DATE OF INTERVIEW:
DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT
5th March 2011
METAL DISCOVERY: Am I right in thinking lyrical themes for ‘Deconstruction’ are about cheeseburgers? This has kind of been touted online quite a bit.
DEVIN TOWNSEND: Well, okay, the whole four record thing is about the character, of course, but he’s trying to figure out his own motivations and where he’s at, spiritually I guess. And, with ‘Deconstruction’, he decides to confront his own fears and the metaphor for that is he goes to hell - and it's like I’m not a Christian; I’m not Satanic; it’s all kind of bananas as far as I’m concerned – but, in the story, he goes to hell to kind of like meet the devil, and he meets him, and it’s him. And he’s like - “Ah, okay, I actually kind of like this guy. He’s made some weird choices but I get along with him fine.” So after that he’s like, “okay, I have to understand the root of it; I think I’m intelligent enough on some level to understand the face of infinity and the nature of reality, and I’m ready for it, I’m ready for it”, so he goes through all this crazy, crazy music and intense mental processes and, at the end, he gets presented the thing he’s been trying to analyse, and he’s been so close to it that when he backs up and looks at what it is he’s been looking at, it’s a cheeseburger. And I guess the whole point with the metaphor of the cheeseburger is it could be a cheeseburger, it could be a chair, or it could be a thermos – the whole point is like everything is in everything, and there’s no secrets, and nothing but reality. And trying to figure out infinity is the most arrogant and useless pursuit that a human being can possibly assume and so he’s like, “through all this shit I’ve been looking at something stupid and still can’t figure it out because I’m a human being, and a dumbass to boot, and not only that but now I’ve got a fucking headache”. So that’s why it goes to the last record because it’s just a kind of folk record where he’s just like, “you know what, I’m just stoked to be involved with this.”
(Devin Townsend on the emotionally self-reflective nature of his work)
"...every record I’ve ever made has been steeped in catharsis...everything that I do has been a direct correlation to my emotional development so it’s a commentary on that point in my life...But, ‘Deconstruction’, more than even catharsis is almost like an exorcism, and that’s literally what it feels like by the time it’s over so ‘Ghost’ is like the ghost of that."
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
Devin Townsend Official Website:
DEVIN TOWNSEND SOLO DISCOGRAPHY
Ocean Machine: Biomech (1997)
Thanks to Sarah Lees for arranging the interview.
Accelerated Evolution (2003)
Ziltoid the Omniscient (2007)
Devin Townsend Official MySpace:
The Hummer (2006)
MD: I think only you could get away with using a cheeseburger as a metaphor on an intense metal record!
DT: [laughs] Well, you know what, from a lot of my friends that are in metal…like everybody likes cheeseburgers, right?
MD: Absolutely, yeah.
DT: The problem with it is I’ve been a vegetarian for so many years!
MD: It could perhaps be a veggie burger with vegan cheese!
DT: On the record, when the guy gets presented the cheeseburger, he’s like, “well, I’m a vegetarian so that doesn’t even matter”.
MD: Presented a cheeseburger by the image of himself in hell?
DT: No, no, he got past hell and then the cheeseburger angels gave it to him or something.
MD: Cheeseburger angels?!
MD: Fucking brilliant!
DT: Well, here’s the thing, it’s like the reason I use these stupid metaphors as well is because I don’t want people to think that I’m actually trying to make a statement. You know, I’m just being a jackass, dude. I mean, it’s like when you and your buddies sit around, especially when you’re younger, you’re just like, “oh, I wonder if trees dream”, and all that stuff and philosophical bullshit.
MD: Yeah, like all that meaning of life bollocks.
DT: Yeah, totally, totally. And so I think that that’s it because I had a kid and life changes and everything. All of a sudden, all that philosophical stuff doesn’t mean anything.
MD: Yeah, it becomes more about the here and now.
DT: Yeah, so I think because I wrote this stuff so long ago, it just took a long time to finish it. And the same with Strapping where I wanted to finish the deal, I needed to finish this project just to be able to close that door. But, yeah, more than anything else, what I really wanted to put across with this is like there’s no message, there’s no answers, it’s all just a bunch of random rambling, you know.
MD: And some very cool music too, of course! I’ve read in interviews you’ve done recently where you talk about ‘Deconstruction’ as being a big release of energy and ‘Ghost’, the way you describe it, it sounds like a palette cleanser for the other one, so has making each of those been cathartic in a different way?
DT: Oh, dude, every record I’ve ever made has been steeped in catharsis, man. Like, everything that I do has been a direct correlation to my emotional development so it’s a commentary on that point in my life. And, again, just to reiterate because it always sounds “oh, my records are a commentary on my life”, it sounds like I’m trying to attach some sense of importance to it that I’m not. It’s honestly what I do, and I really like to do it, and I think that it’s good. But, ‘Deconstruction’, more than even catharsis is almost like an exorcism, and that’s literally what it feels like by the time it’s over so ‘Ghost’ is like the ghost of that. ‘Ghost’ is truly a beautiful record but it’s not a hundred per cent like unicorns and rainbows. I mean, by the end of ‘Ghost’, the whole idea of it is he goes straight back into ‘Ki’. The point of that is we didn’t need to do any of this…[laughs] And maybe that’s the point is, by going through it all, it’s like we’re no worse for wear.
MD: I was going to ask if all your music is kind of emotionally self-reflective…
DT: All of it.
MD: …or whether there’s a more objective element to it, but you kind of answered that just now.
DT: Well, it’s more objective now because, with a kid, it’s forced me to get over myself and I think that, ultimately, is a lot more interesting for people. I know for myself, there’s an artist several years back, and I remember listening to her music, and every third word was “I” or “me”, you know, and it was just real kind of like…not selfish but just really like egocentric. And, dude, all my old music was like that – “me, me, me…”; “I, I, I…”; “my…” or whatever and, all of a sudden, now, there’s an element of...
MD: To survive in the industry, you must need a degree of ego, even if it’s not in a pretentious sense, just to…
DT: …have a sense of self that allows you to get up on stage.
DT: But, really, I think the objective element of it now is more like, “well, what’s going on?”…“how do I, in that sense, fit into this?” I think that, when we talk about the older records, some records were so embarrassing in hindsight because I was like, “oh, it’s about this”, and I thought I had answers and all this shit. Then, you suddenly realise you’re just high, or…
MD: What do you regard as embarrassing, out of interest, in your canon of work?
DT: Well, okay, embarrassing might not be the best word but facepalming in a certain sense. When I was doing ‘Infinity’ it was the first time I was doing hallucinogenic drugs and the interpretation that I got from that because, having never done it before, I was just like, “oh, everything’s about me; I’m the centre of the universe”.
MD: I think that record’s unique, for me, because of the layers on that record – kind of like the top layer of the rock and metal stuff, then a more sinister, discordant layer beneath that. The juxtaposition of those two contrasting bits of music going on makes it so interesting.
DT: You know, I think what that was, in a way, it was like the two elements, they weren’t in synch…
MD: …but it works!
DT: It works, but only by being forced, right. But, I think, it’s not embarrassing but it’s like the assumptions that I made on my life based on that period ended in ‘Infinity’ which I’m proud of…some of it’s dubious but I’m proud of it. But, also, on a personal level, I made assumptions on that information and made a bunch of personal mistakes that, ultimately, have been great teaching tools because like, “let’s not do that again, right.” So I think ‘Infinity’, and I think the other one, ‘Alien’, was difficult for me. I really like the record but ‘City’, for me, was the Strapping Young Lad record that’s the one. When I did ‘City’ it was just effortless at the time, as ‘Ki’ was, or ‘Ziltoid’, or any of the things I’m doing currently, so there’s nothing to it – I wasn’t on drugs, it was like that’s where I was at. But then, when that became popular, because I was kind of insecure about my role in wanting to do music, I think there was a part of me that was just like, “I want to keep doing this; I want to still be part of this crowd; I want people to think of it as this and that”. So I had to find ways to reconnect to something that I thought I’d solved with ‘City’ and so, when it came to ‘Alien’ I was like, “well, I’m over that; I’m not that dude anymore so how am I gonna be able to reconnect that?” I was like, “well, I’ll just start fucking with my mind” so drugs, and drinking, and poor social choices, and all these things. And then the record ended up being really intense but paranoid, and I think that paranoia was something that I found very, very difficult to live with because I was having to play it every night. It wasn’t a sentiment that I was comfortable with. So both those records, ‘Infinity’ and ‘Alien’, the third record in this whole shitaroo that has been similar in terms of that sort of intensity is ‘Deconstruction’. And so, going into ‘Deconstruction’ I was like - “Right, keep your shit together – make sure that the grass is mowed; make sure that you’re not on drugs; make sure that if you’re tired you go to sleep. It’s not important enough for you to lose the plot over it at the last minute.”
MD: So do you anticipate ‘Deconstruction’ will be your final burst of real, intense heaviness?
DT: Oh shit no, god no. But, I mean, in terms of that type of insanity – you know, the discordant element of ‘Infinity’, and the paranoid element of ‘Alien’ – ‘Deconstruction’ takes all that and says “bring it”, like not only can I handle it but I can make it sound precise, and clean, and at the end of it I’m gonna be fucking fine!
MD: Absolutely! Obviously you have an orchestra and choir on there as well – have you considered doing some shows with a live orchestra and choir?
DT: Yeah, yeah. In a way, the orchestra and the choir were ways for me to hammer home that sort of sense of like not only am I gonna get through it but let’s put an orchestra on it as well. It’s almost like it was just a cheeky move in a way! [laughs] You know what I mean? With ‘Infinity’, it sent me over the edge; with ‘Alien’, it sent me over the edge and with ‘Deconstruction’, not only is it not going to send me over the edge but it’s going to be way more than any of those, and we’ll put an orchestra on it; oh shit, and a choir; and let’s get all these people on it; and we might as well get Jens to mix it too.
[Tour manager enters the room at this point to signal time’s almost up]
MD: Okay, before we finish, I was going to ask about the Anneke thing – I saw your show at the ProgPower festival in Baarlo in 2004 and remember spotting you in the crowd the day after watching The Gathering. Was that the first time you heard Anneke sing?
DT: Oh no, shit, from ‘Mandylion’ I loved her voice. I had the demos before ‘Mandylion’ actually.
MD: Oh, of course, yeah, you would have been label-mates at that time.
DT: Right before it came out the A&R guy said “there’s this band and everything”…oh man, I’ve been a fan of Anneke’s voice for many, many years. Absolutely.
MD: And can we see a return to ProgPower Europe soon? I go there every year actually, and I know there’s a demand for you amongst the core audience there.
DT: In all honesty, in terms of bookings at this point, wherever there’s a show that management and everybody thinks is a good move, I’m there, man. You know, so I don’t make too many of those decisions, if any, other than…well, they basically say, “next week we’re gonna be doing this and…”, and my particular job, you know, my particular portion of the organisation is to make the show cool.
MD: Well, you are wanted back in that small village in the south of Holland known as Baarlo so hopefully you can return soon.
DT: Excellent, thank you. I like Baarlo.
MD: Some people still talk about that show. Certainly one of the best sets I’ve seen at ProgPower.
DT: That’s wicked, man, wicked.
MD: Thank you so much for your time.
DT: Thank you so much for the interview. Yeah, it was nice to meet you, dude.