There are a few things in life which, while are rare events, do happen often enough to be witnessed – eclipses, ball lightning and cats tripping over spring to mind. True talent and genius should be added to the list, since they’re terms often bandied about, but the words have become so overused, they’re almost meaningless.
Devin Townsend is one of those overtalented geniuses. In fact, he’s almost the definition of the word – after being plucked from obscurity to sing for guitar legend Steve Vai, he’s gone on to produce volume after volume of THE most interesting and innovative music you will EVER hear. From the pure, unadulterated rage of Strapping Young Lad (which mixed black metal, death metal, industrial metal and a wry, knowing humour) to the multitude of bands and collectives which carry his name and are masterclasses, masterworks and masterpieces in how to be heavy, intelligent, progressive and other terms which normally give you fears of hyperbole.
This is an artist without peer.
So, if you got to meet someone like this, what would YOU ask?
We got the chance, and this is what WE asked DEVIN FUCKING TOWNSEND –
Dan Roberts, for SonicAbuse (SA): So then, first date of the tour, how are you feeling about it?
Devin Townsend (DT): I don’t know yet, I finished mixing and recording a record, like, yesterday, so I was in that world entirely up until several hours ago and now I’m in this world.
Once we get we get up there and start playing, I’m sure I’ll remember but it’s been very nice, I mean the people we’re with are very nice and everybody’s been very kind and for the first time ever the tours have been starting to do ok and after 20 years it’s kinda crazy.
SA: A lot of the dates have been sold out haven’t they?
DT: Yeah, it’s awesome, it’s a real honour but it’s also, like, fun too.
SA: Even though you had sound problems at Bloodstock, you still looked like you were having fun up there?
DT: Yeah, even though there’s people yelling at you on stage and everybody’s upset, but dude: I’ve had some of the worst jobs ever. I get to play music, it’s a good job! It doesn’t fucking matter how shit it is, plus the people that really like your music, they don’t see all that drama, so if they are privy to it, the idea is to have fun because if you have fun, then I find people end up having fun and it kinda feeds off itself.
With Bloodstock we’re gonna come back this year
SA: Are you headlining this year?
DT: Nah, we’re playing right before W.A.S.P, but at the end of the day I just like to play.
When I was younger, I tried to figure out if life was fate or free-will and I dunno if I believe in either of those things, but I do believe that if you make decent choices the chances of thing happening properly are better: I mean, things can go wrong but if you keep a positive outlook, then your chances of things happening positively are greater than if you’re just always pissed.
SA: Better than the angry young man you used to be in the Strapping days?
DT: Well the funny thing about all that is, I got upset when I moved to L.A and did the Vai thing, I kinda got bummed out and thought “I wanna make a bunch of noise” and all of a sudden that noise got popular and I got stuck doing noise for a living.
SA: Yeah, you got signed for a 5 record deal didn’t you?
DT: Yeah dude, in my opinion City was the shit, after City, Alien was pretty good too, SYL and New Black each had a couple of songs, but as far as I’m concerned City was when Strapping existed and so I totally understand when people ask about bringing Strapping back, I mean I loved that band, however I just don’t wanna lie to people.
SA: You’ve been there, done that?
DT: That’s the thing, I’m 38, if I was still screaming about stuff that was pissing me off when I was 23, I’d be retarded, like emotionally retarded!
Where I’m at now makes a ton of sense to me.
SA: To be honest, I prefer your music now.
DT: Me too.
SA: Let’s not tell the Strapping guys though.
SA: So Deconstruction and Ghost, then, have any firm dates been set for their release?
DT: Late May, early June I think.
I just got the master of Deconstruction a couple of minutes ago so even I don’t know what it sounds like yet, but I think it’s gonna be one of two things: it’s gonna change everything or it’s gonna be a total freak show.
SA: Well I’ve listened to your updates about it and it sounds epic.
DT: It is epic, but it’s also really weird, what I tried to do with Deconstruction is I tried to be totally free. Some parts are brutal, some parts are really cool, some parts are super nerdy but in order to be true to it I think the idea is to not sculpt the nerdy bits into trying to be too cool, not trying to make the cool bits too manly, just be myself.
I think a lot of the time because of that, it’s hard to do interviews and such and say “I like hanging out with my cat” and “I don’t like loud places”
SA: Well I’d rather you were honest in interviews than lying about snorting coke off hookers’ asses!
DT: Yeah man! Fuck that, I’ve never done anything like that! The way deconstruction is, it’s kinda like that, it’s all about doing something because you felt like it, like the orchestra just to hammer it home!
SA: Is it still gonna be a double CD?
DT: Nah, even that kinda bored me. I got to the point where I was like “this is gonna be great” and then halfway through the second disc, I was like “that’s fucking boring: let’s take the good stuff and put it in one place“.
SA: Do you think you’ll release the other stuff eventually?
DT: For sure, definitely. It’s the same with Ghost, there’s another Ghost record, and I think I might just release that on the internet as Dark Ghost or Ghost 2 or something like that. I don’t think it’s as good as Ghost and I don’t wanna put too much attention on it cuz ya know, every time you give something to a record label, they pimp it like it’s the best thing ever, so ya gotta be careful what you give them.
SA: Now you’ve done the four DTP albums, which one is your favourite?
DT: I think they’re about the same, when I’m listening to one, I’m like “THIS is my favourite”. They’ve all been given my full attention, not one has been sacrificed at all. The last time I did two records was SYL and Accelerated Evolution. Accelerated turned out pretty good but SYL didn’t get close to me, so I thought “fuck it”: this time I’m gonna do one after the other and gonna make sure each one is perfect in my opinion.
It’s part of the reason I’m not doing the double CD thing too, I can release two awesome records rather than four half assed records. I think the double CD thing can come down to being like a cock extension too, where everyone’s like “Look, we did a double record!” And I’m like “Cool, but I like half of it”
I mean, with Deconstruction there are gonna be people that hate it, there’s gonna be people that like one song on it!
SA: Isn’t there a song that is 17 minutes long?
DT: Yeah, ironically called “The Mighty Masturbator” because it’s a total jerk-off track.
SA: Solos everywhere huh?
DT: Nah, I hate solos dude, they make me go crazy, I can do them but they just piss me off. There is a couple of solos on the record, Frederik (Thordendal of Meshuggah fame) did one and I did one right before and I was like, “I got nothing, I got no more licks man” so I was like “Please help!”
It’s a total honour, the reason I want to work with these people is because a) they’re like my peers and b) they’re awesome!
SA: Speaking of guests on the album, and you don’t have to answer this, who was your favourite to work with and why?
DT: Well I didn’t really work with them, I just sent them all files and they just sent it all back to me. But honestly they’re all awesome and that’s not just the political answer. I’m not trying to sell the record based on them either because honestly, their parts are small. I kinda wanted people I knew to give their blessing because Strapping had such a big hoopla going on about it but it was mostly me, but it became this thing and rightly so, I couldn’t have reproduced any of it live but still it was 95% my vision.
To me, Ki is just as relevant as City was, it’s just a different age. I think that’s part of the fun of Deconstruction, I mean a lot of people are like “You can’t do heavy anymore!” but I’m like “what are you talking about?!?” it just gives me a headache but here’s a bunch of it that’s gonna fuck your head up and then we’ll give you something pretty (Ghost) to make you feel better.
SA: So who are your favourite bands at the moment?
DT: Well I don’t really listen to much metal, I mean I like Gojira a lot, Meshuggah, Opeth also newer stuff like Beneath the Massacre, Lamb of God, Devildriver and all that kinda stuff, but I don’t spend that much time listening to it. I think I listen to more a lot of house and dance music like DeadMau5, also real old dark and miserable country shit. A band called Cowboy Junkies from Canada I think are awesome, Tiesto because I’m a cheeseball, I like pop music, even some Beyonce. I like listening to stuff I don’t do, it makes it a lot more interesting as a listening experience.
SA: I’ve always wanted to know how you learnt how to play guitar and sing like you do, did you have lessons or were you self-taught?
DT: Well I had a real good choir teacher in high school, Mr. Springer, who taught me how to breathe and all that. But for guitar, I had one or two lessons but I just really wanted to learn and the town I was in, everyone loved the first couple of Van Halen records, Pink Floyd, Judas Priest and so on. I was from a pretty redneck town, lots of rockers with leather and jean jackets and the Eddie back patches.
SA: So, who was your biggest support throughout your years of giving up drink, drugs, etc?
DT: Ziltoid? My cat? Ya know what? I wasn’t really looking for support, because in a lot of ways, the things had to kick were things I did to myself and I think a lot of the time people are looking for someone to say “Nice work, good job” and when they don’t get that, they go back to it. The only reason I gave it all up was for myself, it wasn’t to make my family happy or to prove a point, I was doing it because I felt like shit and I wanted to make awesome music!
I mean I couldn’t even control the file management on Deconstruction let alone write that shit if I was on drugs. For example, when writing Alien, the whole got fucked up because I was so paranoid.
I did have supported like friends and family, but my whole reason for was like “You dumb shit! Fucking straighten yourself out!” But it’s like everyone wants to feel sorry for themselves, as soon as you say “Hey man, I’m having a hard time” they’re like “You think you’re having a hard time?! I’m having a worse time!” and then you’re in some weird debate about who’s unhappier.
It’s like Bloodstock: we got there an hour before we were due on, and you have a choice of paths: either “Everything sucks, we’ve been ripped off, fuck the world, we aren’t even gonna play!” and piss off all the people that came; OR we’ll do what we can and if it turns out ok, great and if it doesn’t, we tried.
I feel that way about life and I’ll do the best I can and if it turns out like a total shit storm, then at least we tried.
SonicAbuse would like to thank – The amazing Sarah Lees at Century Media for putting up with James’… er… persistence
Dan Roberts – Cheers to Devin, and everyone else – enjoy!