There are few rock and metal bands who can boast not only the chance to appear in the Eurovision Song Contest but to go on and appear in the final, bringing their music to a worldwide audience of millions. Generally seen as novelty acts, metal as a genre goes largely unrepresented even though Finnish ghouls Lordii won the contest in 2006 with their hit single “Hard Rock Hallelujah.”
2023 saw Australian progressive metal band Voyager hustle their way onto the contest and into the hearts of millions with their brilliant entry “Promise.” Progressing all the way to the final, eventually finishing in a respectable ninth place, the band capitalized on the momentum built by releasing their new album Fearless in Love.
In our latest Cover Story, V13 spoke to drummer Ash Doodkorte to learn about their Eurovision journey, how attitudes changed towards them, the album and their plans post-Eurovision.
Voyager, thanks for your time. It’s been four months since you landed in the homes of the mainstream public. Firstly, let’s talk about the aftermath of that week in Liverpool and how life has been since?
Ash Doodkorte: “The immediate aftermath was pretty stressful, actually! We somewhat foolishly did not give ourselves an extra day to just relax and come down from the high of the finals, so we spent the day sleep-deprived, trying to check out of the hotel, and working out what we were going to do with the many extra kilograms of merch, promo stuff, and mementos that we’d accumulated over the six-week Eurovision campaign home. So lots of logistics, and then we all went our own way!
“But yeah, coming back and settling into real life… it’s been a weird one, really! I don’t think I’ve fully come down yet because I’m still thinking about and working on Voyager every day. Whether it’s working on content, doing interviews, or trying to build up my own brand – there’s always something to do! I had to leave my job because I figure there’s never been a better time to get the band “out there”, and I don’t want to waste the opportunity (I’m lucky to have very, very, very, supportive and understanding partners). But there’s so much happening that I never would have dreamed of a few months ago, so it’s this weird balance of being stoked and excited but also more focused and busy than ever.”
As an established band already, what did you learn from those experiences, and how do you feel you have grown as a band because of that?
“I think we gained a greater appreciation for each other and what we can do when we put our minds to it! Looking back and thinking about the scale of the experience and just the volume of press and promotion we did, combined with the show, we were able to design and formulate around the song that we composed… it’s almost daunting! But we’re so in tune with each other, and we’ve built up so much resilience and learned a lot over the many years we’ve been writing, recording and touring together; we actually have a lot of tools in our toolkit that we can bring to what we do. I don’t think I ever realised how much we can bring it when we need to… and it makes everything feel possible now!”
How did exposing yourself to that wider spectrum of genres change the way you approached writing ‘Fearless In Love’…
“We don’t tend to think too much about the songwriting process; we just dive in and let our sensibilities guide us, and the music just kind of happens in some weird alchemical way! Although this time around, we definitely gave all of the songs a ruthless going-over, making sure that everything we were doing musically was serving the emotional core of the songs. We found that with almost every song, we could focus a little more intently on what the song was making us feel, and we were adding, removing, or re-working parts to make that feeling even more intense.”
“There’s so much happening that I never would have dreamed of a few months ago, so it’s this weird balance of being stoked and excited, but also more focused and busy than ever.”
How much of the album was written pre-Eurovision, and did any of it get re-written after the contest?
“Pretty much all of it! The album was done and off to the printers in the earlier months of 2022, but it does take a good eight to ten months to get a vinyl pressed at the moment, and then a bit longer to get some of them shipped back home to Australia. So we were thinking we’d have the album out in late 2022, early 2023. This is why “Promise” isn’t on the Fearless in Love vinyl – it was long at the printers before that particular song was written!”
Ahead of May, what were your plans going into 2023, and how have they changed given your success?
“In a weird way, the plans are the same, but different! Initially, we had the idea to release the album on Valentine’s Day, do an Australian tour and a European tour, and see what other opportunities we could create from there… business as usual, I suppose!”
“We’ve pretty much still done all of that! The album was a little delayed because that little thing called Eurovision got in the way; but we got it out there, we’ve done our Australian tour, and we’re heading back to Europe and the UK in October for our tour. The change, though is that there’s just more eyes and ears on us now – more people are hearing the album, more people are coming to shows.
“It opens the door for us to make the shows bigger in terms of production, create more content on a more regular basis, and be able to devote more time to the band because there’s the space and resources to make it easier. The dream will be to make it sustainable for all of us in some way or another, so we can keep it up for another 25 years!”
While you’re a band that is constantly evolving, how important is it to not lose sight of what got the band into that position in the first place? How important is it not to digress too far away from the spine of your sound?
“I’m a pretty firm believer in the idea that the spine of the band is the five of us, and whatever music we create is our sound. I think that’s what’s kept the music interesting and engaging, at least for myself, all this time, and I don’t know how long I could handle the creative frustration of trying to shape and force the music that comes out of me into some kind of pre-defined, Voyager-shaped box.
“I think it’s more important for us to do what comes natural to us, what feels right for us at the time, and listen to those little musical instincts that guide us to make the music we do – because we’ll then be guaranteed to put everything we have to playing those songs in the studio and on the stage. People often comment on how much fun we seem to be having on stage when we play live, and it comes from that place of just really being into, and fully committing to, the music that comes out of us.”
Do you think the success of bands like Voyager has helped the appeal of harder music in the mainstream?
“I’d like to think so, but we’d be just one small part of a whole wave of bands doing that at the moment… and that’s pretty esteemed company to keep! I think almost everyone out there likes some kind of heavy music; many just haven’t heard what speaks to them yet. And heavy music still carries with it a bit of baggage in that it’s perceived as intimidating, noisy, anti-social… whatever. But that’s just a stereotype that doesn’t really ring true if you take the plunge and have a listen to the rich array of awesome metal that’s out there.
“One thing we noticed with our Eurovision song ‘Promise’ was that everyone was really getting into the growl and the breakdown in the middle of the song… the heaviest parts! And a lot of these folk were not metalheads – it might have been the first growl they’d heard. So hopefully, they were able to get that intensity from those moments, and hopefully, they liked it enough to seek out a little bit more. On our Australian tour, for a good chunk of the crowd, it was their first-ever metal show, and so many of these people were coming up to us and saying how much fun they were having, and how wonderful all the other people there were. Hopefully, we’re bringing in more converts!”
How have attitudes to the band from non-metal audiences changed to Voyager over the last few months?
“They’ve gone from never having heard of us before to knowing who we are! The kind of music we make doesn’t get a lot of radio support; you don’t hear it in movies or commercials or anything like that, so it’s pretty unlikely anyone who doesn’t make a habit of listening to heavier music is going to Shazam their way to Voyager anytime soon. But getting that exposure on such a huge stage gave us what we had been banging our heads against the wall for so long to achieve: we just wanted people to hear and see what we can do. They didn’t have to like it, but just check it out!”
Obviously, there are few “novelty” acts in Eurovision. Did you ever feel like that being a “metal” band, and did it surprise you how much the Eurovision audience/family accepted you?
“I only really felt like a novelty in the literal sense that there hasn’t really been any progressive metal at Eurovision, and it was the first time that Australia has sent a band to the Contest (something that always seemed crazy to me!). The entire Eurovision community was so supportive of us, and I think they could see that we were taking it seriously (which sometimes means not taking it seriously at all), and we were there to entertain – which is what the Contest is all about!”
Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself, the band or the music industry over the last couple of months that has surprised you?
“I remember saying at one point during the whole Eurovision process, “I’m made for this.” That big stage, the production, the press, the promotion, the songwriting… while it was all hard work, it never felt like it. The crew around us kept telling us to slow down and not burn out, but I never really felt in danger of that. It was all so comfortable and just felt so right.
“As far as the music industry goes, there’s not a huge amount about it that the cynic in me wasn’t already prepared for! With that said, it was quite eye-opening to get a sense of just how vital constant content creation is to being successful in this industry for bands of our level. If you’re not constantly touring, how else are you going to stay current in the hearts, minds, ears, and eyes of the public?
“As a band from Australia, it’s a massive expense just to get out of the country, to say nothing of the on-the-road costs of putting together a tour, and none of that is getting any cheaper. Combine that with the fact that we’ve been at it a good while now and have families we need to be there for and support, the touring part gets harder and harder.
“So you’ve gotta be at it constantly, giving people a reason to pay attention to you that goes beyond just putting out an album every few years. And it brings up some questions: do I want to be a musician or a content creator? How do marry the two together? What do I even create when it’s not music? It’s a very interesting time.”
Roll the clock forward; what advice would you give a band in Voyager’s position in 2024?
“Same as it’s always been – make and play the music you love with people you love. If you have that, no matter how difficult, frustrating or crazy all the other stuff gets, you’ve got your music, and you’ve got each other. And nothing really feels better than that!
“Also, you don’t need as much sleep as you think you do; put everything you have into everything you do, and make the most of any opportunity that comes your way. People see that stuff, and the things that come across your desk get better and better.”
“The entire Eurovision community was so supportive of us and I think they could see that we were taking it seriously, and we were there to entertain.”
From touring with the likes of Deftones to performing alongside the likes of Käärijä at Eurovision, who would your ideal touring partner be now?
“Honestly, I think we would go really well supporting Muse. Lofty goals, I know, but I think our bands bring the same theatricality, drama, intensity, and energy to the stage. And people say our music is stadium-ready… let’s test that out!”
2023 was the year Voyager exploded into the mainstream, to wrap up, what can the world expect from Voyager going into 2024 and beyond?
“There’s lots of opportunities to get abroad in 2024, and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can make happen there. We’re not going anywhere… it’s been over a year since we wrapped recording on Fearless in Love, and I think we’re all feeling the songwriting itch… so I’d like to think you all will be seeing and hearing a lot from us in next year!”
Voyager’s new album, Fearless In Love, is out now through Season of Mist, and you can pick up your copy here.