WA prog-metal heroes Voyager have released their epic sixth album, Ghost Mile, hailed by some as their best.
“I really do think it’s a natural progression from our previous albums,” singer, Daniel Estrin explains, “especially because it's the second album that's been done with a consistent line-up. The first four had a different line-up on each album, and there had been consistent progression there, but this one has just really taken it a step further.”
For the past four years, Voyager have featured Estrin out front on vocals and keyboards, Simone Dow and Scott Kay on guitar, Ashley Doodkorte on drums and Alex Canion playing bass. With nine former members over the previous 14 years, the stability and reassuring comfort of knowing all of your bandmates really well made recording a little easier, says Estrin
“To a certain degree it does, because you know what to expect. You know what vibe each member of the band is going to bring. So you do have a little bit more stability or a bit more consistency. I think when you're writing with new members it does become more difficult because you don't know what that person's going to add to it. I think now we've got such a wonderful writing style, and such wonderful co-operation, that it just flowed so well – because we know each other really well.”
Formed in 1999 right here in Perth, Voyager have toured around the world, with Estrin the sole member to have been there from the start. As the vocalist and lyricist, he’s aware that a big part of the sound of the band lies with him.
“My voice is pretty unique - whether you like it or hate it, it's there to stay,” he laughs. “I’m responsible for more of the catchy melodies - that sort of pop sensibility has stayed with the band consistently and that's something that I guess is quite unique to me and stays with me. Whatever happens around that is very, very exciting.”
Today, Estrin laughs when reminded that he once described Voyager’s sound as, “pop on top and prog on the bottom,” but he doesn’t correct that statement, even now.
“Totally,” he confirms, “we can’t change that cause at the end of the day it's all about a soul. Abba, I think was a progressive band, because although they wrote really catchy pop songs, if you listen to the instrumentation, the arrangements are really complicated. So music buffs can be like, 'ah that's really cool' and they can get into the intricacies of the songs, but then other people that just want to sing along and have a good time, and not really worry about the intricacies, can also get into it.
“So that's what I think we're trying to do. Not saying that we're trying to be Abba, but you know, along those lines.”
Those unashamedly catchy hooks and pop sensibilities are what has led Voyager to enjoy a global fanbase – crucially to the band’s financial survival, the American market has been going gaga for them in recent years.
“The US is an interesting one,” Estrin muses, “it's a market that we never thought we'd get into and have popularity in, but it's been so wonderful for us. People have been absolutely incredible and have really embraced our music and us – it’s just phenomenal and it was completely unexpected.”
As stated, the new album is being hailed by some as Voyager’s best work thus far. Estrin is keen to explain what Ghost Mile is all about.
“It's a bit esoteric really,” he starts, “it kind of refers to what we do on this wonderful earth, having really not much meaning at all. There's a line in the title track, ‘and we're walking a ghost mile to war.’ So we’re doing things, we're putting emphasis on things, we're valuing things in our daily lives that are really, in the scheme the universe, completely irrelevant, and completely minuscule because outside of Earth no one gives a shit about us.
“And I guess that when you realise the magnitude of the universe your brain explodes, and it's that sort of vibe: it's just the ghost-like nature and the insignificance of everything that we do… it's not really that positive I guess!” he adds with much understatement.
“But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't put value on things,” Estrin continues boldly, “and that we shouldn't put value on detail and beauty and artistic integrity and all that sort of stuff, but really you should take a step back and think, ‘what am I getting into a fight with this person for? What does this all mean? What's the point of all this?’”
In the fine tradition of many prog rock albums, Ghost Mile’s cover is artistic and enigmatic. At first glance it could be a photograph of a sculpture, but it’s a digital image. It’s striking and strangely hypnotic, and very ambiguous. Are they arrow tails flying one way, or painted star pickets moving in the opposite direction? Are they beams of light, do they represent lives, information, or a structure?
“We spent quite a lot of time with different designs, and this one is actually designed by Ash Doodkorte, our drummer, who is just an absolute whizz,” Estrin explains. “It is a digital image comprised of digital overlays of all sorts of things. We started with various abstract concepts and really wanted to work with colour on this, because really colour is the opposite to 'Ghost Mile' – you think bleak, you think dark.
“What I was going for, and what I feel when I look at the cover is this imposing, almost moving structure that is, in my interpretation anyway, this big colourful universe which really has this crushing effect on you. It's like if you're looking at it from below, you're looking at this huge colourful beautiful structure that is really imposing and I feel it's moving closer to you. And that crushing, imposing feeling is something that is lyrically present in the album as well as musically.
“Just imagine yourself on the cover, looking at that big crushing monster, and you think, 'oh that's really nice and colourful' but you also think, 'shit - this is moving towards me, this could be something which can crush my soul'.”
Both previous album V and Ghost Mile have been the result of very successful crowdfunding campaigns. It’s a model which is working well for the band, especially with the increased international attention in their music.
“Crowdfunding means being able to directly deal with our fans and give fans things the normal model of going into the shops and buying a CD doesn't provide for,” Estrin says.
“Our fans are pretty amazing. They're pretty loyal, they're also pretty intense and they have intense expectations. So in order to quench their thirst we have to come up with creative things - like selling off some of our banners that we used at previous shows, lyric sheets, a personalised experience. And at the same time, the great benefit for it is that you do have that cash injection as a band that enables you to do things that you normally wouldn't be able to do.”
Voyager launch Ghost Mile at Amplifier Bar on Friday, May 19, with support from The Algorithim (France) and Sparrow.