On August 26, 2005, the metal world lost one of its legends in guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour. Vowing to carry out one of his last requests to have the band’s final works heard, the surviving members of VOIVOD got to work in the studio and finished the powerful new album, Katorz. APESHIT met up with Denis “Snake” Belanger, Michel “Away” Langevin, and Jason “Jasonic” Newsted hours before their record release party in Hollywood to learn more about Piggy’s amazing talents as one of the greatest talents in metal history.
APESHIT: Katorz is an amazingly complete and finished product. One would think “what’s the excuse of other bands that can’t get it together where you guys have done it under these kinds of circumstances.”
Jason: That’s pretty much that. It tells the power and resiliency of VOIVOD throughout all the years, everything that they’ve been through. There’s not very many bands, let alone in heavy music, that have been making heavy music as relevant for like 23 years that VOIVOD has been recording music for the people. So there just aren’t very many bands that are doing this with this type of mentality and still enjoy hanging out with each other and all that kind of stuff. And to overcome the hurdles that we’ve overcome to make it sound good enough for you to be able to play it over and over again. You’d be able to see right through it if it wasn’t worthy. Music always does the talking the best. It always speaks for itself no matter what. And your question is great. Why the fuck can’t everyone else get it together to be able to do that these days?
APESHIT: From what I understand, you guys wrote this album during jam sessions after you finished Ozzfest.
Jason: Yeah. Some of it and some of it was absolutely Piggy’s.
Away: Actually, it was all pulled from CDs that you [Jason] sent me when we did improvisation when we rehearsed for the SEPULTURA tour. And Ozzfest”¦we did some jam sessions. Then you [Jason] sent those CDs to me and I gave them to Piggy. We also did a couple of sessions at the jam space in Montreal.
APESHIT: Can you guys explain how you guys took the guitar parts and the bass parts into the studio and recorded the album”¦the whole process?
Away: Actually, we have to give props to Glen Robinson for doing such a great job. Piggy had warned me that we might have to re-amplify the whole thing. Jason had warned me that he had played the bass tracks on his porch with a small amp. So I was a bit afraid but when I heard the tracks, they were recorded at the perfect volume, not too low, not too in the red. The delivery was good. And there was something we could do about it so Glen Robinson put everything back through an amplifier. And I had that amplified sound in my headphones, which was a bit weird because I usually see Piggy across the window, the glass window, when I’m doing my tracks. He’s usually doing scratch tracks or the real tracks. So this time around it was only the producer and I in a big studio. It felt kind of empty. We ended up setting up a big VOIVOD logo and big poster of Piggy with his guitars so felt a bit of his presence. Next time, we’re going to do that right off the bat. Last time, we waited a couple of days but it worked very good.
APESHIT: How challenging and stressful was it to put the album together in the studio? Was it pretty easy to do or did you guys get pretty depressed at times?
Snake: It was certainly part of the healing process, getting back in the studio. Me and Michel, we did our tracks set up in different studios but it was emotionally and technically hard”¦technically, because it was quite hard for Michel [Away] to redo his tracks on an existing guitar. It had to be tight and waving kind of situation. But emotionally too, not having Piggy in the room was hard but we got some artifacts in the room”¦like his guitars, posters, and picture, and the big VOIVOD logo in the back like in the good old days. We had to go through that type of thing to move on.
Jason: Piggy was the most protective of the music. It was the seeds of VOIVOD, like 200 songs or so far that you’ve heard have been his seeds. He was the one that was in the studio from the beginning to the end. He already heard in his head what the final product was going to be as we were beginning the process. So he had this kind of gift, some magician type of thing, where he knew what was going to happen. So he was always very much in control, and it was important for him to be in control of the record. So that was actually the only time that I clashed with him when he would just be like, “Dude, c’mon! No! Wrong! Get it right!”
I was like, “Dude that is the first time that I ever played that shit!” [laughs].
Say something on the third time I play it and make a mistake. Then you can bitch at me, not the first time. And these songs are not like, “boom, chick, boom, chick.” This is some crazy shit OK? Five or six key signatures in a five-minute song is fucked up. So he was used to people being able to do that so that’s where his brain’s at. You should be able to keep up with him if you’re going to be with him. That was always a learning experience with Piggy with that kind of stuff.
Away: The only time we saw him getting defensive or pissed off is asking him to change a bridge or something.
Jason: It’s like, “Can I hit your kid?”
“Let me think about that”¦I’ll break your fuckin’ neck.” [Laughs]
APESHIT: From what I understand, when the band was starting out, he was the most accomplished musician in the band and he would teach you guys things.
Jason: He still was the whole time even for the short time that I’ve been in the band.
[Points to Away] You know that he’s not from here right? [laughs all around].
Snake: He was sent here.
Jason. He was sent here from somewhere else. Piggy’s real developed with music theory and that kind of thing and Michel is easily as good as Piggy as far as that goes.
Away: I always try to catch up with him.
Jason: Same here.
Away: I feel that around the time of Dimension Hatross I might have become close to his level. But he was always good. He started when he was 9, got bored with [normal] chords immediately. At 12, he was like creating chords and after he created all the chords he could, he started fooling around with tuning. And then he started opening his ear to reach for new sounds and always, always searching.
Snake: He was always trying to find out what’s going on with Guitar World. He had all these magazines.
“Oh! He did that like that! Plug this into that. You might have a better sound.”
He was trying different patterns in the process of plugging in his equipment and he was already a legend where we come from. I was in high school when I heard “Denis D’Amour” was like “the god of guitar.” And I was like 16 years old. The word was that we gotta see this guy play and he’s out there, you know. A few years later, I was the singer. [Laughs]
Away: The legend was that you could go to his place, his parents’ place, and they’d take you to his room. And you could ask him to play anything”¦YES, EMERSON, LAKE, AND PALMER”¦
Away: ALICE COOPER, TED NUGENT”¦anything hard rock, anything progressive rock. If there were no guitar parts on the album, he would play the organ parts. That’s how he told me that’s how he found most of his weird chords”¦translating bands like EGG, EMERSON, LAKE, AND PALMER on guitar. We did that”¦we went to his place and knocked on the door.
“Is that you that?”
“Yeah, come with me.”
“Play ”˜Rush in the Sphere.’” [Makes guitar noodling sound.]
“Play ”˜Gentle Giant.’” [Makes guitar noodling sound.]
He had this turntable, this little speaker, this little amp”¦you know, [he was] jumping around in his room.
Snake: He was doing his own show. He would invite people into his room and give [a concert].
Away: So he was already a legend. And also he was 4 or 5 years older than we were so that’s why I said that it took 4-5 years before I caught up.
Jason: Those years are really important. He’s 15 or 14, those years are really important. It doesn’t matter so much when you get up but it’s a big deal right there.
APESHIT: One thing that stands out about the new album is that all four of you guys are accomplished musicians, but you guys never show off your individual musical talents and concentrate on the song and what’s important for the album.
Jason: It’s about the unit sound. The sound of the band, not the sound of Snake, [it’s] the sound of VOIVOD.
Away: We also learned to take the egos aside in the sense that if your part clashes with the other part. When you start the band, it’s like well you’re not playing the same thing with five starts. But now, we went through so many of these experiences that it’s easier for us to change the parts so to mold it so it sounds really solid.
Jason: It’s what works for the band.
Snake: It’s for the benefit for the song itself. When we record a song, sometimes I was asking Piggy, “Why do you put the verse here? Why do you put the chorus here? Why do you start with the chorus and then the verse and then switch it over and then weird part here whatever?”
Jason: His mission was always what part did what where. [Pointing to Snake] He would always think the opposite of what Piggy thought.
Snake: For years, I was like, “I’m sure that that’s the verse, you know.”
“Nope, that’s the chorus.” [Laughs]
“Let’s do it over again. I’m sorry Piggy.”
So it was like that. He has his own thing in his head. You had to go and cope with it.
Jason: That was the hard thing for him, not that he didn’t want to I don’t think. He just had a hard time hearing it [the song] any other way because it was so instilled in him. Like Michel said, he would hear it in his head before he actually played it, not like how when I go to write a song, you go write a song, you find those chords and go, “That kind of goes with that.” He would hear the shit going and then go, “Here’s how you do it. This is what I’m hearing.” It’s considerably different.
Away: He knew that if you put your hand like that [gesturing like he’s playing guitar], it’s going to sound like that. No fooling around.
Snake: The guitar was an extension.
Jason: An appendage.
Snake: It was like something that comes out [of him].
Away: When he was 9, his father asked him to choose between and bicycle and a guitar. And he picked the guitar and that was it.
APESHIT: That separates the guitar players who learn, practice, and get good and the ones who are just born with the ability.
Away: That’s true.
APESHIT: They don’t have to try super hard. It just comes naturally.
Snake: I don’t think he ever had guitar lessons.