DATE OF INTERVIEW:
DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT
3rd July 2014
There are few artists who can boast a prolificacy of such richly diverse, innovatively inspiring and consistently exceptional music as that made by Devin Townsend. Although boast Devin does not, for the perennially humble Canadian has always remained utterly modest about his indisputable and widely acknowledged creative ingenuity. Twenty years into his career and his talents show no sign of abating, as evidenced by the latest instalment in his musical catharsis, the recently released 'Casualties of Cool'. With the release of said album supported by monies raised through online crowd funding, of which he impressively amassed 546% of the target that was set, it seems the surplus finances are now being pumped into what will undoubtedly be an antithesis to the sonic serenity of 'Casualties...', the long-awaited follow-up to 2007's 'Ziltoid the Omniscient', aptly named 'Z2'.
Taking a breather from the studio pressures of mixing 'Z2', as well as the general mania surrounding other artistic endeavours related to this most ambitious of projects, an appearance on the main stage at Knebworth's Sonisphere 2014 beckons for Devin. Preceded by what's been touted as a couple of "warm-up shows", Metal Discovery met up with the man himself at the first of these at Rock City in Nottingham. Post-soundcheck, we sit in a production office backstage at the venue a few hours before showtime, and discuss, among other topics, 'CoC', Ziltoid, whether life does actually begin at 40, and Andy Sneap's cock...
METAL DISCOVERY: Are you all geared up for Sonisphere?
DEVIN: Not yet!
(Devin Townsend on the forthcoming 'Z2')
"...voice actors, choirs, orchestras, puppet shows… it’s obscene, man. And if it works, it could really work; and if it doesn’t, I’m just gonna be so proud of making the biggest fuck-around that I think, you know, anybody in my little scheme of things has managed to do…"
Devin Townsend backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 3rd July 2014
Photograph copyright © 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Hence these warm-up shows…
DEVIN: Yeah, I asked for these two so I could get my head into it. So tonight will be interesting!
MD: Are you going to check out Chas & Dave at the fest?
MD: They play cockney style music and they’re about seventy years old. They’re not metal or rock but have, somehow, found their way onto the Sonisphere lineup.
DEVIN: That sounds great, I’d love to see them.
MD: I have to say, congratulations on the Metal Hammer Golden Gods ‘King of the Internet’ award…
DEVIN: Yeah! [Laughs]
MD: But what does that even mean?!
DEVIN: I think it’s just like saying, “Best Devin Townsend” award!
DEVIN: I don’t really think it’s symbolic of too much. Well, I mean, it’s actually very nice… the whole internet thing has been very important for me and I’ve been very active on it, so I suppose that’s the reason why. But, you know, it’s an award…
MD: It’ll be interesting to see who gets it next year!
DEVIN: Yeah, totally! [Laughs]
MD: You’ll have to see if you can retain your crown of ‘King of the Internet’!
DEVIN: Well, I’ll fight for it tooth and nail, man!
MD: ‘Casualties of Cool’ was, obviously, recently released and it’s described on the PledgeMusic page as “country rock/blues rock/country blues” but it’s actually more diverse than that from what I was expecting, and it’s this big emotional journey too. So did you anticipate it being as diverse, and diversely emotional, as it turned out?
DEVIN: Oh god, I don’t anticipate much. I go into things completely on autopilot and let it sort of evolve from there. And, therefore, everything turns out differently in the end than I thought. But I think ‘Casualties…’, the same as other records, I know what I wanted it to feel like at the end, and it does.
MD: There are a lot of different moods on there with a few twists… it gets quite dark in places…
DEVIN: I know that feeling. I feel that way about myself, to be honest.
MD: And it has the acronym of ‘CoC’ which, I guess, people shouldn’t read too much into?!
DEVIN: I’m ready for it! ‘CoC’…
MD: Casualties of Cool…
DEVIN: …or Corrosion of Conformity…
MD: They’ve always been CoCs, of course!
DEVIN: Yeah, we’re taking their CoC mantle! I just liked the name Casualties of Cool, I thought it was sort of neat, so the fact it says ‘CoC’ is just an unfortunate…
MD: …by-product of what you wanted to call it.
DEVIN: But I thought, when I was writing it down, do I want to be called CoC? And I was like, well, it wouldn’t be the first time, so fuck it!
MD: And there’s no “k” there so it’s not full-on cock… a minor cock!
DEVIN: A minor cock, yeah! [Laughs]
MD: I might be way out on this but ‘Moon’ has got a kind of Pink Floyd vibe to it?
DEVIN: Oh, of course.
MD: Ché Aimee’s vocals are a little like ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ and the sax reminded me of ‘Shine On…’. Was that intended?
DEVIN: Well, probably… I didn’t go into it thinking “make it like Pink Floyd” but, shit, I listen to so much Pink Floyd. The thing is, with me and Pink Floyd, I listened to tons of it before I ever did drugs, and I didn’t listen to it after that, so I wonder how it would’ve been… [Laughs]
MD: That’s the converse of what you’re supposed to do with Floyd!
DEVIN: Yeah, yes, maybe I never truly understood it as a result, but I always liked it.
MD: And the track is called ‘Moon’ as well, so another Floyd reference maybe…
DEVIN: Oh yeah. Well, I like the idea that most of my work is more just like a collage of other people’s work!
MD: That’s a humble opinion, but there you go.
MD: You reached 546% of the target you set on PledgeMusic so is that quite heart-warming and humbling to know people invest that much trust in you?
DEVIN: Yeah, it’s humbling and it’s also like a wake-up call because I spend a great deal of my time willingly oblivious to the fact that people participate. You know, it makes it much easier for me just to function not thinking that you’re accountable for it, other than yourself. And, all of a sudden, you see this. And, not only that, but the amount that people are emotionally invested in it… I mean, it’s really, really nice. I’m not used to that; when people do nice things for me or give me compliments, I just don’t know what the fuck to do. This is like a major version of that. It kind of threw me for a little period, for a week, where I was, “I don’t want to do this anymore!”
DEVIN: It was too intense, right…
MD: Overwhelmed by such huge support…
DEVIN: In a way. And it’s also because I don’t wanna not do what I want to do. That’s kind of the thing that’s… yeah, it’s confusing, man.
MD: By exceeding the target, I presume the extra money is going to allow you greater flexibility with future projects and make those more ambitious in scale?
DEVIN: I’m haemorrhaging money on ‘Ziltoid’. It is absurd, the amount I’m spending on this fucking thing. And, honestly, when the Pledge first came in, there was a little devil on my shoulder, saying, “pay off your mortgage and disappear for a year.” I mean, it’s not enough money for me to do more than that but it’s a lot of money, so that was my first impulse. But, then, I was like, “no, you’ve always wanted to make this statement with this Ziltoid thing so just do it, and do it in regards to what people expect you to do”… which is, ultimately, just to do it for myself. But, also, there’s kids that listen now and people send me pictures of their kids with Ziltoid and I can’t just, now, randomly call people “cunts” if there’s now a bunch of seven year olds that want to listen to it!
DEVIN: So it’s been really, really confusing, man.
DEVIN: In a sense, but without losing sight of the fact that he’s a cock, right. So it’s been really, really intense, so I’ve ended up just spending a shitload of money on Ziltoid… you know, you go full retard on it, so to speak! [Laughs]
MD: So is this your most ambitious undertaking to date? You have the Universal Choir, an orchestra, voice actors...
DEVIN: Oh yeah, voice actors, choirs, orchestras, puppet shows… it’s obscene, man. And if it works, it could really work; and if it doesn’t, I’m just gonna be so proud of making the biggest fuck-around that I think, you know, anybody in my little scheme of things has managed to do…
DEVIN: It’s really intense, man.
MD: I gather you’ll be filming some Ziltoid stuff soon, as well?
MD: What form is that going to take?
DEVIN: Well, we film the day we get back from Soinisphere. Right now, I wrote the script this morning and it’s like my head is in five different places, man. As a mono-tasker, I can safely assure you that I’m not functioning at my best right now!
DEVIN: But the form that it takes is advertisement for the record, but there’s also a story. I’ve done a lot of concept records but most of ‘em have just been shitty stories like ‘The Retinal Circus’; just dumb stories that I felt like tied together. So, with Ziltoid, we’re trying to make an actual story because I really like the idea of making musicals; I really like that. I really like being able to sit behind a desk in a studio and just get fat and tell people what to sing. That sounds great! But, in order to get there, I’ve gotta make a reasonable story so I’ve been trying to do that with Ziltoid.
MD: So are we ever likely to see ‘Ziltoid: The Movie’?
DEVIN: I’d fucking love it!
MD: Another Pledge campaign…
DEVIN: I feel so weird about that too. People say, “do more pledging”, and I’m just kinda like, I’ve gotta tell you, it took so much work because I did all these lyrics, like handwritten lyrics…
MD: Naming pets…
DEVIN: Naming pets, and I didn’t just want to phone it in. I mean, it’s like, what are you gonna say, “thanks for 50 pounds, here’s a name for your pet”? So I made this form and took photos and drew pictures of the pets. A lot of it’s my own insecurity that’s forced me, in a way, to do that but it’s also, I was so overwhelmed by it all, I didn’t want to phone it in. So, to do another Pledge right now, I’m like, dude, I’m fucking stretched so thin that the idea of naming a bunch more pets and doing Skype calls, and all this stuff, I’m just kinda like, “ohhh, I just wanna go to the beach!” [Laughs]
MD: But if you could get ‘Ziltoid: The Movie’ out of that, then that would be…
DEVIN: That would be awesome. I mean, let’s play it by ear.
MD: Hypothetically, if you had an unlimited budget, who would be your ideal director for ‘Ziltoid: The Movie’?
DEVIN: Er… the guy who did the new ‘Star Trek’ ones… J.J. Abrams.
MD: Oh, okay, so a full-on big Hollywood treatment?
DEVIN: Oh yeah. That’s the thing, it’s so absurd that I love the idea… I mean, I’ve always written commercial melodies and things like this, whether or not it’s fuck-around material or whatever, I like that, right. But my thought is always that I like the combination of the most commercial thing ever, like Beyoncé and all that shit, with just complete absurdity. I love that combo. I like the idea of low budget absurdity but, I mean, I love the idea of taking just crazy things and make it look…
MD: Someone like Terry Gilliam, maybe?
DEVIN: Well, yeah, now. Yeah, now, of course. I remember seeing the new ‘Clash of the Titans’ and it was just the worst fucking movie that you could possibly imagine but it looked incredible. And I’m thinking, “how does that work?!”
DEVIN: How can they get away with that?! This is a fucking horrible movie! So the idea of having that level of production with something that’s, maybe, well… equally horrible, but maybe absurd.
MD: I read a few years ago that you’d thought about doing some big theatrical show for Ziltoid, so is that going to happen now, when ‘Z2’ comes out?
DEVIN: Well, there’s a show that we have just booked that I’m apparently not allowed to talk about yet.
MD: Can it ever get more crazy than ‘The Retinal Circus’?!
DEVIN: Oh yeah! ‘The Retinal Circus’ was like a high school play.
MD: That’s the benchmark for craziness now…
DEVIN: That’s the scrappy can-do band of miscreants that pulled it together in the last minute. I mean, I want it to be like, “what the fuck was that?!” It was incredible, right. So, there’s always room for improvement… specifically in my world, man! [Laughs]