Interview with Voyager at ProgPower Europe, 4 October 2019
Two weeks before ProgPower Europe 2019, the eleventh edition in a row for me, DPRP suggested that I interview Voyager on Friday afternoon, as I would be there to see them and Diablo Swing Orchestra. Voyager would play the ProgPower fest for the third time, coming all the way from Perth, Australia, so I thought it'd be a great opportunity to get to know the band.
Popping into the venue on time, after a quick beer on the town square with some early-bird PPE fans, I found the band on stage doing soundchecks, and I had a great time watching that. I must say the sound level at their show that night, wasn't as f*cking loud as at the sound check!
Anyway, I met up with three out of the five band members; the jolly Simone Dow (guitar), Ash Doodkorte (drums and artwork) and Scott Kay (guitar). Some beer and booze are on the table. The trio seemed very happy about my promise that the questions wouldn't be too serious and they answered all of them with big laughs and long chats throughout the interview.
Be prepared when asking for a short outline of Voyager's history, both band members and music. Simone quickly replies, "That'll be a long story!".
Her statement became very true as the answer turned out to take them almost 10 minutes! Scott starts telling how the band started in 1999 with Daniel Estrin, the only original member left. So Voyager is Daniel's baby. Simone joined in December 2005 to record their second album Univers, and then Alex Canion joined in 2007. Scott adds that the Univers album was his first 18+ show. He was a true Voyager fan in those days! Simone quickly revealed she was a fan too when she joined; it happens that way.
Ash got to know the band when his band at that time supported Voyager on the Univers tour, and made fun of them all! Scott was in a prog band called Slow Light, doing one gig only before breaking up. His first meeting with Voyager was when he was climbing out of the boot of his car, because of a very tight parking spot, and said: "Hello, here I am! I'm your future guitarist and I just showed you I am a professional and I wanna join your band!".
Still, he started jamming with Simone and it went incredibly well, a year later the band asked him for an audition and he got it. Ash was asked as a graphic designer in the first place, and he still is. He was playing in a blues rock band at the time. Ash was asked to fill in for the drummer for two shows on the US tour, and when the former drummer was going to leave, Ash was asked to stay. After three months he said yes. Simone instantly adds: "He's such a tease!" and Scott: "Yeah, you really play hard to get, and you made the worst decision of your life!" Ash calms down and adds that the band has been stable for the last seven years now.
Ash: "And this is our third time playing ProgPower Europe!" Scott continues telling how cool the Euroblast and ProgPower festivals are to them. It's an opportunity to find out new talents and especially progressive music with long sets that needs to emerge from the underground. ProgPower particularly can prize themselves in giving bands a genuine opportunity.
Do you feel a difference between playing home, down under, and playing here or elsewhere?
Scott again sits up and tells. He feels the way fans respond is great. "We also did shows before in Japan, USA and Mexico last year. There is a wild contrast and difference in fans in each of these places. In Japan people are super enthusiastic but super polite as well. After applause and cheers it's instantly quiet again. Americans are like boys, loud, want to know everything, big story-tellers, so they are very intense. In Mexico people are super passionate, open and emotional."
Ash adds that "in Australia there's always a layer of politeness on top of everything, so no matter how good or bad the gig was, they say: 'That was great', as they never say something like, 'I did not like it as much as the last time'! But in Europe we always get an honest answer about what they think. And we appreciate that, it's very cool and very unique."
Congratulations on the new Colours in the Sun album. Why this title, what does it reflect?
"While writing and working on songs for the album," Simone explains, "the songs together got very colourful. Also it got a little more upbeat than the last album, Ghost Mile." Scott takes over, he thinks the first few songs are really contrasted because of their heaviness and their lightness. "That happened organically almost, the colours are supposed to represent how different each song is. How each colour can stand on its own, but together it kind of comes into one cohesive thing. Colours of the Sun represents the vast palette of tones and textures. Isn't that proggy enough, ha ha ha!?"
I had the opportunity to listen to the unreleased album and it feels to me as a "happy" record.
The band agrees by nodding. Scott says: "Cool, I think that, while there are cynical moments like in the lyrical content, the idea is to look at it mostly in a positive light. So while there are things happening in the world, there is a way of framing that. There are lots of things to appreciate in this world. It's supposed to be recognition of the negative, but the album is more a celebration of the positive. Music can be abstract and esoteric. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. Sometimes it doesn't translate. But to hear you say 'happy and uplifting', that's great. It means we translated our message within the music."
You have some kind of friendship with Leprous, because of Einar singing on the new album?
Scott: "We hate those guys!", with all three are nodding. Big laughter follows. "Yeah, we have a good relationship. Our manager once approached Leprous and said: 'You come to Australia and do a tour with Voyager, and then Voyager comes to Europe to do a tour with you." And they slowly said 'okay' and it happened! It was awesome. A similar sense of humour, yeah we just got along instantly. They were locked up in Australia and if we didn't get along then we were gonna be stuck with these guys all over Europe for a few weeks. But not getting along didn't happen."
Simone: "We just hit it off immediately. They were just very similar to us. When we saw them when we got to Europe, it was like a family reunion. We picked a song for Einar Solberg, called Entropy, and he said: 'I like this track'. The interesting thing was that he made it his very own thing. So, when we got the track back, we were all quite shocked. He changed the whole vocal melody. We asked whether he had he listened to the guide track, he said: 'No I never listen to the guide track.' The song now actually sounds like Voyager and Leprous got in a room together and wrote something."
Any future plans that might be interesting?
Ash: "We'll be back. Lots of touring. We are sort of saving the bigger run for next year, when the album has been out a while. And we were listening to some riffs last night, from the sessions for the last album that we had lying around. And that is pretty exotic! And we put four videos online before the new album release in November."
Scott: "Cool ideas that you had forgotten about, AND forgotten how to play! Sometimes when you hear it the second time around it can be it's a bad riff, sometimes it doesn't really fit. The song Sign Of The Times on the new album, was written by Danny and me ages ago, but fits on this record perfectly."
Talking about videos. What song will you play tonight would be best to record on video to go with this interview?
Ash, quickly: "Colours!" Simone and Scott fully agree. It's the sixth song on the setlist tonight. So I have to wait for the stage intro of the song, saying: "This is a knife? THAT's a knife!". It was a great tip to start filming, see the video and enjoy!
Final question, is there anything you want to tell our readers that I didn't ask?
Simone: "Please buy our new album Colours Of The Sun!"
Scott: "It's important to recognise that everyone is at a gig at heart. You know us but we don't know you, but we are always happy to get to know you. We're just people like anybody else, no rock stars."
Ash: "Come to see us on stage one day and say 'Hello'. Every time I'm playing in a new town, can someone please come to me and tell me what their favourite beer is, so I can get one? That's all I want!"
Voyager — Colours In The Sun
André de Boer's Review
If you read my interview above with Voyager at the ProgPower Europe festival 2019, you might know that their new album Colours In The Sun brings me a feeling of happiness. It is because of the music. The lyrics have little to do with that. That feeling was affirmed by the band members at the interview, and stated live by their hopping and jumping around on the ProgPower stage later that day.
Yes, it's a happy album. The title track Colours starts off with a bang, and synths instantly welcome you to say "hello". Danny Estrin is singing passionately about the glory of all colours. Ash hits his drums hard with lots of fun. Alex plucks his bass with a smile and Scott, plus Simone, fill in the rest with their tickling guitar cruelty. What an overwhelming musical atmosphere!
Is it really prog? Is it really metal? No, but it's great. Severomance seems to be a little bit of a serious song. Nice, but let's jump on, which takes us to Brightstar. The title says it all, it is bright and cheerful with a fierce ending.
Entropy is a very special track as it is rebuilt into a Leprous track by a close friend of the Voyager family, Einar Solberg, as he also sings this brilliant song! A very special and entertaining song that gets stuck in your head forever.
Reconnected looks like a stressing thing. But when Danny sings "let it go" and that ultra-speedy piano in the background comes back up again, the happy stuff returns. The smiling now continues until the end of the last track, with both Sign Of The Times and Runaway being real corkers.
Colours In The Sun is Voyager's seventh full album since 2003. I agree on the band's vision of their musical style on this new album, being described as "prismatic hard rock". Let's keep it that way and add the prefix 'happy'. So if you like fun hard rock, this is your band and album.
Matt Nevens's Review
Voyager are no strangers to the progressive metal scene and have been honing their particular sound since the late 1990s. The quintet from Perth have slowly and surely been building a worldwide fan base, while transitioning their music from the early days of sci-fi inspired prog metal, to the more colourful and intricate sound we have today.
While vocalist and keytar player Daniel Erstrin remains the band's only original member, they have had a solid line-up since 2011, which is quite apparent when you witness the Australians' energetic live performances. The band are completed by Simone Dow on guitars, Scott Kay on guitars, Alex Canion on bass and backing vocals and Ashley Doodkorte on drums. You can tell when you watch these guys that they truly love the music they are playing; they gel so well together as musicians and have a complete and total understanding of where the band wants to be as a whole. It's great to see a group enjoying themselves so much and it's something we rarely see in metal.
Two years ago, Voyager released their last album, Ghost Mile, to critical acclaim. It was seen as the band's defining album thus far, and contained an extremely strong set of ten songs that worked very well together. It was a melodic, yet dark affair, showcasing the band's love of heavy, modern riffs, powerful drumming and soaring vocals.
With Colours In The Sun, all of that is still here, but it's presented in a more positive, uplifting light. This album sounds like the band had a vision, and completely nailed it in almost every respect. The songs here sound massive. Soaked with synths and keyboards, the guitars pound and surround the listener. The use of single notes and octaves, rather than power chords, is very apparent and works incredibly well to give the rest of the band more space to breathe. The bass is prominent in the mix and jazzy at times, and the drums are as you would expect from these guys; hard hitting, in your face, and simply spectacular.
A wall of retro synths opens Colours, and having heard this song way before the album's release, I can say it's still one of my favourite tracks on the album. The chorus is epic and catchy, the djenty breaks just make you want to bang your head like crazy. It's a great opener and sets the scene of the album perfectly. The last chorus in particular is fantastic; they change up the rhythm just slightly and it makes an already great chorus even better.
Following close behind are a trio of slightly more laid back songs, with Severomance, Brightstar and Saccharine Dream. The first of these opens with quite a poppy section but soon follows up with some huge guitars and great vocal melodies from Daniel. It's not as strong a track as the opener, but the instrumental sections are almost goosebump-inducing, if you're listening on headphones.
Brightstar was the album's lead single and is another great song, if a little different from the usual Voyager style. The 80s retro vibes are super-strong here. Like fellow Australians Hemina have recently done with their latest album, Voyager are gladly embracing their love of New Retro Wave music, more commonly known as synth-wave, a style of electronic music taking inspiration from 80s movie and video game music, and (in this case) giving it a thoroughly-modern heavy metal twist. The melodies and guitar work throughout Brightstar are phenomenal and it's an absolutely memorable track.
Saccharine Dream on the other hand, is a more straight-up prog metal song in structure. The melodies here are just as strong as what has gone before, but if anything this song sounds even bigger, and features an incredible dual guitar solo and some very clever vocal work.
Track five is Entropy, and is much darker, featuring none other than Leprous frontman Einar Solberg, who also co-wrote the song. This one harks back to older Voyager material with some of its ideas, and features an absolutely incredible chorus. Einar takes the lead here, with Daniel's layered harmonies backing him up, while the guitars and synths fall down around the music perfectly. It's breathtaking stuff and a highlight of the album.
A silent movie-style classical piano opens Reconnected, before the song quickly explodes into what is probably Voyager's heaviest track yet. It's a pummelling roller-coaster of a song where images of Devin Townsend's manic metal style spring to mind. The song almost touches on death metal in parts, while still being encased in the same beautiful vocal melodies and lush keyboards as the rest of the album. It's a non-stop ride and I feel this heavier approach actually suits the band's layered sound very well indeed.
Now Or Never is a short vocal, synth and drum piece which, rather than being filler between songs, is actually a very interesting little track. The melodies are again top-shelf stuff and Daniel even sings the closing part in German, which I'm sure has some relevance that I'm not aware of. The song leads seamlessly into Sign Of The Times, another more typical Voyager song, and I would say the least interesting track on the album. It's still a good song by itself, it just doesn't quite hit the same highs as most of the previous songs. But rather than run out of steam, it seems Voyager have saved the very best till last.
The closing duo of Water Over The Bridge and Runaway are not only the two best songs the band have ever put out, they are two of the best songs I've heard all year.
The first opens with a fairly typical, down-tuned, djent-style riff which builds into a great rhythm. The vocals are haunting, backed up by more synth and some slow, palm muted guitar riffs. The song builds into an absolutely jaw-dropping middle section. The band are simply at their best here, everything that could sound amazing about this style of progressive metal is prominent; the drums, guitars, vocals and keys come together perfectly to create one the most memorable sections of music I've heard in a long time and a song I will be going back to for many years to come.
Runaway opens quietly with just vocals and synth, and after the trip that was Water Over The Bridge, I was expecting an entirely quiet play out. However, Runaway bursts into one of the best choruses I've ever heard in my life. Honestly, how these guys have written so many catchy choruses on this album is beyond me. The latter-half of the song also features none other than a keytar solo, which is an unexpected and very welcome addition, before exploding back into that incredible chorus. What a way to end the album.
Voyager had already nailed their core sound on Ghost Mile. What they have done here is rework it, add a healthy dose of 80s inspiration, some positive thinking and a phenomenal amount of superb songwriting to create what is probably their best album yet. It took a few listens to really get my teeth into some of the tracks, but really, there is nothing here that is not absolutely top-of-the-line prog metal. All the synths and other parts that make it fit together, simply work in the album's favour, to produce a dream-like sound and a thoroughly memorable experience. Bravo.