The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
INTERVIEW Devin Townsend 2013









Of all the people that I could choose to interview or just have a chat with, Devin Townsend is easily one of those people in my top list. One of the most interesting musician's out there who's body of work is not only vast but also varied, wacky and brilliant. From his days with Strapping Young Lad to his solo releases, Devin Townsend has done it all and continues to put out quality material. As I found out in our interview, this past year has been a very busy one for the mastermind as we discussed his current projects as well as the upcoming Devin Townsend Project tour in Australia this October.





Andrew: Hi hows it going?


Devin: Yeah it's good. We are in the middle of filming the pilot episode of the Zoltoid show and just finishing off the mix for the "Casualties Of Cool" record, just finished off Retinal and just came off the road. It's a pretty good run of productivity to be honest.


Andrew: Yeah I wanted to ask you about the "Retinal Circus", tell us a little bit about that.


Devin: "Retinal Circus" was an idea that took about a year to bring to fruition and what the basic thought behind it was the end period of the Devin Townsend Project with Epicloud and 4 records and all this, it seemed like appropriate use of our resources to make a show that essentially put it all in one place and gave us an opportunity to sort of make an overview of everything that I had done. And so Retinal Circus ended up being this really theatrical, very strange show that included elements of all my solo records more or less and some elements of Strapping Young Lad and then it was wrapped up into a story including Steve Vai. In a lot of ways it was a real purge for me, it allowed me to represent the past, sort of confront the real nerdy elements of it and just make it larger than anything I've made. It was a cool experience.


Andrew: It sounds almost like a theatrical version of a biography, would you put it like that?


Devin: I guess so. I mean it's a biography of the music rather than a biography of me. I think a biography of me would be pretty boring but I mean taking the musical end of it, I think it's so up and down and all over the place that from the dynamics of the back catalogue it was very easy to put together something theatrical. Yeah I guess it would be a biography of my music but maybe not directly of myself. Who knows, maybe it is.


Andrew: It's funny that you mention Steve Vai as well because I just recently saw him at one of his shows and it just reminded me that you did vocals on one of his albums, "Sex And Religion". Can I ask how that came about?


Devin: I was 19 years old and I was in a local band in Vancouver and like most local bands I put a bunch of money together and made a demo tape of certain songs that I had been working on and sent it out to various labels around North America and one of the labels that I had sent it to was Relativity Records. And they really liked it and they flew me out and we discussed doing a record of my own material. About 2 weeks into the discussions the concept came up of me singing with Steve vai and the A&R guy had told me that Steve Vai was very interested in what I did and would like to meet with me. One thing led to another and through a combination of sharing label and A&R people and resources, we ended up together, Steve and I. And yeah I was 19 years old and moved to Los Angeles and I did the "Sex And Religion" record and about a year of touring consequently after that and it was an enlightning experience in many ways, it was a good experience in many ways, in some ways it was a negative experience but all these things taught me a great deal that I'm thankful for and put to great use now I think.


Andrew: Obviously you guys stayed in touch over the years as you mentioned he was part of the Retinal Circus, what part did he play in that?


Devin: He ended up being the narrator which I think is interesting as well because of our relationship and because of how he played that sort of a role in my life anyway, sort of a silent observer of what I have been doing. In the confines of this silly little story that we put together for Retinal, that's pretty much the story that he played as well in the show. He is kind of a silent observer.


Andrew: I unfortunately missed your set at the Soundwave Festival last year but I did manage to catch you performing with Gojira which looked like a lot of fun. You guys did a tour together?


Devin: That's correct yeah. As I get older I find my connection to heavy music wanes in a lot of ways. If nothing else there's an element of heavy music that just no longer fits into my daily muse in terms of sound. But Gojira and Meshuggah are 2 bands that even within that I still just have immense respect and awe for in a lot of ways so the tour with Gojira was a great experience for me, to be able to hang out with people I like but also to watch them devastate every night. Really it's an astonishing thing.








Andrew: Now you will be back in Australia for a headlining tour in October, what can we expect on this tour?


Devin: Well what I hope for this tour is that we can take what we have been working towards which is to make a really heavy, really engaging, really emotional type set that's just a lot of fun. I mean it's a good experience for people to get out and enjoy themselves and the show can end up being a way for us to participate with the audience and have a good time with it. A lot of times we're so stuck behind the computers and the internet that you forget that the bread and butter of the reasons for doing this are the connection with other people so I hope that the tour will be the next step from the last time we were there and a really good way for us to say thank you to the people that support it.


Andrew: Now you have such a huge varied back catalogue as well, how do you go about choosing a setlist for these shows?


Devin: Good question. I think it happens in several ways. There are certain songs that you play and over the years as you play them you find that these songs work, these ones don't. These ones illicit a crowd reaction, these ones don't. These ones may illicit a crowd reaction at a certain part in the set and not in another part of the set. So I think that setlists are built in a lot of ways by reflecting on how they succeeded and failed in the past and which circumstances. I think you also have to take into consideration what you have played in that territory before so if you're doing a consequent tour of Australia you wanna make sure that you're not hitting them with just a different variation of the last tour otherwise there's no reason for people to come and participate after a while.


Andrew: So do you change the set a bit from show to show then?


Devin: We try. I think it depends also on how far away the cities are from each other. If there's a country where people have an easy time travelling between cities then yes we definitely try and change it up. However if it's a long way between each city, we like to try and work on making a set that we know will illicit a particular response and then just fine tune that. So I think it's going to depend. For the sake of Australia being a place that we have a lot of respect for we'll change it up to a certain extent but probably not dramatically. We'll probably try and find something that really works to where we have been and to what we're trying to do right now and just try and make it awesome.


Andrew: OK cool! "Epicloud" was quite varied in style, what was the inspiration for that album?


Devin: I think an element for me is I tend to be very contrary with people. So if people tell me to do something, very often the first thing I do is the opposite so if people have some sort of interest in me being very heavy and making dark music then my reaction is just going to be 'well fuck you I'm gonna do what I want'. And "Epicloud" was a way for me to just say 'Fuck you, here's a song about love, here's a song about harmony, here's a song about beautiful things' and it was commented after the fact that 'well you sound like you are in a good place in life as a result of having a record like Epicloud'. But I think it was important for me to be clear about the fact that I was in no different place than I've ever been, it was just an experiment that seemed interesting and engaging for me and like any record the more I start working on it the more clearer the vision becomes and "Epicloud" was a reaction to a lot of things that had been going on in my life and then I just honed in on the vision.








Andrew: And you re-recorded "Kingdom" for that album as well, what was the reason behind that?


Devin: I think the record "Physicist" that "Kingdom" was from originally was done in a perod of my life where I was dissatisfied not only with myself but also with my surroundings musically and my inspiration was focused on a lot of bleak stuff. Even after that record was finished I had somebody mix it that was supposed to be this kind of hotshot mixer which ended up sounding like shit so even after it was finished I remember thinking, well this record is not what I wanted it to be sonically. So in a sense I re-did "Kingdom" as a result of wanting to clarify that original statement but also just by the nature of the lyrics in "Kingdom" there's a sense that on the new version, there's a strength to overcome it. Originally it was almost succumbing to it. So I just tend to work in those kind of ways.


Andrew: So when writing songs do you ever think about how it would translate into the live performance or is that not something that ever crosses your mind?


Devin: Oh it does cross my mind but I think the song has to have that slant for it to cross my mind. If I have a song that I like but it doesn't strike me as something that's gonna have the right groove or the right energy or the right momentum for live, then it very rarely enters my mind but maybe sometimes someone has a song, well this has a really solid atmosphere for a live performance and so perhaps if I went to this chord or perhaps if I break down here or something so then it plays into it in that sense but it's not often a motivation.


Andrew: Are there any songs that you've come across where it was very difficult to perform live?


Devin: Well most of them. I mean there aren't many songs that aren't difficult to perform live. But you do keep the difficult music because that's what I'm compelled to write and if the song is engaging enough that people want to hear it live then you just have to find a way.


Andrew: Looking back at everything you have done, is there anything in particular that you want to get into musically that is quite different from anything you have done in the past?


Devin: Well I'm very interested in writing minimal stuff. That's always been something that I've been trying to do. The more I've been working on stuff that's really over the top in terms of production or what have you, the more I feel compelled to go in that direction but I think in terms of just a literal what I would like to do that I haven't done yet is play bass in a band. I think that's kind of a step that I would really like to take.


Andrew: Have you played bass before as far as just a one off kind of thing or jamming?


Devin: Of course I play bass on all the records technically as well. I just enjoy that but it's not so much as the forefront of something that I crave it, it's more something that I've fallen into.


Andrew: Well thanks again for doing the interview for us, looking forward to seeing you guys on tour. Just one last question - any chance of any Strapping Young Lad beng played at all?


Devin: No there's isnt I'm afraid I'm sorry.


Andrew: Ah that's alright I had to ask. Thanks again for the interview!


Devin: No problem buddy, talk to you soon.






By Andrew Schizodeluxe 15 August 2013




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