Latest release: Transcendence (Hevy Devy)Website: www.hevydevy.com
Except for a brief period at the beginning of his career, Devin Townsend has maintained almost complete control over all of his musical endeavours from conception to the point of release. Composition, arrangement, production, mastering and the bulk of the singing and playing were all Townsend’s self-appointed responsibility. On Transcendence, his seventeenth album – the seventh with the Devin Townsend Project – he made the decision to loosen the reins.
“In the past I would write twelve songs and give very precise demos to the band and say, ‘Please learn it like this,'” the Canadian musician says, explaining his previous modus operandi when it comes to his work. “With this one, I tried to find what it was about the band that would be a definition of it.”
To that end, Townsend relinquished some of his authority when it came to creating the album’s music. While he still wrote almost all of the songs, he allowed the rest of the Project – bassist Brian Waddell, drummer Ryan van Poederooyen, guitarist Dave Young and keyboards player Mike St Jean – to work freely on them with him. He presented “between forty and sixty songs” to the band and allowed them to choose which ones would go on the album.
“We took them apart, and for the first time ever I found myself in a position where I was able to articulate why the songs were written the way they were. Why, for example, it went heavy and why, for example, there was a complicated part, and by doing that, these guys that have been with me for ten years or so were very much able to not only articulate the parts but add their own flavour to them.”
Transcendence, then, became a true experiment in collective collaboration for Devin Townsend. It was an enterprise that went beyond the song writing process to the technical aspects of the album’s creation, right down to the recording and mixing. While he continued to wear the producer’s hat, overseeing the entire project, Periphery bassist Adam “Nolly” Getgood acted as mixer and engineer.
“The engineering and the mixing of it were done in such a way that I really had to stand back and listen to some of Nolly’s suggestions,” Townsend explains. As someone normally in complete conceptual control, he admits that listening to Getgood’s ideas about how the final mix should sound wasn’t exactly easy. “A lot of the suggestions he had were ones that I was so hesitant to be involved with at first. I thought that, ‘This has to be at this level… we have to have the orchestration and the echoes really loud as I’ve always done’, and with him just struggling to get his style in there, it benefited the music in a way that I was totally unprepared for.”
Nothing was apparently left off the table. After many years of shying away from them, extended guitar solos feature across Transcendence and the album closes with the band doing a cover, a thing almost unprecedented for a Devin Townsend studio release.
“I dunno if it’s a hang up from being with Steve Vai or what, because I was always, ‘Oh no, I don’t wanna do any guitar solos’,” he says, “but stepping out of my comfort zone in every way while maintaining the sound of the band was something I think the theme was rooted in, and so playing guitar solos throughout the record was another example of that theme manifesting itself musically.”
Townsend declares the cover – Ween’s ‘Transdermal Celebration’ from their 2003 album Quebec – as “one of the best songs I’d ever heard in terms of a rock song,” and claims that despite the Project’s disparate musical tastes, Ween was one group they could all agree on. As for the opening song ‘Truth’, long time Townsend fans would remember it from a much earlier release.
“The song itself was really important to me when I first started writing it back when Infinity was written,” Townsend says of it. “It’s such a great song, and for whatever reason, perhaps due to my lack of technical expertise at the time, it just didn’t turn out as elegant as I hoped it would. I even knew when Infinity was finished that, eventually, I’d wanna take another stab at that song.”
Being the perfectionist he prides himself to be, however, he claims that even this attempt isn’t right: “I don’t think it will ever be right, so who knows? I might do it again in the future, right?”
Devin Townsend has relationship with Australia stretching back to his first tour here with Strapping Young Lad in 1997. That long relationship went to a new level his week, when Transcendence crashed in to the ARIA Albums Chart at #10. It was the first Devin Townsend album to chart in Australia. A very frequent visitor, it may be time for the Project to come back to our shores once again – if his typically chaotic schedule allows it.
As always, Devin Townsend is finding it difficult to keep up with the level of demand he finds himself in. But, in keeping with the mindset he adopted for his latest album, he is now happy to step back and go with the flow. He may even find he has a few minutes to himself now and then.
“I think the fact that there’s so much going on is of some benefit for me, because I can’t control it anymore,” he says. “Even a few years back, every email that came in, I was involved with. Every decision, every t-shirt… a whole bunch of stuff. But now, my emails are insane. Every day it’s just dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of emails. I’ve also decided that as a result of this past year, my private time and time for myself, time with which I am alone is very, very important to me. So I have made a decision that I should not get myself so wound up in work that I never get a chance to chill.”