How Shoelaces Helped Voivod Make The Syncho Anarchy Album

Band Photo - VoivodQuébec progressive sci-fi metal innovators VOIVOD released their newest studio album “Synchro Anarchy” this month. It’s a nine-track monster that proves a worthy sequel to their high successful Juno Award winning album The Wake.

Recorded mostly under pandemic restrictions, Synchro Anarchy shows the band developing their production skills beyond any previously released records.

The latest single and video is the title track, which was based on an incident involving drummer Michel “Away” Langevin’s shoelaces.

A deluxe version of the album includes a full 11-song concert at the Festival Jonquière En Musique from June 29th, 2018. It was the band’s 35th anniversary hometown appearance.
After more than four years, VOIVOD fans finally have some new music and a potential string of concert dates later in the year.

We spoke with “Away” to catch up.

You have a new album that came out on February 11. It’s your 15th studio album. What does Synchro Anarchy bring to the table that’s new?

Well, it’s sort of a really, it’s a continuation of where we were heading for with The Wake, the last album. It’s more of a fusion metal direction these days, but there’s a lot of thrash metal involved as well. Lately, we’ve been back to progressive rock mode – there’s a lot of that, but there are the usual couple of punk metal songs as well. It’s pure VOIVOD really. It’s just the way we had to make it happen that was different because of the pandemic.
Right, everybody was kind of separated.

Early in the process we had to build the album while socially distancing. It was a bit of a challenge, but we found a formula sharing files online. I programmed the drums for the demos and eventually we were able to go to record studio where we’ve been recording since the Post Society EP and do the real thing. For most part we didn’t have much rehearsals, we were writing and arranging while recording. It was a very intense process. Also, in June of 2021 when we got into the studio, it was also when the festivals started to happen again in the province of Quebec. We were playing during the weekend and recording during the week. It was a quite an experience. I think you can hear that urgency on the album.

Absolutely. It also sounds very bright and refined, like you guys have figured out how to use the best of modern technology.

Yes, definitely. I think we are aiming for something with Francis, who owns the record studio, and we are fine tuning it over. We’re really reaching something interesting where the sound is crisp and you can hear everybody really good. I think individually, we sound great on this album – and also, I used the big Gretsch drum kit that Jason Newsted gave me about 20 years ago when he was in the band. It’s really massive and it was a good choice to use on this album.

You mentioned Francis Perron. Unlike The Wake, you guys produced the album “with” Francis, rather than Francis by himself. Was there a reason for that?

We’ve always produced the albums ourselves and Francis has been the engineer on the last two albums and the EP before that. He’s such a part of the team and he’s an old fan of VOIVOD and a longtime friend of Rocky and Chewy. He really understands the world of VOIVOD. We’ve been lucky for the few videos we’ve been releasing the last few years, because they were also made by fans who really understand the world and aesthetic of VOIVOD. We have something great going.

Oh, that’s fantastic. Ever since Phobos in 1997, the breaks between the albums are longer. There’s four years between this one and The Wake. The Wake was five years between that and Target Earth. Why such the long breaks?

There always there seem to be obstacles all the time between albums, but we overcome it. The good thing is with when lockdown hit us in, it was in mid-March 2020, and that’s where we decided to use the technology to move forward and keep going. The formula we found, I think, will really help to make the next releases happen quicker and with less distance between them.

The label must have been excited that there’s new music after four years. Was there any pressure from the label to make the album quicker?

We were actually hoping to release the album last year, but it was almost impossible, because we were moving slowly because of the confinement. Also, we were doing online shows where we would revisit classic albums. This was a lot of work. We couldn’t really work on the new material while working on these, what we call, Hypercube Sessions. The fact that we did revisit these albums, influenced the new material and also helped us to find a good, raw sound for the new album.

We were slowed down on the process, but when we got into the studio in June of 2021, we had the pressure of the delivering The Masters at the end of September and early October with all the artwork. This was where it got really intense, because we were not 100% prepared and tried to make things happen in the studio when we didn’t really have the opportunity to meet up at the rehearsal space. Luckily, we were able to work super hard and we delivered The Masters on time. After such an intense period of hard work, it was really hard to take a step back and judge what we had done.

We had put the pressure on our shoulders to make sure that it will be as good as The Wake, if not better. That was our main goal. I know that Chewy wanted it to be a bit more thrash metal, so I put a lot of double kick drums on it. We just released the third single a couple of hours ago and it has a great reaction online.

Once again, you did the artwork for the album. What inspired this?

Voivod_-_Syncho_AnarchyThe music, the lyrics. Since we were playing during the weekend and recording during the week, we did many, many sessions during summer of last year. Every time I would draw something it would be black and white – I wanted it to look like a bit of like old engravings, so I did it black and white. I had many different drawings, one for every song at the end of the whole session and every drawing was like my representation of the music and the lyrics, but in an abstract way.

At the end of the process, I had to make the front cover and thought that maybe if I would put a lot of colors on it, it would clash with the design of the booklet – even the band photo is in black and white. I decided to go for the black and white.

There’s also a two CD version of the album with a live show from 2018. Why did you choose that show in particular?

Because it was a very important show for us. It was in our hometown, Jonquiere, where VOIVOD grew up and 35 years after the very first show at the exact same spot. We decided to document it. We also filmed it. It was meant to be used in the upcoming documentary, but we decided to also release the audio.

Was it kind of overwhelming to be standing in the same spot you were 35 years earlier?

Oh, yeah. There were tons of people coming to see us. It was truly amazing.

There have been a couple advanced songs. Let’s talk about those. Tell me about Planet Eater.

At the end of the recordings when we were trying to figure out what the first single would be, this song sort of crept up the list by surprise, where it became everybody’s favorite song. It sort of represents the whole album in a way in just one song. It was early last year when video popped online. It was a fan video from 30 years ago, made at school on an Amiga computer. Having worked with Commodore Amiga in the 80s and early 90s, I know how hard it was to achieve anything back then. I could tell the guy had a special talent. It was so Voivodian. Also, the technique was just amazing – it’s just that he found a copy of the video 30 years later. And so, it was the first-time last year that everybody saw that video.

I contacted Pierre immediately to see if he could do the video for the first single and I supplied him our archive for the album. He started to ask me for specific artwork, like spaceships and factories, so I basically supplied black and white art from 1983 to 2021. He integrated the whole thing in such a spectacular way. I had no doubt that the result would be amazing because of his talent.

How about Paranormalium? This one sounds like one of the heaviest songs you’ve made this time.

Yeah, it’s one of the heavy songs of the album. It’s funny because the progression of chords opening the track is the same progression as the end of The Wake. I don’t know how far Chewie planned it ahead, but it made sense that we would put the song as the opener. It is quite heavy. There are a few heavy tracks on this album. It might be a bit heavier than The Wake the album, and a bit darker as well.

It’s very much like a continuation of The Wake album.

I would say so and it was not necessarily intended to be. We just went in and made the album really quickly, but so far, people who heard the album told me is a perfect continuation of The Wake.

There’s also Synchro Anarchy. The video just came out. Tell me about that song.

It’s a funny a chain of events. At the end of 2019, at the end of The Wake tour, we came back home and took a bit of a break for the holidays. In early 2020, we got together again at our studio to improvise and jam some ideas. At one of these rehearsals after we finished, I was untying my running shoes, and then I had a flash. I thought, “Oh, if I do a rhythm and I skipped a beat every bar, it’d be interesting.” And then as I stood up, I said, “I have an idea.” I walked towards the drums, I stepped on one of my shoelaces and I tripped, almost fell on the drum kit.

It was funny because my idea was to skip the beat and I skipped the step and all that. Anyhow, I played the beat and Chewie recorded it. He named it “Away’s Shoelace Incident” and he built a song around it. Snake was writing the lyrics and he had shortened the title to Shoelace. The whole event made him think of those weird timings in life when you would stop to tie your shoe and a car would whizz by, and one second later, it’d be over. All these strange things like that.

I noticed in the lyrics he had written Synchro Anarchy, and I told him, “This would be a great title for the song, instead of “Shoelace,” and he agreed. Later, when we finished everything for the album, we thought it’d be a great title for the album because of the atmosphere of the planet we are living on right now. Also, the way we had to build the whole thing out of snippets of ideas and songs was like Synchro Anarchy.

I’m going to have to go back and listen to the song thinking of you tripping over your shoelace.

It’s funny, because you’ll notice that, every bar, it seems like I’m tripping.

The video is pretty slick. Tell me about filming that one.

Oh, it’s great. Syl Disjonk, who did this video, also did “Kluskap O’ Kom” for the album Target Earth and “The End of Dormancy” for the EP in 2020. Syl makes sci fi horror movies and he really, really knows the VOIVOD world. And sometimes I can feel and vibe of the 80s videos we were doing back then in his aesthetic.

He found a great place, a metal shop where we could film, and also an abandoned factory where he could film with a drone. He had, by chance, came upon a very big metal sculpture that’s totally Voivodian. That was a great a great experience for sure. These days, it’s always good to be able to meet up in one room and do anything. We are here in the province of Quebec, back and forth into confinement. We did this one in the nick of time before Omicron hit and then we’re back to curfew and everything. We seem to be able to move between the cracks.

It’s almost the 40th year for VOIVOD. What keeps the band going?

The chemistry right now in the band is really fantastic, and so, we will try to record new material and make it available as much as we can. Just for me, working on VOIVOD all the time really keeps me going. Last year, I worked on many reissues that are going to come out this year. The MCA catalog on vinyl and the Noise catalog on vinyl in a box set. We also worked a lot on the movie. We are connected by Felipe Belalcazar who did Death by Metal about the band Death. He’s finishing up the documentary about VOIVOD. He still has a few interviews to do with Jason Newsted and more people. The most of it is done, and we still have a couple of things to work on before it’s finished, but we really hope to release it this year.

Snake joined the band in January 1983, so we consider next year to be the 40th anniversary. There will be a book about VOIVOD coming out and next year is also the 20th anniversary of the album we did with Jason Newsted. We want to re-release it on vinyl and CD next year.

This also marks 40 years of you drumming the songs and the new album shows no sign of slowing down. Does it get harder now after all these years?

When we had to revisit the Dimension Hatröss album and the Nothingface album last year online, I realized that these are albums the pacing is very fast. I really miss running because it’s a great exercise, and not only that, it’s great to evacuate the stress of life. I’ve always been afraid, let’s say, of a nuclear confrontation and all that and since it’s been back to the frontline lately, it started to stress me again.

I really miss drumming on a real kit. I don’t have the setup at home. In the summer, In Quebec we have this bicycle rental system that you can borrow at one station and put it back in another station, so I’ve been doing a lot of that. But in the winter, it’s harder to get some exercise. I live in Montreal by the St. Lawrence River and the walk there is super beautiful. At least I have that.

We spoke with Shannon from Godsmack, who told us he really enjoyed the slower sound of the band as he got older. Do you approach the drums differently now than you might have back in 1982?

Actually, every time we had a new lineup, I adapt my style a bit to the overall style – and so, I’ve changed my style of drums, but I keep my thrash metal roots. I grew up as a teenager with hard rock, punk and progressive rock and there’s a lot of that in what I do. Over the years, I added post punk and I’ve been involved with this since the end of the 80s with the Avant Garde scene, where there’s a lot of improvisation involved. It has helped me a lot to expand my style of drumming.

These days we jumped into this fusion metal thing and that’s quite challenging. I love it, because I also grew up with Terry Bozzio and Frank Zappa and I feel at ease with it. But when Jason Newsted was here it was more of a stoner metal approach – more of a Black Sabbath style. It’s a thrill because it helps me to be more creative over the years.

We also recently spoke with one of your friends, Ivan from Men Without Hats as well. Tell me about how you got involved in the Sideways album.

We had a mutual friend, John Kasner, from the Doughboys. And the three of us started to hang out together and get into trouble. Eventually, Ivan asked me to drum on the album Sideways. I also did the Canadian Tour with them and that was so fun, because we were playing fairs with rides. We had we had access to free rides and you can imagine what we did. I spent the whole tour going crazy on the rides. Those were fun times. Ivan is great to have as a friend. We’re still in touch. He’s helping me with my art publications as a proof reader. Also, at the same time he released Sideways with Men Without Hats, he also played organ on the album Angel Rat for VOIVOD.

Finally, in 2019, you guys picked up a Juno for Heavy Metal Album of the Year. What do you think made The Wake of all the albums, the one that won you the Juno?

This album was such a surprise in a way. We really went all out and made it intricate. As soon as the album came out, there was a big buzz on that whole tour until we finished with GWAR in 2019 in Europe. We went around the world a couple of times and we were thrilled. Then we won this Juno. It gave us confidence that we were heading down the right path with this jazzy metal thing. I think it’s great. But the Juno did create pressure for us to do a great album for the new one.

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