By now you’ve likely heard Voivod’s fourteenth studio LP, The Wake. If you haven’t, then get your tuchas in gear and check it out immediately. You can read an absolutely lovely review of that album here, and I recommend that you do just that. In short, the new Voivod material is, above all other things, fun. And when you get right down to it, isn’t that what life should be about? Just a collection of fun experiences turned into memories that you can dream about as your body decays, slowly depriving your brain of that desperately needed oxygen supply. Anyways, for any metalhead, you can be sure that Voivod has fueled a bunch of happy memories that will be cherished from death to eternity.
During the run-up to the new release, we had the chance to sit down with Daniel Mongrain—better known as Chewy—Voivod’s guitarist since 2008. He’s had no small shoes to fill since the unfortunate passing of Piggy (Dennis D’Amour) in 2005. We asked him about that, plus a bevy of other things, and he responded in his delightful French-Canadian accent.
Pretty warm everywhere in the world these days. Makes me think of the album cover.
Yeah. I thought about that today, actually. I was thinking about the colors that were put there and it’s really connected to what’s happening in the world right now.
It’s interesting, because the album cover is a bit of a break for you guys in that it’s a pretty different format. It’s really bright and in your face.
Yeah, it’s really different from our past and the whole black and silver motif. This one is so shiny and almost aggressive in a lot of ways. The colors are seriously warm. It’s great when I see the vision of drawing all the band members out there on the cover.
You feel like you were captured well?
I don’t know which one I am! I’ve always been a fan of his [Away’s] drawings, so it’s really fun to picture myself in his mind.
Are you the only guy in the band with a serious jazz background?
I think so. Rocky studied a bit of music, but he headed off down the freelance path. But he still knows how to read music, and he knows his chords. I’ve been further, you know, studying at university, and I had the curiosity about how chords and music could work—Voivod has been a great experiment there. It’s really helped me having the tools of a jazz background. Particularly when you want to compose or arrange waves into a sonic sculpture.
How did playing with Voivod change your personal playing style?
Maybe at the beginning I was playing a bit more from my death metal background. Definitely more technical on chords and muting. I was too stiff. Piggy was more of an organic player—very spontaneous and a little bit more dirty, so to speak. I had to really loosen up a bunch, particularly my picking hand, because there’s no way you can make a chord sound good with lots of harmonics if you don’t pick it correctly… More “slightly.” I had to remove a lot of distortion from my initial sound and be a bit more slight with my picking. I learned to be very imprecise, but in a very precise way. I did all of that to get the sound and vibe of Voivod. So maybe I started out pretty stiff, but then I started to work on it and finesse the details. As far as soloing, I kept my technique intact. A guitar solo is a signature of an artist—really the purest expression of musicality from a guitar player.
You have a degree in improvisation actually, right?
Yeah, I have a bachelor’s degree in jazz interpretation from the University of Montreal. But, having said that, knowledge doesn’t really give ideas or inspiration. It’s more of a tool when it comes time to create structures. Dealing with numbers and chords and harmonies, you can potentially see clearer what might work in an accelerated fashion. As long as you have good ears, rhythm and musicality—it’s probably not necessary to know all of that, but it was a true personal curiosity for me to go deeper into that.
On the compositional side, how much did you guys go into this album with a vision for the composition? How much freedom did you have in the room?
I had all the freedom I wanted. Carte-de-blanche, so to speak. It’s been 10 years that I’ve been in the band, and this is my third composition project with Voivod. At this point, the guys trust me. Most of the time in metal bands the ideas originate with the guitar parts, but with Voivod everyone is involved in the process. Usually Rocky and me, or sometimes a specific drum part or vocal line—we would work around the ideas and just jam around them. That slowly becomes the shape of a composition that we all feed like a being. We treat it with respect by communicating together. It was a very, very easy-going process for all of us because there is no ego that gets in the way here. As long as you have an idea in your head, it’s your idea, but once you share that with the band it becomes everybody’s idea to shape and create. You just have to continue to feed the idea like it’s alive. That’s really how we see the process, how we’re led to make it better. It was a very good sharing / teamwork experience. More of a journey, really. It was as exciting putting it out as it was recording. It’s almost depressing when it’s over, because now we have to get out there and play the music. If we just stand around, we will just make another one.
Ten years! Does being a part of the band sound “normal” to you at this point? Are they still your favorite band?
I wonder if “normal’ can apply here? Playing in my favorite band is just… Wow. I wish Piggy was here and I was out there in the crowd just watching the band, but life is what it is. I am thankful and grateful to pay tribute to him at every show or album that Voivod is a part of. It’s a great way for me to give back to what I inherited from this great band that is so rich in original music and concepts. Such a unique sound that, for me, it’s just a dream come true in a way, and I’m honored to be able to pay tribute to the band and write music with legends who were once my mentors and teachers. Now I feel like I’m definitely part of the band, which goes to say how accepting they were of me and how willing they were to give me the time and space to be myself.
What do you guys hope the fans will take away from this album? As you said, the sound is quite original, so I’m wondering how you hope fans perceive it.
What I liked about Voivod when I wasn’t in the band, I was always thinking, “What are they going to do next? What’s going to happen,” whenever they were about to release something new. It was always a surprise. Their albums changed over time, and each album had its own point in space and time. Each record was influenced by what’s happening not only around the earth, but also in each member’s personal lives. I think that was always the kind of band that I wanted to be part of. So much originality that is constantly evolving, improving and pushing and experimenting into new ideas and territory—that’s what I wanted. Some albums like Angel Rat were popular in other areas like Eastern Europe and Greece, but not so much in America, maybe because of the grunge years? While other albums are just classic elsewhere. It’s pretty fascinating because once you get into Voivod, from any door, you also discover an entire universe of other doors that you can enjoy and discover one by one. So, by the 11th album you might not even notice that it’s the same band.
The new album is a little bit like that—our attempt to create our own universe, the four of us. It came after the experience of our EP where we learned how to work together, with the same studio engineer, who was part of the process as well. We really found a way to work together in such a respectful way. I wrote a lot of stuff on the album, but we all worked together. Rocky brought his stuff and sometimes Snake would record something on his phone, just an idea, and we would all work around it. Of course there’s going to be a new sound because there’s new people in the band. But it became Voivod. It always becomes a Voivod song, especially when Snake is singing. Or sometimes Away will start playing a groove that nobody expected and it’s out of nowhere and suddenly you have to rethink everything. It’s them—that’s what makes it a Voivod song at the end of the day.
You’re headed out on a European tour after some dates in Canada. And I see you have plans for a pretty extensive World tour heading into 2019. You have any fears about getting into America under our new regime?
Yeah, the tour is extensive. You know, we wanted to see the earth before it’s gone. We’ve played America under all sorts of regimes and after events and such. We also played other countries with tensions. In fact, we played France ten days after the attack at the Bataclan Theater. We played Chile right after a big, big earthquake. We really don’t think about it anymore, because if you think about it, then it becomes overwhelming and you just stay home and quit. So, we just do what we do. People are people no matter where you are. Metal fans, particularly, are the same. We meet with people, not governments, politicians, countries or states. We’re looking forward to seeing our friends.
Our sincere thanks to Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain for taking time out of his busy Voivod schedule to answer our questions. The Wake is available NOW through Century Media Records via fine record stores (visit record stores, everyone!) and through various online distributors. Buy it! Listen to it! Love it!