of pressure to visually represent the band’s philosophy and sound?
ML: Yes. It is always a challenge because I try to express the music and the whole vibe of the album. I find it’s very hard to please everybody, that’s the main challenge. But I also try to connect the visuals to what’s going on in the life of the band as well. I tend to change the design when we change lineup. Trying to represent the music of the new album Target Earth is sort of a return to the prog-thrash metal that we were doing in the 80s and I had to design a new logo for that.
Stylus: Target Earth’s artwork incorporates a number of past elements, perhaps heralding the return of original members?
ML: When we started demo-ing, our friends said the music was sort of a mix of all the Voivod eras put together, though with Blacky [Jean-Yves Theriault]’s lower bass sound, it really brings you back to the 80s catalogue. I think because we toured for two years before writing the album and because of the set lists on tour, we have absorbed all of the eras. When people started saying it had a bit of everything for everybody, I started to think that maybe I should use covers from previous albums. I made it very colourful because we are selling a lot of vinyl these days, which I think is great.
Stylus: On Target Earth your politics and observations seem more overt and pointed, yet the sound is bright and crisp.
ML: Yeah, it’s strange because we are always influenced by what’s going on socially, around the earth, and all that. So even though it seems to be about new, modern subjects, it is sort of reminiscent of what we’ve been talking about along the year. What I mean by that is, when we started writing the album early in 2010 and during the following year there were events going on like the Occupy movement and Arab spring, the economic crash, and the Fukushima nuclear accident, and we talk about all of that stuff in sci-fi tales. It brings me back to the 80s when we were writing about Chernobyl and the Challenger explosion. We always talk about pollution and high-tech weaponry, so it’s sort of the same worries year after year, but it’s influenced by what’s happening on this planet right now, so in a sense these are recurring scenarios.
Stylus: Another more positive cycle that has come around again is vinyl.
ML: Yeah, for the past few years every album we’ve put out came on vinyl with a download card. I think it’s really great because then it allows me to do sceneries on the front cover. So I’m going to try to go all out next time and put in tons more detail.
Stylus: How did your culture of nicknames originate?
ML: We were French-Canadian and thinking nobody is going to be able to say Michel Langevin [Away], Denis Belanger [Snake], Jean-Yves Theriault [Blacky], and Denis D’Amour [Piggy], so we thought let’s find short catchy nicknames that sort of represent everybody’s personality. That’s how it started. While we were writing War & Pain at the jam space, I was doing a lot of my early drawings and concepts, and studying science at university and quite often couldn’t show up at rehearsal because of homework and they ended up calling me “Away.”
Stylus: Voivod has had eight lineup changes plus more than one hiatus. What keeps the band going?
ML: We have a very loyal following; everybody who is into Voivod is really loyal, they show up whenever we tour. Last October we went across Europe without an album, we just had the “Mechanical Mind” single and people showed up, it was unbelievable! There were a couple of times where the band was on hiatus because of the unfortunate passing of Piggy [founding guitarist Denis D’Amour died of colon cancer in 2005] or the crash in Germany [bassist Eric Forrest was seriously injured in a 1998 auto accident], but we always go back to playing music.
Also I get antsy after a year or two. That’s why Piggy and I, or Snake [Denis Belanger] and I, keep phoning each other back, saying “Okay, let’s reform!” Plus we can always count on the Voivod family, we call them Voivodians, across the globe. We get very good crowds in Moscow, South America and Asia. It would be really hard for me because I love travelling so much and playing music across the globe; it would be really hard for me to accept not doing it anymore. So I just keep doing it. Even in the early 90s when metal took a bit of a low profile, we were still going to Europe to play huge festivals with Venom and Slayer. It’s hard for me to find a reason to stop, and right now it is even better for us because we are enjoying a resurgence of thrash metal and the band has become sort of legendary.