GENRE IS DEAD! Interview With Voivod’s Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain

When Voivod formed in 1982, they wanted to create their own version of metal. Nearly 40 years later, they’re innovators of the genre. Shifting from speed to thrash to progressive, the band knows no limitations. Eager to embrace the unknown and explore new territories, they continue challenging themselves seeing where they can take their music next. Even this far in their career when they could easily coast on their extensive back catalog, they continue to cross genre barriers as heard on their 2020 EP, End of Dormancy, which can be summed up as Voivod meets jazz. So where will Voivod go next? Not even guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain knows. But he promises it will be exciting.

Before the release of their new live album, Chewy sat down with GENRE IS DEAD! to talk about the drive that keeps Voivod going, taking the band to new heights, and why he’ll never take music for granted again.

GENRE IS DEAD!: Voivod’s new live album, Lost Machine – Live, is coming soon. It’s actually been a while since your last live album, Live at Roadburn (2011). What made you decide to release a new live LP now? Did it have anything to do with the lack of live music this year?

Chewy: That was unconscious because you have to think about a live album a bit in advance, you know? Francis Perron, who mixed The Wake, told us he could record some shows locally. So, we recorded three shows: one in our hometown of Jonquière, one in Montreal during the International Jazz Festival, and one we did one week after the Jazz festival in Quebec City. The performance in Quebec City sounded just right. I remember getting off stage and telling the guys this one felt really good. We were all in the zone, in this bubble with the audience and with the music. Everything was perfect. We couldn’t care less about the recordings. We recorded those shows without thinking about releasing any of it. It was just for archiving, maybe release some live cuts as bonus tracks.

I don’t think it was foreseen we would put it out during this period, but it makes sense for us because the last album is already two years old. We’re working on new music, so it’s a good time to do it and a good way to say thank you to all the people who supported us for 37 years. Also, there was never a live album with this lineup. The chemistry and the way we play old songs is not the same. And our last live record was in 2011 and the one before that in 2000. Let’s hope we have a long career like the Rolling Stones so we can put some out three or four more.

GID: The timing feels oddly appropriate. Watching the “The Lost Machine” video you shared from the album was bittersweet. It’s exciting to see you guys on stage and hear the crowd roaring. But when it’s over, you think about how much you want to be in that space. It’s crazy. Never thought there would be a year where we can’t have live entertainment.

C: That’s true. We took life for granted when you think about it. I think this is a blessing in disguise. If you think positive, it can help you put things in perspective and change your priorities in life. You may realize there’s some stuff you really enjoy that you don’t do enough. You should concentrate on the positive and what makes you feel good. Of course, we all have to earn money to live and work hard but considering what’s happening right now, maybe there’s some stuff we didn’t focus on in our own existence that can be adjusted.

GID: That’s a good way to try and look at what’s happening because it’s easy to focus on the negative. Personally, I’ve been thinking about all the concerts I’ve been to and I know as soon as I can get back into the pit, I’m going to cherish every moment of those shows even more.

C: That’s true, right? We did a livestream show in August and we had to rehearse after five months of not seeing each other. It was the first time in 30 years where I couldn’t be in a band for five months. So, when we went to the rehearsal space and hit the first chord, we were like this is so great! It felt like the first time! And I took it for granted. I took playing in bands and touring for granted. Now I know I really love it. It was amazing going back at it feeling like I’m playing with the band for the first time and looking at each other thinking “Man it feels great!”

GID: It’s interesting to see the response to the livestream market. You’re starting to see artists use the medium in new, innovative ways. And it’s fairly new for a lot of artists. What was it like doing that livestream?

C: It was quite amazing. Snake’s girlfriend does costumes and décor on the Fargo series. So, she and Snake worked many hours to recreate the album cover of Killing Technology (1987). We were playing in the album cover with the planets and instruments from the spaceship. [Voivod drummer] Away, who is the artist of the band, did a few drawings which were projected on a screen that would change over time. All the cameramen were wearing hazmat suits, so they were part of the scenery too. It was very exciting to play and we did it like a regular show. I was headbanging like crazy because I wanted to. It felt so good. The only thing that was a little bit strange was not hearing the crowd after the songs. We’re used to having that feedback, but we had the comments section. We had a friend of ours read us some questions and comments between songs. It was really fun, and it was Snake’s birthday, so we brought him a cake at the end of the performance. He’s always on the road when it’s his birthday, so it’s a habit to bring him a cake.

We had a blast. And we’re gonna do it again for sure. We’re working on something very special for the next one. We’re gonna talk about it more in advance, so more people can enjoy it. We have to consider timezones too. There were a few fans from Japan who woke up at four in the morning to see the show (laughs). We thought about playing two shows on the same day at different times, but it’s exhausting so next time we’ll pick a better time to do it. But it’s gonna be fun. For us, it was a great experience and a good reason to get together, play music again, and connect with the fans.

GID: Livestreams can be lots of fun. I did one recently and it’s crazy how as soon as I heard the music and saw the band on stage it got me jumping around my living room. It still made me miss concerts, but it was a nice space to be in since we can’t be in actual venues right now.

C: If you think about the livestream, we are literally connected through music. Music is an emission of vibration through the air. We need air for sound to travel. So, the air comes from our instruments, physical abilities, voice, and through the microphones. The microphone goes to the board, the board to the internet connection, internet connection to your home. Vibration electricity that’s encoded in the wires comes out of your speakers and vibrates and the air transports it to your ears. Your timpani vibrates and then your body vibrates. It’s amazing! We couldn’t have done that 10 years ago.

GID: At least we have music to get us through these times. It would be even harder without it. With so much downtime in lockdown, you guys have been working on the next Voivod album. How’s that going?

C: Great! Usually, we do a lot of improvisation in the jam space, but we kind of abandoned it because we couldn’t go there to rehearse. I wrote a bunch of ideas in March and now everybody has more time to focus on it. Away started sending me drum tracks. I do all the templates with the tempo track and all the technical stuff. Then I send that to him, and he sends me back the drum tracks so I can work. And [bassist] Rocky will lay down some tracks on them very soon. Snake will listen to it, have a go at improvising over them, and add a few ideas. A big part of the band’s sound is being in the jam space together and improvise around those ideas. This is a different kind of creative process, which is exciting in a way. I miss that spontaneity factor that creates the two seconds of magic you can rely on to create a whole long progressive song, but it’s gonna come in time, I guess.

GID: You also have other Voivod projects in the works, like the documentary and even a book. How’s that coming?

C: Yeah, actually we did a bunch of interviews for both. Felipe Belalcazar, who did Death By Metal, is working on the Voivod one. It was started by Sam Dunn more than 10 years ago and they had a lot of footage from that time period and everything before that. I’ve been in the band for almost 13 years and the documentary was already in progress when I joined, so there’s a lot of stories, footage, and interviews. I hope he can put together a DVD. I think it’s gonna be very interesting.

Jeff Wagner is writing a book on the band as well. He’s a huge connoisseur of Voivod – he’s a big fan and a super cool guy. So, I can’t wait! I guess it’s gonna be out next year, but I don’t have more details. I know a lot of people have been working very hard on it, so I think it’s gonna be great. Because I grew up with Voivod’s music, the fanboy side of me is very happy to go buy the DVD and the book even though I won’t need to! The first time I bought a Voivod cassette I was 11. I was a paperboy and when I earned enough money to buy a cassette, I biked to the store that was about three kilometers away, pretty far for a little guy. I bought Killing Technology, which we played on the livestream show, so I can’t wait to feel the same.

GID: To go from a fan to being in this band you grew up loving is such an amazing journey. You get to wake up every day and think “I’m in Voivod!”

C: I’m pinching myself every day. It’s all about the music and the intricacy of the band, the progressive and metal side that impressed me at a young age. There was nothing like it and still, Voivod is very unique. Everything I like now is strange because of them. I need something unique that I’ve never heard of before like Cardiacs or Allan Holdsworth. Anything that’s really different will grab my attention. It’s because of Voivod that I studied music because I wondered how they did it. I was curious about the process and the chords and the harmony and stuff like that.

Going to Europe, South America, and Japan for the first time – I would never be able to afford such a journey. It’s a hard life being a musician in a metal band especially but there are so many great adventures that come with it. It’s part of the richness of being a musician. There’s not a lot of people on this planet that have the chance to see and experience what we do. It’s a very unique way of life and I miss it so much. We’re very privileged to experience this kind of thing.

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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Illinois Entertainer. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Creeper, and Green Day.

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