Pushing Boundaries With Devin Townsend
by Cameron Edney
Guest Staff Writer –
Devin Townsend is one of the most intriguing men in metal music and he’s back in Australia this week to take part in the Soundwave Festival. Best known as the front-man for Strapping Young Lad, Devin Townsend has continued to push musical boundaries releasing albums that showcase his versatility as a musician from the more extreme forms of metal to folk. His most recent albums Ki, Addicted, Deconstruction and Ghost certainly appealed to a large audience resulting in all four albums being packaged together last year in a box set tiled Contain Us which also featured bonus tracks, a DVD as well as other goodies for fans!
No stranger to touring Australia Devin Townsend has a strong and dedicated fan-base down under and as a long time fan myself it was fantastic to catch up with Devin to talk about his love for Australia his devoted and sometimes angry fans, the new album Devin’s working on Epicloud and much more. Kick back as Devin tells us just how it is!
Hardrock Haven: Hey Devin, great to be speaking with you today mate, how’s everything going?
Devin Townsend: It’s really good, my life, career and music are in a place now that is just really humbling and flattering. I’m really excited and it’s just a lot of fun man and for the first time ever in my career I’m able to say this is really cool man and I’m digging it!
Hardrock Haven: That’s great to hear mate! It’s awesome to see you back in Australia for the Soundwave Festival; you’ve played here so many times now it must feel like visiting a second home!
Devin Townsend: In a way, I think my connection to different cultures a lot of times comes down to humor. You find that there are some cultures that just gel well together and Canada and Australia have certain things in common and I get it. My friends that I’ve got in Australia, we have a good laugh together and I think that makes it a lot easier to like work. It’s the same in the UK actually, I was basically breast fed Monty Python when I was a kid so that defines it. In Australia I’ve had some great experiences man!
Hardrock Haven: Having played here so many times over the years both solo and with Strapping Young Lad, what fond memories come to mind when you look back over previous Australian visits…
Devin Townsend: I remember the first tour we did with AJ, we did it in a splitter van driving thirty hours between gigs and playing Wagga Wagga, that was intense man. Later on I remember doing these incredibly elaborate tours and the last one that we just did. It’s been many years since I’ve done drugs or drank but I remember being high as fuck somewhere down there and thinking to myself that I was going to die and then communicating with a moth or something stupid, all those things kind of play into your whole tapestry of memories, the ultimate vibe that I get as a result of all those things is pretty cool!
Hardrock Haven: The Soundwave Festival line-up is incredible, there are plenty of killer bands on the bill, who are you looking forward to seeing most, will you be spending much time in the crowd or side of stage watching the other acts?
Devin Townsend: There’s a lot of people that I know that are going to be there and I’ll definitely looking forward to seeing a lot of them. I haven’t spent too much time thinking about that element of it, I’ve been so busy trying to finish up the work that’s been going on in my life with family I figure that I will make them decisions once I’m there but I have to admit I’m really excited about renting a bike and just farting around the town cause I do like riding bikes.
Hardrock Haven: It is a great way to see the sights that’s for sure! You are certainly no stranger to playing large festival bills, are you personally a fan of festival shows or would you much rather the smaller more intimate club shows?
Devin Townsend: I would do festival shows over club shows almost every time. I love it, I think there’s definitely something to be said for your headlining show and it’s a real casual set up and you get to sound check, but I think I find it easier to perform in front of larger audiences then I do in front of smaller ones. It’s less intimate in a way, intimacy has never really been a strong suit for me, I’ve been married for a lot of years but I’m not very comfortable with intimacy. I’m not a very huggy person, it’s not really my deal so bigger shows I find easier to be a character, to perform cause it’s less about Devin the person and more about Devin the performer.
Hardrock Haven: With the festivals there’s always that element of the challenge when you’re playing to a wider audience that may not be familiar with your work, to grab them and bring them in to what you do for that forty minute slot!
Devin Townsend: Yeah and I think for me, I’m banking I guess on the reason people get sucked into what I do is because we’re into it! I’ve definitely never in my career gone out of my way to try and convince people to like what I do, it doesn’t matter to me, I like having shows and it’s nice to pay the bills but the value of my music that I write is not based on whether or not it’s accepted by fuckin’ anybody, but because I do like it, I think that’s what draws people in, when you’re legitimately into it, it really shows!
Hardrock Haven: Devin, late last year you released an amazing box set titled Contain Us… it featured the four Devin Townsend Project albums as well as some bonus discs and DVD material also, it’s a great looking box set, why did you decide to put the package out this way?
Devin Townsend: Well I think that a lot of what’s been going on for a lot of my career in the past twenty years to be fair has been not taking that next step and a lot of that has been my fault. I’ve been afraid to take that next step but I’ve also been with different managers that in my opinion were great people, as hard as they worked for me I don’t think they understood what to do with me. I parted ways with my previous management about a year and a half ago and I have since hooked up with Andy Farrow from UK and he gets it! Andy’s been very proactive in trying to make up for lost time and a lot of what that entails is piggy backing off of one experience to another. In the past what would happen was we would do something that was significant in terms of my career or history but then we wouldn’t do anything after that; it would be like there’d be a bench mark that we’d reach and then it would just die off, then we’d do another benchmark and it would die off again. What we’re finding now is that we do a benchmark and then we announce something else. The ultimate goal of that is to get to the point where I can make this Ziltoid musical that I want to do with the backing and the musicians and the right way to do it. With the Box set there’s definitely an element of the fan base that gets upset saying well you’re taking advantage of the people that supports you, but my reaction to that is that I don’t want to take advantage of anybody and id be more than happy for you to just download it all. I don’t want what I do to make you feel uncomfortable, I have to sell shit, the industry’s in a way here that in order for me to reach these goals and bands on salary I have to sell shit, it’s stupid not to. We’re trying to make the product as good as we can so it’s worth buying however, somebody said to me on twitter “I need you to convince me as to why I should buy your shit” and I said “No, don’t buy it!”
Hardrock Haven: Those are the kinds of fans where you can think to yourself… just f#*k off, don’t waste my time and don’t buy it!
Devin Townsend: That’s it, right! I found out the hard way that telling a fan to fuck off specifically on the internet doesn’t go over so well. So you have to say it in a nice way without saying fuck off right!
Hardrock Haven: [Laughs] That’s a good point!
Devin Townsend: If you don’t very much mind, would you do me the extreme pleasure of fucking right off…
Hardrock Haven: [Laughs]
Devin Townsend: Somebody else is saying “you’re charging two hundred bucks for this VIP thing at the retinal circus why would you do that?” and I’m like “well, the management suggested it, it really helps sell cause it’s like a really expensive proposition and you don’t have to come cause I’m going to hang out after the show anyway!” Sometimes I find there is a certain fraction of the fan-base that is looking for reasons to be angry and I think that, that is fully understandable cause there’s a lot of labels that just re-issue shit as a cash-grab. Anytime I get an opportunity to be involved and make it better then it could be I do.
Hardrock Haven: Mate you must be one of the busiest men in metal, every time I turn around you’re writing new material, and getting ready to release something new! After so many years, creating such great music do you find it harder or easier to come up with fresh sounding material as time goes on?
Devin Townsend: Well it’s a little bit of both, it’s easier to come up with material but what sounds fresh to me now… the things that appeal to me most now with music a lot of times wouldn’t fit in with what we’re doing now. There has to be these moments where you reconnect with the band and fortunately I still have this vision with Devin Townsend Project where that inspiration is still to be found by doing that. I remember towards the end of Strapping [Young Lad] I was looking for inspiration to make Strapping like material everywhere and I couldn’t find it anywhere. Nothing was inspiring me to do this! With Devin Townsend Project what comes naturally to me at this point in my life whether or not it’s just a phase is very quiet, folk, country sounding stuff. If I start doing that with this after setting all of this up, glowing logos and all this shit… “I hope you like our new direction” people will be like “yeah we don’t.” It doesn’t mean I’m not gonna do it, I’m still working on it.
Hardrock Haven: [Laughs] It would be a fantastic way to upset some of those fans again!
Devin Townsend: I’ll tell ya what, I upset everybody basically every time I put out a record and then when I put out the next one it’s just about the time that they’ve become used to the one before, then they’re pissed off that you’re changing again.
Hardrock Haven: I’ve always felt that it’s great to have diversity in music and that’s one thing that you’re great with, you will do an acoustic show, record some folk type material and of course the more extreme metal styles also, have you always thought for yourself that it was important to be well rounded with your musical choices and the way you put it all together?
Devin Townsend: It’s never been a conscious decision, I get bored easily so once I finish one thing I’ll be damned if I want to do that again. That’s it more than anything else, again there’s a lot of times when people are talking about my process and music and it sounds so much more romantic then it probably actually is. I get bored easily, I like a lot of different styles of music I was never part of any click, so there’s no real reason to adhere to any click and I think you put all those things together with a capacity to for learning and you’re gonna get some weird music, that’s just what I do!
Hardrock Haven: Mate, I believe you’re already working on the next album Epicloud scheduled for release this year… how far into the writing are you?
Devin Townsend: Basically because Deconstruction and Ghost were so complicated I just said fuck it, I just want to write something that’s big, shiny, aggressive hard rock with a lot of beauty and a lot of melancholy. It’s simple with big choruses and its relatively accessible and its going to piss off people who liked Deconstruction and then by the time they start thinking wow that’s really cool then I’m going to release Ziltoid the Omniscient 2 and piss them off again!
Hardrock Haven: [Laughs] Sounds like a great plan! Mate in this industry you’re constantly learning whether it’s on tour, or in the studio or the all important business side of things! Knowing there are so many different lessons along the way what do you feel has been the most important lesson you’ve learnt thus far?
Devin Townsend: To not take it as seriously as you’re inclined to because when the gigs get big and the press room becomes to the point where it seems like what you’re doing is really important, because you’ve got people running around and there’s money that’s being spent on things you’ve got managers and lawyers it’s really hard to sometimes keep in check that it may seem important but it’s not! I think that if you can learn to take it with a grain of salt it doesn’t matter how big it gets man, it will just be fun! It will be “wow isn’t that cool” vs “oh my god this is a defining moment for me.” If you can keep it fun rather than with a sense of self importance then you’re golden man!
Hardrock Haven: Devin thanks again for your time today, it’s been a true pleasure. Do you have any last words for our readers?
Devin Townsend: Worst shit has happened to better people!
Devin Townsend will be performing at the 2012 Soundwave Festival and selected sideshows. Don’t miss the mayhem kicking off today in Brisbane!