Saturday, February 27, 2016

Permanent Youth: A Night in the Life of Michael Monroe

Photo by Joel Gausten

Sitting across from legendary Finnish singer Michael Monroe on his tour bus on a chilly winter night in Boston, I take a hard look at the former Hanoi Rocks frontman and wonder how in the world he's going to get through his set in a few short hours. While he offers wide smiles and displays an incredibly cordial demeanor throughout our conversation, it's hard to ignore that the guy is clearly struggling through (at the very least) a bad cold. Despite his illness, he's handling his interview commitment with aplomb. Wanting to give the guy a chance to rest, I cut our chat short and bid Michael farewell. He gives me a fist bump and another big smile as I head off the bus and cross my fingers that all will go well when it's time for the show to begin.

I shouldn't have worried. From the moment Monroe ran on stage to the last notes of the encore, the man performed at the highest possible level. From jumping on the bar and singing his heart out to wailing on his saxophone and harmonica, he gave the crowd a nonstop burst of energy that didn't give a second's hint that he was sick, let alone in his 50s. Nearly 37 years after his first live performance with Hanoi Rocks, Michael Monroe remains the quintessential entertainer.

Photo by Joel Gausten

Monroe is on the road these days in support of Blackout States, his tenth solo release and the follow-up to 2013's Horns and Halos. A stellar album from start to finish, the 13-song collection easily stands up to the best moments in his back catalogue. (Just listen to “Keep Your Eye On You,” “Good Old Bad Days,” “Permanent Youth” and “Walk Away.”) In addition to former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa (who's also played with The New York Dolls and Jetboy), Monroe's current solo band includes drummer Karl “Rockfist” Rosqvist (Danzig/Son Of Sam) and former New York Dolls/Company Of Wolves guitarist Steve Conte. After stints with Ginger Wildheart (The Wildhearts) and Dregen (Backyard Babies/The Hellacopters), the group recruited former Black Halos/Amen member Rich Jones on second guitar prior to recording the new album.

“It's not that often you see and hear a band like this,” says Monroe of his cohorts. “It's real authentic, honest, from the heart and with the right attitude. That's what real Rock 'n' Roll, to me, is about.”

Left to right: Sami Yaffa, Michael Monroe, Karl Rockfist, Rich Jones, Steve Conte (Photo by Ville Juurrikkala)

As frontman of Hanoi Rocks, Monroe was the voice on five of the greatest Rock records of the '80s. Armed with the bulletproof songwriting talents of guitarist Andy McCoy, the band released four albums in Europe (1981's Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks, 1982's Oriental Beat and Self Destruction Blues and 1983's Back to Mystery City) before landing a deal with CBS Records for 1984's Bob Ezrin-produced Two Steps from the Move. The band was on its way to an American breakthrough when a December '84 car accident took the life of drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley. (Razzle was riding in a car driven by Motley Crue singer Vince Neil, who was charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol. Neil later served a brief jail term and paid approximately $2 million in restitution to the two people in the vehicle he struck, who both suffered serious injuries. According to a September 21, 1985 story in the Los Angeles Times, Dingley's estate received $200,000.)

Devastated, Hanoi Rocks (minus a departed Yaffa) carried on for another six months with former Clash/future Black Sabbath drummer Terry Chimes stepping in before the group finally imploded in the summer of 1985. In 1990, Geffen Records – under the Uzi Suicide imprint created for longtime Hanoi Rocks fans Guns N' Roses – released the group's European catalog in America, introducing a new crop of fans to what could have been.

Two years after Hanoi Rocks' career was tragically cut short, Monroe issued his first solo album, Nights Are So Long. After five more solo releases (including 1989's still-awesome Not Fakin' It) and stints fronting the short-lived '90s bands Jerusalem Slim and Demolition 23 (which both featured Yaffa), Monroe did the unexpected and joined forces with McCoy and a revolving door of musicians (including The Electric Boys' Conny Bloom and Andy Christell) for a new version of Hanoi Rocks. This incarnation yielded three solid albums - 2002's Twelve Shots on the Rocks, 2005's Another Hostile Takeover and 2007's Street Poetry - before the band said goodbye for a second time.

“It came to a point where it wasn't fun anymore,” admits Monroe regarding Hanoi Rocks' 2009 breakup. “I would have never done a reunion where we had just done a one-off tour to make money. We just got to know each other again in a different, more meaningful way than before, and it was interesting to see what we could create together. If it had continued to be fun, I was ready to do that the rest of my life. But it just came to a point where it wasn't going forward anymore... We decided to put the band to its final rest with its integrity intact honorably, without any shit-slinging in the press or arguments or anything stupid like that. It was just time to call it a day; it was a good decision. I wanted to maintain Hanoi's integrity, like my own.”

With the band again a memory, Monroe set his sights on resuming his solo career. Yaffa, who had been unable to participate in the rebirth of Hanoi Rocks due to his involvement with the reformed New York Dolls, was the first to join the singer's new backing band. Now, decades after he first played with Yaffa in Hanoi Rocks, Monroe is thrilled to still have his longtime friend at his side.

“We're blood brothers; we were separated at birth,” he says. “He's been my best friend throughout the years; everything we do together always comes out good.”

Left to right: Sami Yaffa , Karl Rockfist and (in mid-jump) Michael Monroe (photo by Joel Gausten)

In an industry known for chewing up and spitting out even the most popular artists, Michael Monroe has outlived many of the bands he's influenced. With music careers getting shorter every day, his ability to deliver the goods year and year is proof that the real thing never fades away without a fight.

“Never compromise your integrity,” he says. “Always stay true to yourself and be honest and truthful. Don't take the easy way out to make a quick buck. Do it for the right reasons and always stay hungry. You should always try to strive for better, for greatness – which you never achieve, really, but you can always get better at what you do. What keeps me hungry and keeps me trying is knowing that I can always improve.”

Photo by Joel Gausten

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

From Sabbath to Headspace: Inside Adam Wakeman's Musical Journey

Adam Wakeman (photo courtesy of Inside Out Music) 

Currently serving as the offstage tour keyboardist/rhythm guitarist for Black Sabbath (a position he has held since 2004), British musician Adam Wakeman has performed and/or recording with an eclectic array of artists including The Strawbs, Atomic Kitten, Annie Lennox, Robbie Williams, Travis and Victoria Beckham. Additionally, he has recorded a number of albums with his legendary father (and former Yes member), Rick, an old friend of the Sabs who guested on the band's 1973 album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

Away from Sabbath and his 13-years-and-counting spot in Ozzy Osbourne's solo band, Adam is an active member of Snakecharmer (featuring original Whitesnake/former Black Sabbath bassist Neil Murray and – until just recently – original Whitesnake guitarist Micky Moody) and the brilliant Prog Metal band Headspace.

In addition to Wakeman, Headspace is comprised of singer Damien Wilson (Threshold/Maiden UniteD), guitarist Pete Rinaldi (Hot Leg/Dido), bassist Lee Pomeroy (Take That/Steve Hackett/Rick Wakeman/It Bites) and new drummer Adam Falkner (Babyshambles/Dido), who recently replaced original timekeeper, Richard Brook.

On February 26, Headspace will celebrate the conclusion of a three-year journey to complete a new album with the release of All That You Fear Is Gone. The follow-up to their 2012 debut, I Am Anonymous, All That You Fear Is Gone is a true Prog masterpiece that exceeds the high expectations set by the band members' impressive résumés. Nowhere on the album is this more obvious than on the 13-minute “The Science Within Us,” an epic experience that any fan of the genre should check out as soon as possible.

This summer, fans in the UK can experience the band live at the Ramblin' Man Fair on July 24th and Fairport's Cropredy Convention 2016 on August 12th. 

The ever-busy Adam was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time during a recent day off on Black Sabbath's “The End” tour.

This new Headspace album has been a work in progress for quite a while. Considering that all of you maintain pretty hefty schedules in this business, what were the logistics like in getting this whole thing together?

It's a nightmare to actually get us all in the same room together. In fact, the only time we've actually been all in the same room is when we shot the video and when we did our press photos. Everybody’s so busy; in this day and age, you have to be able to survive solely on making music. You have to be quite diverse in what you do and the work you take. We're all professional musicians; that's the way we earn money and put food on the table. We have to kind of prioritize other things over Headspace. However, we're all very dedicated to the band; it's just about making the time happen. A lot of the time, it will be just Pete and myself or maybe Damien and myself, working on stuff. The other guys start doing their bits in their studios, and we kind of get together in groups of two or three. It's the kind of way we seem to have developed the working relationship. It seems to work; it would be a very different album if we were all in the same room for two months, recording. That's not to say that won't happen; maybe that's how we'll do the next album. There's no set-in-stone patterns on how we're going to work; it just seems that these two albums have kind of worked well this way.

What kind of a time frame did you guys ultimately work within for this album?

We didn't really want to set any kind of deadline, really. One of the benefits that we have with our schedules is that we can work on some stuff... Damien can be working on the lyrics and melody of the tracks, and I might be away for six weeks with Ozzy, and Pete might be away for a month with Dido or whatever, and then we come back and change the things that we're not happy with. It works to our advantage that we can kind of have the time to reflect on what we've made, and make the changes. That way, it means when we come to actually finish the record, you're not going to be two years down the line saying, 'Oh, God. I wish I'd changed that,' because we've already gone through that process and changed the bits that we're not happy with. There might be a couple of slight little things you do differently, but generally we're going to be 99 percent happy with absolutely everything on there. We don't have the record company breathing down our neck; they know that what we're going to deliver is what we’re going to be happy with, so that's more important to us.

You have Adam Falkner on this album, and he's certainly no slouch. What has he brought to the proceedings in keeping the momentum going with Headspace?

Richard has been one of my oldest friends for a long time; there's certainly no spilled blood over him leaving. He had a young family and other commitments. He's music director on a few tours over in Europe where it takes up a lot of his time. He works on these Rewind festivals, so there's maybe 15-16 artists. It's essentially like having 15 or 16 different gigs going at the same time, so he's incredibly busy with that. He just couldn't put the time in; he felt really frustrated because he felt he was holding the band back and it was taking longer and longer. He eventually said, 'I'm going to have to take a step out. I don't have the time.' I had worked with Adam Falkner before, and Pete had worked with him for quite a few years of touring in America with a band, One eskimO. They knew each other really well, and he just seemed like the perfect choice, really. He's a nice lad and he's good looking, so hopefully we might get more girls at gigs! (laughs)

What is your favorite moment from the record?

I think 'The Science Within Us,' because there's so much going on in there. There are so many parts; it's going to be fun to play live because you have to concentrate with so much stuff going on. For me, that song is one of the highlights. I like the fact that there are a couple of small sort of interludes on the album that we really didn't have on the last one. This kind of took a slightly different approach, where there were supposed to be short interludes, sort of palette cleaners from the craziness. Damien started singing some melodies over them and turn them into short song passages. That, for me, is cool. I've worked with Damien nearly 20 years; I think 'Borders And Days' and 'All That You Fear Is Gone' have some absolutely classic vocal takes. If they still get the hair on the back on your neck up after you've been recording it for three years, I think that's a good sign.

Headspace (photo courtesy of Inside Out Music)

Where is Snakecharmer in all of this? You have a pretty busy schedule as it is.

Funnily enough, we were having a conversation yesterday about this very thing with all the guys. They did a gig a couple of days ago with a different keyboard player, and they had a guy called Simon McBride on guitar. To replace somebody like Micky is quite difficult because he's obviously got the heritage of everything with Whitesnake. At the same time, Snakecharmer isn't just a Whitesnake tribute band. It's a band, and the album did well. We would still pay homage to the Whitesnake tracks, but the band itself has kind of moved on quite a lot from there. We've got a new album half-written, which obviously took a little bit of a pause while we decided what we were going to do guitar-wise. Simon McBride did the gig the other day and did a great job. He's going to join the band; that's good for us because it means we've got a focus and somebody who wants to be in the band, which is good.

As it happens, my favorite Whitesnake stuff is the music featuring Micky and Neil together. In terms of the connections musicians have with one another, how would you best describe the relationship between them? Obviously, those are two players who have worked together for a long time.

They're both fantastic players, and they've been great to work with. I'll be working with Neil much more in the future, too. There's something quite special when you're playing stuff with people who have that kind of history. The first videocassette I ever bought was Fourplay, which featured four of the videos from Whitesnake. I watched that thing 'til it wore out, so that was part of my growing up. To know those guys were there and involved in the writing and the playing of it means a lot to me. It's just like the Sabbath stuff; you get a bit choked up sometimes because it's part of your history. It's nice when you work with people and they're not assholes, you know? (laugh) It would destroy me if Neil and Micky were just a complete nightmare. It would be horrible; it would ruin the memories. Fortunately, they're lovely guys; it was just time for Micky to go and concentrate on his stuff. That's what he wants to do; he might be a bit fed up with playing the songs, I would think.

You've been with Ozzy for a long time now. How would you compare working with him in his solo capacity to what you're doing now with him in Sabbath? Are there differences in how he approaches things and his way of working musically in those situations?

Well, it's very different for me. It's now, I think, 13 years that I've been in Ozzy's band. It's great; you're very involved, and he's a lovely guy. He won't tell you too much what to do, but he'll tell you if he wants something changed. That's the way that I would describe it; he lets you have your freedom. He knows what you can play; if there's something that bugs him, then he'll tell you. But he's not going to come and dictate to you what to play, which I really like because there's more of a trust in the band. Sabbath is very different, really, because I'm offstage; that's the first major difference. It's like doing a show but not doing a show; it's a very weird experience, but fantastic. I'm playing a lot more rhythm guitar through the show, which is great. I'm looking up and seeing Tony and thinking, 'I used to do play 'Paranoid' in a school band when I was 15, and now I'm here chugging along with Tony and Geezer.' That never fails to touch me; that's quite an emotional thing.

This is being billed as Sabbath's final tour. Of course, there has been a lot of reflection among fans as to what Sabbath means and where Sabbath will be in the history of music. Because you have been so intimate with the Sabbath material, what do you think makes their music so timeless and important to the history of Heavy Metal?

They're one of the few bands that can truly say they started the movement. There are a lot of bands that sort of caught on very quickly and continued it and changed things, but Black Sabbath really were there at the start. For me, I think the main reason is because it came from somewhere so genuine; they weren't trying to get on a reality TV show and be famous and not really know why. They were the guys from Birmingham; they had no money, and their way of expressing themselves was by developing their music. That was it; it was 100 percent about the music back then. They scraped about from one day to the next. You can't recreate that; it comes from somewhere so genuine. I think that is what is embedded in the music.

What has been the greatest lesson you've learned from working with Ozzy or Sabbath that you carry with you now to other projects?

That's a good question! I think you sort of learn something every tour or every gig with different artists you work with. For me, I think it's the honesty and integrity with Ozzy and Sabbath. Whatever people think of them or whatever people read or watch on the TV, they are absolutely honest people. They won't lie and say something is happening when it's not. If they are going to do something, they're going to do it unless unforeseen circumstances come along. Obviously, Ozzy can't sing with sinusitis, so things have to get postponed. I know that there's an honesty to it, which makes you feel very humbled by it all. I've worked with Pop artists where they'll know the shows aren't happening and they won't even tell you. They might have been canceled months before, but they keep you hanging on because they don't have the same value on loyalty as Ozzy and Sabbath and these sort of older legendary acts seem to have. They definitely seem to value people more, and I'd like to think I do the same. I treat people with the same kind of respect, and that's definitely something I learned from this.

From some of the other gigs, I would say the best thing my dad ever taught me was when I was about 10 years old and I asked him to show me the start of 'Catherine of Aragon' from [his 1973 album] The Six Wives of Henry VIII. He said, 'No. Go to your cassette and go learn it!' At the time, I thought, 'What a bastard!' But that's ultimately what I did; I just played the cassette over and over again until I had learned to play it. That, to me, was the best thing I ever learned from him, which was forcing me to develop my ear so that I can pick things up very quickly. That has been probably the best thing that I've ever inadvertently learned.

The other night, I went to a club in Los Angeles with a producer friend of mine, Fraser T Smith. He said to me, 'I've got some good news and some weird news.' I said, 'What's the good news?' He said, 'The good news is I don't think we've got to pay for dinner.' I said, 'Well, that's very good news. What's the weird news?' He said, 'In about two minutes, you're going to be playing with Paloma Faith on the piano.' Paloma Faith came over and said, 'Do you know this song? Do you know this song?' I was like, 'No.' She was kind of singing melodies to me in my ear while I was finishing my dinner, and we were looking on the iPhone for some quick chord charts to some songs. Then I got up and played a couple of tunes with her! That's a classic example of the lesson I learned from my dad; developing your ear means that you can be put in those situations. It's a little bit of a memory jerker, but it's quite good to do those things.

Obviously, your dad had some experience with the Sabs in the '70s, and I know they got on really well. When you first got involved with touring with Sabbath, did your father give you any words of advice or maybe some funny anecdotes from his time with them?

Ozzy's got some great stories of him and my dad from back in the day when they were recording at Morgan Studios in London, where Yes were in one room and Sabbath were in a different room. My dad would tend to meet up at the bar with Ozzy, and I think that's how that came along. They were at the bar and [Ozzy] said, 'Why don't you come in and play some keys?' Which is brilliant; I love the fact that those things happen. They used to happen a lot more than they do now, I think. My dad's always said great things about Ozzy and Sharon and Geez and Tony. I've always held them quite high in my mind as artists and people. I always go to my dad for advice on things musical, just because he's so knowledgeable and he's been around such a long time. He's a good gauge on stuff. When I told him, he said, 'Oh, they're great guys; you'll have a ball.' He was absolutely right; it's been great.

*Portions of this interview were edited for length and clarity. 


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"You're Not Alone:" Steve Zing Speaks Out on Depression

Steve Zing (far right) with Samhain, 1984

Steve Zing (Danzig/Samhain) is one of the best people I know.

I first met him in 1996 at The Misfits' “homecoming show” at Action Park in Vernon, NJ. Right from our first introduction, he's been a truly open human being always willing to help. At the time, he was fronting a band called Chyna and doing shows in the area. Shortly after meeting him, I asked if he would be interested in having Chyna perform at a benefit show I was putting together for a friend's brother who had cancer. He immediately said yes; a few months later, Chyna arrived at the VFW hall I booked and blew the roof off the place for no money. That began a years-long friendship that saw Chyna play several shows I booked circa '96'-97. Every time I asked Steve to do a show, he said yes. Hell, he even did a reunion show of his early '80s Horror Punk band, Mourning Noise, at my hall in '97 and let me play drums on their cover of "I Turned Into A Martian." 

Steve has a habit of saying yes and being generous. When I first started writing professionally in 2000, he agreed to be my first-ever cover story interview – for Samhain in the Aquarian Weekly. That's a helluva way to start a journalism career! When I started my online radio show “Glory Is Noise” (2010-2012), Steve agreed to be my first-ever guest. Another time, I ran into him at a show and asked if he would call a friend of mine (a huge Danzig/Samhain fan) and leave a message on her answering machine – which he did on the spot.

I bring these things up because they illustrate the kind of heart Steve Zing has. That's also clear in the below video on depression that he has filmed on behalf of the You Rock Foundation. While some would shy away from publicly discussing such a deeply personal matter, Steve is using his fame as a means of reaching people who could use words of encouragement as they struggle with their own issues. It takes tremendous strength to say what he does in this video. While I'm proud of my old friend for doing this, I'm not at all surprised. It's just Steve being the guy he is.

Please check out this video and share it with anyone who might benefit from it. Go HERE  for more information on the You Rock Foundation.  


Monday, February 8, 2016

Living outside the Lines: A Chat with YOUTH

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 

Martin "Youth" Glover is simultaneously a music writer's dream and a music writer's worst nightmare.

The master producer/remixer (Pink Floyd/The Orb/The Verve/Guns N' Roses), original Killing Joke bassist, Paul McCartney collaborator and countless other things is a pleasure to talk to because he's always involved in something interesting that could easily fill a feature. At the same time, truly keeping track of this moving target's various activities at any moment is an impossible task. Since it would take a year's worth of articles for me to properly sum up everything Youth had going on just at the time of our conversation in early January, this piece will focus on the fact the guy recently published his own coloring book.

A true psychedelic visual experience, The Anarchist Colouring Book offers dozens of original Youth illustrations. Although fans who have checked out his poetry books (including Kommune and Middle Class Riot) are already familiar with Youth's unique drawing style, the new book is the first publication devoted exclusively to his work in this medium.

“Last year or so, a few people had suggested strongly that I consider doing [my drawings] as a coloring book, he explains. I started to do some specifically for that, and collated and adapted some older ones that I thought might work well. I mentioned it to [Killing Joke frontman] Jaz Coleman, and he said, 'Yeah! That's a great idea! You should call it The Anarchist Colouring Book.' I was like, 'Yeah! That's brilliant.' It hadn't been a long-held ambition of mine to do a coloring book; I saw an opportunity to get my drawings out into a wider realm because the poetry books are so tiny in the appeal range.”

Photo credit:

In addition to Youth's Bandcamp store, The Anarchist Colouring Book is available for purchase through The Idler and Rough Trade in London. Already sold out of its first edition of 300 and second edition of 350, the book is nearly through its current 300-copy third edition.

“It doesn't sound like a vast amount, but in publishing terms, in quite a lot of sales,” Youth says.

Those who buy The Anarchist Colouring Book are encouraged to color the drawings in and upload them to the project's Facebook page. So what has the feedback been like? Have people come to Youth with completely different interpretations of what he's drawn that make him look at these pieces in a completely different way?

“It's been really revealing, actually,” he answers. “[The drawings are] so ambiguous that they do facilitate many interpretations, which I always hope is the same with the music I make. It's ambiguous enough that everyone can make it their own personal thing, but specific enough to engage people into what it is or isn't. I think that's certainly been the case with the drawings. I've had some great explanations of what it is. To me, it's really just images from my life and things that go through my angle of perception – whether it's media, politics or fantasy. It's weird therapy as well, I think. What people tend to like about them is they're free; they go all over the place. They're quite abstract; they have a sort of superreal/surreal element to them as well. I think that’s what I'm doing when I'm making them; I'm trying to unbridle my consciousness into my subconscious and my environment and just have a fairly psychedelic roam around.

Photo credit:

In addition to experiencing the visuals between the pages, those who purchase The Anarchist Colouring Book on Bandcamp also receive an extraordinary eight-track ambient soundtrack. Was this accompanying music release created specifically for the book project, or was it comprised of material that Youth already had around?

“Okay...I'll come clean,” he replies with a chuckle. “Two days before we went live to publish [the book], I realized I didn’t have a soundtrack for it. When I put things up on Bandcamp, it's always on the premise of being part of the album. If you don't have the album, it's hard to put it up. I suddenly thought, 'Shit, I've got to get an album.' I went through some archive ambient stuff and outtakes of films and various bits that ended up nowhere and collaged some of those together and did a couple of new ones. Then I thought I could tie them together with some of the interviews I've done. I'm in the process of putting together a book of philosophy called Freak Philosophy based on various heads I've interviewed over the last 25, 30 years, from Chet Helms to Ken Kesey to Terence McKenna to Greg Sams. I recorded a lot of those interviews, so I just thought it would be appropriate on the Anarchist Colouring Book soundtrack to have just a couple of snippets of them from those interviews to tie in the tracks to the book...They're all really inspired and inspiring individuals to me; they've given me a good North Star to navigate to over the years. It's something I've been wanting to do to for a long time to promote and help raise people's appreciation and awareness of them a bit more. I put the whole album together out of all of that in two, three days. I like that; I think that's quite sort of Dada and anarchistic and spontaneous, which is part of the whole thing with the drawings as well. There are no corrections; it's all done very fluidly and quickly.”

One of the soundtrack's most fascinating songs, “The Return Of The Nabob On The 111Hz,” features the hypnotic voice of London-based performer Georgina Brett.

“She's great!” Youth says. “She uses these tape loops and pedals to create this weird sound on sound with mainly her vocals.”

The Anarchist Colouring Book is dedicated to Jazz Summers, Youth's longtime manager who passed away last August at 71.

“He's certainly the most important person I've ever met in music,” Youth shares. “When I first went to see Jazz, it was for him to help me find a singer for a new band I was going to put together. He told me who I was; he told me, 'What do you want to do that for?' I was like, 'Because I'm a songwriter; I'm a musician, You put a band together, you get a manager, you get a deal and da da da.' He said, 'No, you're not! You're a writer/ producer, the rarest cat in the jungle! What do you want to do?' I said, 'I want to get busy; I want to be in the studio all the time.' He's going, 'We'll get you busy!' His belief in me was far bigger than my belief in me. His experience, vision and ultra sort of cosmic laser penetrating eye was a real education for me. Having worked with him for so long, I'm pretty certain if I hadn't met Jazz, I wouldn't have had nearly such a successful career with music and production. I had been producing before I met him; I had done a production for The Danse Society, but I hadn't really taken myself fairly seriously as a producer until I met him. He encouraged and pushed me to places I wouldn't have considered going so easily. He was just so frequently right. I don't know how he knew what he knew because most of what he knew was unknowable, but he had the ability to know and predict things, and they would happen. He had a direct honesty, and he was an anarchist... He was old school; it's very hard to find cats like that today. They have the vision, dedication and determination to back it up, to carry the artist through and take them over the edge and get them on the international stage and doing the best work they've ever done. Without those cats, we would be nothing; we would be dust.”

The publication of The Anarchist Colouring Book coincided with the arrival of Pylon, Killing Joke's 15th studio album. The band's third release since reforming their original lineup in 2007, Pylon easily earned a place on more than a few Best of 2015 lists and showcased the group's heaviest work in years.

Absolute Dissent [from 2010] was more of a regrouping and a self-reflection of our entire career,” Youth offers. “It felt a little bit like a compilation album, almost. MMXII [2012] was definitely more of an album album, but more synth-oriented and a little bit more progressive in that sense - but nevertheless with a couple of uptempo, euphoric ones. And then this one's a bit more guitar and - I don't really want to say it - but more Metal-influenced in some ways.

“I think we took a bit more time writing this one,” he continues. “With the previous two, we had to write and record in two-three weeks; it was boom, boom, boom. [With] this one, we kind of did it in Prague, which we could afford because the studio time was cheap. We spent more time coming back and doing more jams and really [cutting] down the 100 or 150 ideas to the 15 that ended up on there. I'll say some of the best cuts never made that top 15, as usual. It's a funny process with Killing Joke; it's never rational or logical, but it does come out the way it kind of should. I don't really argue with it or question it too much. It can be very frustrating at times, but I accept it because the rest in futile. (laughs)”

Not surprisingly, Youth already has a hefty workload planned for 2016. In addition to collaborating with original PiL bassist Jah Wobble and Hawkwind legend Nik Turner and releasing new titles on his Liquid Sound Design label, he is busy producing The Jesus And Mary Chain's first album in nearly 20 years. Although he is tight-lipped on specific details on the album (other than that it was in the mixing stage at the time of this interview), he is quick to express his respect for the veteran act.

“For me, working with that band confirms everything that excites me about working with music," he says. "They are so incredibly good at what they do and very modest and humble about it. They make ethereal, tieless, beautiful music with a lot of mystery to it. It's been a great honor and privilege working with them... I love the whole Punk Rock-meets-Phil Spector-meets-Velvet Underground aesthetic that they've always kind of rigidly adhered to and yet still manage to sound challenging, fresh and new.”

As far as what Killing Joke fans can look forward to in the months to come, here's some interesting news from their bassist: “We're going to be looking at a Killing Joke symphonic album next year [or] this year at some point.”

Beyond that, if you know anything about Youth's body of work, then you know to simply strap yourself in for the intriguing and ever-changing ride.

In the words of the man himself: “Who knows what can happen? Anything can happen. (laughs)”

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Voivod Lives: Michel “Away” Langevin on Lineups, Lemmy and Keeping the Band Alive

Left to right: Rocky, Chewy, Snake and Away of Voivod. (Photo courtesy of Century Media)

For nearly 35 years, Voivod has created some of the most esoteric sounds in Metal. As recently discussed at length on this site, the band's upcoming EP, Post Society (Century Media), is one of their strongest releases and an essential addition to a discography that has never once disappointed. Through lineup changes (including a stint with former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted in the 2000s), experiments in musical direction (the band's mid-to-late-'90s Hardcore trio phase) and even death (the tragic passing of original guitarist Denis “Piggy” D'Amour in 2005), Voivod continues to exceed expectations and guide listeners to new sonic territories.

Since the very beginning, the band's aural assault has been anchored by drummer and artist Michel “Away” Langevin, the only member of the band to appear on every Voivod release. Currently, he is joined by original singer Denis “Snake” Bélanger (who returned to the band in 2002 after nearly a decade away), guitarist Dan “Chewy” Mongrain and new bassist Dominic “Rocky” Laroche (who replaced original bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Thériault after he left Voivod for a second time after returning for the band's previous effort, 2013's Target Earth.) In addition to his work with Voivod, Away released the intriguing 2013 field recordings CD Cities (Utech Records) and is currently involved in a variety of projects including the band Tau Cross with Rob “The Baron” Miller of Amebix.

I recently had the pleasure of connecting with Away to discuss Post Society, Voivod's current lineup, the band's debt to Motorhead and what has kept this underground institution alive and thriving for more than three decades.

It's been a couple of years since Target Earth was released. What led you guys to decide to do an EP now as opposed to doing a full-length album a little bit further down the road as the follow-up to the last record?

We had a lot of touring and didn't have much time to record, unfortunately. We had to write in the bus and record between tours. We had the idea of releasing split seven inches and an EP and such to sell at the merch booth and eventually write another batch of songs and compile everything into one album. It will probably be ready either at the end of this year or early next year, I would say.

How indicative is Post Society of what we can expect to hear on the next full-length album?

I think where we're heading for right now is probably a little more Prog Rock than the Jason years. We were already going towards Progressive Metal for Target Earth, but I think we seem to be pushing the limits of what we can do in terms of Progressive Metal for the new material. We don't really overthink the music we're writing; we try to create music that we want to play right now. It's definitely the ingredients of what we've learned along the way and what is on the [past] albums with a new touch from Rocky and Chewy.

Chewy's been with you for some time now. How has his addition to the band and his creative input enabled Voivod to carry on and move forward to this point?

It's really amazing because we knew he could perform the material we wrote with Piggy perfectly, but to write material and keep the spirit of Voivod intact is another thing. When we started to write Target Earth, we realized he was full-on Voivod in every way. It's so Voivodian, what he writes. Snake and I really feel at home. With the addition of Rocky, who is a childhood friend of Chewy's, it's the perfect team because Snake and I met when we were kids. It's a very good lineup right now; it's pretty efficient. With Rocky and Chewy, it's funny because their first show was Voivod, then they bought guitars – and now they are in Voivod! (laughs) They were like 13 back then.

Like many fans, I was really excited to see Blacky return a few years ago. Unfortunately, that wasn't meant to be. What led to that change in personnel?

A different point of view regarding how the band should be managed. Blacky is very much a do-it-yourself type of guy, which is very respectable, but the three other members in the band didn't agree on the fact that the band should be self-managed. Blacky parted ways with us; we hope for the best for the guy. It's sad, but we had a pretty good six years with him and did great stuff, a very good album and lots of touring. This is the fifth lineup right now; we just have to move on. It's really hard to keep a band together for decades. People leave the band, people unfortunately pass away and so on. But I think we're pretty lucky, actually. I've been on every album for, I don't know, 33 years, and every time we go on tour, people are very loyal to us and show up. It is great to have such a long career.

As you said, you're the only member who's been on every Voivod album. You experienced Voivod with Snake and of course without him as well. Having lived in the band in both situations, how would you compare the two incarnations? What do you think Snake brings to the band that is unique to that version of Voivod?

Definitely the Punk element in the voice. It's something of an interesting nature to Voivod that probably went missing when we were functioning as a Hardcore trio, so that's one thing. Also, mixing the Sci-Fi concept with street-oriented lyrics is his thing. That's something that really adds to the band, but I must say that I'm proud of every lineup and what we've released with those lineups. It was great to be with Jason, and it was great to be with [former bassist/vocalist] Eric [Forrest]. Whenever we cross paths, they come on stage and jam with us. It's like a big family; it's really great.

I really enjoyed your Cities solo album, which was actually on my Best of 2013 list. Do you have any plans to pursue other projects of that nature?

I still do a lot of field recordings. If I release another one, it's probably going to be on Utech, but it might be on vinyl because I'm not sure if Utech are doing CDs anymore. I do lots of field recordings on tour around the planet. I've always been obsessed with tapes, collage, field recording and random sounds. Piggy got me into it, actually, when we were teenagers. He was listening to a lot of Stockhausen and stuff like that. All the early intros of the shows and some of the interludes on the albums were made with tape manipulations by Piggy. He really got me into it, and I never stopped listening to that weird stuff.

One of the highlights of Post Society for me is your cover of “Silver Machine,which I know was recorded and announced before Lemmy's passing. Obviously, you guys toured with Motorhead, and you covered Motorhead in the early days. What was that band's greatest impact on you as a musician?

It's definitely the band that had the most impact on Voivod. We were fans of Discharge and Venom and all that, but Motorhead was really the focus of Voivod in the sense that I totally copied 'Philthy Animal' Taylor, and Snake's vocals are really influenced by Lemmy's vocals. Of course, Piggy was a huge fan of 'Fast' Eddie; actually, Piggy's first nickname was 'Fast Piggy.' (laughs) Motorhead was really the example for us. It was just heavier than everything, especially at the end of the '70s and very early '80s. It was the basis for everyone who wanted to be heavy. All of a sudden, everyone wanted to be heavier than Motorhead, then all of a sudden, everybody wanted to be heavier than Slayer and so on and so on. It turned into blast beats! (laughs)

How were you first introduced to Hawkwind?

Again, this is all stuff that Piggy was aware of in the '70s. We were two or three years younger than him, and he really introduced us to weird Progressive Rock and German Krautrock and all that. Hawkwind has definitely always been one of my favorites, along with Gong. When we did the last sessions for the new EP, we heard a lot about cancelations of shows on the Motorhead 40th Anniversary Tour. We started to worry about Lemmy. While in the studio, we decided to do 'Silver Machine.' We did it really quick; we learned it in the studio, winged it and tried our best. But it was definitely to pay homage to Lemmy. Of course, we were not expecting him to pass away; we just felt it was time to pay tribute to him.

Being in a band for nearly 35 years is quite an accomplishment, especially in today's business. What continues to make Voivod work?

It's a really tough question. One aspect that is probably still relevant is the dystopian concept. A lot of the lyrics were based on articles in either Omni or Discover from the '80s, and they were trying to project into the future. It turns out that, on many points, they were right. Not only that, we were really influenced by the anarchist Punk and Hardcore, like Crass, Discharge and Conflict. They also would write about the destruction of Earth and all that. I think a lot of attention is directed towards old school Thrash Metal nowadays because most of these people talked about the same nuclear fears and all that. In terms of having people being so loyal to us year after year, it's really hard to say. I'm in a tough position, because we'll show up to a city where people will tell us, 'You’re the greatest band on Earth or in the universe,' but we're still underground. We just keep going in the parallel underground dimension year after year. It's really hard for me to take a step back and look at Voivod and think objectively about it; it's strange. But I'm very grateful because I have a great life in the sense that I spend half my time either touring or recording with Voivod and the other half doing art for other bands, so it's perfect.

*Portions of this interview were edited slightly for clarity.

Post Society is out February 26 on Century Media.

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