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31st March 2015
With a prolific propensity seemingly like no other, the perpetually fertile and innovatively inclined psyche of Devin Townsend was as rampant as it's ever been last year with the release of no less than three new albums. First came his crowd-funded, eponymously titled Casualties of Cool opus with Che Aimee Dorval, a chilled platter of mellow sonic fodder, delivered with a blues/country twang. Then arrived a dose of double album grandiosity in the form of 'Z˛', featuring new DTP material on one disc, under the name of 'Sky Blue', and the much touted follow-up to 2007's 'Ziltoid The Omniscient' on the other, antithetically titled 'Dark Matters'. On the latter, through his progressive proclivities, Devin pushed the narrative and musical parameters of the coffee-obsessed alien's adventures to new epic heights, although it seems the Canadian's primary motive was more simply to have a whole lot of fun with some expensive puppets. With a sold-out show at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall, billed as 'The Return of Ziltoid', just two weeks away, Metal Discovery caught up with a flu-ridden, apologetic, yet always affable Dev backstage at the Academy in Manchester before the final show of his European tour for a natter about awards, musical integrity, Ziltoid, puppets, Poozers, farts and ball bags...
METAL DISCOVERY: I noticed on a recent Twitter post that you punched yourself in the face during ‘Kingdom’ a few days ago, which is already a pretty intense song…
DEVIN: Yeah!
(Devin Townsend on last year's ‘Z˛’)
"...the expense of the puppets spurred on the need for a record. And then the oddness of the record spurred on the need for a more commercial record. And then, before I knew it, I was committed to a project that was massive in scope and there wasn’t a lot of time to do it."
Devin Townsend backstage at the Academy, Manchester, UK, 31st March 2015
Photograph copyright © 2015 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: What happened there?!
DEVIN: It wasn’t intentional. I went to do some gesticulation and my thumbnail cut myself in the face. It seemed much more romantic than it actually was!
MD: Last time we spoke, I had to congratulate you on your ‘King of the Internet’ award…
DEVIN: Yeah.
MD: Obviously, you’ve recently won a proper award, with the Juno Award for ‘Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year’, so a big congratulations on that. I’m guessing that level of recognition from the Canadian music industry must feel pretty fantastic?
DEVIN: Yeah, I think so… I haven’t been home since then. I mean, we won it when I was on my own in a car park in Czech Republic, so maybe it will hit home a little more when I get home. But, yeah, it was, and still is, a really cool thing; a real honour, you know.
MD: Unexpected?
DEVIN: I guess so. We’ve been nominated for the past three years so, I guess if you keep showing up to the party, they eventually give me a seat, right! [Laughs]
MD: That’s fair enough!
DEVIN: Yeah.
MD: You have an unreleased track from the ‘Addicted’ session called ‘Juno’…
DEVIN: Yeah.
MD: So are you going to record a track called ‘King of the Internet’?!
DEVIN: No! But, you know, who knows!
MD: You could do it as a version of ‘King of the Road’, perhaps!
DEVIN: [Laughs]
MD: Congratulations, too, on ‘Z˛’. Incredible, incredible stuff.
DEVIN: Thank you, man, thank you.
MD: By releasing ‘Sky Blue’ with ‘Dark Matters’, were you worried that the former might get dismissed as a ‘B-movie’ to the ‘main feature’? It’s as strong an album, I think, just in different ways.
DEVIN: I’d be lying if I said I went into any project with any premeditated ideas of what’s gonna happen or what’s gonna be perceived as a result of it. I just kinda work on autopilot and then, when it’s done, it’s done and I have more of an internal sense of when that is. And then, at that point, I leave it up to the audience to decide if one’s better than the other. But ‘Z˛’ was made under duress, for sure. There was a lot of chaos that went along with that year. But, that being said, I finished it in a way that I’m very proud of, so whatever people perceive it as is totally fine.
MD: I think one of the standout achievements of ‘Dark Matters’ is the production as you’ve blended so many different layers to perfection.
DEVIN: Thank you.
MD: And I had the correct promo through with the final mix, as I saw you Tweet about the different, earlier mix, where you could tell because Anneke’s singing at a particular point…
DEVIN: That’s right. I mean, one of the reasons why my stuff is so layered is because I’ve always, sort of, wanted to do orchestral music; it’s just I’ve never had the opportunity. So, now that I’ve committed to the next project I do to be an orchestral project, hopefully the reason for those layers will be a little more clear, as opposed to just OCD layering for no particular reason. When I do layer music it’s usually, I like to think, with an intention as opposed to just slathering shit on it for the sake of it. And orchestral stuff, when it’s done with actual orchestral instruments, should make those sorts of things really speak…
MD: I said in my review of ‘Z˛’: “This might be called 'Z˛' but it's beyond 'squared'; this has exponentially increased beyond all expectations of epicness since Ziltoid's original coffee seeking quest.”
DEVIN: [Laughs] That’s it!
MD: Although am I right in thinking one of your main creative drives for this one was not how epic you could make it, but just to make and play with puppets? Very expensive puppets!
DEVIN: That’s what it was and the expense of the puppets spurred on the need for a record. And then the oddness of the record spurred on the need for a more commercial record. And then, before I knew it, I was committed to a project that was massive in scope and there wasn’t a lot of time to do it. I think, in hindsight, that stress that situation created provided a real angle to the theme, you know – you against yourself, kind of thing. Me against Ziltoid, kind of thing, is truly what it felt like.
MD: It kind of brought to mind the plot of ‘Being John Malkovich’ where John Cusack’s character takes over Malkovich towards the end of the film and he gives up his acting career to become a puppeteer. I thought, hang on, this is Devin now – someone’s gone through his portal and he’s now a puppeteer!
DEVIN: [Laughs] Maybe! Maybe it’s Ziltoid himself! I think the thing is, less than being controlled by it, it’s just a way for me to objectify certain thoughts and feelings that I’ve had in a real tangible way. And, by making the puppet and making the storylines that go along with it, I can stand back from it and really have an analysis on my own frame of mind that I don’t know if I’d have any other way. I think, again, it’s more romantic to think I’m being controlled by Ziltoid himself but the reality, I think, is a lot more boring.
MD: I’ve heard people describe your Poozer creation as “cute”… apart from the farting, it does make a kind of cute noise…
DEVIN: Yeah, the shrieking ball bag!
MD: Yeah, exactly, it looks like it’s been based on a ball bag and an arsehole…
DEVIN: Yeah, well, maybe some people think that’s cute…
DEVIN: The design for the Poozer was actually not me; it’s a buddy of mine called Chris Devitt. We had gone out for coffee and I mentioned the idea of these creatures, and then we just, sort of, jammed on the idea for a bit, came up with the name Poozer, and then he went home and made the creature. And, so, that whole design is Chris. So I think if there’s any revulsion/attraction that comes along with that, I’m gonna have to hand that off to him. And he’ll be at the Royal Albert.
MD: Modelled on his own ball bag?
DEVIN: If so, he’s got a perfect ball bag… which is highly doubtful, knowing him!
MD: Are those sampled genuine farts on the album?
DEVIN: Let me think… yeah. You can’t phone this stuff in. You’ve gotta really seize the day.
MD: They’re good farts.
DEVIN: Oh, thank you.
MD: The narrative ends with the suggestion that it’s not over yet as you have the whole ‘To be continued…’ thing, so I presume you’ve deliberately left it open-ended in case you want to bring Ziltoid back in the future?
DEVIN: I did. I mean, I like the character; I think he’s fun, and I think people like him. Plus we marooned him on the ‘Casualties of Cool’ moon so maybe it’s just preservation rather than story-based… [Laughs] But, yeah, possibly he’ll come back.