There's a band in town that composes original soundtracks to movies that exist only in your mind. The varyingly pulse-raising or head-swimming soundscapes of Voyag3r can transport you into space nebulas, or to medieval times, or maybe into Tron's grid, or Dune's Arrakis, or even to the dark side streets of Haddonfield. Pronounced "Voyager Three" — its "three" members are Steve Greene on synths, Greg Mastin on drums, and Aaron Greene on guitar — the band creates instrumental progressive rock that bridges "electro" to "metal," while conjuring cinematic vibes of genre films that fit the categories of "adventure" and "horror," as well as "action/sci-fi" and "fantasy."
"Our motivation as a band is just to progress and expand the palette," says Steve Greene, looking back six years to the band's propulsive, Mad Max-evoking debut, Victory in the Battle Chamber. With progressive arrangements being the band's No. 1 agenda item, and with Steve admitting to his second-most-formative musical experience being the 1983 Yes single "Owner of a Lonely Heart," you might be tempted to apply the "prog-rock" label to what Voyag3r do. Not exactly the case though.
"'Prog' is definitely a misguided term lately," says Greene. "To me, (Voyag3r fit) the classic definition, (which) is just what it stands for: progressing the genre (of rock) further, and trying new things."
When you listen to the tension and angular timbres of "The Terror Is Gaining on You," the opening track on the band's latest release, War Mask, or return to their 2016 album Are You Synthetic? With opener "Deep Space Saga" setting an indelible and adrenaline-boosting rhythmic groove with gnarly guitars and gliding synth melodies, then you wouldn't be surprised to hear about Greene's lifelong adoration for classic film soundtracks.
"The first record I ever had was the (1977) Star Wars soundtrack," Greene says. "I remember being told, as a 6-year-old, to be very careful when you put the needle down, because records are fragile, and we had a Sears stereo system on a bookshelf in my parents' apartment. I would listen to it nearly every day, with headphones on, with the gatefold open, looking at pictures of scenes from the film. But it was the same with classic rock records; you could listen to them while looking through the jackets and just take it all in and be transformed to another place, looking at the art while experiencing the songs."
That doesn't mean you should necessarily expect John Williams-esque orchestral gallantry when you pick up War Mask. Voyag3r's stirring arrangements are a special blend of Greene's array of oscillations, with his brother Aaron's epic-sounding rock 'n' roll guitar signatures and Mastin's myriad marches and dynamically filled trundles. It's a supernatural-sounding hero's journey through an impossible netherworld of cursed treasures containing laser-firing Excaliburs necessary to defeat encroaching digital darknesses of untold dooms. (At least, that's what I see in my head when I listen to them)
"Often, with classic soundtracks, you typically have song titles that are a little convoluted because they're describing the actual scene from the film," Greene says. "And really, early on, our first song was called 'Victory in the Battle Chamber.' I wanted to have song titles that were not standard, that were different enough, but not so different that you didn't get it. I wanted the song titles to stand out, but really to suggest a little bit of a story, since there are no lyrics. We wanted to give you a little something, but also not define it 100 percent, because everyone is going to take something different from these songs, depending on how much classic sci-fi or classic horror films they've seen — they're going to draw all of their own conclusions, so I'm not going to tell them what it's about."
Greene remembers the first ideas for Voyag3r songs coming to him six or seven years ago during the last days of a band called Decibilt, a bluesy '70s-rock outfit that also featured Aaron and Mastin.
"At first I didn't think anyone would want to do anything like this because, let's be honest, it's a little weird," he says. "You're not going to get the pop sensibilities out of it, with people singing your choruses, so right away, it makes it harder to be in a band like (Voyag3r) because musicians can tend to rely on stuff like that. So right off the bat, you're guaranteed no catchy choruses — and plus, the songs aren't set up like typical rock songs. So I just asked Greg if he might want to add drums to this weird thing that I was doing and strangely enough, he said yes. And I didn't think Aaron would be into something like this, but he said, 'Aw, man, I'd love to," and then he got way more into his effects pedals than he'd ever been, made a pedal board, and started having fun."
Greene says that Aaron and Mastin have been able to take his original "weird" visions and add multiple dimensions, as well as bringing their own ideas to the songwriting. He said he's aware that there's a certain "elevator pitch" that you might make for Voyag3r. "But with their ideas coming together, I think we are just constantly trying to come up with stuff that would surprise anyone who hears that initial pitch," he says. "And we see a variety of (music fans) who find a common ground (with Voyag3r), whether they're fans of cinema or comic books, or who just like music that has a wide range — they end up at our shows, and they often make new friends at our shows; it becomes this kind of community of movie-music people, horror, sci-fi, comic book, literature lovers. It's a real crossover."
War Mask, along with Voyag3r's previous recordings, was self-produced and recorded at Tempermill Studios, with engineer Tony Hamera (also the guitarist of the Blueflowers) at the helm. The movie-poster-like artwork on the cover, along with the visuals of all previous Voyag3r full-length releases, was done by Slasher Dave. It's available on limited-edition cassettes and colored vinyl, which led Greene to reflect on the immersive and transportive gatefolds of the records of his youth.
"What's old might be new again, or at least just refreshing," he says. "It's got a lot of flavor, for sure. But we just have a hell of a lot of fun doing it. We just think ... what would we want our favorite bands to do? We try to do that."
Voyag3r perform with Basterdous and Yellowstone Apocalypse on Friday, June 21 at Small's; 10339 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-873-1117. Doors at 8 p.m.; 21+ only. Tickets are $8.
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