By Andrew Bansal
After ending his four-album series with the release of “Deconstruction” and “Ghost” last year, Canadian multi-instrumentalist Devin Townsend is now ready to begin a new chapter in his solo career. His next album “Epicloud” is set to release on September 18th in North America on Inside Out Music. Earlier this year, Devin also treated the fans with a very special DVD box set titled “By A Thread – Live In London 2011”, consisting of the magnificent shows he did in London late last year, performing all of “Ki”, “Addicted”, “Deconstruction” and “Ghost”. Besides the new album to look forward to, fans also have the chance to see him on stage during his ongoing North American touring run with co-headliners Katatonia and support acts Paradise Lost and Stolen Babies. Just a couple of weeks ago, I caught up with the man himself, to discuss all of these things. Enjoy the conversation below as Devin speaks his mind, check out the incredible video clip of “Ghost” from the aforementioned DVD set, listen to a song off of “Epicloud”, and visit his facebook page for yet more info.
These are exciting times for your fans, because you have a new album coming out very soon. You were done with the four-album series last year. So, would you say this a new beginning for you, musically?
I’d say Epicloud is a summary, in all honesty. I think every record is a new beginning for me, in its own way, and a summary in its own way I suppose. But I think the last four records that I’ve done, Ki, Addicted, Deconstruction and Ghost, they were so full of this sort of existential searching. I was trying to figure out what had entailed in order for me to do what I do. Every record is a reaction to the one before, so Ghost was a reaction to Deconstruction, and that one’s a reaction to Addicted, and onwards. But when I finished the four, I totally intended to just sit down and start writing a symphony that I’ve been planning for many years, and a new Ziltoid record. But I found that ultimately, the theme of the Ziltoid record didn’t appeal to me. It just seemed like so much work. It seemed like so much emotional work that I had already just put in to finish Deconstruction and Ghost. When I sat down with the guitar, like I always do when I write, I just let my hands go wherever they want to. They didn’t want to do Ziltoid. My whole nature was tired of that sort of complication. And so, without any second guessing, I kept writing these simple, positive Def Leppard-style songs for Epicloud. It lead into the fact that this is where I want to go right now, and it started to become obvious to me that it was a summary of what had happened. If the existential searching was what the four records prior to this were about, Epicloud is mainly about the fact that I’ve over it. I’ve learnt what I needed to learn from the four records of the Devin Townsend Project, and I have no desire to keep spinning those wheels. When I felt like I discovered about my own artistic nature through Deconstruction, through Ghost. I certainly listened to this nature, and I wasn’t about to bang my head against that wheel. It was very obvious to me that the chaos and the progressive nature of these last four records led me to thinking that there really is no point to life. There’s no key that you get handed when you manage to get to a certain level artistically, and ultimately the point of life for me is the relationship I have, not only with my friends and family but also with my environment and the universe in general. The stumbling point for that has always been religion, and how that just kind of sucks it up every step of the way. You should feel like the choices that you make in life lead you to making the choice to be positive, and not to be that inherent anger in your soul, definitely my soul. But when I came to that conclusion, I decided that I want to make something that is in a sense a celebration of the parts of humanity that I still have faith in, and make a conscious effort to make something that’s positive, use the whole gospel choir and all this shit, to make a proclamation of that sort of energy, and if that means it’s a definition of what I’m doing to do for the rest of my life and career, absolutely not. I’m 25 records into this shit! Despite every record that I’ve done, the one thing that I’ve been afraid to do more than anything else, is to make something really simple, something that’s really accessible. As a result of making progressive metal for the majority of my career, it’s almost like that’s the one no-no. You can do records about coffee drinking alien puppets but certainly don’t make it obvious to anybody that you have an affinity for pop music or Def Leppard or any of that stuff. So allowing myself to get over that hurdle, I said ‘Fuck it. Here you go.’ Here is an epic loud record. And then from here, there might well be “Casualties Of Cool” which is this unbelievably uncommercial country record, and then there’s going to be a completely preposterous symphony. So I would say for the people who listen to what I do, here’s something. Take it or leave it, but I love it, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. It summarizes what I’ve learnt in my mind by doing those past four records.
Do you think this might also lead to a series of albums, or will you just see where it takes you?
It’s a one-off thing, and I know where it goes (laughs). It’s finished. I think that’s the thing about the record that’s important to me. A lot of times, even in the times and years when we’ve talked to each other, for me it always comes back to this sense of figuring out myself, and I’ve gone through these changes, sober, not sober, or whatever, you know. There’s always that underlying narcissistic motivation in what I’ve done. I have to admit, with this record I just wasn’t interested in that anymore. It’s the same thing with Strapping Young Lad. There came a point when I wasn’t into Strapping Young Lad with the full intention of solving what inspired that. I did it in my own way, and then moved on. It’s the same thing with the Devin Townsend Project too. I went in with a very clear objective on an artistic level, and just by the nature of actualizing it, I sorted it out. I think Epicloud is a way for me to say, artistically and literally, that I’ve over all of the stuff I was trying to get over. Next! (laughs)
One of the times I interviewed you was in June last year when you were touring with Children Of Bodom. At that time you were talking about doing those London shows, which of course then came out in the form of the “By A Thread” DVD box set. That must be a satisfying feeling for you, to see those special shows released in such an excellent box set.
It is, but only as a wave in the back of my head. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t stopped and taken stock of anything that I’ve done. To be honest, I think that’s healthy for me, because if I was to hold on as tightly to the “accomplishments” that we manage to achieve, I don’t think I’d ever be able to move on! When I was younger, that’s what I did. The first few records that I made, I’d get them and just carry them around with me, you know (laughs), in a way telling everyone that this is an actualization of an immense amount of effort. This here serves my identity best, and I’m the guy who did this. Everybody, check it out! Here’s “Ocean Machine”, here’s “Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing”, here’s “Infinity”. But then, I remember someone saying at the time, ‘Well, this is only one record that you’ve done. You’re going to do a whole long stream of records!’ And I remember that it was actually very depressing for me to hear that, because I was like, ‘No no no, this is the record. This is the moment!’ But now, just by necessity of getting older, I’ve just not had the opportunity to obsess as much over things that I have done. It allows me to keep making more. “By A Thread”, “Contain Us”, Ki, Addicted, Desconstrution, Ghost, Epicloud, all this shit man. It’s like the moments in time that are finished now, you know what I mean? If I take anything from all these albums and those four shows is that it has opened up my ability to do the next thing. And I think having something to look forward to artistically, for me it’s really, really what it’s all about. It’s not the achievement of what I’ve already done, it’s just that I’ve got something to look forward to and work towards. However shallow that may end up ultimately being, it’s something, you know. It gives me a reason to get up every morning. All the things that I’ve done just kind of propel me into the next things, and “By A Thread” propels me to The Retinal Circus. Epicloud propels me to Casualties Of Cool, and that in turn propels me to Z-squared. As long as there’s coffee involved, I’m there!
Right, but this box set has turned out to be quite a collector’s item with lots of stuff besides the actual videos. How much were you involved in it?
Oh, I’m absolutely involved intimately with everything I do. I definitely find it hard, almost impossible to just turn things in. And that’s also something that led to Epicloud. When I was first writing it, I was thinking, this is easy. Before doing Z-squared, I’ll just put this out because I wrote a bunch of commercial songs. But by thinking that and then committing to doing it, I couldn’t just do that. It ended up being something that I invested huge amounts of energy into, more energy in Epicloud than in almost any other record that I’ve ever done! It was simply because I don’t want to just do for the sake of it. For example, I wouldn’t want to just do a re-release of the old Strapping stuff and hope that people will spend an extra 15 bucks an album. I want to make it special, and with Epicloud I ended up learning more about myself than anything else I’ve ever done, because what started as a fling, as a one-night stand, ended up being a marriage, you know (laughs). And then you’re forced to confront parts of your nature just because you commit to it. I found it very interesting, to be honest.
Very interesting indeed! Coming up shortly, you have the North American tour, which will probably be ongoing by the time this interview is posted. This one is with Katatonia and Paradise Lost. What is this tour exactly about for you? Are you promoting the DVD set or the new album, or a bit of both?
Well, I admit I really don’t think about touring in that sense. I tour so much that it represents to me the first tour of a lot of tours. So within that, there are elements that I try and engage in on every tour, and that can be simply learning a bunch of new songs from the new record, rehearsing the songs that are going to be played at the Retinal Circus, and making sure of our stage show, which we are really trying to make exciting now. We’re writing new stage props and visuals and all this stuff. No one tour represents anything different than any other. Everything that I do in a live sense is just a means to an end, right? The whole show that I’m ultimately hoping to have somewhere done the line, years from now, with huge choirs and all that over-the-top shit is something that each tour is practiced towards. We try and break in a new type of technology for ourselves, we try and play a bunch of new songs, and this tour is the next step from the last tour. The tour after this will be the next step from this tour. It’s actually pretty simple in terms of that, but in terms of what the tour itself means to me, Katatonia, Paradise Lost, Stolen Babies and myself are all very different types of musicians. We bring to the table different energies. Yet I think it’s interesting on a personal level to see bands that are all very different from each other. It’s a new experience engaging with people as opposed to going to see five bands that sound like Slayer with Slayer headlining. It’s a different trip from that, and I think ultimately it could be a very memorable show for people to come out and see.
Yeah, exactly. The last time you toured North America as headliner, you the The Ocean with you as support act, and before that you had Tesseract. That was something I enjoyed because you kind of brought out those bands to the public and they were not exactly well-known at that point. But this time you’re playing with bigger bands. That also must be something different as compared to before, and you’ll be playing in bigger venues too.
Yeah, hopefully. The bottom line is, the “stock” of Devin Townsend Project is not that hot in the United States. It’s getting better, but our brand, if you want to call that, is definitely able to pull off these epic things year after year, in Australia or Asia, or places like that. So every time we come to North America, our intention is to try and build this, to try and make it worth people’s time to come see. I think there’s always going to be the people that really like what you no matter what it is, but our visibility in the United States has never been that high. We don’t get a lot of attention. So when we do get the opportunity, we definitely want to take advantage of that. We want to bring the best show we can, and we want so the next time we come back to America, because we’ll always come back, that we’ll be a little better. Ultimately, all these territories that we play in will be on a similar status, and then we can provide things that we do in London right now with the Retinal Circus, choirs and orchestras and all that shit everywhere we go. But it’s a slow process, right? So we’re just thankful to be able to bring it up another notch.
Talking about LA venues, you played at the Troubadour and the Key Club on your last two headline tours, but this time it’s the El Rey Theatre. Would you find it more challenging to play bigger venues in the US, because may be you have to do more to capture a bigger crowd?
Well, to be honest I prefer bigger shows. I think the nature of what I write tends to respond well to bigger things, Epicloud particularly. I mean, shit, it’s big epic music, right? The goal for me has always been to have these big epic choirs and huge visuals and all that stuff. Every step that we take into bigger venues hopefully allows the audience that sees it to say, wow I wonder what this would be like in a really big venue. I wonder what this would be like if this band had the capital to bring choirs, orchestras and top-level visual things along, like the way pop bands kind of have. So we’ll see, but I definitely don’t try and change what we do to accommodate all these things. We just want it to be the best it can be, and honestly, what I can do is honesty. If it’s done in front of 25 people like it was in North Carolina last year (laughs), or 60,000 people like it was in Finland the other year, then I’ll do what I have to do in order to put it across to whoever’s there in the audience. But the bottom line is, I love music and I love to play. I’ll play to my cat if that’s ever an option!
Well, it was a pleasure talking to you as always. Thanks for the interview and all the best with everything. You should play in India some time!
I keep saying, I’ve done a lot more Indian interviews in the recent past because I guess the scene’s just kind of blown up over there since Maiden played, right? But I’ve done more Indian interviews than ever. I don’t even remember doing any before last year. At any time, I talk to anybody there, they say, ‘Hey, you should come here!’ And my answer always is, I’d love to come to India. A lot of times people give all these reasons about why they want to go to India. Well fuck it man, I want to go to India for the food! I think the internet just makes every place in the world the same thing but they have different atmospheres, colors and experiences. Ultimately I just think people are people, so yeah, bring on the spicy vegetarian Indian food! Let’s do it!