If there ever was a year to look back on with pride for Perth synth-metal band Voyager (led by vocalist and synth maestro Danny Estrin), it would be 2023.
The quintet stunned audiences on the global stage at Eurovision in May, delivering a powerful performance of ‘Promise’, before bringing that thundering energy back home with a run across the country that wrapped up last month. All of that momentum has culminated into the release of eighth album, Fearless In Love, full of crunchy riffs and delicious electronics – check out our review here.
After sitting down for our chat, guitarist Scott Kay cheerfully painted the weather over in WA as being “on-and-off miserable”, suiting him just fine as a winter person. He reflected on his longstanding relationship with Matt Templeman (who co-produced the new album), precious Sunday mornings spent with the band while songwriting and how the idea behind ‘Ultraviolet‘ applies to his own life.
I love that Fearless In Love goes in a more synth-y, atmospheric direction, while the guitars are still very much present. It strikes a good balance.
Awesome, thank you! I think it is a nice balance between the two [synths and guitar]. Simone (Dow, guitar) and I have regularly talked about how much we enjoy all of Danny’s synth work, and that if there was a synth version of every record, we could probably enjoy it just as much in its own way. Of course, a lot of the time the synths and guitars butt heads in terms of where they fit in the overall mix. It can be a battle of what matters more at what point, and I think this record does that really well. A lot of it is our guitar work taking the back foot when it needs to, but then we use it as a dynamic push to make a large statement when it does come in. So it’s cool that you’ve picked up on that, because that was very much an intentional thing that we did on this album.
Awesome. Now let’s talk about Matt Templeman. How would you reflect on your longstanding relationship with him?
He’s one of my old high school friends, so I’ve known him for over half my life now. We became friends when we were like 15, and he’s been doing the sound production thing for a long time. He’s a well-informed musician as well and understands music on a very deep level. I think that informs a lot of his creative decisions when mixing.
He’s one of those guys who is very agreeable, but will always have something new to input. He’s played somewhat of a producer role when we’re tracking – he’ll suggest we do this or do that – and most of the time, his suggestions are extremely good. We’re not talking about fundamental songwriting stuff, but about how to approach a specific part. For him, it’s a lot of the fine-tooth comb kind of work… He manages to eke out all of that extra value, touch and flavour to the album.
From my point of view, Matt’s production work has gotten better with time and we now have this mentality of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He’s a great guy and easy to work with, and to me he approaches each record with a new perspective because he’s always learning.
Tell me more about the band recording the album live and all together. What did you learn from the process?
The live thing was something that we did with ‘Dreamer’ – We recorded it before the rest of the album because of the urgency to get that song done, and Matt wanted to just get in there and give it a go live. Obviously we went through and did some overdubs after the fact, but the thing that we were aiming to get was a really good drum take, because that’s the fundamental with everything.
So us being in the room with Ash (Doodkorte) playing the songs in real time I think really lifted his game, giving his drums a more organic energy. By the same token, we had to be in full control of what we were doing… We had to be able to perform the songs in full, in the room. Especially with the way we wrote the album, which was very much in small parts over a period of 12-14 months, having to come in and play the songs through from beginning to end was quite daunting…
It was a weird thing because with every other record, we’ve spent time in the jam room at least playing the song ideas, but this was the first time where we didn’t do that at all. We treated it like doing studio pre-production as step one… I think it [recording live] lifted our game in terms of how we approach studio time.
It’s really cool to hear about that whole process. Reflecting further on making the record, what were some of the moments that you’re most proud of?
That’s a good question. It all becomes a bit of a blur because of the way we approached it. We would get together every Sunday morning and just chip away at it. It’s less so what I was proud of but more what made me feel happiest, which was the actual process itself. It was really lovely to get up early on a Sunday – starting between 9 and 10am – which for a musician is unheard of (laughs)… We would have our coffee and a morning chat, and then we would write some music. It was a beautiful time.
I’m just proud of the fact that that process created what I believe to be some of the best music Voyager has ever written. It feels very focused and in this way of writing we had more insight into everybody else’s parts. For the first time, some of us were suggesting changes to Danny’s lyrics – we’re only talking small percentages – but we’ve never done that before, really…
Yeah we had roadblocks along the way, but I’m just stoked that this process really worked for us. I think we’re going to be using it moving forward.
Now Danny has talked about ‘Ultraviolet’ being about coping with the speed of modern society. What are some things that have kept you grounded when that life pressure becomes too much?
Actually seeing people. It’s weird, because I don’t see a psychologist, but I’m seeing an acupuncturist, I’m seeing a chiropractor who’s phenomenal and is basically my psychologist in a way and using their advice to level me out. It’s been an insane 12 months in a lot of ways for me. I think there’s absolutely no shame in seeking help in that way and there’s nothing wrong with being open about it either…
It’s not just about talking about it, it’s about doing it and that tends to be the part that gets overlooked… If anything it’s actually the hardest part of the battle. There are a lot of things for me. Sometimes it’s just playing video games and disconnecting, or for me Dungeons and Dragons is a big thing in my life – I love it and run a couple of those games. I’m just a fucking nerd at the end of the day (laughs). That’s great escapism but also you’re doing something with friends… So maybe escapism when done in the right way is a healthy thing (chuckles).
Totally. Now turning back to Fearless In Love for a second… I know some of your biggest musical influences include Dream Theater and Devin Townsend. Have either of those influences seeped into your guitar playing on the new record?
Devin? Big time. This record to me feels more Devin-inspired than anything we’ve done, especially the last track. There are moments in ‘Listen’ – the second-last track – which have a real early-Devy influence. I’m a huge fan of his Ocean Machine-to-Synchestra era.
Dream Theater not so much these days. I feel they’re a band that influenced my early learning as a musician… So it would be buried somewhere in the background [of the record], but the things that I hear the most [on Fearless In Love] are a mix of Devin and the more melodic moments of Type O Negative.
These days though, Voyager is trying to carve its own sound. I don’t know what that is exactly, but it never feels like we’re intentionally drawing from anything specific. We just pluck things out of a void and write what we think the song wants, and that’s what it ends up becoming… To me that’s what writing is, you have to let go of the reins a little bit and serve the song…
For sure. So with ‘Promise’, you released a stunning video clip that was filmed in WA’s Kalbarri region. Did any of you guys have a pre-existing connection to that place?
Our love for the state has definitely grown over the years… We just love WA and I haven’t seen enough of it, which is the silly thing as well. You don’t tend to check out your own backyard, even if there are tonnes of amazing things there…
At least for me, there was no prior connection to the Kalbarri region, but I’ve always had a longing to see more of WA and this was just the perfect reason to do it. So thanks to Tourism WA for helping us out with getting up there. We had a coach hired for us, and we went up and saw the Abrolhos Islands. It was stunning and makes me want to see more of it.
Hutt Lagoon is beautiful and if you can get there on an overcast day, it’s even better. All of the reflection of the clouds on the lake is just ethereal… When you’re down there, it looks as amazing as it does in the video. Usually when you see a clip, it’s been graded so the colours pop a little more, but the guy who flew the drone for us got the raw footage back and said he actually had to take the saturation out of the photos in order to make them look right… It’s unreal.
It’s definitely the perfect backdrop for Voyager’s music. Final question: while you guys were in Liverpool for Eurovision, did you get a lot of time to sightsee?
Our time there was awesome, but in terms of actual sightseeing there wasn’t a lot of time unfortunately. We spent enough time wandering around the city and we went to local pubs, that kind of stuff… but we didn’t get a chance to go to the Beatles museum or anything. We did get to go to The Cavern Club though which was awesome, and we saw Lord of the Lost perform an acoustic set down there…
The thing about the Liverpool experience for us was the fact that the whole city was just alive with energy. It felt like everyone was embracing the Eurovision culture… I think Liverpool did a great job of hosting on behalf of Ukraine as well. They had all of the Ukrainian colours littering the streets, it was phenomenal.
I wish we had more time to sightsee, but when you’re in the Eurovision bubble, that’s the only thing you really focus on. I definitely want to go back.
Interview by Genevieve Fellmoser
Pre-order/save Fearless In Love here
Voyager – Fearless In Love tracklisting
1. The Best Intentions
2. Prince of Fire
3. Ultraviolet feat. Sean Harmanis of Make Them Suffer
5. The Lamenting
11. Gren (Fearless In Love)