Exclusive interview with Dan Mongrain (Ex-Martyr, Voivod)
Agoraphobic News: You reached guitar virtuosity level long time ago. Tell me something about your musical education. (If Wikipedia is right, you have a bachelor degree in Jazz-Interpretation at University of Montreal and you teach jazz and pop guitar and theory courses at the Cégep régional de Lanaudière, Joliette Campus.) .
Dan: Well thanx,I was introduced to singing and play the piano at an early age,then around eleven after seeing a voivod video of the song ravenous medecine,I decided to buy a guitar and eventually start my own band.And that's exactly what I did.My brother and I co-founded Martyr when I was 14 years of age.Then it never stopped.I went to study music in college cause I was curious about all the knowledge,history,harmony,improvisation, but mostly I wanted to understand more and improve as a musician.Meanwhile I started to play gigs with Martyr and many other bands in any style of music. Worked in a guitar shop while doing sound gigs and playing guitar for many local artists in various style.Then I decided to quit my job and go to university to go deeper in musical knowledge.I was playing gigs to pay my rent, my studies and was touring at the same time...It was pretty rough but I survived.Then I got an interview to teach in college,I started to teach guitar at 14, so it was pretty natural for me so I got the job.I teach full time in college since 8 years or so.But I still play gigs and tour as well.I could not only teach, I need to play.
Agoraphobic News: Should metal music be studied at universities as jazz or classical music? The fact that professional musicians don’t even consider metal for music is outrageous!
Dan: Maybe this was true a decade ago,but nowadays I don’t know many professional musician or artist saying or thinking that metal is not a music genre.It took some time to accept it,like many style of music,it evolved,develop,people got into it more and more.Now that metal is a big part of music industry and draw millions of people to the shows and festivals,no one can deny its existence as a part of music history.Its a huge movement. The fact that Jazz and classical music is taught at university is that Jazz and classical music are the perfect musical genres to learn harmony and melody concepts,orchestration,dynamics ,all the parameters are there.Plus even though Jazz and classical got a totally different aesthetic and perspective on music theory or symbology,at some point you realize it’s all the same,it’s music .Both can be very rich and complexe.I don’t think metal music is a necessity to learn about music. Though there is some good instrument techniques to know from metal Music like,how to play properly with distortion,muting the strings,fast picking,soloing techniques.Its good to know the basics even though it may not be someone’s favorite style.I encourage the same from metalheads students,to open their boundaries and learn how to sound jazz,country or blues…that’s my job as a teacher and my passion as a musician, to be able to play anything in any situation.Like a good actor playing tragedy or comedy or else. Becoming the music you play is an art and a lot of work. Though its important to keep your own personality to everything you play.
Agoraphobic News: Is it true that you participated in more than 80 projects as a session musician? (That kinda reminds me of Jimmy Page’s early days) Can you make for a living just by playing music?
Dan: Yes,maybe more than 80 projects now,I stopped counting long time ago.Well it is a reality here in Montreal and I’m sure in many places in the world, you need to be a very versatile player to make a living.I put the chances on my side and learned how to read music, how to write, how to improvise etc…As a freelancer I played country,blues,jazz,pop,hip-hop,rock,reggae…and lots of metal.I make a living with music since 15 years but I’ve been working as a freelance since I was 16 years old.I didn’t even have the right to be in a bar but I was playing guitar onstage with a 12 piece band with a brass section! that was a blast! Of course I started playing guitar listening to metal,and it was the intricate and progressive and aggressive side of metal that appealed me.But I never closed my doors to any other musical forms. So, I was at some point working in a guitar shop selling guitar in my early twenties,and I got many gigs just by playing guitar in front of the customers…I was thinking…I’d rather play the guitar than sell them to make a living!
Agoraphobic News: It’s pretty cool to see that you teach young students how to play a guitar. How many students you’ve had so far?
Dan: Oh I don’t know…over a hundred,I started teaching when I was 14…I never counted…
Agoraphobic News: What can be downside of musicians who have a proper musical education?
Dan: Is there any? I mean knowledge is not talent…but talent is not knowledge either, I think It takes a good balance of both to achieve what you want.By example, I never think about theory when I play or compose ,I prefer spontaneity and feel.But then when it comes to arrange a song,reading,writing, and naming concepts with a vocabulary and to be able to share and exchange with other musicians ,speaking the same language can be very efficient! I think there is only upside of having more knowledge about something you do.The danger is getting imprisoned by that knowledge.It can sometimes happen while a musician is studying because he doesn’t have the perspective yet,he understands it but don’t get it really…sometimes it takes years to really get it.When you assimilate on a deeper level what you have learn,it becomes a second nature,you don’t even think about it anymore…then…you get it.Its the same thing as when you learn a new language…first you have to think a lot….then you just say whatever you want when you want because its part of you, you made it a part of you by practicing and repeating.I think the best thing to remember is to learn and then forget everything.
Agoraphobic News: What is your favorite music genre ?(excluding metal xD)
Dan: That’s a very hard one,I was into metal since I’m 11 or so.But I soon discover other styles….I don’t know It really depends on how I feel…I have preference with music that surprises me and that I find very unique and original…and I sadly don’t get that too much from metal music anymore…I can go from 70’s prog to NY Jazz, to soul and funk and to contemporary and orchestral music,then listen to a folk country album and then Michael Jackson and Bob Marley…Having a favorite style of music is like having a favorite meal…If you eat it too often, one day you get sick of it.I think I know more about music that doesn’t speak to me than music that I like because there is much more to like than to dislike! Well in the end my favorite music is the one I listen to when I want to listen to it.It depends on the context,the mood etc…
Agoraphobic News: Who are your biggest metal and non metal influences ?
Voivod ,I know I play with them now but if you ask any of my friends they will tell you the same… Voivod is without any doubt the band that influenced me the most,there were the reason that I bought a guitar and wanted to start a band,the are also the reason why I got so curious about knowing more about musical education because their music is so unique and intricate. Back in the day I was a lot into Megadeth ,Metallica,Death,Cynic,Obliveon(rip montreal),DBC(rip montreal),Coroner,Forbiden,Annihilator,Meshuggah,Dillinger Escape Plan,Strapping young lad… Jason Becker , Marty Friedman, Steve Vai ,Satriani ,even though It was a long time ago they had an impact on me for sure,musically for songwriting and/or guitar playing.
As a guitar player,Allan Holdsworth had a huge influence on me,his sound,phrasing and uniqueness,his compositions and strange chords and abuse of passing tones. Scott Henderson,Wayne Krantz, ,John Schofield,Pat Metheney,Emily Remlar, Oz Noy,Brent Mason, Jaco Pastorius ,Pat Martino and many more are guitar players wich influenced me on different levels. The Cardiacs(wich I discover lately),King Crimson,Mr. bungle,Zappa,the meters,the Alman Brothers,Michael Jackson,Stevie Wonder,Rush,UK,Igor Stravinski,Nicolo Paganini,Bélà Bartok…and many more…some good musicians and friends I played with around Montreal and some teachers At university also had a huge impact .
Agoraphobic News: Got any advice for non-educated musicians like me?
Dan: Just play from your heart,have fun and express yourself, and If you feel you are stuck somewhere and need advice or help to improve,go get it,don’t be afraid to know more,to understand more and to reach a new level.
Agoraphobic News: Martyr’s debut album Hopeless Hopes is finest mix of melody and brutality (reminds me of Death’s Symbolic) . Is it hard to compose music containing these 2 elements ? I mean, a lot of nowadays bands sound uniformal . Some of them put accent on sheer technicality and that makes their music sound like tetris 8 bit music, while others try to be brutal as fuck, losing sense of melody.
Dan: Thanx,yes I actually listened to a lot of the band Death at that time. I don’t know,It came out very naturally,we were not even 20 years old when we wrote those songs. I never really thought about how it should sound like,it was just a reflection of what we were like at the time.And also we actually had to play the parts well…no editing technology was good enough to cut and pace…Maybe that’s a reason that many bands sounds the same nowadays…but I think it is just a transitional time.Like in the 80’s when every band discovered polyphonic synthetizers.
Agoraphobic News: When speaking of lyrics some of the songs like Non-Conformis clearly depict hypocrisy of political power through indoctrination, propaganda, brainwashing and capitalist drainage (in ,,buy low, sell high, in god we trust” manner) Are people unaware of this or they have just succumbed to the system ?
Dan: It’s too big of a question for me to answer,but my opinion is that we just repeat history over and over… Humans didn’t change that much since hunders of thousands of years and I think the planet will survive humanity but not the other way around.Its a sad era right now…It’s hard not to have your big toe in the system…its almost impossible…but music and art can open consciences and minds and get people to think for themselves…I’m glad if I can participate in that way.
Agoraphobic News: I am not sure if I got Ars Nova lyrics 100% right, but as always, musical industry (or industry of any sort) tend to live off not so fresh corpses as much as possible. Just look at numerous Pantera or Death reissues… I think both Dime and Chuck are thumbling in their graves for that. Their legacy would live on even without those numerous remasters. Same goes with Jimi Hendrix and others. What are your thoughts on this subject ?
Dan: Wow,I never thought about it that way! Thanx for bringing this idea,that a great thing about writing lyrics around a theme but letting the listener deciding about the subject.We always did this in Martyr.Taking a subject but rarely talk directly about it.Ars Nova Lyrics was written to denounce a science exposition by German Doctor Gunther Von Hagens called Body World where real human bodies where displayed after a process called plastination where you could see internal organs and layers of skins and bones…But I don’t agree with the Idea of the song.I saw that exposition in Montreal and I thought it was great.My brother wrote it at the time and I didn’t really know what it was about but I thought everyone can express their way of perceiving things.But I like the perspective you had about the song!It’s refreshing!As for remasters and the industry,well, most of the masters belong to the labels…so what can you do…Also, If its done with respect and for the fans,why not? I don’t know…It’s hard to take position.
Agoraphobic News: Both Warp Zone and Feeding the Abscess incorporate groovier and more dissonant riffs. But what in your opinion differs one from another the most ? Of coruse, for the latter, you entered a real studio. By the way, Feeding the Abscess always reminded me of King Crimson’s later work spiced with some good old Voivod tunes.
Dan: 6 years between both albums,better budget for the studio,very complex compositions…headaches,tensions,pain…I thought at some point it would never be out…many problems of sound with guitars and drums…and bass…Feeding the abscess is the best title for this album.I feel now we were litteraly feeding an abscess about to explode in our face hahaha!
With Warp Zone we also had problems with the sound mainly because of human mistakes and inecperience but It had a good impact at the time.I can’t listen to those record anymore(not that I listened to them before) but I’m still proud of what we did. King Crimson with Voivod…It makes total sense! hahaha
Agoraphobic News: „You had to record all guitars twice for the last record because of some buzz coming from the amp. I guess that things got even more better afterwards, right?
Dan: Yeah a lot better, and I could play the parts even tighter,so this was for the best,Unfortunately the drums sounds were impossible to work with as it was, so Pierre Rémillard recommended strongly to sound replace pretty much the whole kit.It was a hard and unpopular decision to make cause it lost a lot of the natural sound and drumming…I don’t know if it was a mistake, my confidence was with Pierre and his expertise on the subject, and that’s what we did…it was a long and hard process…Very dense music is very hard to mix to hear everything…I don’t think the same way anymore…now I think the writing of the music is 90% part of the mixing process. I would never do an album the same way we did this one…but Life is a learning journey and I look forward. I’m still proud of the album nevertheless. I think It’s the most complex and dense music I will ever write.
Agoraphobic News: Pierre Remillard connected you with Luc Lemay, and then you got up in Gorguts writing From Wisdom to hate. I assume that you were amazed with his perception of composing and arrangements. And by the way, he commended you as a guy who can write down all the riffs just by looking at someone’s fretboard and do all the hard work in a day! Have you ever played live with Gorguts ?
Dan: Well,to tell you the truth I barely knew Gorguts music when Luc called me.But I wanted the gig, I was starving for music and playing shows. Then I got to understand the language and assimilate it, make it part of my vocabulary by learning songs…and then we could write together. We were both into music theory so it was very easy to talk the same language but we rarely thought about theory, it was all about instinct and creativity. I learned a lot from the whole experience, musically and humanly. I did played shows and toured with Gorguts before and after recording From “Wisdom to Hate”.
Agoraphobic News: It’s too bad that both Steeve Hurdle and Steve Macdonald died.Are you in contact with Luc and Steve Cloutier ?
Dan: Yes that’s tragic.they were 2 great guy,very passionate! Last time I talked to Luc was to congratulate him on the latest Gorguts.I think it’s brilliant and he sure have an amazing band writing and playing with him on this album.
Agoraphobic News: How did you end up in Cryptopsy ?? NONE SO VILE set some standars to the whole death metal movement!
Dan: Well, I got a call, they needed a Guitar player for touring. Martyr always was a reference for bands to ask for replacement for othe bands .I think we proved we could play as a band and as individuals…So I got the call and I wanted to tour and help them out so I said yes. Then I left after the U.S. tour. Though I respect Cryptopsy For what they are ,I never was into the aesthetic of their music. I really liked 2 songs in the setlist but that was it. So I decided to concentrate on my own things.
Agoraphobic News: Playing with Voivod must have been great honor! You did tremendous job at Target Earth! When are we going to hear a brand new Voivod record?
Dan: This is the dream…I pinch myself everyday…playing all around the world with all the bands I listened to when I was a kid,…and this…playing in my fave band of all time…It is sooo unreal! Writing music and record an album, being part of it as an equal member…it is soo satisfying for the soul! The vibe in the band is amazing, the music is wrote altogheter , everybody gives their input in the music ,it is a real band! Chemestry is at its best and you can tell it when we are onstage, the energy, the happiness…I never felt something like this in my entire career! I’m very honored and grateful to play with Voivod! We are now writing new songs, one is already out it is called “we are connected” we played it live on our last USA Tour with Napalm Death last Febuary. We record ideas and song and it will eventually Finds its way to an upcoming album!
Agoraphobic News: What is the main reason of disbanding Martyr? It happens that Patrice Hamelin plays with Gorgtuts now. Is there any chance of reunion??
Dan: To tell you the truth, when I look back, I think it didn’t work well since a few years, there was tensions in the band and disbanding was the best decision for everybody .A reunion is out of the question. I wish everyone the best!
Agoraphobic News: What is your proudest work?
Dan: The work to be done.
Agoraphobic News: As always, last question must be stupid – Vlad the Impaler or Countess Bathory ?
Agoraphobic News: It is really an honor to do with an interview with such awesome musician as you are!!! I mean, you played in some of the best metal bands ever!! I wouldn’t be surprised to see you play with Jeff Waters someday in the future xD If you ever tour Eastern Europe, pay Serbia a visit!!!!
Best regards and keep it metal
Dan: Thanx Milosh!
Keep up the good work spreading the word! Hope to play in Eastern Europe soon!!