Ever since I heeded a metal magazine’s advice and picked up their album Dimension Hatross back in 1988, Voivod has been one of my favorite bands. So it was like talking to an old friend when I was lucky enough to interview drummer Away. We talked about their current tour with Napalm Death and the roots of this legendary progressive space thrash band.
Caught the show last night, and you guys were amazing; one thing I thought was interesting was that all of the songs except for the new one were from “Nothing Face” and back, and when I heard “Target Earth” I thought, “Wow, this is the album that should have come after “Nothing Face,” just from the vibe it had.
Away: We have three sets, and songs from Target Earth are on two of them, but we have been debating that, since we are on tour to promote that album. What do you think – should we play more from Target Earth?
I’m the wrong person to ask, since I am going to like everything you play. How has the tour been so far?
Away:Amazing, a very fitting bill, us with Napalm Death since we are kind of the same thing hardcore punk and metal
Well when you guys started out you were more of a punk band since in those days punk and thrash were so closely linked, so how did you get from “War and Pain” to “Killing Technology”.
In the seventies, we listened to a lot of progressive rock, punk and hard rock. Slowly but surely, we began adding what would be called alternative as we began listening to Killing Joke and Psychic TV. The sound changed, we became better at our instruments and pushing the boundaries with prog and psychedelic elements. The Legendary Pink Dots were also a big influence during that time. That hardcore element has always been important to us, we try to keep it in there except for two albums, Angel Rat and Outer Limits. But we like that metal energy.
Why does “Dimension Hatross” have such a unique sound? Sonically it’s different than the others – how did that come into being?
Away: We recorded with Harris Johns and we started using sequencing like early industrial bands were, and it gave us a new way of twisting sounds. At that point, I had been rehearsing every night for five years, so that allowed us to get pretty good at time changes. Up to that point on the earlier albums, we were more naive, so we perfected our playing.
You mentioned “Angel Rat” earlier – what type of head space were you in when you recorded that album?
Away: We were totally out of synch with everything else going on at that time, be it the death metal in Tampa, black metal in Norway, or grunge. For us, it was commercial; it’s some people’s favorite album. We were lost in our own dimension, we tried not to over think it, we just went for it. That one and Rrrrroar are the most extreme, but in different directions.
I think with “Angel Rat” you guys were just ahead of your time. I have always seen you guys like David Bowie in that respect – two steps ahead of the game – which is why you influenced so many bands like Tool and Faith No More. How is it to see your thumbprint on music like that?
Away: It’s impressive to think we influenced Tool. He was in love with those guys when they came out, and used to play them on the bus all of the time. We toured with Faith No More and Soundgarden, and Mike Patton was a Voivod freak. He knew every note. He pointed out to me that the Young Gods had sampled “Technocratic Manipulators” and just changed the time signature of it.
Yeah, it’s funny, because right after that tour they put out “Angel Dust,” which has that dissonant Voivod feel to it’s heavier moments.
Away: Yeah, I always wondered about that.
So are you guys ever going to throw “the Prow” into the set?
Away: We know the song. We are trying to rearrange the pacing of the set. We want to please everyone. We ask people what they want to hear when we are at the merch booth, and we have about twenty five songs ready to play. But we only get to play eight in the set. So something like “Mechanical Minds” is around eight minutes, and the new one is seven and a half.
Have always thought you were one of the best metal drummers; there is something very tribal in your playing. How did that work into your style?
Away: From listening to the Pistols, I have always liked toms. I just began to use them a lot more, like Killing Joke or Test Dept. On Dimension Hatross I just went crazy with them.
Sci-fi is always an element to your presentation and lyrics. Who are some of your favorite sci-fi authors?
Away: Philip K Dick, William S Gibson, “Neuromancer” – I’m still waiting for the movie of that to come out. As far as movies go, Blade Runner and Mad Max.
Have you seen the trailer for the new Mad Max?
Away: Yes, I can’t wait. We stole bits of the soundtrack to the Road Warrior for “Killing Technology.”
Where did you find the new bassist?
Away: He was a childhood friend of Chewy’s. He is as talented as Chewy is crazy. It’s going to be really great writing with him because he be able to add to the psychedelic and progressive side. There is also something angular about his playing as he is also into jazz.
So the new song “We are Connected” is coming out as a split single with At the Gates?
Away: It comes out April 2nd, though it came out earlier on Spotify and Youtube.
Is this going to be one off a new album in the works?
Away: We are focusing on 7 inches and touring this year, with a new album early next year.
So what’s it like being back on the road?
Away: Amazing! We were supposed to go on a world tour supporting Target Earth, then Snake got sick and had an operation. We got a little antsy waiting around, and then we parted ways with Blacky.
Snake must have had an incredible recovery, because I think his voice now sounds better than when you guys did that album with Jason Newstead.
Away: I think so too. His range is amazing and his power has improved. Like Jello Biafra – I saw him and he has gotten better…same thing when I saw P.I.L, Johnny was the same way.
What new bands are you into?
Away: When it comes to metal I’m retro. Priest, Maiden, Raven, Venom. We have played festivals with younger bands and I think Vektor is really good. Then there is stuff I always listened to, like when we were talking about the tribal elements of my playing, P.I.L’s Flowers of Romance album is an influence.
You guys changed the way I listen to music. Before I discovered you guys, I was listening to stuff like Maiden and Mercyful Fate. But I after I got into you guys, within five years I was listening to Killing Joke and Swans, who are another one of my favorite bands. Speaking of which, I know you guys are into punk, but I have always wondered if you were ever into the darker side of it that spun out of punk…like…
Yeah, Joy Division, the Cure, the stuff that became goth…
Away: Blacky was into all that sort of stuff.
Which makes sense; stuff like the Cure and Joy Division are very bass driven, the guitar more of a layer.
Away: Yeah, Snake and I started off into hardcore, like Discharge and Killing Joke. Piggy was into the prog. As a drummer, I tried to incorporate a lot of d-beat, which I got from Phil Taylor of Motörhead. They were as heavy as it got until Venom came along. There was nothing else that heavy.
What about Hawkwind? Lemmy came from those guys.
Away: Oh yeah, they were a big influence on Voivod. And that kind of Krautrock, Van Der Graaf Generator. They are one of my favorite bands.
They had violinist at one point.
Away: And they had this very beatnik sax player; when he left they added the violinist.
Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. It’s been an honor, great to have you guys back!
Away: Thank you, hope to see you soon.