A notice to neophytes who still believe the metal community is composed of the Devil’s children: Voivod’s Michel Langevin is the total anathema to your misconception. First, because he can boast one the most impressive scorecards among his very few peers, and second, because he has the uncanny ability to keep cool in basically any situation. Even when he says stuff like “we’re considered living legends when we play metal festivals,” one can only agree and find him even more endearing.
With more than 35 years (!) behind the hi-hat, and playing as fast as ever after thousands of concerts all over the globe – not to mention their incredibly easygoing demeanour and mind-blowing humility – Langevin’s Voivod is resolutely in a class of its own.
Let’s take a look back on those three decades.
On the Importance of Themes
“I often wonder why so many kids are still into thrash metal,” says Langevin. “I think it’s because the themes are still relevant to this day: the nuclear threat is still real, environmental issues are as pressing as ever… Everything is worse than when we started.” Dystopia might be a part of the equation, but the glue remains the mutual energy-sharing the band experiences with its audience. “The fans’ loyalty is what keeps me going,” says Langevin. “I always feel like they deserve a new album from us.” And the fans are always there when it comes out. And so, the cycle continues.
Artistically, “Away” – Langevin’s alias – is powered by a deep-seated desire to always surpass what he’s done before. And, according to him, it’s especially true with the band’s latest lineup, which includes Denis “Snake” Bélanger on vocals – the only other original member of the band, back since 2002, after a 12-year hiatus – Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain on guitar since 2008, and Dominique “Rocky” Laroche on bass since 2014.
Whereas personnel changes can sometimes be seen as detrimental, Langevin prefers to see them as an opportunity for renewal. “Whenever the band’s lineup changes, I play differently,” he says. “With Newsted (the ex-Metallica bassist who joined Voivod from 2002 to 2008), we sounded more like Black Sabbath. With Eric Forest (1994–2001), we sounded more like Sepultura. With Blacky (Jean-Yves Thériault, 1982–1991, 2008–2014), whose playing is quite punk, we sounded more like Motörhead. Each time, I need to adapt, and I like that. Today, I’d say we sound very progressive, almost jazz-metal.”
“I can’t pretend I know for sure I’ll still be playing a double bass drum for five or six minutes, five years from now. But for the time being, we’re still able to do 30-date tours over a short period of time without losing it!” – Michel Langevin of Voivod
His Own Man
Langevin is the only remaining original member since 1982, through all those personnel changes. But why? “I’ve wondered more than once whether I should stay,” he says. “What allowed us such longevity is Europe, which still has its metal venues and festivals circuit? Our audience there is incredibly loyal and consistent. Over here, metal’s popularity ebbs and flows, over there it’s constant. We play festivals alongside Scorpions, Testament, Sepultura, Megadeth, Exodus, etc. Basically all the same artists as 30 years ago. We’ve become a classic thrash metal band, and that’s cool!”
And at 54, the man does not seem even close to giving up the drums. “I can’t pretend I know for sure I’ll still be playing a double bass drum for five or six minutes, five years from now,” says Langevin. “But for the time being, we’re still able to do 30-date tours over a short period of time without losing it!”
Voivod have maintained the pace, but still had to largely give up the “live fast, die young” attitude of the early days. “When I was in my mid-thirties, I realized I really had to cut back on the partying if I hoped to still be playing drums 20 years later,” says Langevin. “It was essential. [Whitesnake drummer] Tommy Aldridge and a few others are models, in that regard.”
So, 35 years later, does he still worry about critics? “Yes, no doubt,” says Langevin. “At this point in our career, all we can do is write the music we want to play. It would be ridiculous to try and re-invent ourselves. All we want is to play good Voivod music. We question ourselves after the recording sessions, and when the critics are positive, we feel validated. I take them with a lot of humility. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to do what we’ve been doing for so long, and to still be able to release new material. I’ll never take that for granted.”
So what’s the key to such a long and successful career? In this case, the answer is obvious: arms of steel and exceptional clear-headedness.
Voivod will share the stage with Metallica at the Festival d’été de Québec on July 14, 2017.