Interview with guitarist Pierre Rémillard
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: February 5, 2021
Obliveon (known from 1987 to 1989 as Oblivion) are a Montréal, Quebec-based progressive/technical death/thrash metal band who were largely respected in the underground metal scene worldwide during their most active years, from 1987 to 2002. They started out as a relatively typical sounding death/thrash metal band but soon developed their style toward a more technical and demanding sound as they became better musicians and songwriters. The band's second album especially, Nemesis, seemed to gather a lot of praise when it was originally released in 1993 (and it's still doing so, 27 years after its release) due to its advanced and unique approach to death/thrash metal.
In 1995, they released their third album, Cybervoid, on which they not only had a new guy named Bruno Bernier handling the vocal duties but also had a changed musical approach to their songs—a more progressive, groovier and more "machine-like" type of sound, if you will. Some fans did not take it lightly but abandoned the band and the other half welcomed it as warmly as their other two albums. It took four years to release the band's fourth album, Carnivore Motormouth, which sadly was a swansong, that continued the band's journey even further in the experimental direction. They officially broke up in 2002, but they have done a few one-off shows here and there.
The Metal Crypt got in touch with band guitarist Pierre Rémillard, who has been running Wild Studio since February 2001, recording many artists there. Besides talking about his own studio, he was keen on sharing some news with us regarding Obliveon and what the future might hold for them.
Hey Pierre! How's life been over there during these very strange times?
Pierre: Hi, Luxi. Nice to meet you. Life has been really busy with the studio the last few months because I think everybody is stuck inside; no tours. A lot of bands want to record, and I own a studio, so I've been busy like I've never been in my life since the end of June, I would say. At the same time, it's really strange because for the first time we feel something that everybody lives at the same time. We're feeling weird, but we're in a good mood anyway. I make a lot of music. It's just to see that situation... I think it's going to get better in the next few months. I hope so, but that's the way it is.
FROM STUDIO VICTOR TO WILD STUDIO
Almost 20 years ago, you bought your own studio, which is known as Wild Studio. Could you tell our readers what made you invest in your own studio back in the day and would you say it was one of your best decisions?
Pierre: I was working at Studio Victor in Montréal, which is a really nice studio. At that time, I was producing a lot of bands and I just felt like I needed my own space, maybe to have more time for mixing and recording vocals at some point because it's two situations where you need to get something special. I wanted to invest more time in the bands I work with, so I was at first looking for a smaller place.
I met the people who owned that place and they talked to me about it. When I saw the place, I thought it was a really nice place to have a studio. That's what I found special at first, the location. Because with a studio outside the city I felt that I could offer something special by having all the other people together in a remote place like that, free to think about the music and focus on recording. I think recording music deserves a really big focus, so I thought it was a good idea to set up the studio there. Whether it was the best choice in my life... For now, yes, because I'm still in the music business after all those years, so I would say it's a good move.
I see you have had more than 100 projects in the studio over the years, which is very cool. What have been some of the most memorable studio sessions for you?
Pierre: It's hard for me to pick a specific band because, to be honest, it's always something special. Most of the time, it's special in a good way because people get to hear their songs for the first time recorded. The creative part for a musician is a lot of emotions. Most of the time, it's really fun.
What I remember is more the studio itself because it's already been 20 years. I remember in the beginning, the way we'd get to the studio was by snowmobile or ATV because the road wasn't open. Now it's all okay. At first, we needed to go through a rough road. It's not like you just could just get into your car and go.
In the winter, you need a 4x4, but at the beginning, the road wasn't even open, so we used an ATV to bring bands to the studio. It was a kind of an experience just getting there, but I remember a lot of bands were excited about going through this before recording an album. It was tough, but at the same time, it's something you remember doing, so it was kind of fun. But I wouldn't be able to tell you about a specific band or a specific situation. I just see it as a whole.
I must say that I am stunned by the location of your studio, which is on the water's edge and surrounded by beautiful forest/mountain scenery. What made you choose this isolated spot and not some urban location instead?
Pierre: I answered some of this earlier while I was explaining the studio situation. For me, the location was the first thing I found special. Afterward, you need to set up the gear and set up a vibe, but it's all about being with the people you work with. You stay there, you live there. We know each other better. We have a lot of fun. It's always a good vibe, but the most important thing is that the more you know each other, the more you can ask what you want. You feel the other person better, and the music, that's what it's all about.
So yeah, the location makes it special, especially today where people most of the time, well I wouldn't say most of the time, but a lot of people record stuff in their basement or a little tiny place, and they exchange files with other musicians that they don't even see. There's a magic going when you have three, four or five people playing at the same time or being there while we record. I think the site is really nice, it's really relaxing. But I didn't seek it out, it just happened. As I said before, somebody told me he had these people from his family, it's kind of a strange story like that.
As to whether I would do an urban studio, I have a mixing room in Montréal, but it's private. It's just to mix my own projects. Sometimes I work with artists, but it's a really small studio. I could set it up for recording vocals, maybe one guitar line but not a whole band, and it's basically for mixing. But a commercial studio, an urban studio, there are enough of them. There's enough of a good choice in Montréal right now, so that's why I chose the location a little out of Montréal.
WHAT'S UP WITH OBLIVEON?
Alright, what about Obliveon? When was the last time you guys gathered in this studio to record something new to see if you still "have it", so to speak?
Pierre: Actually, at the beginning of 2002, or 2003, we played there a couple of times and started thinking about maybe writing new songs, but we were in between things, we weren't sure, and afterwards I went on the road with the studio and that took a lot of time in my life. We worked with Obliveon a couple of times but in the beginnings of my time with the studio and then the band split, so we didn't get to enjoy that studio much. But that time will come because we are working on a new record right now and trying to put all this together. I think we're going to go to the Wild Studio—I hope so!
We've all kept more or less in touch. We all have a good vibe together. We saw each other a couple of times lately because we're working on new songs, but we're taking it as a big project. We don't see it as something we want to rush, we don't want to have a deadline. Right now, we're getting to the point where we have a lot of songs written and we need to figure out how we're going to record the album and see what's possible for us because everybody's got their own lives. We want to invest time in the project, and we really want to do the best we can. We know that'll take time.
We're now at a point where we need to figure out how we're going to do the recording. Everybody has a lot of ideas. Martin writes a lot of songs. I also write some parts and so does Stéphane. He writes the lyrics.
I would say the band is not very active, but it's not like nothing is happening. We really want to work on the new album, and everybody is having a lot of fun working on the songs. We're taking the time we need, and we enjoy it very much.
GETTING BACK ON STAGE AGAIN?
Is playing live completely out of the question for you guys or do you think there might be a thin chance you might perform live again someday if everyone agrees?
Pierre: I wouldn't say we won't be playing live again, but we'd like it to be a special event, like an album release. We would for sure play a couple of shows in our hometown and in the area, but it's hard to say. I'm sure if we were asked to play at a metal festival, something special that could be a good adventure. We'd go for it, but it's hard to plan all this because, like I was saying earlier, everybody's got their own family life and stuff like that, so our availability would depend on this. First things first, we want to make an album. For sure, we're going to play a couple of shows, but we'll see how people react to the new record first.
When was the last time when you played live together with Obliveon? Was it the show at Amnesia Rockfest in 2014, and how was that show?
Pierre: Yes, the last time we played together was the Rockfest in 2014. It was a good vibe because we got to see each other again. It's at that time we started thinking of making a new record. It was nice seeing each other and rehearsing and putting a live set together. It was a nice show, but at the same time, it's really big. There are a lot of people, a lot of bands at the same time. You felt that you played, but it's hard to tell if you reached your hardcore fans through the crowd, but also a lot of people heard about us that day. It was a nice experience, but I would prefer to place in a smaller venue and for a CD release and be closer to the fans, but it was a nice show for sure. Big, big, big organization, so it was nice.
ALBUM NO. 2. —NEMESIS
My favorite Obliveon release is Nemesis due to its top-notch mix of technical and challenging death and thrash metal compositions that really took me on a quite awesome ride when I heard the album for the first time. I felt like you guys were on top of your game back then, sort of ahead of your time and there was no other band that sounded like Obliveon. Are you still proud of that album? Are you still kind of amazed by the sharp songwriting skills that led you to record Nemesis with its unorthodox and unique songs that made the album such an adored and appreciated record?
Pierre: I felt that our fans really loved that album. We were younger. I remember being in the studio for that album and producing it ourselves. It was a special moment, not just writing the songs, but when we were recording, I remember the vibe we had together. You could feel that everyone was investing themselves. That is always the best when making an album, when all the members are really into it. We're still really proud of that album. First, because we did it ourselves and because everybody still talks to me a lot about this album. The album made a little bit of difference for us in the underground world. We're still proud of it. I only have good memories of that record.
ALBUM NO. 3. —CYBERVOID
What made the band change musical styles from technical death and thrash metal on Nemesis to the more groove-orientated style on the band's third album, Cybervoid? Did your new vocalist at that time, Bruno Bernier, have anything to do with it or did you guys want to explore new musical territories and avoid getting stuck on one specific formula?
Pierre: I wanted to change the style a little bit, but you make a good point about Bruno's different singing style. We felt that he was a good fit for that kind of riffing. I don't remember whether we tried to change or if we just felt that way. Cybervoid was tuned differently than Nemesis and it was inspiring playing something different with that kind of tuning.
For sure, with Bruno's singing style, it somehow felt better doing that kind of riff. At the same time, as a band, we wanted to do something different, which I think is cool because you make music for yourself first and then you release it for others to hear. We're five in the band, and we're making songs. We didn't really set out to do this. It just happened. When we like it, we just go ahead and that's it. But it was different for sure, and I like doing something different from one album to the next.
THE SWAN SONG—CARNIVORE MOTHERMOUTH
The band's fourth and last album, Carnivore Mothermouth, took it a step further in complexity and uniqueness while also distancing from the band's original tech-death/thrash style that peaked on Nemesis. Many fans of the band didn't accept the band's change of style with open arms and abandoned the band after your second album due to the reason I mentioned. Can you talk about why things developed the way they did?
Pierre: You lose fans, you gain fans. Some would say, "Yeah, but the first album is too technical. I liked the second one better than Cybervoid." I think that's the way it is for all bands because people love you for one reason, and when you lose that, they think you're always going to go in a different direction. For me, it's normal. As a guy who works in a studio, I hear stuff like that all the time; the fans loved their first album better, or their second album because of one song, or a couple of songs. Bands sometimes want to try something different. They like different types of music, they learn different techniques on their instrument, and that's the way it is. It is just a question of evolving together. That's what we went through.
As I was saying, Cybervoid was tuned differently. For Carnivore Mothermouth, we used seven-string guitars. That gave us some new inspiration, allowed us to play different stuff and we went ahead and explored that. I don't think you can make an album and do something really precise. You start with something in your head, but it evolves, and you get inspired by different stuff. Sometimes it's effects, sometimes it's vocal lines, it can be anything.
We wanted to do something different. We love all our albums. When we play shows, we play some songs from each album. When recording, we are inspired by what's happening at that moment. For that album, we used seven-strings, just to learn some new stuff. It's a good way not to always do the same thing and try to redo Nemesis or try to redo Cybervoid. You can't do that. No band can do that. That's always what you hear for any band. People love the first album better, the first two, the last. Some people like the new album, and the band needs to be seen as a whole, not just for the last album or the first album.
GETTING OUT THE FIRST BABY—FROM THIS DAY FORWARD
Obliveon's debut album, From This Day Forward, released on Active Records in 1990, was full of great songs but, unfortunately, the whole album suffered from a pretty light and thin production, which was a bit of a letdown for some fans of the band who had heard the pre-production songs in advance. May I ask what went "wrong" in the mixing process at Peter Pan Studios in Montréal, QC, in May 1990?
Pierre: We went back and remixed the album when we got signed because we actually didn't like the first mix that much and we thought we could get something different, but we ended up in a studio with an engineer who didn't have much experience with metal music, so he didn't really do anything.
That's why we did the second album ourselves because we thought something was really missing and we thought we could do better with Nemesis. That's why we remixed it. We did a song and we thought it was a little weak. I didn't like the sound that much. At the same time, it gave us the opportunity to use a different approach for Nemesis. That's called experience! For the first album, sometimes it's hard to control everything. You don't have the experience. It's hard to be in a studio and judge exactly what's happening and how it's going to sound in your car and everywhere. It's a big, big learning experience.
ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO AN END
The band called it quits in 2002. What were the main reasons behind this decision? Did some of you want to go back to the original sound of your first two albums while others did not and that caused some conflicts inside the band?
Pierre: No, when we called it quits in 2002, it wasn't a question of direction. Like I was saying, I don't remember anyone wanting to go one way or one person leaning another way. It was about everyone having time to invest in the band. After all the years, life changed and we were a band that invested a lot of time, like rehearsing a lot to be able to play the best possible shows and for writing our songs. We knew how much time we needed to put in to continue with the band and, at that point, we weren't discouraged but we lacked the energy to continue, I guess you could say. That what it was. It wasn't a question of people disagreeing on the direction to take with our music.
LACK OF TOURING POSSIBILITIES BACK IN THE DAY
As far as I recall, the band never got the opportunity to play outside of Canada. Is that something that bugs you a little bit even these days? I imagine any young musician's goal is to tour and see the world and I am pretty darn sure that the young Obliveon guys weren't an exception. ;o)
Pierre: Actually, we did play in the U.S. a couple of times. We toured in our own country but not that much. It was mostly in the province of Quebec and a little bit outside Quebec and in the U.S. When you see a band live, it encourages you to dig deeper, to learn more about the band and you hear the songs differently. Hearing the music live is like another dimension. Sometimes you think a band on an album is average, but then live you hear something different. Yes, it would have been nice to tour more, for sure. Tour the world like you said. Everybody dreams of this at some point.
If you go back to the '90s, going on tour was a little different. Booking, the contacts, everything was different. At the same time, today, there are so many bands touring. I don't know what it's like in your country, but here there are people going to shows, but fewer because there are so many shows and people cannot attend them all. Obviously, it would've been nice to tour a little bit more with Obliveon back in the day.
According to Metal-Archives.com, the band tried to reform in 2007 and 2008? Is this correct or does this info belong in the "fake news" section?
Pierre: No, we didn't try to reform, we played some shows. When we went back for a couple of shows, it was just, "Let's do it, let's have fun." We got to talk to each other once in a while. We were on good terms, but we didn't try to reform the band. Right now, we're just trying to make an album and it's not even to put the band back on the road. We just want to do this for now and then we'll see what happens.
DON'T HESITATE—JUST DO IT!
My next question might be tough to answer but what's the proudest thing and/or moment you achieved with Obliveon, and why?
Pierre: It's hard to say because, for sure, Nemesis was special, but at the same time, when we did Cybervoid with Bruno, it was different. What was special about Nemesis is that we had just lost the record company, Active Records, and it was a bit of a shock when we heard that we no longer had a record label, and we needed to put out an album. Like I said, it was different in the '90s. You couldn't just put your albums on the net and sell them in the same half hour.
What was special is that we felt we needed to do that album as fast as possible and we went to the bank and got some money. I was working at Peter Pan Studios at the time and we decided to do everything ourselves with our money. It turned out really well. For me, it was a big achievement; everybody was really involved in making the album. It just proves that, if you want to do something, just do it. For us, it's our album and that makes it special for us. Cybervoid was special, too. I was working at another studio, Victor, which is a bigger studio, with Bruno. Stéphane is still in the band with us writing lyrics and doing some vocal parts. I'm proud of everything we did, everybody was really involved, but Nemesis was something really special.
Do you have any unreleased material hidden somewhere in your personal archives that would be worth releasing perhaps?
Pierre: Not really. Sometimes we'd put songs away and leave them there, but the way we worked was like, if we needed to write 14 songs, 12 songs, 10 songs, we'd just write the exact number of songs and work on them a lot. No leftovers, maybe a couple of riffs here and there but not that much, no.
Both you and Stéphane Picard play in Vargr nowadays, which was originally formed by Stéphane Bélanger and Steeve Hurdle (R.I.P. 2012) back in 1997. The band was a short-lived act until regrouping in 2019 as a trio. What made you decide to join the band and what type of plans do you have with this act? Are you aiming to record a full-length?
Pierre: I helped Stéphane mix the album, but we never played anything together. Steeve was a big friend of mine. I felt I could go jam to help Stéphane, but it's more Stéphane's project. I'm not a member of the band, we don't rehearse too much. Nothing, really.
As for the plans, it's Stéphane who could tell you. My priority right now is Obliveon, so I will see when Stéphane wants to do Vargr. If I'm still available, things could change, so I will see then.
That was it from me, so I sincerely want to thank you, Pierre, for your precious time with this chat and wish you all the best with both your present and future endeavors. If you have anything else you'd like to add to end this chat properly, by all means just go ahead... ;o)
Pierre: Oh, thank you, Luxi, for thinking about Obliveon after all those years and for inquiring about Wild Studio, I really appreciate that. Take care!
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