Devin Townsend interview: "Making music is much a part of my life as anything, like buying food and drinking water"

19/10/2012 @ 13:03
With his fifteenth personal album just been released, Devin Townsend confirms once again that excessive productivity and constant mood for changes are not always reasons to lose track. Wanting to know how 'epic' and how 'loud' can a record like "Epicloud" be, we contacted the multitalented Canadian musician who, apart from the new album’s issues, analyzed the way he composes and lives through his music, informed us about his various upcoming projects and spoke about many other issues, converting a simple phone call to a really enjoyable conversation.

Hi, this is Devin.

Hello Devin, it’s a great pleasure talking with you, since me and some other editors at our site have been big fans of your music for a very long time!
That’s really supportive, thank you!

What are your current whereabouts, dear Devin?
I am at our bass player’s house in Vancouver, because we’re starting rehearsals after interviews today. Right now I’m having some coffee and things are good.

"Epicloud" has just been released and I want to congratulate you for it. How would you describe the music and the general feel it has, in comparison with your previous albums?
I’d say that with "Epicloud" I tried to make a record that took most of the elements that I’ve been known for in the past and put them into one place. Like the Wall of Sound production, the echoed guitars and the sort of new age-y sounding. And then I tried to apply it into one mid-tempo hard rock sound, because I felt that I could produce it in a way that would make it really thick and really easy to play it loudly. And for me it’s a very commercial record, while still retaining what it is that I do, I think. But it’s also a type of sound that I’ve been wanting to do for many years, so I’m very proud of it.

Devin Townsend ProjectI understand that it’s an one-off type of album, as you’ve stated that you’re not willing to try anything similar in the future. Don’t you feel that, exploring different styles as rapidly as you are, leaves any room for progress in each of those styles?
Yeah, probably... But I feel like I have to follow which direction I compel to go in. And that’s what I’ve always done. I think that -you’re right- that has not been good for business, necessarily. It turns that I do it more out of curiosity. But I think the thing is that I put so much effort in this record, that when the record was finished we wouldn’t have a lot of patience to make another record like that. But when you take a good look at it, "Epicloud" is a follow-up to "Addicted", just two years later.

That’s true, I think that it definitely connects with some of your previously explored styles, especially those displayed in "Addicted", like you said, or in "Ghost", yet it’s done with a way that it appears as something completely fresh. How did you make that possible?
I have no idea, brother... (laughs) The most honest answer I can provide is that: I do what I do because it feels important for me to do it and I don’t think about it enough. It was really a thing that I’ve had expectations to do so. I didn’t start "Epicloud" by saying 'alright, we're gonna do something like "Addicted" and we'll add a new element to it', I mean that was never it. What I ended up doing was sitting down to write more "Ziltoid" music, but then I was just writing song after song and they all ended up being on "Epicloud". And then when I finally got them all together into one place I realized that it was a very certain thing that I wanted to make people feel a certain way with. I think that more of what I do, more my process is based on anything that I’ve ever had been before and "Epicloud" is purely just an instinctual thing for me.

Devin TownsendThroughout your career, you have expressed yourself through industrial and other types of extreme metal, as well as new age, progressive, ambient, commercial rock, and even created a space metal opera. Aren’t you concerned with the possibility that the average Devin Townsend fan may find it difficult to keep up with all of your musical sides?
Well, to answer that question very plainly: No, I’m not concerned (laughs).

And you do very well...
Well I don’t do 'very well', but I do well enough to pay my bills. And at the end of the day I’m doing this for myself, right? I often hope that people will understand it because it’s coming from a place that I think is really cool. But if it sounds right, I really don’t care, it’s not a big deal for me if other people don’t understand. Whereas, in fact, I understand very well why people wouldn’t follow where I’m coming from. I mean, how can someone go to so many different places? They’re not me and my life experience has led me to many different places, so it makes sense to me but I certainly don’t expect other people to accept it.

I really liked a statement of yours, in which you said that you enjoy talking about being in an adult relationship through your songs, and still be as heavy as you like. That’s something you’ve done before and more directly, if I’m right, for example with songs like "Baby Song" and "Possessions". Are your lyrics describing exactly who you are as a person, in each case?
Not exactly, but maybe an exaggerate version of certain things. You know, somebody asked me in an interview right before this one that 'you seem to be getting more popular' and 'it seems that you’re becoming the focus of more attention' and 'how does that make you feel?' and all that. And my reaction to that is ‘it makes me feel fine’ because I’m not keeping away everything. You know, I’m not making music to play the martyr for people. I’m not looking for people to validate me through whatever it is that I write. I write things that I find interesting and I don’t relate to shit that lack thereof. If it’s something that I find myself having to think it for a while, then it’s on my mind and when I pick up the guitar it’s usually pretty inevitable that the things that I’m thinking about end up being what I right about. So, it’s not exactly who I am, it can never be, but it’s things that interest me because they’re certain elements of what I go through in my life.

Devin TownsendI must say that "Epicloud" has a really unique production. In which direction did you go this time as a producer, and how difficult is it to achieve the sound that’s in your head each time you create something different?
Well, each record not only has a different style in some way, but that style I’m conspired to make it a unique production. For example, with "Epicloud" I can remember when I was writing it and I wanted it to be something that when you turn up the stereo it sounds really ...something. I wanted it to be clear but I wanted it to be a little more like a hard rock production rather than a technical metal production. And I think I achieved that in a certain way and I’m very proud of it, because I did most of that stuff myself. But, that being said, it’s all work in progress. The things that I didn’t do properly on "Epicloud", I’ll try to solve for "Ziltoid". I know I’m working onwards. I like the idea that the seeds for the new ideas are planted on the stage of the prior ones.

Devin Townsend ProjectI was under the impression that DTP would release only four albums, yet you kept the DTP moniker for "Epicloud" as well. Did this really occur due to the logo’s epic coolness (hehe)?
Yeah, at a certain point, that’s for sure! But I think that I also came to the conclusion that, you know, I do change my mind... about a lot of things. I think that it’s one thing to change your mind about things that are hurtful to others. Like when you’re in a marriage and then all of the sudden you just begin to get bored and you get a divorce˙ that’s one type of changing your mind. I thought that the Devin Townsend Project was finished and so instead I was writing the next "Ziltoid". But I soon as I started writing "Ziltoid" there was "Epicloud" stuff and this other little record that started coming out. And so in thinking about it I decided that the Devin Townsend Project is a healthy enough thing for me to do that, if there are two more records about it, well that’s fine with me and I’m willing to do it because you can tell people 'hey, you know, there’s actually a fifth record'.

And that’s fine with us, I guess... Now, let’s talk about remakes: You’ve done it in "Addicted" with Anneke singing "Hyperdrive" from "Ziltoid" and you did again in "Epicloud" with a new version of "Kingdom" from "Physicist". Do you intend to keep rediscovering your older material?
Yeah, I thought we’d redo a song from "Epicloud" on the next one (laughs). No, I mean that there’s lots of stuff from my past that I think sound like shit, and I like the songs but they sound terrible. So, slowly I guess I’m trying to find places for songs that I don’t think were represented as accurately as I would have liked them to be. I find very adventurous to try to fit them to the new skin of it and "Kingdom" was one of those. I mean, I’d like to do "Victim" or "Truth" or lots of other songs again. But it’s only an idle thing for me, just because I was unhappy with the technical aspects of those songs.

Devin Townsend ProjectYou have recently released "By A Thread-Live In London", a monstrous box set consisting of four DVDs and five CDs in which the DTP tetralogy is brought to life. I guess it must have been quite a bitch to display all four of those albums in their entirety on stage...
Oh yeah... But you know what, man? Everything’s a bitch, all of it. We got this "Retinal Circus" thing that we do in a proper persistent way and it’s just total chaos, man, like 'how is it gonna work? I have no idea'. But we’ll make it work. I mean, the only thing to do is try to take a deep breath and put your head down and get it done. With all of the other obstacles you could freak out and have a fucking cancer... No one could live with that shit. So, the four shows, the "Ziltoid" thing, the "Retinal Circus" and I’m sure whatever is gonna happen next year, it’s all a bitch, man... But it’s a good problem to have, if you know what I mean.

Yeah, I understand that and I also have trust in you, man. You’re gonna be fine with all these bitches.
Yeah, though at some point it would be nice if we all could make a bunch of money and relax a little bit before the next bitch comes... (laughs)

Well, I wish for it, you totally deserve it.
Thank you dude!

Devin TownsendSo, with the exception of "Deconstruction", you haven’t been into extreme metal for quite a long time. Did making this album meant that your extreme self is still alive and well (yet mentally disturbed, may I say) or that you just had to get it out of your system for one last time?
Well, there’s a certain amount of psychoanalysis that goes into these questions that I’m afraid I don’t really think about. Like, when I’m writing a heavy riff, I think 'oh, that’s cool, a heavy riff!', but I certainly don’t think 'whoa, there’s a part of me that’s mentally disturbed that needs to get off for one last time'. That’s never a part of my process. I just go with it and to be honest I feel fine. There’s no drama, there’s no existential crisis, it’s just music. I think I’ve gotten past the points in my creative world where I needed to analyze every distinction based on what my motivations were. Because I know what my motivations are now. I’m a musician, I like music, I like to create music based on emotions and I’m -you know- been kind of long purged in many different types of emotion. So, when I feel the need to make a statement I’m pretty good at it now, I think I’m being able to control that thing in my mind. And if it’s heavy, so be it. If it’s quiet, so be it. There is no real process that goes further than that, right?

I guess you’re right... Now, in my opinion, "Deconstruction" was a far more diverse album than anything you’ve done with Strapping Young Lad. Is your decision to never release anything with that band again still the case? And if so, why?
Well, I think it comes down to the fact that sometimes I can’t be repeated again. Because if I say 'oh, I have no idea what the future holds', then all of the sudden people are gonna get their hopes up about something that may never happen. But, for me, I do what I do like I need to do it and I certainly don’t feel like doing Strapping Young Lad right now. So, for me to be caught in a position to speculate on it, it might be not fair to where I may or may not go in the future, so I’m afraid I have no comment on it.

You’ve mentioned some plans about the future, so let’s make it more specific: You’ve already announced that you’ve been working on another new album, which will be called "Casualties Of Cool" and in it you will be collaborating with Ché Aimee Dorval, the female voice from "Ki". How is it coming up so far?
Oh it’s great! It’s Ché and then there’s Morgan Ågren, who’s an amazing Swedish drummer. We tested some tracks this morning and Ché and I are working on Friday. It’s not a record that I want to focus on, you know. Like, enough of promotion and everything that goes into "Epicloud" is a fair bit, ‘cause the label invested a certain amount on it. But that’s not gonna be the case for "Casualties...", I mean there’s no reason to, because it’s a quiet background sounding country music record. It’s gonna have a very limited appeal. So, I thought I could put it out on the internet when I feel like it’s time, but the next 'real' record I’m gonna be doing is the next "Ziltoid" record.

Devin Townsend ProjectThat was my next question about, "Z2", which will be a sequel to "Ziltoid The Omniscient". Can your fans expect a similar approach in technicality and extremity? Are you gonna do the whole thing by yourself again?
Well, that remains to be seen. I’m one man, I like to think that now I’ll get a band and orchestra and all that sort of stuff, but I started writing the "Ziltoid" stuff yesterday and it’s so easy for me to write on my own that it’s tempting to do that again. But if I do that again, it would be like I may do it all at home and then take it to a studio and have my tracks replaced by real drums or real orchestra or real choir and that sort of stuff. But it’s a little too far on the future for me to give you a solid answer on that either, I’m afraid.

Ok, as long as it’s gonna be out, that’s the point for us... Devin, sometimes it really seems like you’ve done it all as a musician, but I hope you’ll never stop writing impressive stuff, like you always do. Is there a possibility for you to wake up one day and feel complete as an artist and just stop making music?
Well, I suppose it’s a possibility, but again it’s speculative in a sense that I’m not clever enough to be able to see into the future that much. So, maybe it’s a possibility, sure, but I certainly don’t feel like I can NOT write music. It’s much a part of my life as anything, like buying food and drinking water. I’m a musician, I think music. I think musical thoughts. Maybe if my brain stopped working, but up to now I’m pretty good...

Devin Townsend ProjectDuring the last few years, apart from the several guest appearances, you seem to have settled on the primary musicians which you collaborate with. Are there any musicians whom you’d like to work with in the future?
Yeah, there’s tons of musicians that I’d like to work with in the future, tons of them. The thing is that the Devin Townsend Project is a very important part of my world right now and in order to do it effectively we have to play it live, and so putting together a bunch of excellent musicians to perform that stuff is very important. And part of that is the relationship that you have with people. And so, the guys I have in the Devin Townsend Project are people that I chose for many reasons and I think the band is just really getting better and better. But, there’s a difference between live and studio for me. You know, I always use different people at the studio because I enjoy that. But when it comes to doing it live, I certainly don’t want to put together a new band every time I go on the road, that’s just total pain in the ass. So, I choose to record everything either on my own or with session musicians or whatever and when the time has come to play, me and the band get together and we learn it and it works really well, I think.

Now, something that came to my mind. Only yesterday, Arjen Lucassen announced a new Ayreon album and I couldn’t help remembering your impressive participation on "The Human Equation". Would you participate again, if you’re asked to for the new album?
Oh, I don’t know man... I mean, I’m not a big fan of guesting other peoples’ records unless I feel like I owe them something. You know, like the people who guested on "Deconstruction", if they need me to do something, I’m there and I’m more than happy to, cause I feel like it’s only fair, but I get more real of guesting for anybody’s stuff right now. I mean, I think Arjen is a good guy and a talented musician, but it’s got nothing to do with him, I’m just not a fan of guesting on people’s stuff.

In general, are you up to date with the rock / metal music scene? Are you getting influenced by any specific groups?
Well, I’m not as updated as I once was, and I’ll tell you a lot for reasons for that. I think that my desire to hear heavy music is getting less and less, and I think that’s just a normal rite of passage to people. There’s some bands that I hear and I think that they’re great and all that, but I don’t spend too much time speaking of the latest or the greatest metal bands.

Devin TownsendGreece is among the countries you have never played live. Is it possible to make it up for your fans here in the near future?
Yeah, of course. I think the thing is, though, and I’m sure you’re aware of this as well, that the bands don’t have a lot of direct influence on where to play. You know, I’ve got a booking agent in America, a booking agent in Europe, managements, label... And, honestly, the decisions in terms of where we play or who we play with, I’ve got very little influence on it. They give you a handful of options and you’re able to afford this and that’s it. Here’s your option for that, and they don’t ask you if you can choose specific countries to play at. But, up to this point Greece hasn’t been on that list. And I’ve said repeatedly that I would love to play Greece, India, South America, and all the places I’ve never played before. But, until some sign of an offer comes through to us, you know, it’s kind of out of my hands.

Yes, I understand but it’s kind of unfair, geographically speaking, for us to be in the same place like India, because it’s further away, I guess. It’s easier to come let’s say from Italy to Greece than go to India. And hopefully we want to see you, as you have a growing fanbase here.
I’d love to play in Greece and the fact that we’ve not played there has not been my decision.

I’m pretty sure about that. So, Devin, that’s all from me, I have to thank you very much for this interview. You can add anything you want that I might have forgot to ask you about and conclude it in any way you like...
Well, I hope that everybody that’s reading this has an absolutely wonderful week and it’s probably a good idea to phone your mother.