Latest release: Z² (HevyDevy)Website: www.hevydevy.com
For twenty years, Devin Townsend has been one of metal music’s most interesting and diverse exponents, exploring virtually every one of the genre’s boundaries and beyond into realms of ambience, electronica, New Age and country. In part a follow-up to his 2007 solo album Ziltoid the Omniscient, Townsend’s latest effort, Z², will be the second double album he has released this year, following on from Casualties of Cool in May. With the album dropping at the same time as he visits Australia for a series of clinics, Loud caught up with one of the busiest and nicest guys in metal.
Thanks for your time again Devin. It’s always a pleasure because I know that you are a guy who knows all about being busy.
I know all about being busy, and I know all about being too busy too. I can say right now though that I’m just busy, which is great! I’ve just finished two double records over the past couple of months, so that’s why being just ‘busy’ right now is quite welcome, as far as I’m concerned. It’s been a huge amount of activity for me lately, and of course I bring it on myself, but at the same time, without sounding flaky about it, I just follow shit to wherever it leads, and sometimes it leads to a ton of information and sometimes it leads to none. But I’m just happy that I’ve been able to get it out of my system, and get it out in a way that I think is accurate. So – no complaints, dude.
I interviewed Burton from Fear Factory recently and I was trying to think of another artist that tours Australia as often as they do and, of course, one of them would be Devin Townsend. You manage to make it here quite a lot.
The thing about Australia is, it’s similar to Canada in some ways. We’re all part of the Commonwealth, but I think more than anything for me it holds a special place because there were periods of my career where things were going very poorly, Australia just got it where people elsewhere just thought I was completely messed up. There’s an element of commitment to it, as well. I’m not a one night stand type of guy. I’ve been married forever, I’ve been in bands forever. I like long-term relationships. Australia is just another example of that.
We’ve always seemed to embrace your patent level of madness like few other places.
That’s because you share it!
I honestly agree with you there! This time you’re coming down to do some guitar clinics.
It’s the first guitar clinic tour that I’ve ever done, and I hope the benefit of it for me, and hopefully for the people that come, is that typically I think guitar clinics suck. So to have that frame of mind with it, I really want to make it something cool. Well – I can’t say it sucks but for me it’s hard to develop a passion for it. At the end of the day, I want to use this as a vehicle for me to do my thing so I would like this to be an opportunity to interact with the audience, play some stuff from the new records and discuss production techniques and get into the nuts and bolts of the process, and I hope that it is something that is informative and fun. However, though, it might be a clinic that totally sucks! Hope not. I’m planning enough stuff so that it’ll be jam-packed with enough weirdness that I have no choice but to represent.
So how do you plan for something like this then? Is it a matter of presenting something to people that you yourself would like to see, perhaps?
Absolutely. That’s the reason why I say that guitar clinics suck. It’s not that they suck, it’s that I’m just not interested because they’re rooted in something that is only a part of the creative process for me. That’s not something that’s wrong, that’s just me – right? How do I plan these things? Well, that’s why the Internet is so great for these things, because I’m asking people, What can this be? I just reached out to people and somebody would say why don’t you go back and show how you did the Strapping stuff, maybe some more about your technique, maybe there should be questions, maybe do a meet-and-greet, maybe a Pro-Tools demo – all these things I think I’m going to plan and then I think I’ll play it by ear as to which direction to work toward the end of it and maybe have a enough content that’s it’s informative and a few people will show up.
I’m sure a lot of people will come along who aren’t even guitar players, just because it’s you doing the clinic.
Well that’s the thing – that’s what I want. I’ve got a bunch of ideas and I’ve got a bunch of stuff and I want it to be more of a show. I’ve got a bunch of cool ideas and I want it to be wicked and that it’s worth peoples’ time.
A lot of us are simply going to appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to come and do this.
I appreciate that, man, but I gotta tell you – I have a great show. I’m very happy to do this man, and I like doing a good job and making people as happy as they can be with what I can do and it’s just an opportunity for me to try something different and that’s even better, right? So thank you for the opportunity.
Thank you too for coming out to Australia so often. I remember meeting you the first time you came out here, and that was a very long time ago now. Is there a way you could perhaps describe the path you’ve taken since that time?
Sure man. Basically, I just follow it. That’s the bottom line. I just follow my inspiration where it leads and it leads to places that are the direct result of what happened before. Sometimes I’ll just be in a scenario where things are so intense that it inspires certain things and sometimes I’ll be in situations with friends and family that are good or bad that will inspire certain things. I don’t think the process has changed over twenty-something years that I’ve been doing it. It’s just cause and effect. Really, my goals in life… I mean I wanna be functional, I want to be mentally healthy, I want to be a solid person for my friends and family, and that goal has led me to a ton of things on the way to where I am now. Strapping, Infinity, ups and downs with life and stuff, and Ziltoid… Casualties – all of it! I’m trying to be a decent person and that lifepath that I’ve found myself on has led me to a bunch of experiences that I’m more than fortunate to be able to share. It’s awesome.
Tell us a little bit about the new record that will be out around the same time you’ll be here for the tour.
Really? Wow, that’s quick! Well, the new one, Z², is a double record and it’s the follow up to the Ziltoid record that I did seven years ago. What can I tell you about it? It’s a massive, complicated, incredibly weird project. There’s aliens, there’s puppets, there’s orchestras, war, death, farts… thousands of people have contributed to this record – literally. There’s this universal choir thing that we did. The layout looks like this incredibly over-the-top Hollywood sci-fi movie. I have nothing to say but I gave it 1000% and it’s exactly what it should be. Last year I did Casualties which was this really quiet, Country-esque kinda record. So I don’t know. I never know, but whatever comes next is going to be worlds away from whatever comes before it, right?
When you did the first Ziltoid, did you ever expect it develop into this thing with a life of its own? I remember speaking with you when that first came out and it was really just a very personal thing for you.
Yeah, and honestly it’s funny now because people say Oh, Ziltoid. You know, that first record was really good. Most people thought that record was shit when it first came out! For me, Ziltoid was just all this stuff – Strapping and drugs and kids and… a fucking mess! And I just felt, Well, there it is, there’s all that stuff in this creature. I did it all with a drum machine… and now, here’s Round Two, man! Maybe I can do something like that for the ad: If you thought the first Ziltoid was shit… you probably won’t like this one either!
It just seems like a huge irony that this incredibly personal record that wasn’t as well received at the time as some of your previous work has now grown into this huge monster.
Sure. You know what… I’ve learned a long time ago that it’s unhealthy for me to read stuff about myself. Not that I don’t do it, because I’m a gluttony for punishment, but you know, negative press, postive press… it’s all gonna fuck with you, right? So when the opportunity for Ziltoid came up again, I had to go with it because I had so many ideas. I’ve always wanted to make sci-fi and radio plays and the difference between the first one and now is that now I’ve got a bunch of kids in my life, and they’re telling me what should happen in the story. So when a bunch of forty year olds are sitting around listening to Ziltoid, they’re gonna go, That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. But you know what? I just let it go where it needs to go. I wish I could dupe people into following what I do and buying it, but they follow it and sometimes it leads to things that some people are going to think are really cool and other times it’ll lead to somewhere that will make them think, What the fuck were you thinking? But it just something that I want to do, and there’s something to be said for that.
You must feel blessed sometimes to have had this career where you’ve been able to do whatever you want and had people accept that.
I wish I could say that it was intentional without being completely pig-headed. Because if it was intentional I could say that from the beginning I promised myself never to compromise my ideals. I was ready to compromise my ideals before I even started! It’s just that no one gave shit! Luckily, by no one giving a shit I was just like, well, none of this shit’s successful so I’ll just do whatever I want! Look at Strapping. That last tour we did with Strapping we were playing to, like, fifty people some nights. And now that it’s over, people are like, Oh Strapping! Do Strapping! I’m like, Dude, I was doing it and no one gave a shit. I think that if I’d ever had something that was a big success, I probably would have doomed my future because I would have been ashamed of it, I was so insecure. I think I’ve grown out of a lot of that insecurity or I’m too old to care. But it’s been great. I can’t believe that I’ve been able to do all these things. It’s so humbling man. I can’t believe I get to do all this crazy shit. It’s awesome.
I think there’s a lot of people who are very appreciative of the work that you’ve done and the music that you’ve created over the years.
Well, thank you man. It’s reciprocal too. Maybe that’s what I should focus on when it comes to this clinic. It’s not just me, I got a great crew, I got a great band, a great group of musicians around me and I got people in an audience where everyone is talented – smarter or dumber or whatever, but all of us as humans are supposed to sort this shit out. My role in it is just whatever it is and I’m just so happy to be able to contribute. So – thank you!
Devin’s guitar clinic dates are:
20/10: Princess Theatre, Brisbane QLD
21/10: Paddington Town Hall, Sydney NSW
22/10: St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne VIC
23/10: The Gov, Adelaide SA
25/10: John Iverarity Theatre, Hale School, Perth WA