Interview with vocalist Denis "Snake" Bélanger
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 1, 2018
Canadian progressive sci-fi Metal pioneers, Voïvod, hardly need an introduction. The band started out as a Punk-fueled Thrash Metal band in 1981 and 14 studio albums later, they are still here, stronger than ever.
The band's latest studio album, The Wake, released on Century Media Records on September 21, 2018, has received an overwhelming reception from fans and media everywhere, some even saying it's the band's best work to date or at least among their best.
The Voïvod caravan started their 2018 European tour in Prague, Czech Republic, on September 7th and reached Finnish shores on October 17th, where The Metal Crypt had an opportunity to have a chat with the band's vocalist Denis "Snake" Bélanger a few hours prior to the band's show at the famous Tavastia Club.
The main concentration of this talk was on the band's new album, European tour, Voïvod fans, etc., without forgetting how Denis got the nickname "Snake" back in the day... ;o)
Luxi: First off, I guess I should say welcome to Finland.
Snake: Thank you. That's strange because what I have for memories of Finland, first of all, it was cool and the gigs were great and all. I remember the countryside because it reminds me a lot of Canada. The whole country reminds me of when you're far deep in the forest in Canada. It's like big lands. Yes, it was great here. I'm glad we have come back for two shows.
It's always a good feeling to come to a country with such a good response. Usually bands, when they go out, it takes a long time to get a following, to get people to the show and to get recognition. In our case, it was instantly there. People have been waiting for us for a long time, I guess.
Luxi: You played in Stockholm, Sweden two days ago. How did the Swedish audience treat you guys at Klubb Nalen?
Snake: It was good. It was a small club. Yes, good response. It was fun.
Luxi: The Wake is the title of Voïvod's 14th studio album, and in my sincere opinion, it's one amazing album.
Snake: Thank you.
NO RESTRICTIONS—JUST MUSIC
Luxi: Do you think that on this record Voïvod has basically reached the point musically where you can do whatever you want within your music, while still maintaining that recognizable Voïvod sound?
Snake: The way we see it, music is music. We're originally from Thrash Metal. We never stood in one category. I think every album is different. We've always tried to evolve in our music, to get new inspiration, a new vibe to it. With the new line-up, I think Chewy and Rocky brought a lot to this new record. They did in the past with the EP Post Society and Chewy was there on Target Earth as well. They have a different background. They're from Metal scenes. Rocky is from a lot of Blues-oriented music. That's what he was doing before joining Voïvod. He was a gig guy. He played with a lot of different artists, big artists in Canada. He's more on the blues scene. Chewy's insane, he's incredible. He's a music teacher. He has a lot of knowledge in every aspect of music. He really enjoys progressive music. He's really into Jazz as well...
All these elements combined to create a new kind of spectrum in the VoÏvod world. That creates a different vibe and different avenues that can go here and there. For me, it's really inspiring as a vocalist because I'm from the Thrash/Punk scene and never really took lessons or anything. Chewy helped me a lot in the studio to be more precise with my vocals. He guided me in some different aspect of singing to really focus on the right pitch.
I have good ears, but he really wants to nail it precisely. It was hard work, but we managed to do it. We never use auto-tune or anything like that. Sometimes it was difficult to accomplish what he wanted to hear but it's really inspiring for me because even if I have 35 years of experience, I'm still learning every day. To tell you the truth, we've been working on this record for three years. It was a hell of a job, but it was so thrilling that I'm already set up to go back in the studio again because it was fun. Creation, it's all about delivering what you have and it's fun.
Luxi: When you think back on the writing process for this album, would you say it was a relatively easy and painless process or were there obstacles during the creative process?
Snake: It was quite a task because it was a concept album. To elaborate on the story was difficult at the beginning because we had all these pieces of music, pieces of songs here and there. Prior to tracking the album, song one, song two, song three, before we arranged all that, I couldn't really make a story.
I had bits of ideas, but I couldn't make a story because I didn't know which order to put them in. Once we decided, "Okay, this is number one, two, three, four", then I could elaborate. To tell you the truth, I had to restart all over again and try to put the puzzle together. It was quite demanding for my brain [*laughs*].
STORIES FROM OUTSIDE THE WORLD THAT WE KNOW
Luxi: You have put a lot of effort in the storyline that connects the songs together on this album. Would you mind telling us more about?
Snake: Well, the first song, "Obsolete Beings", is the link from the Post Society EP we released before. The real story starts with the second song. To tell you the truth, I tried to elaborate on a story that I made up myself. I let myself go on a trip. "The End of Dormancy", song number two, is like a movie soundtrack for me. I had this idea of something happening at the bottom of the sea, something like a big discovery combined with a catastrophe or something. I don't elaborate too much of what it is. I will let people imagine what could it be. It has to do with aliens or another form of intelligence.
Luxi: Like some unknown, unidentified thing, not from this world, sort of?
Snake: Yes, something that is in within the earth. What if we had the big news that we are not alone, it would be like a storm. It would be such a big news. Then I started to elaborate what could it be.
There would be some big changes, existing religions would fall and new religions would rise, and it would be a world of conflict and chaos. For a moment, for a while, there would be so much tumult in the world. It would be a big mess for a while, but in the end, it gets more spiritual. "Okay. There's no more races, there's no more black, white, or differences between us, we're all human." [*laughs*] That's the thing.
In the end, it gets into space and a tribute to those who are gone now and humanity getting to another level of consciousness. It would be a revolution, same as when humanity realized that the earth was not the centre of the universe. Back then, it was a major conflict with people burning witches and stuff like that. It would be the same kind of deal.
Luxi: Talking about your latest album just a little bit more, the ending of the last song, "Sonic Mycelium", with a violin and cello (I guess), was pretty surprising and unexpected for me. It reminded me of a classic orchestral work more than Voïvod. Whose idea was it to end the song this way?
Snake: It was Chewy's idea. He worked as a teacher in a school. That part is also in the song "Iconspiracy". He managed to write a four-string quartet. He brought in four girls that played violin. The quartet of four strings, he gave everyone a sheet, and he conducts them.
Luxi: He does?
Luxi: Wow, now that's interesting...
Snake: Yes. For him, it was a unique experience, he'd never done that, even as a teacher, conducting and writing. He managed to do it so well. He also brought in a bone player, [*laughs*], he's the only one I know in the world that plays bones. I think it's a traditional thing. It was so unique that we invited him to play on the record. There's a guy who plays also timbales. Basically, Chewy wanted to do anything that was possible to make this record what it is now. I mean, he's just a very talented dude.
Luxi: Yes, he definitely is. He tried to find little different nuances, I believe.
Snake: Yes. Because he's a teacher, he knows everything about music. He writes music, he reads music. He is writing the tab book for this record right now while we're on tour.
WE ARE CONNECTED... BY VOÏVOD'S MUSIC
Luxi: You came to Europe on September 8th to tour for this album, starting in Poland and now have come up here to Finland. As Voïvod's music is so multi-dimensional, full of all kinds of elements, have you noticed people that come to your shows are something other than your everyday metalheads?
Snake: Yes. Today, Voïvod draws different kinds of people; there are metalheads, Thrash people up front going crazy. There are other people that love Jazz who are more laid-back, and they watch the show with an open ear. They are more like music enthusiasts than thrashers or the kids up front. We have different kinds of people. You can reach a lot of people with music. Okay, we're from the Metal scene, that's fine, but I think we reach a larger audience and different ages, too.
Luxi: ... a wide spectrum of different sounds.
Snake: Yes. You can go in one direction or another, you can go wherever you want. What I like about Voïvod fans is the more we are doing it, the more people are open-minded about music in general.
Luxi: Do you see die-hard Voïvod fans at your shows that have been there for you since the beginning?
Snake: There are always people at the signing session at the end of the show saying, "I was there in '86 when you toured with Possessed", people that have been following the band forever and still enjoy what we're doing. Basically, that's what fans are all about. When you're a fan of one band you're a fan forever. It's hard to say, "Oh, I used to like this band. Now, I don't like it anymore." It's part of your history. If you're a Slayer fan you're not going to say, "I used to be a Slayer fan but now I changed." You'll always be a fan. When people show up with old pictures backstage from '87, it's always cool. We take another picture 25 years later. They have scrapbooks with all of the stuff in their collections. Sometimes people bring plastic milk cases with all the records and we have to sign 20, 25 records. They have the whole collection, so it's very cool.
Luxi: Voïvod was formed in 1981 and now it's 2018. Did you ever think that the band would come this far, still around 14 studio albums later?
Snake: I never imagined that I would do this my whole life. I think it was like a project. I thought it was a project or something like an adventure in my life, but I never expect it to be that important in my life. There were ups and downs. Basically, rock and roll is a rollercoaster taught me different lessons in life. At the end of the day, when I look back, I'm proud of what we accomplished. I'm proud that we're still alive. Too bad for Piggy and stuff like that, the stuff that we can't do anything about it.
I'm glad that we kept going even if Piggy's not here anymore. He's here somehow, somewhere. I think the spirit of Piggy is still in Voïvod for sure because his legacy is still in our music and every night at the end of the show we shout out to people, "This one's for Piggy" and the crowd goes crazy, "Piggy, Piggy, Piggy." It amazes me sometimes that I'm still doing it. It's all to honor the guy because we could have said, "Okay, it's over" but then his music would have died with him. I didn't want that to happen. I wanted to keep going.
I didn't know back then how unique a player he was and Chewy was the only one who could pull off that shit.
PIGGY'S SPIRIT IS ALIVE
Luxi: Do you believe that Piggy's style shines through Chewy's playing style also, at least on some level?
Snake: Yes. I think Chewy has the capability of keeping the spirit of Piggy but creating his own thing from his own influence. That's quite impressive because sometimes when he comes up with ideas I hear that it's him with his influence but there's always a subtle spirit going through that just reminds me of Piggy. Piggy would've brought that riff if he was still alive. It's really surprising sometimes how he manages to do that because he's been a fan from the early days when he started up playing music. Voïvod was his thing when he started up.
I'm sure Voïvod had a big influence on him so it's quite natural to have these three-tone riffs and I can hear Piggy all the time.
Luxi: When talking about your early days, can you remember if you felt nervous as relatively young kids when you recorded your debut album, War and Pain, in 1984?
Snake: I was so nervous. To tell you the truth I was not confident at all because I didn't know how to sing. I was doing theatre. I wanted to be an actor, so I was doing improvisations and stuff. I liked being on stage, but I love Metal as well. I love music, but I never sang in a studio and for me, it was like a new world and I was so afraid and not confident at all, but I did my best I guess. I didn't speak English at all. For me, it was a brand-new thing. I'm glad the guys trusted me because I didn't know anything. I was really green but it's a cool memory.
The studio where we recorded was not making records, they were doing jingles for radio. When we brought the equipment in the studio and started playing loud, they said, "What the hell. It's too fucking loud." For them, it was a brand-new thing as well. It's funny when you look back at how it started. I was naive but at the same time, it was cool because—
Luxi: It was something very different.
Luxi: If you compare War and Pain to other Thrash Metal back in those days, it was so different and stood out with its own merits.
Snake: And we're still a different sounding act compared to all other bands I guess [*laughs*].
Luxi: Okay, my time is pretty much up, but I have one last question for you. How much has Heavy Metal music changed over the years, if you think about what we have now, and what we had back then when you were just about to start this band?
Snake: To tell you the truth I'm not really concentrating on the music scene itself. I know there are a lot of new bands coming in and that's good because it has to keep evolving. What I like is that sometimes there are new crossovers in the music and so it brings a different style. The scene is still strong and has changed a bit because of the internet and everything but a lot of bands adjust, including us. It's way different than the past but at the same time, evolution is good in a sense.
Sometimes there's a lack of originality in some bands. They try to copy or they're not going to do something new and some other bands are really out there and put out some really good stuff but it's an evolution that's for sure. I can see it keep going and keep growing in the future.
Luxi: How did you get your nickname "Snake"?
Snake: I did an improvisation of a worm and I had a standing ovation. It was a long 20-minute improvisation and Michel (Away) was in the audience. Later on, when he asked me to join the band, he recalled seeing me doing the worm thing and when it was time to give me a name he said, "Hey, you should be called Snake because of that thing."
Luxi: I guess you were like, "OK, let's go for it. That's my stage name from now on". Everybody knows you as Snake nowadays, and not as Denis.
Snake: Haha, that's true.
Luxi: So, thank you, Snake.
Snake: Thank you.
|Other information about Voïvod on this site|
|Review: Angel Rat|
|Review: War and Pain|
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