“I’m just trying to have a nice lunch in the city by myself without being mobbed for selfies. I was two bites into my burrito and someone was like, ‘Oh, my god, I need a selfie’. This is a new level. Let’s roll with it!”
For Voyager, life has changed irrevocably. The band has just returned home from representing Australia at Eurovision, where they finished in a highly respectable ninth place. No one, certainly not the five hard-working musicians that make up the band, saw this coming.
Danny Estrin formed Voyager at the University of Western Australia in 1999, almost twenty-five years before he’d be swamped by fans while trying to enjoy a meal in public.
The progressive metal band spent the next few decades plugging away on the Australian live music circuit, paying their dues, and going through several lineup changes before eventually settling as the five-piece that took Eurovision by storm: Danny leading from the front, supported by guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay, bassist Alex Canion, and drummer Ash Doodkorte.
Previous Australian entrants had already been well-known before participating in Eurovision — particularly Guy Sebastian and Jessica Mauboy — but Voyager was a relative nonentity. After losing out to Sheldon Riley in the SBS competition Eurovision: Australia Decides in 2022 (despite winning the public vote), they were selected by the broadcaster to enter Eurovision this year, becoming the first-ever band to represent the country in the contest.
The long journey to the top made the moment all the sweeter for the five members. “It felt like a really good pay-off for twenty-five years or so of plugging away as a drummer in rock and metal bands,” Ash says. “This is the kind of stage I’d been asking for.” For Danny, there from the very beginning, it was the ultimate payoff. “Someone described it as the ‘twenty-year overnight success story,’” he laughs.
In early May, Voyager finally headed to the contest they’d dreamed of taking part in ever since Australia made its debut in 2015. Their destination was Liverpool and not Ukraine, who were unable to host due to the Russian conflict.
Entering the stage in a car, they motored their way through round two to earn their place in the grand final. “We’ve all been touring and playing shows for so long, the stage is the most comfortable spot for us,” Scott explains. “We can definitely handle the thing we really need to do, which is rock out,” Ash adds with confidence.
The reward for their towering performance was an eventual Top Ten finish. “We just wanted to qualify for the grand final and everything else from there was just gravy for us,” Scott says. “What really surprised us this year was that the jury vote for us was so high. We smashed it, I was honestly expecting zero from the jury,” Danny claims.
The irony that the jury supported Voyager wasn’t lost on Alex. “It felt like karmic justice to do so well with the jury in the grand final, as it was the lower jury vote that meant we didn’t win Eurovision: Australia Decides last year.”
“Have you ever done anything like this before?” is Danny’s belted refrain throughout their Eurovision song, “Promise”. “If you haven’t done anything like this before, then you haven’t been alive,” he sings. When performing that last line at the grand final, he added a knowing glance to the camera; “If you haven’t done Eurovision, you haven’t really lived,” he seemed to be saying.
Why did “Promise” connect so well with fans? “I don’t think this is a year for negativity or introspection,” Scott says of their positive anthem. “I think it’s time we get back to just enjoying life a bit more.” Simone wholeheartedly agrees. “I think people just want to celebrate and come together and have a good time. When you have a song that’s a bit more uplifting, you really feel it in your bones.”
“I don’t think this is a year for negativity or introspection.”
– Simone Dow
Back home, Voyager was backed by legions of well-wishers. “I think what sticks out to me the most is just the overwhelming support we received from our fans and everyone back home in Australia,” Alex says. “We were constantly told that we deserved the opportunity and that we’ve made people proud to be Australian. That to me is wild. Not every act at Eurovision had the support that we did and it made the whole experience much easier to embrace.” And as Ash notes, this country really does love Eurovision. “We actually have the most dedicated [Eurovision[ fans because they get up at like 3am to watch it!”
Voyager wasn’t just representing their country — they were ambassadors for an entire movement of music. They were one of the first bands to take metal to the dance-pop Eurovision machine, and they feel that they brought a much-needed injection of heaviness to the competition. “I think audiences enjoy having that diversity,” Scott insists. “After about twenty ballads, you get a bit tired,” Ash scoffs.
But metal is often an insular world, treated as sacred by its passionate fans. A metal band performing at the campest singing competition in the world? That’s a scenario ripe for mockery. After some initial gripings from naysayers, though, all five were overwhelmed at the support they received from the community. “I can’t think of any negative feedback on the whole thing,” Ash says. “We had some real love from the metal community. This is a great platform for heavy music. The love was universal,” Danny adds. “We got so many messages of support from the metal scene, which was kind of surprising,” Simone reveals.
And really, there’s often an inherent campiness to metal. “What’s more theatrical and awesome than metal?!” Ash exclaims. “It’s dramatic, and it needs a big stage to amplify the ferocity of the whole thing.” “Metal has always been theatrical,” Scott agrees. “It doesn’t get more ridiculous than five dudes with big mullets, screaming at the top of their lungs. You take the music seriously, but not yourself.”
“One day you’re playing an original song to 162 million people, the next someone is harassing you to play ‘Wonderwall’ at a pub.”
– Alex Canion
Before Eurovision, Voyager had released seven studio albums, which is a lot of material for newfound fans to devour. “I think we’re in a position to capitalise because we’ve got a back catalogue, we’ve got a legacy as a band. And in my humble opinion, the legacy is quite strong. We’ve earned a lot of diehard fans over the years,” says Scott. Ash agrees. “I was thinking how hard it would be if this was the start of your music career — you’d have so much work to do, just to follow up, but we’ve already got that catalogue.”
Danny adds that the band’s new fans are “almost apologetic” when they discover just how long they’ve been working towards this moment. There’s also a new album on the way that Alex thinks might be their “darkest and heaviest yet”. For the first time, the band recorded live in the room together. “I think it makes for an especially cohesive and organic record,” he adds.
Watch Voyager at Eurovision 2023:
As well as their new album, they also have a homecoming tour of Australia, before the band heads back to Europe. Ash can’t wait to perform in Germany (“We have that increased exposure there now”), but it’s two other countries he really feels deserves a Voyager visit. “I think we really need to get to Iceland and Portugal to say thanks for twelve points!” Danny, meanwhile, has his sights set even further afield. “Hopefully we’ll do North America next year, and then I’d love to go deeper into Latin America. I’m excited about exploring new territories, that’s a wonderful thing.”
Life has changed forever for Voyager, but they’re never going to forget the hard road to this point. “I got home and then two days later, I played a cover gig at a pub to about thirty people,” Alex says. “One day you’re playing an original song to 162 million people, the next someone is harassing you to play ‘Wonderwall’ at a pub. I love the dichotomy of it all.”
This Voyager interview features in the September-November 2023 issue of Rolling Stone AU/NZ. If you’re eager to get your hands on it, then now is the time to sign up for a subscription.
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