Dave Young (Devin Townsend Project) Speaks To SonicAbuse

Dave Young is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist who has spent much of his career touring and recording alongside Devin Townsend. He also has a number of other projects including the electronic project Auger (find out more here), and he runs a studio with his brother where the pair have recently been working with Australian band Contrive on their new album. Dave has just finished an exhausting European run of dates with Devin and we were lucky enough to catch up with him in Nottingham where we were able to talk about his expanded influence upon the most recent DTP album, the exquisite ‘Transcendence’, as well as his own interests. 

Read on and meet Dave Young…

To get a little context, could you tell us how you got into playing music?

Sure, I guess my parents put myself and both my brothers into Piano lessons when we were young so I just always remember playing piano and then, I think when I became a teenager, I strayed from the piano kind of thing and started getting into guitar and started playing in bands with my brother. We always played together and it evolved from there. I try to keep up with both and I’m always trying to expand to new instruments. I don’t think my parents really thought I’d take it this far, so they were a little like “ah, should we have done that?” But it’s good. I think it’s always been an important part of me.

I’m guessing you and your brother kind of feed each other’s passions because you started a studio together where you mix, master and also work as session musicians I believe?

That’s right yeah. We were talking about it for a long time. I think… we had played together for many years, then we separated and went different ways for a few years but both of us have always been interested in the production side of things and recording our own music and trying to make our stuff sound good. I think cost is always a concern, so if you’re able to do it yourself and make it sound good it’s obviously beneficial. I think it’s another aspect of music that’s really important. How do you record something? How do you make it sound good? And how do you get to be creative with that aspect as well? So, we just got together and said “yeah! We should do a thing!” and finally the opportunity came around in a cool studio in Vancouver to grab a room there so we did and it’s great. We’re mixing right now, we’re doing an album for a band called Contrive from Australia, so we’re doing their record and we’ve got a couple of other projects lined up, so it’s good.

That name rings a bell… didn’t Devin produce the band’s last record?

Yeah – he did their last record, quite a few years ago, now. They’re friends of ours, we did a tour with them in Australia, they’re super-nice dudes so yeah, it’s a cool project to be working on.

One of the things, I guess, that Devin is noted for is his meticulous production – did you have an opportunity to work with him and develop your skills through that?

Yeah, yeah. We participated in recording here and there on his records, I’ve engineered his vocals on a couple of records and it’s an interesting process with Devin. He just… the layering that he does. I think more than anything it’s just what he hears within a song. You could be playing the simplest riff and he’s like “This note!” and you look at him like “wow really? That’s a crazy note!” But then it just builds into this really interesting thing, I think. So, I’m trying to take that aspect of his production style, just really listening to what’s happening and trying to pull something interesting out of it. But yeah, he’s been doing it for a long time too and he’s got a workflow that works for him and we’re trying to find the same kind of thing – a workflow that works for us.

There’s always an impression that Devin masterminds the albums, but I think on this last one it was a bit more collaborative, was that the case?

Yeah. I think traditionally he’s brought the songs finished and even the ideas for the parts finished. But, as we started playing more together, I think you build a trust among each other and so, even on ‘Z2’, even though we didn’t write for the record, it was more open part wise – for us to be creative with our parts, and some of the stuff on ‘transcendence’ we had started writing at that time together. So, after ‘Z2’ was finished, the idea was to continue writing in that way. So yeah, it was really good. Some of the songs, Dev brought finished and some songs he had a bunch of different ideas that we arranged together. So, a song like ‘Failure’ we wrote all together in a room, so it was cool. It was nice to have that level of involvement I think.

 

In terms of presentation, DTP does these audio-visual spectaculars – it looks like a huge quantity of work for the band?

Yeah, that’s mostly Mike, the keyboard player. He does all the lights, all the visuals. He sleeps very little when we do shows like that. We did the ‘Ocean Machine’ show last night in London and he slept 90 minutes the night before because he was finishing all the production for the show. So, he doesn’t get very much sleep but we all try to help out where we can. There’s always big production involved so we’re… helping with that and he’s… again, it’s Dev who has the vision and sort of directs the way he wants it to go and Mike’s really good at interpreting that into a wicked show.

As the music is so layered, what are the main challenges as a player to get the music accurately represented on stage?

I guess… we play to a click, which we have to for the tracks. It’s interesting because we don’t really hear that as much in our ears as you do front of house. So, in my own mix I like to have less of the samples and backing tracks so I can hear more of the band. Then everyone has their own interpretation of where the click is landing and where they’re playing in relation to that so it becomes almost like another member of the band because we’re trying to play with it and everyone else while they’re trying to play with a click. So, I think it’s an interesting challenge to find a groove with people whilst listing to that click in your head, so I think we’re trying to be as accurate as possible every night and trying to make it sound like the record.

Is there a feeling that you miss, sometimes, the spontaneity of being able to go off-base when you’ve got the click always hammering away in the background?

[Definitely] Yes! I think that sometimes… I mean, I sort of try to set the level of the click in my own mix so that, if I need to hear it, I can pay attention to it, but if I don’t want to pay attention to it I can concentrate on other things and it just becomes like a background cue. But yeah, sometimes, we’ll jam because we don’t feel like setting up the computer at a rehearsal or Dev, who lives like an hour from Vancouver, so sometimes he has the computer and we go to jam and don’t have the tracks, so we’ll just start playing and it’s like “oh, this is kinda nice!” We just jam in a room, but I think to represent the amount of information is on his records, you have to have the click. You have to have the backing tracks, the choirs and all that stuff has to be there to represent that sound.

In terms of gear, because you have such a dense sound, was it a challenge to get the right equipment to find that tone?

I think it’s a work in progress. We’re constantly trying to update our sounds and find gear that works for us. It’s sort of worked out for us. There’s Brian on the bottom, I use Baritone guitars with a darker tone, so I’m kinda in the middle and Devin is the really bright tone with standard scale guitars so we sorted of randomly ended up stacking it that way tonally, and I think it works really well filling up as much of the spectrum as we can I guess. Yeah, we’re always trying to refine a bit and make it work the best for what we’re doing. We’re constantly evolving I think, but yeah, it’s a good kind of evolving. Dev has the YouTube channel called the gearwhore channel where he reviews gear and I think we’re all Gear Whores!

So, you suffer from the desire to find new gear all the time?

 Yeah, yeah, I think it’s interesting. Dev uses a lot of digital gear, he uses Kemper and Fractal and all his patch changes are programmed and so he can play and not have to worry about anything. I use a tube head and I use a pedal board so I tend to want to change pedals out and find better tonal options or more compact options so I can fit more on the board and so it goes… I think we have different obsessions, but with the same end goal.

This is the last night of the tour…

[Wearily] Yeaaaaaahhhhhhhh…

I mean Yes!

…what’s next for you? I know you play in other bands as well, have you got plans independently of Dev?

Yeah, I’m going to sleep for a few days and then I have a band called Regal with my brother, so we’re going to be doing vocals for that over the next few weeks and then hopefully mix that and release it in a couple of months. We’re going to finish mixing Contrive and we have a couple more things on the table mixing wise. I also have my own project called Auger, making ambient music, so I have a bunch of stuff for that that I have to find the time to sit down and write. I’m going to try and spend a little time on that. We have six weeks off and then we’re going to do a run in the US with Gojira and Opeth, so we’re going to be rehearsing with that to be as tight as possible – that’s a sweet bill man!

 

In terms of your ambient project, is it electronica or more guitar based?

It’s mostly keyboard oriented, at least the first record I did was all piano and mellotron and lots of layered keyboard stuff. But I think I’m going to do a lot more guitar stuff as well, but just try to put the rig together that works for the project you’re working on. So, I need to get a couple more pedals, but I think… I try to write ideas during sound check whilst we’re waiting… and I’ve got some cool ideas and I wrote a few things for the first record that way, so yeah, I love the space and really nice sounds so when there’s silence you get the opportunity to play something different every now and then and it’s just like “Ah, I’m miles away on this!” and that’s really cool!

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