“We were just a progressive metal band going about our business… the next minute we’re on the world’s stage!” But playing to 160 million people hasn’t changed Voyager

(Image credit: Mike Dann)

Many artists would follow a mainstream moment with the most accessible music of their career. However, weeks after finishing in the Top 10 at the Eurovision Song Contest, Voyager have doubled down on their heavy synth-prog with new album Fearless In Love. Ahead of the last-minute cancellation of their 2023 European tour, Singer Danny Estrin, guitarist Simone Dow and bassist Alex Canion tell Prog about life after playing to more than 160 million people.

It’s early June when Prog video-calls Voyager frontman Danny Estrin, guitarist Simone Dow and bassist/singer Alex Canion, and the trio are midway through being smashed back into reality. This time last month, the Perth-based band (rounded out by drummer Ashley Doodkorte and Dow’s co-guitarist Scott Kay) were jet-setting in luxury. They were traipsing across Europe and getting interviewed by countless glossy magazines, all part of the run-up to them representing Australia to more than 160 million TV viewers live at the Eurovision Song Contest. Now they’re back home – and getting hammered by a storm so violent that it routinely wipes out their internet connection and freaks out Canion’s dog, Seamus.

“We played the WA Day festival [in Perth] yesterday,” Dow tells us, camera off to put less stress on the struggling WiFi, “and our booking agent sent us a video of the backstage area after we left. You should have seen the flooding! It was insane!”

Although Mother Nature is trying to quite literally rain on their parade, there’s no denying that Voyager became progressive music’s newest superstars this spring. Eurovision is touted worldwide as an international celebration of top-shelf songwriting (despite it frequently showcasing the most OTT pop possible) – and the synth-prog quintet had been chasing that rainbow from the moment Australia joined, in 2015.

They came tantalisingly close with their pop-prog anthem Dreamer in 2022, finishing second in Eurovision: Australia Decides, the nationally televised competition to select the country’s representative. This year, they finally got sent to the semi-finals when they were held in Liverpool, thanks to the electro- rock singalong of Promise.

Voyager advanced to the grand final and – after an 80s-throwback performance, replete with sequinned jackets, keytar solos and larking about on a Toyota MR2 sports car – finished a massively respectable ninth out of the 20 finalists.

The band couldn’t overcome the litany of public votes for Finnish rapper Käärijä, nor the jury’s collective passion for Sweden’s now-two-time winner Loreen. However, for five people playing prog in the isolation of Western Australia, it marked an underdog triumph.

“It’s pretty incredible!” Estrin exclaims. “We were just a progressive metal band from Perth going about our business and, the next minute, we’re on the world’s stage! The comedown’s been real, but it’s been dampened by the insane amount of publicity we’ve done. It’s kept that spark of Eurovision alive: we’re selling out shows, particularly in the UK. Eurovision has given us the platform to continue doing what we were doing on a much bigger level.”

The numbers certainly agree. At time of writing, Promise is Voyager’s biggest song, with more than eight million Spotify streams. The music video’s been watched two million times on YouTube, with the footage of that grand final performance firmly in the seven-digit mark.

Estrin’s vow of his band sticking with what they’ve always done going forward isn’t hollow, either. A week before Voyager played Eurovision, they released another single called Prince Of Fire. It was every bit as proggy and high-energy as longtime fans would expect. Plus, with its leaps from synthy verses to sturdy rock choruses, it was powerfully dynamic. No kowtowing to the masses with simpler songwriting or a saccharine ballad here, thank you very much!

“It showed that we hadn’t vastly changed,” Canion says. “I did see some comments when we released Dreamer: people were worried that we were gonna change our sound. But Prince Of Fire is an indication that we’re still the same band. We still have the same melancholy and dark heaviness about us.”

The single, alongside Eurovision entries Dreamer and Promise, appears on Voyager’s eighth album, Fearless In Love. And said album doesn’t just mark Voyager continuing to be Voyager despite the newfound mainstream intrigue: it contains the most out-there and genre-agnostic music of the band’s career.

The Best Intentions opens Fearless In Love with a pulsing dance beat, joined by Estrin’s graceful vocals before the band dive into some heavy, off-kilter rocking. Submarine smacks you into a wall of guitar hefty enough to belong in a TesseracT or Devin Townsend tune, before Twisted’s synths and irresistible hook feel comparable to Signals-era Rush. That’s all before semi-title track Gren (Fearless In Love) wraps these 45 minutes up with an atmospheric and guitar-powered symphony. It’s arguably the most nuanced, evocative song Voyager have ever put their name to.

Fearless In Love is one of our synthiest and most melodic albums, but it’s also the heaviest,” Estrin summarises. “It was during the Eurovision process that we wrote it, so I guess we had a bit more focus on song structures and making sure there’s no extra fluff. We’ve got playful guitar solos and more prog than was on the last album [2019’s Colours In The Sun].”

Dow adds: “We started writing around the time of Australia Decides and [the release of] Dreamer, and the writing process was very different. We did it all at Scott’s little studio in his house. That way we could edit and change things as we went along, rather than doing it all in the rehearsal studio. Then, when we recorded the album, everything was all done. It’s been a huge process, but it was one of the most rewarding and creative processes we’ve gone through with an album.”

It comes as no surprise that Eurovision hasn’t changed Voyager since Estrin, who formed the band in 1999, says that the contest was one of his very first musical inspirations. He was born in the North German town of Buchholz In Der Nordheide before his family relocated to Perth, and while growing up in Germany, Eurovision and classical music were his two greatest musical loves. “That knack for melody and a really catchy chorus came very early on and stayed with me from the very beginning,” he says. “It’s why I’m the catchy chorus guy in Voyager!”

Estrin started the band at just 18 years old – by which point, he says, “I was living and breathing metal.” As a result, their 2003 debut, Element V, packed more high-speed power metal drumming than later albums. However, it also flaunted a love of operatic melody, prog and keytar playing that still defines their sound to this day.

“The goal was to make music sustainable: to write and record music and tour around the world,” Estrin remembers of the early days. “Living in one of the most isolated cities in the world has made that very, very difficult because, wherever you go, it’s very, very expensive. It’s even more difficult when you play a niche form of music.”

Making things even harder was an Australian underground that seemed more smitten with extreme metal than anything else, as well as Voyager’s revolving-door line-up. Dow (friends with then-guitarist Mark De Vattimo) joined in 2005, six years after the band formed, and is today the second-longest serving member. Canion, who played with Dow in a thrash act called Psychonaut, joined in 2007.

“I immediately recognised that Voyager were one of the top bands in the scene,” the bassist says. “Danny had this X-factor that no other band had. He was driving forward a sound that was almost too daring for the metal scene to adopt.”

By 2012, Kay and Doodkorte had completed the line-up, which hasn’t shifted since. Three years later, with the announcement that Australia would become an honorary competitor in Eurovision, the band began campaigning to represent their country. They started the Twitter hashtag #VoyagerForEurovision and submitted songs every year, to no avail. Even after being the runner-up to singer-songwriter Sheldon Riley on Australia Decides in 2022, though, they were never disheartened. “It was never like, ‘We have to do Eurovision or we’re a failure!’” Estrin says. “It was more like, ‘However far we can get, that’s awesome!’”

Australia Decides was canned in 2023. Instead, Voyager were simply told over the phone by broadcaster SBS that they’d be going to Liverpool. When there, they had the same outlook: a win would be nice, but simply representing prog and band-made music to millions of people is already brilliant enough. “If you’re a Eurovision fan, you know the juries don’t like heavy music, or bands in general,” says Estrin. “So the fact that we came sixth in the jury vote is incredible.”

That casual attitude made its way on screen. When Voyager won the second round of Eurovision’s semi-finals, they sprayed people around them with water that they’d put in a champagne bottle. During the final, almost as talked-about as Promise was the fact that, when the band were given top marks by the Portuguese jury, a camera caught them snacking on some ham sandwiches. Cue memes aplenty across social media.

“It was Marks & Spencer’s, so it was a quality sandwich,” Estrin chuckles. “We were told off after the semi-final for the splash incident, so we thought, ‘If we can’t drink, we’re going to eat something.’ These are gruelling nights and days, so there’s nothing like having a little sandwich in your pocket.”

Voyager were far from the first heavy rock band to play Eurovision. Rock’n’roller Freddy Quinn represented the genre (and Germany) at the inaugural Contest in 1956. Then Finnish masked monster mash Lordi and Italian glam bunch Måneskin won the whole thing in 2006 and 2021, respectively. Even this year, Voyager were contending with German gothic metal quintet Lord Of The Lost, who sadly finished in last place.

However, competing in a mainstream programme mostly reserved for pop singers/songwriters has led to purists sometimes denouncing bands as ‘Eurovision groups’, like it’s a derogatory term. Dow claims Voyager haven’t weathered any such pushback, though.

“The feedback we had during the whole process was super-supportive,” the guitarist says. “People were stoked that we were putting progressive metal on the map. Now, we’ve got sold-out shows across Europe and Australia. You could not ask for anything more than that.”

Currently, Voyager are only weeks removed from Eurovision, but they already have a full touring cycle directly ahead of them. Eager to see their litany of new fans in the flesh, Estrin, Dow and Canion are all impatient to get onto the road. “I hope Eurovision will allow us to keep upgrading with each subsequent tour,” the bassist says. “I hope it’ll let us craft the kind of show that I’ve wanted to put on with Voyager since I joined.”

Looking beyond this year, they want to have a legacy as the band that brought both fearlessness and consistent quality to not just Eurovision, but the broader rock and prog scenes. “I want us to go down as a band that doesn’t sound like anyone else, regardless of at what point you pick up a Voyager album and listen to it,” Estrin states.

“We’ve always done things differently, but we’ve always sounded quintessentially Voyager,” Canion adds. “I think that, now we’re eight albums in, that’s never going to change.”

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.