"I want more haters!" Voyager tackle the critics with Colours In The Sun

(Image credit: Incendia Music)

Daniel Estrin and Simone Dow are seated in a brightly lit dressing room within the bowels of London’s O2 Arena satellite venue the Indigo. A keytar leans against the wall. On a stage nearby an audience listen as The Sky At Night presenter Chris Lintott and award-winning author Lucy Hawking, daughter of the late national treasure Stephen, conduct a scholarly debate over black holes and the mysteries of the universe.

The occasion, of course, is Space Rocks. Voyager’s Estrin and Dow are honoured to be a part of this fine event, though the sharing of their band’s name with
a pair of robotic probes sent to study the outer reaches of the Solar System in 1977 is purely coincidental. 

“In fact, the band was originally going to be called Orion,” reveals singer Estrin. “We’re not sci-fi geeks, but we do like to think that our music takes the listener on a musical voyage.”

Formed in Perth, Western Australia, at the tail end of the last century, Voyager are routinely labelled as prog or tech metal, though they’ve long since outgrown such descriptions, tinting their music with a palette of vivid and diverse sounds. Coined in the press release for the quintet’s seventh album, Colours In The Sun, the term “epic electro progressive power pop metal” is a bit of a mouthful, though it covers a lot of bases and provides a useful summary of what Voyager do.

“Somebody recently called us synthwave prog and to me that’s cool – and quite a bit simpler,” Estrin chuckles. “If you don’t like synths from the 1980s then you’re probably not going to like us. And we see ourselves as progressive in the sense that there’s a lot of odd time signatures. There’s a lot of interesting stuff bubbling away underneath which might not at first be too apparent because the songs can be quite poppy. I always say that Voyager has two layers – pop on top and prog on the bottom.”

The singer’s commitment to both pop music and the 1980s is readily apparent via a half-shaved hairstyle in the style The Human League’s Phil Oakey. Neither is he ashamed of talking in the most glowing terms of pure-pop acts of the past.

“ABBA were brilliant,” Estrin announces with glee. “This might be controversial to say but I think of them as a true progressive band because they made very difficult music sound extremely straightforward. I would never dream of comparing ourselves to ABBA, but our album has songs that appear quite simple, though if you break them down I can assure you that they aren’t.”

Throw in some Duran Duran, Tears For Fears and German band Modern Talking on the one hand and groups such as TesseracT and Leprous on the other, plus old-schoolers Yes, Genesis and Steve Hillage, and you’ll get a fairly decent handle of where Voyager come from. Which is all well and good, of course, but how do the band slam all of this stuff down into their own sound without allowing the listener to hear the joins?

“I wish I knew, I guess it just comes naturally,” Estrin replies. “I can tell
you that we never, ever say: ‘Let’s do a Duran Duran track with some heavy guitars.’ That would be contrived.”

Presentation-wise as well as musically, Voyager present a sense of cheer that’s difficult to dislike. The video for the new album’s song Water Over The Bridge, which begins with Dow and her six-string colleague Scott Kay gurning and cranking out its pneumatic riff on a walkabout around the city centre of Perth, is typically light-hearted. When asked whether most prog bands take themselves too seriously the pair nod in enthusiastic agreement.

“One hundred per cent,” smiles Estrin. “C’mon, at the end of the day it’s just entertainment. That’s why Devin Townsend is always so brilliant live. Also, there’s a lot of prog snobbery around, too. ‘You’re not prog because of so-and-so.’ That’s just stupid.”

Unsurprisingly, given the enthusiasm with which this viewpoint is offered, Voyager have had their share of haters.

“Oh, I love haters – I want more of them!” the frontman guffaws. “I knew that when we signed to Season Of Mist, which is traditionally an extreme metal label, it would go extremely well for us or very badly. What I hoped for was more hateful YouTube comments. There just wasn’t enough vitriol.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” chuckles Dow with a nervous eye roll.

Upon its release back in 2017, Voyager told Prog that their last album, Ghost Mile, was the band’s most daring work to date, though with Colours In The Sun they’ve gone even further still.

Estrin: “It’s our poppiest yet heaviest album, but also our darkest. I know that sounds quite strange…”

“…Until you hear it,” agrees Dow helpfully. “But it’s weird.”

“It has some elements that we’ve not used before,” the singer continues. “For instance, there’s a drone section.”

“We flirted with that on the last album with songs like Ascension,” explains Dow, “but this time we really took the ball and ran with it.”

“But it still has that whole synthwave, proggy element going on,” Estrin stresses. “That’s something that’s been pervasive over our last few albums.”

What helps enormously is that the group’s current line-up – completed by bassist Alex Canion and drummer Ashley Doodkorte – has been consistent since 2011.

“We’ve become intuitive with one another; for the most part there’s an understanding of what will and won’t work even before we try it,” enthuses Estrin. “I know that if I come up with a catchy chorus the rhythm section will add something nice and chunky underneath it. It helps that lot of these ideas were simmering around my head shortly after Ghost Mile was finished.”

“We have a solid vision for the sound and the band,” adds Dow. “That’s a massive benefit of having had the same line-up for so long. It’s like speaking a common language, though often words are not even necessary.”

This sense of continuity extends to the retention of the creative partners used for the last two records, Matt Templeman handling the mix and Simon Struthers looking after the mastering.

“With a good backroom team like that, why change anything?” reasons Estrin. “And of course, those guys are improving as engineers just as the band grows as musicians and performers.”

Which isn’t to say that gremlins were conspicuous by their absence. Indeed, an early mix had to be vetoed.

“Matt was going for more of a raw, rock sound and it just didn’t work,” explains Estrin. “We all decided that it just wasn’t for us. It needed to be much more organic.”

“What was his quote, ‘Marshalls just don’t work with Voyager?’” Dow chuckles.

“Yeah,” the singer nods. “A lot of breathing space is required for layered music like ours. The chunky, proggy stuff only works with the synths placed over the top of that, but when instruments start competing for frequencies then it can be a problem.”

As a result, Colours In The Sun sounds modern, fresh and vibrant though the band claim its contemporary ambiance is a happy coincidence.

“We never had a plan to make a record like that,” comments Dow. “That’s just what came out of the five of us being in a room together.”

It’s also a very uplifting piece of work.

“That’s an interesting comment, do you think so?” responds Estrin quizzically. “Our live show is very uplifting, but the album has some melancholic moments. I’d like to think that we’re upbeat but there’s also an underlying dark flipside to what we do.”

Until the slightly controversial signing with Season Of Mist, Voyager hadn’t enjoyed too much luck with record labels, hopping from one to the next and self-releasing their last couple of albums. However, having appeared at Bloodstock and Ramblin’ Man Fair in 2019 they have nothing but good things to say of their dealings with the French company.

“I come from a black metal background and Season Of Mist have always had a reputation for being avant-garde,” Estrin muses. “I think it’s pretty gutsy of them to sign us.”

It’s been a long, hard journey for Voyager, with many thousands of air miles flown, and sticking to the Space Rocks theme it’s hard to ignore the feeling that something very special indeed has been placed onto the launch pad, with blue touch paper about to be lit. Many others might have made a far bigger thing of 2019 marking their 20th anniversary, but Daniel isn’t shouting it from the rooftops.

“What I really want is for people to discover us naturally and then go back and examine this huge back catalogue of ours,” he concludes. “Listen to that early stuff we did and we’ve become a completely different animal. That makes me very proud indeed.” 

This article originally appeared in Prog 103.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.