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18th March 2017
At the end of a long run of European and UK shows, the Devin Townsend Project wound up their tour in Nottingham at Rock City. With Devin resting his voice as much as possible on this run, the man behind the kit, Ryan Van Poederooyen, stepped in to chat with Metal Discovery on the afternoon of said gig. You want to know what it was like when Devin, for the first time in his career, opened up his creative process for new DTP album, 'Transcendence', to allow collaborative input from his musical brethren? Ever wondered whether there'll be new Non-Human Level and Terror Syndrome albums? Curious as to how the inaugural live performance of 'Ocean Machine' in its entirety went down? Interested in how Ryan rates some of the scene's unsung drumming heroes? Then read on, dear friend...
METAL DISCOVERY: You performed the whole of ‘Ocean Machine’ at the London show last night, so how did that go?
RYAN: Amazing. It was incredible. The crowd was incredible. The crowd knew the album very well, so when specific songs came up… well, just about every song, they went nuts. Especially the ones we’ve never played live, like ‘Hide Nowhere’, ‘Sister’ and ‘Voices in the Fan’… stuff like that. But it was amazing, and a very cool venue to play, as well.
(Ryan Van Poederooyen on the collaborative creative process for latest DTP album, 'Transcendence')
"...it was really gratifying because, now, you feel like you’re part of the band; whereas, before, it was always Devin coming in and it felt like a session more than it felt like a band..."
Ryan Van Poederooyen at Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 18th March 2017
Photograph copyright © 2017 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Yeah, it’s a historic venue, isn’t it.
RYAN: It’s iconic.
MD: Was it a fun challenge to learn all of Marty Chapman’s parts from the songs you’d never played before, and were you able to put your own spin on the tracks?
RYAN: To be honest, Devin and I wanted to keep it the same as the record and I paid respect to Marty. Unfortunately, he’s not with us anymore. He passed and, as an ode to him, I tried to play the parts as close as possible to how he’d done it. And ‘Regulator’, for example, we’ve played that over the years, and I’ve added double-kick to certain parts, and the way I’ve played it over the last fifteen years with Dev… so, we kept that the same. But all the new stuff, and even some of the stuff we play, like ‘Seventh Wave’ and ‘Life’, we kept it very similar to Marty’s parts, in order to pay tribute to him and to the album itself.
MD: Is it more of a challenge, in any way, to learn someone else’s parts, as opposed to having freedom to do your own thing?
RYAN: For one song, yes. Only one song, ‘Hide Nowhere’, was a bit difficult. I was playing it with my foot… [vocalises drum part]… I was playing it with my right foot; I have a fast right foot, so I’m like, cool. But Dev was like, “that’s a tom part, actually”, so I had to relearn the tom part. So, that was about the only challenge, really.
MD: Is there an old Devin album you’d like to perform live in its entirety, maybe from your era of playing with him? Maybe ‘Accelerated Evolution’, your first one with him?
RYAN: You know what, the album I’ve always wanted to play in its entirety, we played last night. ‘Ocean Machine’ is my favourite record he’s done. Right up to ‘Transcendence’ and any Strapping record, my favourite record has always been ‘Ocean Machine’.
MD: A dream come true for you, then!
RYAN: A dream come true for me, right. You know, if I’d like to do another album in its entirety, ‘Accelerated Evolution’ would be cool, because it’s a very defining album for my career. It was the first big, professional, signed record I did with Devin. And I think it’s a great record with some great songs.
MD: ‘Depth Charge’ doesn’t ever seem to be played live… has it been played before, actually?
RYAN: It’s been played before, but it’s extremely hard for Devin to sing; like, he’s ripping on that tune. He’s gotta be very aware of what songs he chooses for the set for singing…
MD: To preserve his voice for a whole tour…
RYAN: Exactly, so ‘Depth Charge’ would be hard to add in.
MD: I gather Anneke joined you in Tilburg earlier this month, for a few numbers, so did you get to have much of a rehearsal before, or was it straight in for her?
RYAN: She didn’t even soundcheck with us! But we’ve played together so often, she knows the songs, and she just listens to them… like, “we’re gonna do this song, this song, and this song”, and she’s like, “no problem”, shows up and we do ‘em. And she nailed it, like she always does.
MD: She’s a pro.
RYAN: She’s a pro, she’s amazing, she’s an amazing friend, an amazing person… just a pleasure to work with.
MD: For the latest DTP album, ‘Transcendence’, it’s states in press blurb that Devin opened up the creative process on this one, allowing a greater input from others. So, how was that experience from your perspective?
RYAN: Well, a song like ‘Failure’, for example, was written from scratch. In the rehearsal space, it was like, “hey, here’s a riff”, and, literally, all five of us put in from there, and that’s how that song came together. So, it’s split five ways. And it was really gratifying because, now, you feel like you’re part of the band; whereas, before, it was always Devin coming in and it felt like a session more than it felt like a band, because you just have to learn stuff. He’d give you drum machine parts, and I’d just write my parts from there. There have been songs in the past, like ‘Grace’ or ‘Supercrush!’ or ‘Liberation’ where I’ve been given songwriting credits, but this was the first time a whole album was kind of the band being involved together. So, it was a really cool experience. And I think it’s a great record.
MD: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s very dense. Like, when I first heard it, the sound and the layers… I mean, Devin’s all about layers, usually, but this one seemed more dense sounding with its layers, so it took a bit more time to click. But when I clicked with it, I loved it...
RYAN: Exactly. It’s a journey, for sure.
MD: It also says in the blurb, of Devin: “Prior to Transcendence, he had to be in control. Every note played, every studio knob turned, and each floor tom hit had to go through Townsend’s near-maniacal filter.” Is “near maniacal filter” an appropriate description for your experiences over the years you’ve been working with him?
RYAN: Yeah, you know what, I think he definitely loved having control throughout all those years. But he was lenient with it. Like I said, for example, with ‘Grace’, he came in and the song was written, and the drum parts sounded like a previous song, maybe just in cut time. I said, “dude, that’s obvious, how about this?” And I worked on something and presented it to him, and that was the drum beat for ‘Grace’. When he heard it, he was all over it. So, you know, yes, he’s a producer for every record so he will have the final say… but, within the same breath, he’s been somewhat open-minded; it’s just he really opened up on this specific record. Yeah, he was way more in control and very finicky in the past… but there was still a little bit of leniency.
MD: And you’ve been playing ‘Truth’ live, on and off for a number of years, so did it feel good to finally lay down some drums on a recorded version of that one?
RYAN: I’m not a huge fan, myself, of re-recording stuff but Dev, the reason he does it, is because he wants to hear a better version, production-wise, of it. And there’s no question that the new version of ‘Truth’ is insane sounding, and it sounds so good. It sounds exactly as he wanted it to be. I don’t mind it but, if it were my album and I was in control, I probably wouldn’t want to re-record anything I’d done in the past. But, he does it more for production value, because he has such an attachment to it.
MD: Yeah, and I guess when old material fits in with the concept of an album, like the old ‘Ziltoid’ track, ‘Hyderdrive!’ on ‘Addicted’…
RYAN: ‘Kingdom’…
MD: I think ‘Kingdom’ is the perfect example of a track that justified being re-recorded, because that new version, every element of it – vocals, drums, guitars, production – is incredible.
RYAN: Yeah, I agree.
MD: You’ve been offering drum lessons before the shows on this tour…
RYAN: Yes.
MD: And you’ve done this before, I gather…
RYAN: Yeah.
MD: So, do you ever encounter any kind of serious talent out there?
RYAN: I run into a lot of amazing drummers. And it’s amazing… I enjoy it because it gives a chance, for me, to hang with people, supporters, fans or whatever, who want to meet you and pick your brain. And you know, it’s amazing, a lot of the times, I won’t even touch the practice pads. Sometimes, it’ll just be answering questions that they truly want to know the answers for. A lot of the times, people pick my brain about my wellbeing, or my motivational stuff, or health, and they’re just as interested in that. So, it goes off in many different ways, these lessons; but, the bottom-line, what I get ‘em to do, is I always say, “come prepared, have a page of questions.” I want these lessons to be catered to them, so it’s a hundred per cent for them. So they know, every time when they show up, every one of these students has their questions ready, and they always walk out with a big smile on their face because they got exactly what they wanted out of the lesson. But I’ve definitely run into some excellent drummers, who I’ve done lessons with.
MD: Having to think about your own techniques, when you’re teaching them to other people, do you ever learn stuff about yourself?
RYAN: I do, and that’s how we get better. You know, you listen and learn. And, not only that, I’ve had many lessons where they go, “oh, this is something that I do”… and I’ll learn something. You’ve gotta be open-minded. Just because you’re the teacher, doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something off someone else, right. I think people who are like that, who put themselves in a position of power like that, are really missing out on life in general. It’s an amazing thing for both the student and myself.
MD: There’s a quote on your website, where you say: “My drumming career is always a work in progress. I will always improve on my drumming and always climb the ladder to musical scenarios that continually get better and better.” Apart from your work with Devin, what’s been the most gratifying drumming experience you’ve had?
RYAN: Well, you know, it varies. I’ve done session work for Chad Kroeger from Nickelback and it’s gratifying when you get a guy of that stature wanting you to lay down drums on an album he’s producing. That’s one of ‘em. I’ve been approached by Christofer Malmström and Peter Wildoer from Darkane…
MD: Non-Human Level.
RYAN: That’s right, Non-Human Level, with Gustaf Hielm from Meshuggah on bass. You know, it was an honour to be approached by those guys to be a drummer for that project. Things like that have really stuck out and it’s like, okay, all the time I’m building my style and my sound… the RVP brand, if you will. And, when people see that and hear that, they want you to be involved; whether it’s just session work or a side-project. So, those things really stick out. I did a thing called Terror Syndrome and it was my own idea of a metal band. I wrote all the music, produced it, wrote lyrics… like, everything.
MD: With the Youngs.
RYAN: That’s right. The cool thing about that is I said, “screw it, I want some of my favourite musicians to play on it.” So, I got Tevor Dunn from Mr. Bungle – he guest appeared. Michael Manring played bass on it; Devin was on it; Alex Skolnick…