Over the last 20 years, there have been very few that have amassed such a prolific, diverse and mind blowing collection of releases as Devin Townsend. Whether it be from first singing with Steve Vai, through to Strapping Young Lad, a plethora of solo releases and most recently four Devin Townsend Project releases, every single one of them has pushed boundaries and defied genres.
Having most recently released a series of four albums that concluded with the dual release of Deconstruction and Ghost last year, as Devin Townsend fans have come to expect, 2012 promises to be no different with a new release titled Epicloud (“really rockin’ songs that are big and epic and powerful “) currently being worked on and a performance in London later in the year titled The Retinal Circus that will see Devin boldly go to levels of performance that he has never gone before.
But first, Australian fans of ‘Hevy Devy’ are set to be reacquainted with his appearance at Soundwave Festival and a bunch of Sidewaves with Meshuggah and Dredg. Unlike usually being first greeted by a conference call operator to arrange the interview, on this occasion I was somewhat taken by surprise to pick up the phone and be greeted by the words “Hey Scott, this is Devin Townsend here….”. So let the chat begin…
Hey Devin, thanks for taking the time to chat. So what have you been up to so far in 2012, busy working on some DVD’s it sounds like?
Yes the DVDs have been taking up most of the month to be honest. It’s interesting doing those things as I’ve been trying to keep the performances the same and everything. There was only a couple of rehearsals, so it’s pretty punk rock in parts there, but it’s cool. But man it’s just been a nightmare because I’m a perfectionist and it’s not perfect (laughs).
So these edits are of the London shows you did last year right?
Yes that’s right, we did the four shows in London and each one of them was the full record, Ki, Addicted, Deconstructed and Ghost, there was four different bands and we had one rehearsal basically. The level in which I wanted to take it based on the limited budget we had, it required everybody work so hard and it worked. But man, holy cow! Mixing it now is the first chance I’ve had to really experience it as I was in the ether at the time during the shows.
And for you personally, what a full on way of reliving those shows I imagine, editing and looking back on your own performance over the past 30 or so days!
Well I have to admit, the way I perceive what I do musically, it’s kind of separate to what’s going on. I like to entertain people and I think music is something that comes very natural to me, but when I actually have to work on things that are such a direct and pure representation of the person that I am and I am so privy to my own mannerisms, it just drives me insane. It’s like anybody, you see video of yourself and people are like “oh that’s, you right”. But to yourself it’s like “I can’t believe I do that with my hands, or I can’t believe my voice sounds like that”. So in terms of how those four records came about, it kind of caps it off because I am face to face with it. It’s cool, it’s just hard not to feel self-conscious when you have to look at yourself on video everyday for a month!
So with the four albums having now been completed and released, I have to ask how you feel your fans have connected with the releases. Whilst they were never obviously made for that purpose, no doubt you will have had quite a bit of feedback from fans since their release?
Overall it’s been really quite good, almost better than ever to be honest. What it is and what I do now with music, is thankfully much different to what I did when I was 25 or 27. I think I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that maybe the fan base that has been there and maybe even the new fan base is more aware of my process than I am in a lot of cases. I find that I have an absurd amount of support from some really, really cool people who just seem to be into watching how it all progresses rather than anything specific like this song, or that record. People have favourites and things they don’t like, but overall the fan base that I have seems to be very generous in allowing me to figure myself out musically and coming along for the ride. For myself it’s very inspiring as it makes me want to entertain the people and put my best foot forward and whatever money we do generate, to invest it back into something cool and entertaining for people to see.
Well there’s no better example of striving to do this than with The Retinal Circus performance scheduled for London later this year that sounds like that is going to be a massive show.
Yes, it is! Not to turn this into an exposé with what’s going on and all that stuff, but it really forces me to dig deep into parts of my creative world that I am not super comfortable with. I think if I was left to my druthers I think I would probably ought out a record every fifteen years that pace in life really suits me to move slowly. But my life has been so fast paced over the last 20 years and over the last few years it’s just exponentially grown with DVDs, four records, The Retinal Circus, festivals and all this stuff. I’m overjoyed by, it’s such an awesome, awesome thing to have had happened, it’s everything I’ve wanted for this career of mine, but at the same time if I don’t keep my feet on the ground it definitely tends to get overwhelming. But whenever we do work through I’m always so glad to have worked things through. This Retinal Circus thing at the end of year, is just going to be the pinnacle of all this. The first opportunity to take things to another level. It’s so cool and I’m so into it.
And in between all of what we’ve been speaking about so far, you have also been deep in work on a new album, Epicloud, what can you tell us about that at this stage?
I’m actually going to be recording it in Perth when I’m out here for Soundwave. Well certain elements of it. The deadlines I’ve been given are just so extreme, but thankfully so because after sort of floundering in a lot ways over the last twenty years, to make up for lost time at this time is really important. What I’m ultimately going towards is this second Ziltoid record called ZSquared and it’s this thing I’ve been plotting for many years. It wasn’t called Ziltoid 2 until recently, but that is kind of my goal. But in between now and then, I just write so much music man, I write dozens of songs. Like I write four songs this week, in the midst of working on the DVD. What I do is write and the label and management think it’s a good idea to continue the momentum and bridges the gap between the work I’ve done with the Devin Townsend and this Ziltoid thing in the future. So when they asked me to present the music that I’ve been writing, it’s really in response to Deconstruction and Ghost. Those records were so introverted in a lot of ways and steeped in metaphor or ‘self help’ through making music thing. The songs that I’ve written recently are really absent of that. They’re really rockin’ songs that are big and epic and powerful in my mind. They’re not about me, or about whatever hang-ups I’ve thought in the past were important to write about. To be honest man, I’m over it. It doesn’t interest me anymore, it’s like anything in my past that I’ve gotten through, be it Strapping or Vai or Deconstruction, it’s like once I’ve gotten over it, I’m over it. There’s no need for me to wallow in it right. The music that’s come out now, while I’m writing a tonne of stuff for the Ziltoid record that’s been brewing, but in the meantime I’ve written all this epic hard rock that I thought would be cool to drop out in the interim. It will give some cool stuff for the live set and it’s got this real summery vibe and it’s a little different than anything I’ve represented myself with for so many years. It’s refreshing not to hear my voice singing about whatever problems I’ve got in my life (laughs). This past four years with the Devin Townsend Project it’s been this relentless explaining of the need to move away from Strapping or whatever. Now, mixing this DVD and watching myself, I’m just not that into myself you know! I’m into heavy tunes and cool songs, I love to make people happy with music, I love to perform, I love to play guitar, but thematically, Epicloud which is the name of the next record, well here’s a bunch of fuckin’ killer tunes…I’ll see you with Ziltoid!
As we mentioned earlier, you are heading back down under for Soundwave, which is going to be a fast and furious week as well, with festival performances, sidewaves with Meshuggah and Dredg and doing some album recording as well, do you ever stop?
Well going back to what I said earlier about the conditions I live to operate best at, I do like to take it slow. but I also think I’ve learned how to operate and be productive in short periods of time and I find that very satisfying too. To be somewhere away from family, and to not really have an active pace, it doesn’t make much sense. So I love going away and touring and just fill it up with a tonne of cool stuff. Waking up after a really cool experience and saying what’s today’s experience going to be. Luckily with Soundwave there’s so many people that I know on the tour that it’s another thing in a very long line of things that I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with.
You’ve obviously then checked out the lineup, are there any bands you are specifically hoping to check out that maybe you haven’t yet had the opportunity?
Well, yes and no. There’s so many bands there that I think are great and would be great to see and I would really enjoy, but I’m not really a gig going guy. I’ve just never gone to shows, I just don’t enjoy it. I don’t enjoy watching music, I don’t enjoy being in a club, and it’s just something that’s never appealed to me. I find that music is such a personal thing that I prefer for the most part that I prefer to listen to something in my car or some other way, rather than the experience of being at a show. Of course there’s been shows I’ve been to that have been life changing, we all have right, but typically I don’t go out of my way to see shows. That being said, once we’re there at Soundwave, I’m sure there will be a bunch of stuff that will blow me away. I mean how could it not when like every band in the world is there (laughs).
So where are you at with choosing a set list these days when it comes to the time constraints of a festival performance, what are you thinking of hitting us with at Soundwave?
We’ll probably end up playing a similar set list every night, so I can structure something with transitions and stuff that are really cool. I think the benefit of Australian shows is that they are so far away from each other that you’re not going to get a heap of people going to multiple shows right? So we start rehearsals tomorrow and it’s the same old song and dance for everybody that has had twenty years of music behind them, how do you represent the new stuff and satisfy the old fans and give some simple things that you may be bored of playing but everybody else likes. To fit 300 songs into like 40 minutes… Like on Deconstruction, there’s a song that’s 16 minutes and that’s one of many that I’ve got that fall into that time thing. So I could play 3 songs in the set, or…. It’s difficult, but we’ll try and mix it up a lot and not repeat what we did on the last run! I can’t wait man!
Latest release: Deconstruction & Ghost (2011, HevyDevy Records)
Sidewave Tour Dates with Meshuggah & Dredg
TUESDAY 28TH FEBRUARY SYDNEY, THE FACTORY- LICENSED ALL AGES
WEDNESDAY 29th FEBRUARY MELBOURNE, THE FORUM- 18+
Presented by Soundwave Touring