Devin Townsend On New Album "Epicloud," Changing Lyrical Themes, And Much More
After finishing up a four part interconnected series of albums (check out our reviews of "Ghost" and "Deconstruction"), Devin Townsend remains ever on the move and is already preparing for the release of his next project, titled "Epicloud." With the album set to drop later this month, I got the opportunity to speak with the eccentric metal mastermind himself to see what fans can expect from this latest sonic adventure. In his own words, "If what I do interests you, then this record is something you will probably think is good. If what I do bugs the shit out of you, then you’re not going to like it, so good luck and no hard feelings."
During our chat, Heavy Devy explained how "Epicloud" leaves the negative aspects of metal behind to put a positive focus on the good things in life, and how that necessitated using guest musicians such as Anneke from The Gathering and even a gospel choir. The surprisingly candid discussion also led to Devin discussing his connection on a personal level with metal icons such as Ihsahn over having children and a real life outside the extreme metal persona.
The full interview, available below, also explores his thought processes on the difficulty of choosing material for a live set list, an unexpected attempt at poop humor, and confirmation on an upcoming new Ziltoid album.
xFiruath: What’s happening stylistically with the new album “Epicloud” and how does it differ from the former four connected albums?
Devin: The best way to describe it would be, a lot of the elements from those four records are present on one record with this one. It’s definitely a lot more accessible, in that the structures and the melodies are pretty compliant for the listener for the first time. With “Deconstruction” in particular I went out of my way to make strange melodies kind of crowbar into each other. “Epicloud” is definitely not like that. It’s structures that the listener would be familiar with and melodies that are pretty to the point and easy to listen to. I think as a result of everything I do historically being a reaction to whatever came before, a record like “Epicloud” is inevitable.
xFiruath: You are known for a wide range of sometimes even off the wall lyrics. What’s the lyrical theme on this one?
Devin: I think the strangest part of the themes of the new one is that, over the course of the past four records, I’ve been very vocal in terms of my own process about making the records to describe the processes I’ve gone through to figure myself out. On an artistic level and a personal level I’ve been very vocal about “Ki,” Deconstuctrion,” and “Ghost” being records about me and my changes. As a reaction to that, the lyrics on “Epicloud” are really not about me. It’s about a connection to the things above the universe and the things above people and humanity that I think are great. I wanted to make a statement that was very consciously positive in the face of most things being negative. Things are shit every time you turn on the news. There’s shootings and civil war and hurricanes and genocide and all this stuff. A sane reaction to that is just fear. What I really wanted to do was go out of my way and take the opposite point of view. In a way that’s an easy route to take to say how fucked things are, so I really strived to make something that was not that and focus on the good things in my life and nature and the things about the universe that I think are awesome. I tried to make a powerful and heavy statement almost as a reaction to what would be expected. I think that my reasons for doing that are that, whatever you choose to do is contagious. I don’t want to spend my life perpetually worried about everything. Specifically I am worried about everything so I don’t want to make my music a reflection of that as well. It’s not like I’m oblivious to this shit or rejecting reality, it’s just that I choose to focus on other things because it’s what I want my world to resonate with.
xFiruath: How does your writing process usually work and did that change since the themes and lyrical focus changed on this album?
Devin: Well I don’t think it changes in a conscious way, it changes as a result of being aware of where I was prior to this. The old adage of if you don’t integrate your mistakes into your world, you will just keep repeating them. My process has always been as much on the subconscious as it has been on the forefront of my consciousness. It has led to me to make statements in the past that I was uncomfortable with because I didn’t realize what was coming out of me subconsciously was a very strong element of my current frame of mind. With “Epicloud” it has changed, of course it’s changed, but only as the result of me being proactive in my own life of learning from my mistakes. Anything I’ve achieved in terms of lyrical differences have been because on the surface of my world I’m definitely trying to learn from my mistakes. I don’t want to be punching myself in the face with the things I should learn. Specifically I’ve been so vocal about the past four records being about, “hey, I’m trying to get over this shit.” Making another recording about “hey, I’m still trying to get over this shit” doesn’t make any sense. The things that the four records set up for me to achieve, I believe I achieved, so this is a record about me going “Ok, here, sorted, what’s next?”
xFiruath: The last album had quite a few guest musicians. Who did you bring on this time?
Devin: I brought along some people that I thought were appropriate for it. The theme for “Deconstruction” seemed appropriate for a lot of guests. The concept and theme has an appreciation for things about life that are more optimistic, so that required a female voice. Of the people that I’ve worked with, Anneke was the one that was the immediate choice because she’s a good friend and her voice is brilliant. Opposite that, the only contributors to this that aren’t part of the band was a gospel choir that I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of in Vancouver. They were liberal enough in terms of their views on these things to provide that kind of sound on a record that has no religious agenda. I think that the combination of all those things has made a record that is really awesome. That’s the bottom line.
xFiruath: I had heard that maybe you weren’t super happy about the way “Deconstruction” was promoted because all the press was about the guests vocalists, which weren’t actually the focus of the album.
Devin: Well I actually think they did a good job in not making it a bigger deal than they did. As the industry changes it’s funny, back in the ‘90s there was a very “us versus them” mentality between artists and labels. In the industry you have to join forces and listen to each other and you have to compromise with each other in order to achieve goals. My relationship with the label is really good and yeah there are times that things happen I’m not that excited with, but there’s more times that things happen the label isn’t satisfied with. There’s a lot of rhetoric from musicians and artists about how the Internet has changed everything and we don’t need labels and all that, but in my estimation, the things I’ve done so far I couldn’t have done without the label. Like these box sets and the funding that goes into making these things into what they ultimately end up being, I couldn’t do it without them. We all have to play ball with each other, and in terms of the last record they promoted it well.
xFiruath: On the last album you had Ihsahn do a guest spot, and he’s easily one of my favorite artists. How did the collaboration go, and are there any plans for working together again in the future?
Devin: Well I sang on his new record, so I kind of returned the favor in that sense. My relationship with everybody who was in “Deconstruction,” as much it seems like you’ve got these singers and musicians from these current popular or semi-popular metal bands, everybody who was on that record, my relationship with them is what dictated whether I was going to be involved with them. The first time I met Ihsahn was at the Brutal Assault festival in the Czech Republic. He was there with his two year old daughter in a pink tutu and his wife, and I saw that and thought I have the exact same thing going on. You’ve got this reputation as being a metal guy, but I’ve got kids. And what that forces you to confront in your own nature is compromise, it’s as simple as that. Seeing him going through the same thing, it made me feel really close to the guy. He’s got this whole background of Emperor and the incredibly intense shit that happened with Emperor, he’s had to integrate that part of his nature into being a dad. The same thing with Fred from Meshuggah. He’s a dad and he quit drinking and doing drugs, but it’s like Meshuggah man, it’s this oblique, alien kind of metal band that has to incorporate that identity with the one that goes shopping for diapers. All of these things, the dichotomy of that is difficult. My relationship with these musicians has more to do with the fact that I relate to where they find themselves moreso than that Meshuggah is a killer band or Ihsahn’s solo stuff is great. It’s more about how as adults they’ve had to incorporate all these disparate parts into their experiences. I appreciate people who are putting in that effort.
xFiruath: You are seeking fan submissions for the video for “Lucky Animals.” Have you seen any so far, and how are they turning out?
Devin: Yeah I’ve seen a few of them and they are awesome. I tried to make my own video in the beginning to sort of lead by example and I’m like, just be a jackass, it’s fine. Here’s my version of being a jackass and we’re good to go. It’s going to be a fun video. In a lot of the interviews I do people seem to be saying you are particularly active with social networking, and what’s your motivation for that? Really it comes down to the fact that the audience is what drives what I do. As much as my motivations remain personal, I want to entertain people and provide music for people that makes their days darker or lighter or whatever it is I do. Having people involved is an extension of that. There were comments from certain people in my world who said maybe I should include people from my professional circle in the video. But again my reason for doing that on “Deconstruction” wasn’t to be oh look, I’m Mr. Famous Friends or whatever, it was because that was part of the trip. That’s not part of it at this point. “Lucky Animals” has more to do with everybody having the same problems in one way or another. Nobody in my professional life is any more or less important than anyone who listens to the music, so it just seemed appropriate.
xFiruath: You’re heading out on tour pretty soon with Katatonia. How much new material will you be playing on that tour, and have you heard Katatonia’s new album yet?
Devin: Yeah I have and I think it’s awesome. I’m trying to incorporate a whole lot of new stuff into our set. There’s 25 records to choose from so the set will always be a problem. There’s going to be people who come to the show and want to hear certain things. We’ve got an hour to play and there’s a fine line between what people want to hear and what you want to hear and what represents the new stuff. What we’re trying to do is put together about four or five sets we can rotate that will allow people who have seen us before to get something new. We’ve definitely built up everything we do at a live show. We’re striving to take it to better and better places.
xFiruath: Is there going to be a new “Ziltoid” album coming out?
Devin: The ultimate trajectory for what I’ve been working on for the past five years has been toward this big project that is called “Zed Squared,” which is the second Ziltoid record. It’s going to incorporate what I learned from using the symphony in Prague and I want to do that for real. The ultimate goal is essentially the next Ziltoid record, however, it isn’t going to be completely along the lines of the first one which was this campy little thing. I want it to be like epic, but Ziltoid is definitely the main feature of that. It will have elements of humor, but I want it to be for real. The short answer is “yes,” and the long answer is “yes, and it’s going to be something else.”
xFiruath: Another one of our writers is really interested in your vocal work and he was wondering if you’d share what reverb plugin do you use in the studio?
Devin: I use a ping pong delay, which is the default one in Pro Tools, and I set one side to 250 or 300 and the other side between 400 and 600. It’s not an equal ping pong, and then I put the repeat rate fairly high, like 40 or 50 percent, and then I use the high pass on it to get rid of the fidelity and the repeat so it turns into a goo. But it’s not a reverb, it’s a delay.
xFiruath: What are you looking forward to that is coming out soon?
Devin: The shit I’m going to take later on today, I’d imagine. I mean that’s funny right, the shit that’s coming out? No? Alright. So in terms of my own self I don’t think about other bands that much. I like what I like and I’ve got enough contacts with other people being in the scene that I tend to be fortunate enough to get those records from those people and I listen to, but I don’t know what’s coming out next. I don’t really have any real time to think about how a couple of months from now there will be a new record or whatever that’s coming out. I’ll meet up with somebody who says they’ve got a new record and I’ll be like, “oh no shit,” and I’ll listen to it. I’ve got Gojira’s new one and that was great, The Agonist was great, but I don’t seek it out anymore.
xFiruath: What else would you like to say to the fans?
Devin: I think the bottom line with the new record is that it’s something I’m very proud of, it’s something I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to feel confident enough to do. It’s not for the Cannibal Corpse set, it’s not for them, they’re not going to like it at all. I certainly am not trying to hawk it onto people, I don’t want to sell myself to people. If what I do interests you, then this record is something you will probably think is good. If what I do bugs the shit out of you, then you’re not going to like it, so good luck and no hard feelings.
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