That Tour Was Awesome: Neurosis/Voivod/Today Is the Day (1999)

No one ever said that creating art on the level of Today Is the Day, Voivod, or Neurosis was going to be easy. And this 1999 European tour was proof of that. No doubt a meeting of some of the most innovative and expressive minds in extreme metal at the time, it was also a meeting of broken bones and worn-out road dogs, of bands suffering for their passion in the most genuine of ways.

There’s also a funny Merzbow story.

So read on, and find out what happened when these three bands hit the road for a couple months, while Voivod was on the verge of falling apart, while Today Is the Day barely held on, and while Neurosis just kept on being the unstoppable machine that is Neurosis. We proudly submit to you our latest instalment of That Tour Was Awesome, a look at the October/November 1999 European tour that brought together Neurosis (touring Times of Grace), Voivod (still supporting Phobos, and, for the real diehards, Kronik), and Today is The Day (high off of In the Eyes of God), as remembered by Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly, Voivod drummer Michel “Away” Langevin, and Today Is the Day guitarist/vocalist Steve Austin.

A backstage laminate from this tour (courtesy of Steve Austin). A backstage laminate from this tour (courtesy of Steve Austin).

What do you recall about how this tour came to be?

Scott Kelly: The main thing I remember is what an honor it was to get to know the guys in Voivod; they were such pioneers and heroes to all of us. And witnessing the camaraderie between them as they cared for Eric Forrest, their bass player. They had been in a serious van accident a few months previous to the tour and he was touring with a broken back. Literally. With open wounds that had to be changed and taken care of constantly, he was so fucking tough and Michel [Langevin, Voivod drummer] and Piggy [Denis D’Amour, guitarist] were so there for him.

Michel Langevin: I met the Neurosis in the mid-’90s in Montreal, where Scott told me that Voivod had given him some kind of direction, musically, and how he was a big fan, and I had a great chat with him. Then they invited us to play with them in New York City in ’96, and it was a strange circumstance, where we were told by the promoter that band gear would be supplied and we’d use the opener drum kit, and then we showed up and the opener was some kind of techno-industrial-metal band with a beatbox (laughs). I had to go ask Neurosis in their van, they had this bus they had converted into a touring bus, and they were all having a nap (laughs), so I wake them up to ask them if I could use their gear, which was really awful. They were super chill, man, and super nice, every one of them. It went really well, then maybe a couple of years after we had a bad crash in Germany, where we took a year off, and Eric was seriously injured. When he came back in ’99 we had a short leg with Maiden, and then this long tour with Neurosis in Europe. Eric was a real warrior, he was still using a cane, so it was a very tough tour for him. It was a long tour, too. We shared a bus, it went really well. It was quite an impactful tour, and all around very successful. I remember in the bus a lot of stoner-riff music was playing, a lot of Led Zeppelin, and I was introduced to the first Captain Beyond album by Neurosis, so it was great fun. Also the tour was all over the place, so some places we went were a first for me, in Ireland, also we played in Glasgow in Scotland, where Eric’s family, all his relatives where there, so it was great. A highlight for me was in Budapest, Hungary, I was there for the first time with Neurosis, and we played with a cult band there, VHK, from Hungary, some kind of psychedelic hardcore punk band from the old days. Great times.

Steve Austin: I had the good fortune of touring with Neurosis throughout Enemy of the Sun and Through Silver in Blood. Neurosis was one of my absolute favorite bands. Through touring, we became very good friends. I really admired everything about Neurosis. Scott Kelly and [guitarist/vocalist] Steve Von Till’s guitar playing and singing, the song structures, the visuals; so cool and totally experimental. Neurosis and Today Is the Day shared the same booking agent. So, one day I got a call and our agent asked me if I would be into touring Europe with Neurosis and Voivod. To me, this was the dream tour. I always loved Voivod and Neurosis, so we accepted the tour.

Denis Denis “Piggy” D’Amour from Voivod, live in Poznan, Poland on October 18, 1999 (photo by Tomasz W. Szubert).

This a very interesting mix of bands; how did the crowds react to it?

Kelly: As I remember, it went over really well.

Austin: The crowds were delighted to see the three bands. Most of the people arrived very early to see all three of the bands and every night was something that was very special to the audience, and me too. The three different bands had their own signature style, but we all represented the underground and experimental music.

Langevin: Somehow it was all really connected, somewhere, musically, and everybody went over very well. At this point, with Voivod, as a trio, we were in a heavy phase, with Negatron and Phobos, so it didn’t clash with the slow heaviness of Neurosis or the ultra speed of Today Is the Day. There was an intensity throughout the whole bill that connected everything. It was great for me to watch Brann [Dailor] on drums with Today is the Day, just insane. Both Bill [Kelliher, bassist] and Brann were super nice guys, very funny, all three of Today is the Day were really nice. Bill and Brann, we’d always ask them to sing Slayer a capella (laughs), and they’d sing songs from Slayer, very synchronized, like a two-headed metal dude; it was really funny. At one point, Steve had serious back problems and he had to leave the tour.

Austin: Near the end of the tour, my neck was killing me. I couldn’t sleep in any position, so I wound up “sleeping” sitting upright in the lounge at the back of the bus. This, coupled with two broken teeth that were infected, equaled going home a few days early.

Langevin: Bill and Brann asked us if they could stick around and set up our gear for the rest of the tour and we loved the guys so much that we said, yes, of course. I was very happy when I saw them joining Mastodon later; it made sense to me.

Where all did the tour go, and how long did it last?

Kelly: I’m horrible with stuff like that but my rough memory is that it went all over Europe in about six weeks. I do remember getting as far east as Poland and Hungary.

Langevin: A couple of months, all across Europe. When we came back we did the west coast of the USA with Neurosis in their homemade bus they had. I think with Candiria, maybe, as well. I’m not too sure.

Austin: The tour hit most of the major cities in Europe and the UK; about one month of shows. Very few off days and a show every night. We were playing bigger places that held 2,000-5,000 capacity. Most shows had around 2000-3500 people at them. Every day was a new experience and seeing old friends and meeting new fans was really great.

Do you have any particularly wild or interesting stories from this tour?

Kelly: No. And if I did I wouldn’t tell you anyway. It actually was pretty significant in terms of the history of heavy music. Steve Austin left the tour to go home and Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher, who were the rhythm section in Today Is the Day, stayed behind and decided to start a new band and that band became Mastodon.

Langevin: Wild, not necessarily, because what I liked about Neurosis is the fact that they have a lot of class. For example, there were a few shows were when we were soundchecking the power of the club would go off, shut down. After two or three soundchecks like that in different cities, I think it might have been in Vienna, Austria, the power shut down and never came back. All the guitar players and bass players had their amplifiers open on the stage trying to find out who was shorting the club, and the power never came back, and the place was full of people, so we had to cancel the show. Everybody was super bummed, and we were loading the gear out of the club, and a bunch of guys came out of the club and yelled, “Fucking stupid Americans,” and crossed the street. The guys from Neurosis and crew crossed the street to confront them (laughs), it was like, “Uh-oh.” I followed them, ready to use my Quebec skills to try to calm down the whole thing (laughs), but the guys in Neurosis proceeded to calmly tell the kids what happened and how bummed they were. At this point, the kids were terrified: we’re talking about Neurosis, a bunch of big tattooed guys, you know? But they stayed really calm and explained the whole thing, and the kids felt really embarrassed (laughs). What was wild was the pacing of the tour and all that, but aside from that, the guys were so chill. It’s always been a pleasure to see them after the tour, as well, because we became really close friends.

Austin: Well, all three bands were filled with pretty cerebral people. Not really a lot of debauchery or wild partying. We all worked really hard to put on a great show. Most of the “partying” was late, late at night on the bus in the lounge while we were traveling to the next show. We would all get together at the back of the tour bus and listen to music, drink… It was so cool getting to know the guys in Voivod. On the very first day of tour we rolled into a venue in Ireland and when I walked into the stage area, there was something going on. Voivod was attempting to do soundcheck and it appeared that the regular house sound man was not available. So, the club had asked a friend to man the mixer and controls. I walked up to him and asked him if everything was going okay. He said yes, but looked disturbed. Then I said, do you know how to run sound or engineer? He said no. So, I offered to help him. Five, ten minutes later, Voivod’s sound was all set and they sounded great. When I returned to the bus after soundcheck, Away and Piggy asked me if I would be interested in running sound for them for the rest of the tour. It was an honor and I did so without requesting to be paid. I loved Voivod and it was great mixing their amazing music.

How did the bands get along?

Kelly: It was a really, really fun tour.

Langevin: I can’t recall any bad vibe or anything like that. It was all great fun. We were listening to some early noise/drone music in the bus. In Paris, for the last show in Paris, I was outside chatting with some people and the place was way sold out, and there was a guy standing who looked really distressed because he couldn’t get in, and there was a record label representative with him who told me it was Merzbow. We had been listening to him a lot in the bus; there was nothing I could do at the door, so I went backstage and grabbed Steve from Neurosis and explained to him that Merzbow couldn’t get in (laughs) and was freaked out, and we were able to get him into the venue, which was great. He was very reserved, and barely said a word or anything. Also, the crew were fantastic; I’ve run into them many times since and we’re still friends.

Austin: Everyone was in it together. This was a big production in a lot of ways. So much gear, so much equipment. Everyone helped out and together we were able to get it all going and put on a great show for each band. Tensions were a bit high at times. My friends in Neurosis had been on tour for a long time. They had done Ozzfest, and loads of tours leading up to this very last tour for Times of Grace. You could tell they missed being home with their families, but regardless would throw down an amazing show every single night. Voivod was very happy to be on the tour, as we were. They had survived a terrible van accident in which Piggy and Eric Forrest were both injured. By this point, both of them had healed up, but my good friend Eric was still dealing with a back injury that was quite painful. I really felt for him, because you could tell he was in a world of pain and still got up there every night and played with all his heart. Me and my guys were just thankful to be a part of it all. We too had played quite a few tours leading up to this, and this was the first time that Brann and Bill had ever played Europe. So, it was cool seeing the spark of enthusiasm in their eyes, of new places they had never been to and new people. I was very happy for them.

What was the tour like behind the scenes?

Kelly: I don’t talk about behind-the-scenes stuff; that’s people’s private lives. It would be like me asking you what things are like in your home.

Langevin: When Steve had to leave the tour because of his back, that was a down moment for sure. For me, I really got along with everybody, actually.

Austin: Well, we played first on this tour. So, there was always a bit of waiting involved. Which was okay. It gave us time to check out things and get situated at the club we were playing that day. The roadies for Neurosis were quite a crew. They all were old-school punks; mohawks, etc. Pretty crass overall and rough around the edges. But, after the day was over and we were all on the bus, they would mellow out and just hang. We basically tried to stay out of their way, because we knew they had their hands full with all of the gear and things they were responsible for. The guys in Neurosis are cool dudes. A smile and a genuine laugh would always make things lighten up and remind us that this was something very cool that we were doing, and I will never forget all of the good times. Watching Neurosis every day was a huge deal for me. I would stand in the first row and sing along to every single song that they played. I connected so much with their music and what they were feeling and saying. I have to admit, I was a huge fan and I didn’t want to miss one second of their performance. I to this day feel that that tour was some stuff that legends are made of.

What was it like within your own band at this point?

Kelly: Neurosis was intense as always; we always grind. That’s a big part of what makes us who and what we are.

Langevin: It was pretty tough, because of the accident in ’98. We were on our way to Wacken in Germany and we crashed and rolled five times; Eric was thrown out of the van, so that’s why he was at the hospital for a year, and then took another year to really get back on his two feet without a cane and all that. So it was tough for Voivod. After that tour we did another one across Europe with Therion and then a smaller tour in Australia, and then we also demoed an album that we never released and at the end of 2000, Piggy and I sat down and decided to split the band. The accident in Germany really killed the momentum for us.

Austin: We were happy. Things were going our way. Temple of the Morning Star had put us in a good position. When In the Eyes of God came out, things were rolling. Brann was my very best friend. He lived at my recording studio and worked at our tattoo shop doing painting, anything that needed to be done. I told Brann soon after we met that he would be considered one of the greatest drummers of our time and I was right. We couldn’t find a bassist for a while, but Brann had mentioned that Bill, who had played guitar in Lethargy, would maybe want to jam. So, one night after finishing work with Lamb of God in the studio, I literally walked out in the control room, put my guitar on and we played the song “In the Eyes of God” from beginning to end with Bill as his tryout. Bill nailed it and I didn’t need to hear anything else. I could tell Bill kicked ass and would be a great addition with me and Brann. So, Bill moved into the studio with Brann and from there that line-up was solidified. It was hard coming from Rochester, NY to Clinton, MA. Clinton was a very small town. Everything closed early and there just wasn’t really that much stuff to do besides be at the studio and make music. The guys didn’t have a car, so they were basically stuck at the studio a lot of the time. Being away from home and stuck in a little town was hard. We all enjoyed the successes of things going on with TITD. We played our hearts out on the Neurosis/Voivod tour and I couldn’t have been more proud of Brann and Bill.

Any final thoughts looking back on this tour?

Kelly: I’m just so glad that it happened; getting to know the people in those bands created bonds that have lasted to this day and most of them are very strong. Having the opportunity to get to know Piggy a little bit before he passed away was such a gift. He fixed a problem in my guitar on that tour that has remained fixed; I still don’t really understand what he did, I just know it took him five minutes and he knew exactly what was wrong with it. He was a genius. Long live Captain Taco!

Langevin: The way that Scott told me in the mid-’90s about him finding a direction when he heard Voivod in the ’80s, they did the same to me with the projections they had live: it changed my visuals, the way I saw visuals live, and I started to work more with 3D animation and all that. It opened my mind as much as Scott says we opened his.

Austin: You know, I am just thankful to have been a part of it. I made so many friends and my band gained so many new fans. It was that feeling that we were doing something that people would never ever forget. I was plagued with health problems and that was pretty insane. Before leaving for the tour, my wife and I were hit in a car accident that did something to my neck. On top of that, I had two teeth that had gotten broken. They were infected and due to being on tour all of the time, I had no down time to address them. So, I left for this tour with a neck that was compromised and two teeth that were fucking killing me. But, I loved music so much there was no way that I could miss this. I have to say thanks to Scott Kelly and Neurosis and Voivod for all of the good times. To be able to play on a tour like this and run sound for Voivod is the stuff dreams are made of.