This is a big year for The Middle Coast.

Not just because they finally put out their debut album, The Making of: The Middle Coast, after years of hard work, but because the band’s last underage member, Roman Clarke, turned 21 in May. “It marked the official end of worrying about being kicked out of the bar before getting onstage,” says singer/guitarist Dylan MacDonald.

That, of course, hasn’t stopped the Manitoba indie-rock trio from playing as many shows across North America as possible over the past few years. MacDonald explains, “We’ve always been relentless about trying to play as much as we can… We’d book ourselves into any terrible – or nice – bar we could, and any small-town event we could find on the internet, or by calling the town office, simply so that we could get better at our craft.”

“We’re really curious and excited to figure out what we’re going to sound like.” – Liam Duncan of The Middle Coast

That determination to improve and grow extends beyond shows. The band is also known for recording every set they play, and reviewing them afterwards. It’s a dedicated work ethic that has led them to some notable breakthroughs, including an opening slot on tour for Calgary singer-songwriter Michael Bernard Fitzgerald. And when they weren’t opening for him, they were also performing as his backing band.

There’s still a ways to go for the Middle Coast, though. While they’ve successfully released their first full-length album, the band admits that they’re still working on refining their sound, which may or may not veer away from their self-described “yacht-rock” label. With new demos in the works, keyboardist Liam Duncan says some songs lean further into that ‘70s sound, but some sound nothing like it.

Either way, Duncan says one thing is clear: “We’re really curious and excited to figure out what we’re going to sound like.” Just another task for these diligent musicians.

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

Voivod“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

Voivod Logo PatchLangevin 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. 

RymzRymz rarely has any downtime, lately. On top of his ongoing tour of Québec and his job as an educator in a children’s group home, the 28-year-old rapper is working on his third album.

When we meet the Montrealer at home on his only day off of the week, we expect to find him chilling on the couch, relaxing before leaving for Woodstock en Beauce for the weekend. Lo and behold, he’s hands-deep in paint, directing a major worksite alongside his roommates. “I’m not someone who likes being idle,” he says, smiling, after putting his paint brush down. “It’s always been that way.”

Ever since he launched Petit prince in the spring of 2016, time hasn’t stopped flying by. Already well established in the Québec rap scene, Rymz has become one of its most notable ambassadors over the past few months. This second solo album went well beyond his own expectations, and attracted a lot of attention from the media and festival programmers, notably M for Montréal, the FrancoFolies and Festival d’été de Québec. “People kinda discovered me,” he observes, not knowing to exactly what this success might be attributed.

It certainly isn’t because he’s toned down his music, or suddenly gone somewhat pop. Although Petit prince has a resolutely more modern musical backdrop than the rest of his catalogue – thanks to the collective contributions of producers Gary Wide, Shash’U, Farfadet, NeoMaestro, and Ruffsound – it still features the same carefree and vulnerable Rymz who’s always more than willing to succumb to his vices, burdensome though they may be.

“I told myself than before long, all that would be left of me would be my songs. I was convinced I was going to die at 27…”

At the core of his preferred themes, a good-versus-evil duality is highlighted by a score of contradictions. “Some fans try to corner me by asking me, for example, why I say I want a ton of cash on one song, and on the next I say money is the root of all evil,” says Rymz. “I simply tell them that my lyrics don’t pretend to have answers, they just raise questions. And it’s typical of who I am. I’m filled with contradictions: I work with children during the day, and at night I’m on stage and doing shots. I’ve got a lot of love to give, but also a lot of violence to get out…  It’s actually quite surprising that I turned out OK.”

Born in Saint-Hyacinthe (a town of about 56,000 people, an hour’s drive east of Montréal), Rymz had a troubled youth. Now well behind him, that era of delinquency has, to this day, left deep marks on his personal life, and his music. “Toi, t’as regardé La Haine, moi j’ai grandi avec,” he raps on “Ma Zone,” from his latest album. (La Haine is a classic movie in the realm of French hip-hop, its title literally meaning “the hatred,” hence the word play that translates freely as “You watched The Hatred, I grew up with it”.)

His whole output with Mauvais Acte, a duo he co-founded in the mid-2000s with his fellow rapper O-Lit, bears witness to a troubled era, where his outlook on the world was much more fatalistic. “I was very productive during that period, because in my mind I was recording a posthumous album,” says Rymz. “I told myself than before long, all that would be left of me would be my songs. I was convinced I was going to die at 27…

“It truly is my career path that changed me,” he says. “The further I progressed in my studies, the less attracted I was to playing the fool. In hindsight, I can see that not a single larceny I’ve committed brought me as much as the well-paid work I’ve done for kids.”

With that career well underway, music now becomes an essential outlet for the rapper, who’s signed with Joyride Records. However, the newfound interest in his work also comes with a certain level of nervousness. “There’s a lot of pressure right now. It’s exhausting,” says Rymz, talking about the creation of his third album, the release of which is planned for later this year. “I’m apprehensive of people’s reactions, even though I don’t think about that when I’m writing.”

Far from aiming for a “mature album,” Rymz still says it will be a less melancholy and less aggressive album. “It’ll be an album to chill to, and turn up while smoking huge spliffs,” he adds. “You’ll get that my life is much better now just by listening to it. Themes such as travelling and escapism are also recurrent. It’s as if, now that I’ve made it past 27, I’m trying to figure out what the future holds for me.”