Interview with Devin Townsend
Devin Townsend is a true artist when it comes to creating music. He is currently half-way through releasing a four-album series, each record with it's own identity, and planning the resurrection of our favorite coffee-drinking alien Ziltoid. Devin Townsend is on tour for the first time in years, and everybody is clammering for a chance to see him after his hiatus. I had the opportunity to sit down with him before his performance in New Orleans to discuss his numerous albums, getting back on the road and some strange plans for the future. A transcription follows.
Buick Mckane: Welcome to New Orleans.
Devin Townsend: Thank you very much.
Buick: How’s the tour been going so far?
Devin: We’re in the early stages of it, but it’s nice to be playing again.
Buick: 2009 was a pretty busy year for you even though you might have not played as many shows because you released “Ki” and “Addicted.” And this year, you’re going to release two more. You’re a very busy man.
Devin: Well, you know, I get a low tolerance for boredom. And even the years I didn’t have as much of an output, it’s consistently busy; whether or not it’s, like, doing things around the house or…you know, life is just busy, right? I don’t many people in life that aren’t busy, right? And in terms of recording that much music, I’ve got the facility and faculty in my house to do so. And I’ve got a little studio in Vancouver that I can use, so might as well.
Buick: How long does it take you to write an album from start to finish?
Devin: It depends on the record, you know. Some of them got to gestate for, like, a year or so, and others of them just happen immediately. There’s some records where I just kinda sit down on the computer and just start writing and a few months later, I’ve got a finished record. And then there’s other records that I’ve been working on the music for a long time, and then it finally crests into something I enjoy and then I complete it, right? But really, it’s like the nature of who I am, the best release for me out of anything is just to make music, so. But it just always happens, right? It’s not really a conscious thing, so.
Buick: What is the difference between the four albums in the series that you’re doing right now?
Devin: The difference sonically or thematically or…
Buick: Thematically, or just what is the difference to you between the albums.
Devin: Well, all four records were essentially written at a certain period of time that was, in essence, a chronicle of a period of life that was rife with personal change, and I found that the process included me being free with my writing as opposed to trying to pigeonhole myself into a genre like, “Okay, well, I write metal, so I’m gonna write metal.” I was just like, “I like music, I like music in general, so I’m just gonna write music.” Some days there’s peaceful, kind of pretty things, and other days there’s really horrendous things, and other days, really complicated things, really stupid things, really poppy things. And I just kept writing and writing. By the end of it, I found that it compartmentalized itself into four very distinct kind of moods. And, in piecing it together, I found that if I could put it together in a way that metaphorically chronicled that period of my life, then each record could have its own identity that was very specific while being part of a whole thing, right? And the Devin Townsend Project is that whole thing; each record is just a distinct part of it. Like, “Addicted” is a very, kind of, commercial-oriented, beat-driven, happy record. If not happy, then optimistic. “Ki” was kind of tense, kind of driving with the brakes on, but that’s why “Addicted” is what it was because after “Ki” I was like, “Okay, let’s just blow this up for a while. And after “Addicted,” the next record’s called “Deconstruction,” and it’s, like, a very dark, very heavy, very complicated record, right? And the last record is essentially like a folk record or a country record or something, so. You know, then after that, I’ll do a bunch of other things, so…I mean, really, it’s like I’m really happy to have the opportunity to be a musician. I’m really honored to come out and play for people, and, like, have the opportunity to come to New Orleans and experience it. So the music that will come from me from here on out will probably have something to do with this. So, you know, I’m just really happy to be doing it.
Buick: We’re happy to have you!
Devin: Thank you.
Buick: One of those other things you were talking about is Ziltoid, the Omniscient. I love that record.
Devin: Oh yeah. He’s coming back too.
Buick: I was about to say that. Can you tell me more about Z2 ?
Devin: I guess it’s the answer of that math equation that we were talking about on that alien record. And for a while we had done this thing about…metaphorically, it made a lot of sense because we had, like, connected two things that were previously thought not to be connected; and his answer was Z2, so seeing that irony was perfect. And, like, with Ziltoid, obviously, you know, a lot of people are just like, “Well, that’s just a silly record about a guy who’s drinking coffee and it’s a puppet…it’s just stupid.” But for me, it was, like, essential because what I found when I quit, like, smoking weed and drinking, I found that there was an element in my personality that was so heavily invested in that process that I found, like, that Ziltoid character was almost that projection. It was like, “I’m bigger than life. I’m not from this planet.” You know, when you start, like, doing things in bands and everything, you start getting that impression thrown on you. People sort of project that on you, right? So Ziltoid was a great, kind of, like, separation for me to say, “Well, look it’s a puppet, right? He’s being controlled by whatever; by himself, by coffee, whatever, right?” And so at the end of that record, obviously, it ends the way it does, and the guy kind of has the realization that it was an illusion. But, essentially what has happened since that time is Ziltoid started drinking tea and kind of got…relegated to a different dimension, right? And so he’s definitely angry, but I’m kind of going to war with him for this next record, and it’s going to be very interesting. But we’re doing a concert, the whole Ziltoid record in Finland this summer, right, with, like, the puppets, so. Ziltoids just, like, a project that I’m really excited about because, really, you’ve got an alien that doesn’t exist; there’s nowhere you can’t go, right? It’s all about math and science and, you know, fart jokes, right?
Buick: And beverages.
Devin: And beverages. But, I mean, yeah. So, I love Ziltoid for the sake that maybe, you know, I am not capable of doing…well, not capable, but not willing to do Strapping at this point because, you know, I’m like…it’s not like I’m over it either because that was definitely a part of my life, but I’m almost 40 now. It’s silly for me to act like I was 22, right? Even if it makes you a lot of money, it’s, like, ridiculous. So, there’s a lot of things I don’t feel like saying anymore, but Ziltoid’s got no problem saying them, right? So basically, the next record is just him making his next move, right? It’s interesting.
Buick: Will that concert be available on DVD?
Devin: Well, I hope so. I mean, I think that it’s like…things are actually, now that I’m touring, things are actually moving a lot quicker than I expected, you know? I thought, “Well, let’s get back and let’s get our feet wet.” But it’s, holy cow, every day it’s like some thing going on. So I’m trying to make it a specatacle in the time that we have with the budget that we’ve got, you know, with, like, visuals and wire and characters and all that sort of thing. And, if I can pull it off, then absolutely. But if it screws up, you know, like things tend to, then it’d be a very interesting DVD, right? But I’ll try, for sure. Yeah, for sure.
Buick: I’m sure…or stream it because I’m sure a lot of people would love to see that.
Devin: You know what? It’s like, I wish I didn’t have to worry about money because then I’d just basically do it all. I’d just be like, “There, take it!” But, you know, you got life that gets in the way of that, kind of, altruistic musical thing. It’d be great and everything, but I kinda like eating. So, we’ll see how it goes, right?
Buick: I guess on the money-side of things, you created HevyDevy Records for your music, but would you ever consider taking on other bands?
Devin: Ha, no. I don’t have any desire to be the bad guy, right? And it’s like…well not even be the bad guy. To be a record company in this day and age, it’s like, I know all I am and was with record companies; you always expect record companies to take you to the moon, right? But, essentially, you can’t. If you’ve got, like, no money, it’s like, what are you going to do? Your record doesn’t sell because you’re no good. Not even that you’re no good, no one wants to buy it. You know what I mean? There’s bands that have no label and put their stuff up on Myspace and sell millions of copies, right? So I don’t think it’s got anything to do with somebody else doing it for you. I think it really has to do with do-it-yourself. If you want to do it, just do it yourself. So with HevyDevy Records, essentially, I made that record label because no one was signing me, right? It was, like, 15 years ago, and I was sending demos out to everybody and they would say no. So Sony in Japan said, “We’ll distribute it for you if you make your own label.” So I was like, “Alright, here’s HevyDevy Records.” But in terms of how lucrative HevyDevy Records really is, I mean, I live a pretty modest lifestyle. I managed to get a, like, cool ProTools rig, and I’ve got some companies that are kind enough to give me gear, but, really, it’s a job, right? You gotta work.
Buick: On your last few albums, you’ve had a revolving door of musicians playing with you, and you were talking about how you probably wouldn’t do Strapping Young Lad again. Is there a chance that you would have a permanent lineup of musicians with you again?
Devin: I don’t know about that, in all honesty. I’m very happy with the guys I’ve got now, but its one element to what I want to do musically. The thing that I find is, like, I’ve got a real solid vision for what I want to do, and there’s a lot of times when other musicians also have a solid vision and it usually starts off okay. But after a while it’s like, “You know, I really want to get my riffs in there.” And I’m thinking, “Yeah, but it’s not going to work.” I just kind of do it in my head and just go, “Pow. There it is.” I mean, there’s elements that have wiggle room in terms of fills or performances or feel or whatever, but, I mean, the song’s the song, right? Eventually would I like to get in a band where everybody contributes? Yeah, that’d be cool. But, right now, it’s just not that. So, I enjoy different musicians from what they can bring to the music, right? Some drummers bring out different things in me than others. For the live stuff, though, I’m hopefully going to use a solid group of dudes depending on how we manage to pull this off. But we got a good thing going, and I’d like to keep it going, but your guess is as good as mine.
Buick: Do you have any plans musically beyond Z2?
Devin: Yeah, I mean, there’s always something. But in terms of things that I think aren’t going to totally be a waste of everyone’s time? You know, not really. I got this thing where I dress up like this big, hooded monk with a big, crazy smile and play bass with these vibrating triangle-things that look like a sitar except they’ve got the faces of gnomes, and when you play certain notes, it glows a different color, and I call them the Resognomes. And the bass would react on that with echoes and everything. Have pictures of the universe behind me, and I’d have this big cloak and everything. But, really, I don’t know how interesting that would be other than just to make some stupid resonating gnomes. I’d call myself Gnomechompsky, though, and I’d have this big mouth.
Buick: We’ll see what happens.
Devin: I don’t know if that one’s gonna come to light.
Buick: Is there anything else you would like to say?
Devin: I’m excited to do it again. I’m just trying to find some sort of balance in my life between my family, my friends and work and music and all that. It’s kind of nice to reconnect with a lot of people and confront a lot of things that have been troubling me. And I’m good to go.
Emily is an avid supporter of the New Orleans scene, often filming shows and conducting interviews with local bands to help promote their music. She also runs her own site dedicated to the New Orleans scene, Crescent City Chaos.
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