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

GID: You guys released the End of Dormancy EP earlier this year, which sees another evolution of the band. It’s surprising to listen to a song like the title track and hear these brassy horns followed up with crunchy guitars and robotic vocals. On paper, it sounds weird, but somehow you guys make it work. It sounded like something epic from a movie! What was the inspiration behind utilizing more brass and woodwind instruments?

C: I’m happy you felt like that because my main goal was to make it sound like a movie score. Last year, we were invited to the International Jazz Festival where legends like Pat Metheny and John Scofield played. We were like are you kidding us? Voivod? So, I wanted to do something special for the occasion. When I wrote the opening riff of “The End of Dormancy,” what I had in mind was Roman trumpets because the harmony I use is a quartal harmony. It’s not in thirds like you would hear in the normal major or minor chord, like C, E, G. It’s in fourths so there’s a little more space between the notes. It’s what you hear in movies like Ben-Hur. I figured I could do a brass arrangement because brass and jazz go together. I had three weeks to write the whole thing, so I worked a lot – I put in about 18 hours. When I wrote all the notes, I wasn’t sure about the articulation or the range of the instrument because when you write for transposed instruments like the trumpet it doesn’t read the same as trombone. I had to write the accents and the nuance and the crescendos and everything so when they play it, it’s exactly as I hear it. It’s like drawing music. It ended up being 25 pages! Then we hired five of the top jazz players in Montreal for the performance.

I was a little bit frustrated because only people who were at the show heard it. There was footage of it but it wasn’t very good. So, we decided to bring the guys back for the studio version. It’s unique. I don’t remember any metal bands writing for brass quintet. It’s not a separate composer. It’s one of us who did it. I wrote it in the aesthetic I thought would fit with the song, which we wrote together. Adding new elements and trying to balance it with what was already there was the most difficult part. Sometimes I felt it was too much or not enough, but I’m proud of what I did. I think people enjoyed it. And I’m happy to play with Voivod because they allow experimentation. If it sounds like shit, we don’t do it, but let’s try it anyway. So, I guess it made the cut. It was a lot of work and stress, but it was fun to do.

GID: What an opportunity to do something like that and go back to do the studio version so everyone can have that experience. I think you guys did a great job. Listening to it felt like an awesome force was incoming.

C: I’m glad to hear that! Everything I listened to in my youth – Danny Elfman, Stravinsky, old movie scores – is somewhere in my musical DNA and I have to get there to extract some of the colors. There are some Star Wars influences in my arrangements that are very well hidden. Just my little melodies hidden in the arrangement as a tribute to John Williams. It was fun to do. I hope we can do something like this in the future maybe with an orchestra, but it’s very expensive and very technical.

GID: Voivod has been around for nearly 40 years. You’ve had many successes, ups and downs, and even disbanded for a little while, yet here you are still making kick ass music. With everything that’s happened, what keeps Voivod going after all these years?

C: The process of creating and doing it as a team, is an accomplishment for me. That’s not always the case with bands I’ve been in before. The chemistry Voivod has working together to sculpt the music is quite an amazing journey in itself. Sometimes, like in this period, I have that spark to write again, but between albums, it’s so tiring to write that I don’t want to hear about for a year or so. It’s so demanding, but once you’re in it and the gears are turning, it’s an amazing journey. I look forward to creating something from an idea that didn’t exist on the earth before and sharing it. Once an album is done it’s a little depressing, but fortunately, we usually have touring to help us out of this boring situation of not creating anything. I think it’s a great living process; put a seed in the ground, help it grow, watch it grow, and once it’s ready, help spread its spores around.

What also keeps Voivod going is to keep celebrating Dennis “Piggy” D’Amour, our original guitar player [who died in 2005]. We celebrate his life and music. What he brought to the music world is very important. He influenced so many musicians. Voivod has influenced so many artists, but Piggy was the heart and soul of the music. The best way to make it live longer is to play the music he wrote and write more music and go on as long as we are physically able to. It’s so addictive. Even the Rolling Stones can’t stop! It’s not because they need a renovation in their kitchen. It’s because they love it. They can’t do anything else. It’s like being in prison for so many years, you can’t get out of it. I guess it’s a good prison to be in, traveling the world and creating and playing music. We’re all hooked.

GID: Continuing to create music you’re passionate about is a great way to connect with longstanding fans, but also with the next generation of Voivod fans. Now a new generation of fans can find you and have that same excitement of discovering you guys as you had when buying your first Voivod cassette. That’s the beauty of continuing to make music.

C: That’s true and we see many fans with their kids coming to shows. They sit on top of their dad’s shoulders and sing all the lyrics by heart. Snake can rely on them to not fuck up his lyrics (laughs). It’s quite amazing. I remember in Italy there was a 16-year-old kid in front who knew all the lyrics of Angel Rat, and I was like wow! That’s amazing.

GID: When a band has been going as long as Voivod has, it’s easy to either keep making music that you know fans will like or become a legacy act. You guys clearly love making new music that looks forward instead of looking back. How do you challenge yourself to keep things interesting and exciting for Voivod?

C: I think it depends on the project. There’s a core sound of Voivod that will always be there, but our life stories, mass consciousness, and social climate influence us in one way or another to push ourselves to be more honest. I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago, so I won’t write the same things I wrote then. I’ve had different experiences, I’ve suffered, and I’ve found happiness. These experiences influence my own writing. Same goes for the band. We can’t avoid it. I could pretend and say this and this influenced me, but it would be a lie. We’re just trying to be the most authentic and honest both creatively and as people. We don’t have much consciousness about what influences us to do things differently. It’s a natural process and we try not to force things.

GID: There’s so much Voivod has accomplished in 40 years and even now you continue to challenge yourselves and take the band in exciting new directions. What new frontier would you like to take the band next?

C: It’s my fantasy to play one Voivod album in full. It’s one of the albums I listened to as a teenager. I won’t mention [the title] because I’m working on it, it’s not a done deal yet. It’s a lot of work. There are songs on there they’ve never played live. The fanboy inside of me and the fans would appreciate what I have in mind. As far as the band, we have another album in the works. After that’s done, I don’t know. Just to keep going. I see musicians like Whitesnake drummer Tommy Aldridge playing like a 20-year-old kid even though he’s 70. He’s got stamina still. Same thing with Deep Purple, AC/DC, and Rolling Stones. There’s hope for rock music to live long if we stay healthy enough. Maybe the tours will be smaller, which is kind of hard financially, but anything is possible. We’re all healthy enough to do another five years, hopefully, 10, 15, and even 20. I’m the youngest, so I gotta get on those guys like you better stay healthy, motherfuckers! (laughs) We need each other. We need this band. I feel balanced when I tour for five months a year. Now, I feel unbalanced because I took it for granted. It’s part of my equilibrium. And I think everybody in the band never wants it to end.

Voivod’s new live album, Lost Machine – Live, comes out November 27th. Pre-order a copy here.

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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, The Crypt 1331, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Reality-Comics. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Marilyn Manson, and Green Day.

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