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5th March 2011
Declared by his legion of devoted followers across the globe as a musical genius, Devin Townsend's multifaceted talents as an innovatory songwriter, visionary musician and producer extraordinaire are irrefutable. Remaining prolific throughout a near-twenty year career in the industry ever since his initial big break in 1993 singing on Steve Vai's 'Sex & Religion' at the age of just 21, Devin's musical journey has, thus far, been laid bare on eleven solo albums, and another five under the Strapping Young Lad moniker, each a unique and sincere expression of affective creativity and evocative insight to the man's psyche. Aside from this core canon of work, he's also notched up a plethora of production credits and has appeared as guest musician in one capacity or another on albums by the likes of Front Line Assembly, Stuck Mojo, The Wildhearts, Paradise Lost, Skinny Puppy, Soilwork, Lamb of God, Ayreon, and Gwar. Few can boast such an impressive CV, although boast Devin does not for he is perpetually humble about his achievements and transcendent creativity. And the fruition of his latest creative gestation will be unleashed in June this year with the conclusion of his Devin Townsend Project tetralogy of albums that began with 'Ki' and 'Addicted' in 2009 - the much anticipated dual release of third and fourth instalments, 'Deconstruction' and 'Ghost'. Near the start of his 2011 European headlining tour, Metal Discovery hooked up with Devin before his show at Rock City in Nottingham to discuss these forthcoming releases along with various other random diffusions...
METAL DISCOVERY: How were the first two dates of the tour, in Southampton and Bristol?
DEVIN TOWNSEND: Wonderful. You know, it’s funny – obviously I’m Canadian and the band’s Canadian, and I’ve spent a lot of time in England and the UK…I remember thinking when I was a kid, man, I remember thinking the world’s this big, broad place and everybody’s so different and whatever. Then, all of a sudden, I find with the social networking, like the Twitter and all that sort of stuff, it’s really kind of changed my perception on not only what I do, of course, but how it’s interacted with everywhere. It’s just like, dude, the world’s a tiny place.
(Devin Townsend on the forthcoming third installment of the Devin Townsend Project tetralogy)
"...I think that the mix for ‘Deconstruction’ is actually one of the best sounding records, if not the best sounding record, I’ve ever had."
Devin Townsend backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 5th March 2011
Photograph copyright © 2011 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Exactly, it makes the world seem a lot smaller having that kind of interaction with people.
DT: Yeah, and when you get over to England, other than a couple of crisp flavours, it’s not much different than home…[laughs]
MD: What crisp flavours? Have you encountered any weird flavours here?
DT: Well, prawn cocktail we don’t have there, right, but we’ve got cheeseburger and a bunch of others.
MD: They’re doing something for Comic Relief over here at the moment with crisps based on famous UK comedians…you’ve probably never heard of Frank Skinner…
DT: I haven’t, no.
MD: Stephen Fry you might’ve heard of…
DT: Yeah, of course.
MD: They have a ‘Stephen Fry Up’ flavour of crisps. The actual flavour’s a fry-up.
DT: Oh really?! [laughs]
MD: Yeah, while you’re over here, try them; they’re actually quite nice! And for Frank Skinner, they have ‘Frank’s Roast Dinner’.
DT: Yeah, that’s good, man! [laughs]
MD: Obviously the last time you were over in the UK you had a bit of bad luck at Bloodstock where you lost a lot of your gear en route…and your suit!
DT: Yeah!
MD: How was that whole experience from your perspective because the first fifteen minutes were amazingly entertaining?!
DT: [laughs] That’s good!
MD: Even though you weren’t playing any music, the crowd seemed to love it still.
DT: Ah, that’s wicked. How was it? It was great. I mean, I have had so many jobs in my life; like seriously, I’ve had 15-20 jobs, and shit jobs like restaurants, and factories, and all that sort of shit like most of us have, right? And I’ve had many jobs where there has been chaos, and yelling, and anger and all those sort of things that didn’t result in getting to play a show in front of a bunch of people who enjoyed it afterwards. You know what I mean?
MD: Of course.
DT: So I think, not only that show, but what I’m trying to do in general right now, like in life and music, is just I often think every choice that you’re presented…choose your own adventure, right. And I think, in a situation like that, it’s really easy just to be like “well, fuck it”, you know, like “fuck it”. But, in the other sense, I’m really lucky to be doing this and I’m really fortunate that there’s people that are supportive enough to…
MD: …to come and see the shows and whatever…
DT: Yeah, so really, there’s not a lot that can go wrong to the point where I’m not gonna enjoy myself.
MD: So if none of the gear had been working for the whole hour you still would have been out there entertaining the crowd…
DT: Of course, man.
MD: Have you ever thought of doing stand-up comedy?!
DT: [laughs]
MD: You were a natural! You had, literally, the biggest crowd of the weekend with no music for fifteen minutes…
DT: [laughs]
MD: … and if you had to entertain them for an hour I’m sure they would’ve still been happy!
DT: It’s incredibly flattering to play things like that and…I don’t know, man, it’s actually really touching to hear that people weren’t just horribly offended…[laughs]
MD: I know a couple of the Bloodstock organisers are coming tonight, actually, and Alan’s coming too, the stage manager…
DT: Oh, awesome. I’ve gotta talk to him because it was a brutal time for everybody on there, man. But I think, again, it’s the fact that everybody managed to get through it and recognised, in a lot of ways, that these things fucking happen, man.
MD: Definitely, yeah, more so at festivals.
DT: Yeah, and I think, again, to piss and moan about things like that is a disservice, not only to the festival but I think it’s a disservice to the people that wanna see it and who have supported you for all these years and whatever like that. So I really think it’s important to just choose to have a head space…you know, it’s gonna be good.
MD: Most bands would send out roadies or whoever to fix technical problems and all that sort of thing but you were out there hands-on…and communicating with the crowd.
DT: Well, I honestly think that after the shows, like all the shows, like tonight and all these shows, I like talking to people. For me, a lot of this four record project, the theme of it, if there was an overwhelming theme, was like overcoming a fear or paranoia, not only a fear of myself but a fear of people as well. I think that there’s a real sense with the internet and how separated it allows us to be – you know, like to hide, right…
MD: Yeah, like behind a computer screen where you feel you can say what you want…
DT: Totally, and I think what is lacking from my sense of enjoyment of this process is being able to connect with people. Not in like an overly invasive way or whatever but…everybody’s the same; people are people no matter where you go, right.
MD: Absolutely. And you’ve been booked to play Bloodstock again this year, of course.
DT: Yeah, the redeemer! [laughs]
MD: You can’t have pissed ‘em off too much!
DT: Yeah, that’s awesome, man! And I guess the thing is, now, what we’re trying to do, we’re making sure that all our rig is…because a lot of the problems there were on our front too. So we need to make sure that this time when we show up we can just get it and, again, it’s incredibly humbling that we’ve been asked back to that, man. My goal with that is to make sure that, next time, we give it the real deal, right.
MD: And don’t play in the Czech Republic the day before!
DT: That’s right! [laughs]
MD: Fly from somewhere nearer!
DT: Totally! We’ll have a day off the night before!
MD: I heard you were running around trying to borrow gear off other bands earlier in the day.
DT: [laughs] Yeah!
MD: Quite fortunately Fear Factory were playing there, I guess – friends and ex-band members of yours!
DT: Absolutely. But that’s the thing as well…even with ‘Deconstruction’ and the whole idea of getting people involved with it who are in other bands and other stuff. It’s not necessarily to pimp the record because it’s a hard record to sell, man, it’s odd music, but more of an endorsement of the fact that, through all the weirdness and all this sort of stuff…I feel that sometimes when people have been making heavy music for a long time and they’re all of a sudden, “well, I don’t play heavy music anymore, now I’m a jazz guy”, you know, it kind of like ostracises what got them there in the first place. And, for me, with Strapping and my reasons for ending that…I mean, I’ve spoken of it many times, of course, but the thing I want to do with ‘Deconstruction’ is say – well, look, it’s not like it’s gone; I just needed to recognise what elements of Strapping were important to me, and recognise why it no longer can exist because me writing music comes from…it’s just a commentary on my life. As I get older – I’m 38, I have a kid and I don’t do drugs – all the things that made Strapping awesome, it just doesn’t exist anymore. You know what I mean?
MD: Of course, yeah.
DT: But, that being said, with ‘Deconstruction’, I want to say but look, I wrote ninety five per cent of that shit and produced it, so…
MD: …it’s still within you.
DT: Absolutely, and I think talking about getting over the fear, it was almost, for me, it was let’s get over the fear of that. You know, like don’t be afraid of your ability to play heavy music. Like embrace it but, at the same time, counter it with something that’s really beautiful so the statement can be something like...it’s a part of me, for sure.
MD: Well, even ‘Addicted’ had little bursts of real heaviness in there and some growly vocals.
DT: Yeah, just wait!
MD: So where are you at with ‘Ghost’ and ‘Deconstruction’ at the moment?
DT: They’re finished.
MD: And are they still being mixed?
DT: No, finished. Mastered; the whole works.
MD: What drew you to Jens Bogren for the mix?
DT: Well, I think with ‘Deconstruction’ as well, I wanted to make an awesome metal record, even though it’s peculiar and not straight ahead metal…I managed to get some friends to help me that are in awesome bands and then I said - “Well, yeah, I can mix it; I don’t have a lot of time right now and I don’t have a lot of energy; we’ve got to make this show and these tours, like this show tonight even. We have to make this awesome because there’s a lot of attention being paid to it and I don’t wanna show up and like sixty per cent; I want it to be fucking awesome.” And, at that point, I’m like, well, so I can either mix this record and make it sound as good as I can make it or I can spend a little bit extra money and give it to Jens, and have it sound fucking perfect. And it’s Jens, dude, he’s amazing, right?
MD: Yeah, yeah.
DT: So that was kind of like the final touch on that reconnection to heavy music. It was like, well, let’s get a great metal mixer to do it. And I think, as well, when people hear it because it is really odd music, if it was mixed by me it would also have a unique mix, but to have a kind of awesome, current sounding mix will be easier for people to digest some of it because it sounds like you’d want it to sound. Because yeah, dude, I don’t do a bad mix but…I don’t know a lot of the tricks and shit.
MD: Well, that’s a very humble thing to say because your producing and mixing skills are fucking brilliant, particularly considering the layers of music in most of your stuff as well.
DT: Yeah, dude, I appreciate it. I think when I do mix I’m good at what I do but, in terms of metal mixes, it’s like I’m good at mixing in general…I think, so ‘Ghost’ sounds really good. I’m good at saying, “well, how can I make this song sound like how I want it to feel?” I think I’m pretty good at that but, in terms of the heavy scene, there’s cool snare sounds for metal, there’s cool kick sounds for metal…and I’ve always been trying to achieve what Jens does, and what Andy Sneap does, and that’s not what I do. I can make ‘Ghost’, and ‘Ki’, and ‘Addicted’ and do that sort of stuff because there’s no real benchmark for it but for ‘Deconstruction’, with the amount of layers in the orchestra and all this shit, I didn’t want to fuck around trying to discover that. I wanted to give it to someone and was like – “I really like your snare sound.”
MD: Aren’t you curious, though, to see how you could’ve mixed it and maybe tempted to get in the studio and mix a couple of songs yourself to find out how you could’ve got it sounding?
DT: Oh yeah, if I had time I would love to. But, again, ‘Deconstruction’ came at a time where it has to be released soon; it had to be delivered. This tour was the day after…there was literally no time.
MD: Yeah, I remember reading on your Twitter that you were sitting in Arlanda airport so presumably you’d been over to Sweden to see Jens and…
DT: Yeah, absolutely. But, again, it’s like, you know, I think that the mix for ‘Deconstruction’ is actually one of the best sounding records, if not the best sounding record, I’ve ever had. So, it’s definitely worth it and in future, who knows, I might find myself mixing Z² or, who knows, I might just be like – “You know what, man, please mix it because I’d much rather go to the beach at this point once the music’s done”!
MD: Just because you can’t be arsed, you’d give it to someone else!
DT: Well, the thing is, in the final stages, yeah, I have to be there, right. But, I mean, to do drums and all that sort of shit…I’d be just like – “Can you make it sound awesome, please?”! [laughs]
MD: You’ve got something better to do!
DT: Well, not even better, but I’ve been pounding it for twenty years, man, and I’ve got a kid, and if I can get to a point where I can afford people to do things that are better than me, that would be awesome.
MD: So you have more time for yourself.
DT: Yeah, because I think that time for myself would ultimately end up in more music down the road.