I’m speaking with Simone Dow, lead guitarist of Australian progressive metal band, Voyager. It’s hot and horrible in Perth where she is, having previous days with temps over forty degrees Celsius still and bushfires raging. We take a minute to reflect on the plight of the people facing destruction at the hands of fires raging in the East and the West of the country. Both marvelling at the dedication of the emergency workers and what they must have to go through in these times. Mother Nature can be fickle.
You’ve got a new single and video out “Brightstar”, how has it been received? “It’s been amazing. We didn’t really know what the reception would be like because you never know how people will react. We’ve come to realise as we’ve been writing this new album, it’s our most poppy yet heaviest record to date if that makes sense. It makes sense after the release of Ghost Mile, there is nothing too left of centre compared to that. We’ve had a lot of people saying it’s one of the best songs we’ve written which blows your mind a little bit”.
The video for it is quite good and it really showcases the Australian landscape. Whereabouts was it filmed? the press release said Perth, but it looked a fair way out? “The video was a ton of fun in forty degree heat (laughs). A lot of it is about an hour and a half out of Perth. But in Perth, you don’t have to travel real far to start seeing the red dirt and copping the hot temperatures. As soon as you get an hour out, you’re already into outback territory. It’s absolutely beautiful there and we were very lucky a solar farm there allowed us to use part of their property to film. It was really hot and I had to keep putting invisible zinc on every half an hour because I was dumb and wore a singlet. Everyone else wore a t-shirt or shirts and I was the one most likely to burn in the band. So you can imagine what was I thinking and there was hardly any places that had shade, there was one tree where we parked everything. It was definitely full on, but it was pretty much worth it”.
If you get the outcome you want then everything else is worth it. “Exactly” (laughing).
I like the link to the lyrics, and there was a lot of shots of tracking antennas, was that the reason for taking it there? “Danny (Daniel Estrin – Vocals, Keys) writes all the lyrics, that’s his baby. I think he was saying it is about looking up to false idols and putting faith in things that you shouldn’t. That’s a very, very brief description, because I haven’t… Sorry Danny, I probably should have read more of your thoughts! The Brightstar is like the sun, which is massive in Australia’s psyche and the clip links visually. We also just wanted to showcase a bit of WA. We’ve never done a video clip like this before, this was cinematic. Most of the time it’s been an idea for the band with colours or a script. We were looking for something a bit more visually exciting this time. It shows what we live around and I think a lot of international fans love that sort of stuff, well I hope it comes across that way”.
Yeah it does show a lot about lyrics and interpretation of it, because I was linking it to the clip and the antenna, obviously I was way off the mark… “Look we do that a lot with Danny, we’re like what the hell is this even about… (continuing laughing) – He tells you and we did not realise that all. But, yeah that’s his baby, the concept of the lyrics. The music is very much working together these days. That’s really noticeable, the last three albums has been some of the best writing we’ve done. Someone comes in with an idea and we all work together”.
So that’s different to when you first kicked off then? “Yeah, definitely. I’m not an original member, but I have been in the band a long time now (since 2006). When I first joined it was Danny that wrote most of the music, he would come in with a skeleton and we would flesh it out. So he was doing about eighty per cent of it and we would fit in with the overall theme of the music. Changes were minimal, we might come up with a riff here or there for a section. But nowadays it’s one person will come in with a riff or part, like Brightstar was with Danny. He came in with the start and the chorus, and then we wrote the rest around it – the structure. Now it’s Scott (Kay – Guitar) will come in with a riff or myself, it could be Ash (Ashley Doodkorte – Drums), Alex (Canion – Bass, Vocals) has written plenty of riffs too and we’ll all work on it. We never used to be a jam band in the rehearsal room but I think in the past ten years we’ve progressed more into that style of writing”.
It’s become a lot more organic then? “Yeah, I think it has become more natural, it feels right. I think it is because we have had the same line-up for the last three records and that lends itself to the comradery in the band, not just for touring, but also writing. We tend to be on a similar page, but we’ve got different influences. So we all bring something unique to the song writing process and I think that has been a real positive. We get each other and we get what the vision is of where we want to be”.
The band is embarking on an Eastern Australia tour alongside Twelve Foot Ninja (including Canberra). I know the guys in Highview and they’re playing with you too. “Yeah, we’ve played a few shows with them in Canberra and they’re good dudes. We really like playing Canberra, it’s so much fun. The crowd always get into it there, I don’t know if it because they are like Perth and hardly anyone big goes there (laughs). It’s always a good vibe, I really love playing at The Basement and the people we have worked with there, they’ve really looked after us. This time we are playing at the ANU, so wondering what it is like as I believe it’s changed a bit”.
Yeah it is a newer venue that’s there now, the old ANU Refectory was demolished and the new venue is referred to as the Kambri. “Really looking forward to heading back to Canberra as it’s been a little while since we’ve played there. Supporting Twelve Foot Ninja is awesome, we’re all big fans of theirs. We’re good friends with them, we’ve played Euroblast when they were there and the guys were like, we should tour together. So it’s finally happened. The Perth show was packed and had great energy, so I’m really looking forward to more of that”.
You’re also getting to take on the masses at Download as well. “Oh, we are so stoked about that. We recently did a couple of festivals in the UK, last July and August. We did Bloodstock and Rambling Man, and we did Tech Fest. I remember how bloody hot it was there, it was like a big air hanger and there was a heatwave. Everyone looked burnt, because no one is used to that weather in the UK. That was one of the first large festivals we done before and it was great, so we were so stoked to get asked to play Download. We want to keep having festivals here, we’ve (Australia) lost so many of them. Due to prices of transporting gear across, now we’ve got problems with NSW where the payment for police is significant, it’s just going to kill the music industry. You want to support what we’ve got, and it is really great to see so many Aussie bands on the line-up. Soundwave and Big Day Out never put that many on, I’m not bad mouthing them, it was just the bigger Aussie bands like Karnivool or Dead Letter Circus. It’s really nice to see some of the rising bands like Polaris, they’re absolutely killing it at the moment. They totally deserve to be on a line up with international bands. I do think that Australia does have some of the best bands in the heavy genre in the world at the moment so it’s great to see them being showcased”.
How do you go about preparing for these sorts of tours? You’ve got six (nearly seven) albums to choose from, so how do you go about preparing your setlist? “When you’ve got something like Download, you go in with the notion of we are going to be playing to people we’ve never really played to before, so we want to make a big impression. Try and pick songs that are relevant to what we sound like now and popular, that people enjoy. It usually makes for a very intense thirty minute set, that is full on. Pedal to the metal. When you’re doing a support or festival, you pick what goes off live when you are playing your own shows. You pick your best five or six songs and roll with that. You’re after max impact, a lot of these people probably haven’t heard you before so what would they get into. You want to try and increase your fanbase when you’ve got that opportunity to expose your music to new people”.
Speaking of that, what’s your favourite song to play live? “Oh, that’s so hard (laughs). Actually, the new song really went off live. We’re still getting into the groove as it’s always hard when you start playing a new song live. You’ve got to work out where you can jump around and which parts you need to concentrate on so you don’t stuff up with your instrument! We were quite blown away by the response to that at the Rosemount Hotel over the weekend. Ascension always goes off, so I really enjoy playing that. Actually quite a few off the last album are fun to play because you can really groove out to them and interact with the crowd. More bangers, less notes”…
So going back to what we were talking about earlier, what’s your thoughts about the Australian live music scene? We were talking about the challenges in NSW, the overheads because of the…drugs, essentially. “Look I think there is no shortage of amazing bands and musicians. I can mainly speak from the heavy scene. I think the hardest things for musicians these days is the people complaining about noise and a place is closed down. A lot of venues now have these problems, we’ve had festivals at a place called Claremont. It’s always been there for years, BDO, Soundwave and that’s where we have our Royal Show. It’s quite an affluent area now, people move in and then complain. I can’t understand why the government doesn’t do more to stop that from happening. You shouldn’t be able to move into a property where there has been an established venue for years and complaints are made and it’s shut down or it’s changed so much that it’s not a music venue anymore. It’s depressing. The hilarious thing there is that these people move in, complain and have things shut down, but in a year they’re complaining that the place is dead, there’s no night life. Why do they think that is? That’s the hardest thing, we don’t lack for talent, it’s all the other obstacles that get in the way”.
I agree, it should be part of the buyers research and if they don’t like it, then don’t buy/rent there. “Streaming is a problem for revenue, the cost of travelling, especially around Australia as you have to fly everywhere. It’s not like America or Europe where you can drive around for four weeks and play lots of shows around the place. Obviously now this new thing (NSW overheads) is going to make it harder, I know it hasn’t affected Download, which is fantastic, because they probably don’t see it as a high risk for Ecstasy use. I don’t think that’s the answer either, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to stopping people from dying at festivals unfortunately. That’s a whole other topic I could talk about for hours. In terms of the music, the scene is healthy. When we play tours, I’m always surprised by the sheer talent of support bands. I’ve played tours internationally and these bands here are much better quality. It’s a tough industry and can be hard to make a living”.
When we talk about how the band has evolved since you first started, was there anything you look back at and think ‘why the hell did we do that’ ? “Always, that’s just part of being a band. I look back and go what was I wearing, why did I think that was a good look. It’s absolutely horrific. On one hand you can’t be like that, especially when you’ve been going as long as Voyager has (established 1999). You’ve gone through different trends that were probably very popular at the time… You do that with your music too, with hindsight and your changing tastes you look back and realise what other things you could’ve added. You have to pull yourself away from being so personally connected to it and if fans and listeners still think it’s great then we must have done something great. So be less harsh on yourself”.
Who inspired you when you were starting out? What sort of influences did they bring to your style? “Musically, when it comes to guitar, one of the first bands I was into was Nirvana, I was a massive fan. Then I got into Metallica and went down the rabbit hole. So, they were a huge influence on me learning guitar. I was in a thrash band when I was fifteen and that was the music I was listening to. In terms of lead playing, Gary Moore, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Dimebag Darrell, they were probably my biggest influences. I tried to steal little bits from other guitarists, obviously not as good as them but I like to get that vibe happening. But mainly those guys, I loved their style, their phrasing, they can still shred but they are really interesting. They build really cool, melodic themes that stick in your head, you want it to be memorable. I think if you are going to put in a guitar solo it has to fit with the music, these guys do it all the time. Also there is Guthrie Govan, he is an absolute freak. But we have some absolute freaks here too, there’s Plini (Roessler-Holgate) and Ro (Rohan Stevenson) from I Built The Sky, and Steven Taranto who plays in Helix Nebula and he’s releasing a solo album. He’s (Taranto) one of the best guitarists I’ve ever seen, I don’t know how he plays. The guy has to be an alien… I’m friends with Steven so he’ll take that as a compliment. But he’s an absolute freak, I’ve never seen anyone play that fast and that clean”.