Five Questions With… Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain of Voivod
The Quebec prog-metal heroes deliver new album The Wake soon. In this interview, their guitarist reflects upon that record, their commitment to change, and the continued inspiration of late member Piggy.
By Jason Schneider
Canada’s prog-metal gods Voivod return with a new album entitled The Wake on Sept. 21 (via Century Media Records), the fruits of two years’ efforts to keep expanding their universe.
The new album, like its predecessors 2013’s Target Earth and the 2016 mini-album Post Society, was recorded and mixed by Francis Perron at RadicArt Recording Studio, and as always features original artwork by drummer Michel “Away” Langevin.
The Wake—contrary to what its title might suggest—finds Voivod firmly looking into the future as it celebrates its 35th anniversary as a band. Formed in Jonquiere, Quebec, Voivod’s unique approach immediately made them Canada’s flag bearers for the emerging global thrash metal scene, and over the years their influence on generations of bands, as well the Seattle grunge scene, has been well documented.
Their dedication is a testament to the relationship between founding members Langevin and vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger, who have persevered through several major line-up changes, not the least of which was the death of guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour from cancer in 2005.
But with new guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain now firmly helping to further Voivod’s vision, the band remains as vital as ever. Mongrain spoke with us as Voivod was set to kick off an extensive autumn European tour in support of The Wake. For more info go to voivod.com.
How does The Wake stand apart from the band’s previous work?
To me, every Voivod album is different in its approach, and The Wake stays true to that philosophy. Of course, line-up changes affect the chemistry of a band. The previous EP, Post Society, helped us forge a new way of writing together; we naturally established everybody’s role in the composition, and that made it easy when it came to writing the songs for The Wake. I would say that [bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche] and I brought a new feel to the sound of the band. I was more confident in trying to put my personality into the music without straying too far from the essence of Voivod. I think we all inspired each other and it became a collective wave travelling through space and time. Voivod is alive and always moving.
What songs on the album are you particularly proud of, and why?
I’m very proud of the last track “Sonic Mycelium.” I came up with the idea of connecting all the songs into the last song, and it was the last one we worked on for the album. I was also busy with my other work as a freelancer in TV and teaching at a music college, so I had two days to put together all the parts for what became a 12-minute track. I recorded a demo with bass and guitar and a click track, and I managed to include all the main riffs of every song chronologically into a whole piece, along with some new elements. Then Snake had to figure out how to make sense of it and did a fantastic job. Away had already finished all of his drum parts, so he was just waiting to do this last one. He’s a one-taker, and I’m always amazed by that.
But when we were listening to a playback I thought, “I hear strings at the end…” There was no more time, but I couldn’t help it. So I took a pencil and started to write a three-minute arrangement for a string quartet. I hadn’t written for strings since my university studies in jazz, but this motivated me to get back into it. I think we accomplished something special with this song—the fade at the end is elevating, there is hope and light, and it’s entirely in sync with the lyrics and the album’s overall concept.
The band has been together now for over 30 years and survived many challenges. What inspires you to keep pushing Voivod in new directions?
Yeah 35 this year, and it’s my tenth year this year as well. Time flies! Away and Snake are such a huge inspiration for me; they have been through a lot and are very resilient. I think musicians or any artists never really stop until their mental and/or physical abilities give out. Voivod is a vehicle for creativity, a medium to express ideas through poetry and intricate metal, psychedelia and pure intensity. It’s addictive and gives a great feeling of accomplishment. Plus we can honour Piggy every night on tour and make his legacy shine through new music directly influenced by his genius. As long as the guys want to go forward, I’ll be a part of it.
As music continues to rely less and less on the guitar, metal continues to be as popular as ever. Where do you see things going for metal in the future?
A guitar is just a medium, and it has a sound that no synth can imitate, so I’m not worried about its future. Metal is a genre that I think thrives on transformation. From the late ‘60s to 2018, so many sub-genres have appeared that it’s confusing even for us! I think when it comes to metal, there are no limitations. As music and technology evolve, the good stuff will survive and least for a while… but 35 years from now? We’ll see.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
I used to sing a lot in front of my family when I was a kid. I always needed to express myself through music and act out to get attention. But my first public performance as a musician was a piano recital when I was around eight years old. I remember I had a more eager-nervous feel than an anxious-nervous feel. I learned the pieces by ear, copying my teacher as she played them, and let her believe that I actually could read the music. I improvised my way through the recital and probably acted a little bit silly walking on and off the stage!