Interview With Devin Townsend
Interview By Chris Hawkins
Perhaps the hardest working man in Metal is Devin Townsend. How many other figures in
this genre manage to balance their time producing (recently working with Lamb of God and
Soilwork), while still writing and recording their own material? To top it all off, Devin
completed not one, but two albums simultaneously. While Strapping Young Lads latest
self-titled album touched upon the angst and rage of these troubled times, Devins
other project, The Devin Townsend Band produced a more pensive, melodic experience.
Accelerated Evolution is the perfect next step for Devin as it blends his
experimenting nature with more focused songwriting pushed to the next level by an
astronomically huge wall of sound. The fun doesnt stop for Devin as he is about to
embark with SYL on a tour across the U.S. with Meshuggah and then a tour with DTB.
Its good to talk to you again. I remember the last we spoke at the Nile show
at Jaxx in Springfield, VA; you were pretty psyched for the upcoming release of the Devin
Townsend Band. Finally, I got my hands on a copy, and it sounds great!
Thanks, dude. I appreciate it.
Its got an enormous sound. How were you able to achieve that?
It was recorded at the same time as the Strapping Young Lad record so there were
similarities in terms of the physical recording of it. We recorded the drums in the same
place and all, but I ended up doing most of the record on my computer at home. It turned
out well. The whole purpose of this record, because its my first release in America,
I wanted to have a record that was kind of concise in terms of the content of the music. I
mean the songs are concise songs and theres nine of them as opposed to my last
record where there was really long, drawn out pieces with 15 parts
Terria did have some long parts to it
Exactly, and the purpose of this record was to sort of cut the fat and have nine songs
that could stand on their own without having to say, Well, theres essentially
seven songs on the record and two ambient pieces.
It comes across well, though; definitely without sounding like too much was cut out.
See again, thats the thing is trying to make it work within the confines of a
smaller structure. I didnt want to lose what it is that makes the solo material
important to me, but I did want to streamline it a little.
So you recorded at the exact same time as you guys were doing SYL?
Wow. How do you differentiate your thoughts and ideas for the two? Its almost
like a Yin and Yang between the two projects.
Thats kind of my whole trip. It has been for years. Its the ceremony of
opposites. The SYL and DTB records loosely are just supposed to be the positive and the
negative. Everybody is sort of split to two sides personality-wise. Youve got the
aggressive side of you and the more sensible side of you. These records are meant to be
sort of an overview of both of those sides.
Basically your creativity was fueled by doing two totally different projects in the
Absolutely because there would be times where Id wake up in the morning and
Id start doing SYL at noon. By about six in the evening, Im just like,
Fuck, I cant listen to anymore of this heavy stuff. Then Id go
home and Id start working on DTB, and be like, Oh, ok, this is nice. This is
relaxing. Alternately, there would be times when Id be working on DTB and
Id be like, Give me something heavier, man! Then Id have SYL to go
to. They did work together well.
I remember when you were describing your solo project a few months back, you alluded
to a solo you did in one take. Is that track 7, Away?
Yes, thats right.
How did you do that??
I think guitar opened up to me a while back because I was always under the impression
that solos were something that was thought out. All these people that just sort of let go
and ripped were doing it because they knew exactly what they were doing at all times. With
this one I was like, Man, Im just going to go for it and see what
happens. Some interesting sounds started coming out as a result because its
really sort of letting it flow as opposed to saying, Ok, in this section here
Im going to punch in this little guitar lick Ive been practicing for the past
two weeks. Here Im going to punch in the sound of the string noise as I slide my
fingers down to make it sound more natural. Its like the whole purpose of this
one was to plug in, play guitar, and go.
Do you just noodle on the guitar a lot?
Absolutely, all day, everyday. What I do is I get really shitty techno records and just
plug in my amp and just jam over top of it because usually the techno stuff has got a
pedal tone. It may stay in C for twenty minutes. I find if Ive got a pedal tone to
play off and a beat, I can just jam and make crazy noises forever. Thats kind of how
I set up my practice regimen. I pick something thats kind of unobtrusive to jam over
and just go crazy.
Well, a lot of people practice to a click track so I guess its the same thing!
Yeah, except its just a more interesting click track.
The Strat sounds good, by the way
Thank you, sir
It seems like Strats often have a thin sound, but you were able to achieve that
clarity without sacrificing the balls of your tone.
Its a combination of a few things. Im using a humbucking pickup in the
Strat, and Ive got this effects processor that Ive used forever to get my
sound. I use a Peavey 5150 and you cant go wrong with Eddie Van Halen!
You had described Accelerated Evolution as having a Hard Rock vibe with
hints of the earliest moments of Ocean Machine. I can see that, but its still not
Hard Rock, is it?? When I think of Hard Rock, I think of The Black Crowes or
To a certain extent, I think of the DTB stuff in the same sort of way as I think of Foo
Fighters or something. Its just really driving stuff. The chords are really thick,
the tones are really thick, but its made just to be a solid chunk of Rock as opposed
to being intricate. Its meant to just occupy a lot of sonic space.
How do you make it so upbeat and catchy without sounding generic?
Well, I think that was kind of the purpose of this record was to see if I could do
that. In my opinion, I managed to pull it off, but theres the thing. Sometimes
making music thats a little more accessible you run the risk of bastardizing what
the original intent of your art is. With Accelerated Evolution, I think the
whole point was getting the same point across but without having to
like at the end
of Mountain on Terria theres like four minutes of an explosion. On this
one, theres none of that so if youre vacuuming the house and youve got
the record on, its not like, and Where the hell did the music go? There
was a lot of effort put into the actual record in terms of repeated listening.
It still has the subtleties there. I was driving home from work today listening to
Depth Charge. When I listened to it countless times before, the main riff was
the obvious part that my ears were latching on to, but I noticed another guitar in the
background doing down-tuned, simpler chords underneath. Things like that you just pick up
on after repeated spins.
Exactly, thats the whole point.
The album also has a vibe of being on a journey.
Yes, I agree. I think a lot of the record was written due to the fact that Id
been on tour a lot. Carrying on relationships long-distance sucks reams of ass. I think
the record is just an expression of sort of where Ive been mentally in the last
year, and there has been a lot of time away from home. The experiences that you get while
youre away and the things that sort of relate back to home become a little difficult
to deal with sometimes. The record I think perhaps has a theme to it that I could see a
lot of people relating to in terms of just the ups and downs of relationships.
It seems to be more blatantly personal for you, though.
Yeah, but I think part of that was the experiment because SYL is so not personal.
Strapping Young Lad is really angry and has a mask on it to a certain extent that sort of
hides where the heart is. That was kind of the purpose of SYL was to portray that kind of
energy. In order for the experiment to kind of work out, this one had to be kind of
grossly naked emotionally.
Was that a whole different place for you to visit?
No, I think its just more of a willingness now to publicly display it.
Do you think it was a result of Terria because I got the journey (not the band) vibe
from Terria as well?
Yeah, I mean every record is kind of a result of the pros and cons of the
one prior to it. Im completely satisfied of Terria, but at the same time Ive
heard it now to the point where Im just like, Ok, I dont want to repeat
that. I want to do something a little bit different. The next solo record I do will
be infinitely different than Accelerated Evolution. Every year brings new
stimulus, and each stimulus brings new music.
Are you writing now?
What type of stuff are you working on?
Well, I think the next record is going to be like a musical, kind of over the top and
really challenging musically.
What is Steve Vais role in it?
He asked me to sing some stuff on his new record, and I said, Only if you play on
mine. He agreed, and there we go.
Do you already have it written?
Im in the formative stages of it, but I have quite a few ideas for it floating
Its definitely something to look forward to, but youve got quite a long
itinerary touring now? Are you pretty geared up to hit the road with Meshuggah?
Yeah, Im ready for it. Tomorrows the first show. It ought to be
interesting. Theyre a great band. I look forward to hanging with them and talking
with them. Lets just hope its a success.
Getting back to the new album, one of the recurring themes for me at least was the
line from Seventh Wave, Youre never alone even when youre
Yeah, I think thats kind of the way it is just in life. I think a scene
throughout the lyrics that Ive always written is kind of a separation from the
things that are truly important. I think that kind of is a reaffirmation, man. Even when
things are at their lowest, everything is still unified in its own way, even when
youre as separate from it as you can possibly be. At the root of it, at the zen
basics of it, everything is still one.
On a lighter note, Random Analysis was a pretty interesting track
The thing with Random Analysis is more like what Id say if I was
pissed off at somebody as opposed to lyrics that I would necessarily want to write for a
song. Hey, theyre already written so there you go.
Its catchy, though. Its still heavy.
Yeah, its an interesting one. Its kind of like, Dude, dont be
saying that shit!
Suicide is definitely a powerful track
Thank you. Suicide is not about killing yourself necessarily in terms of
putting a gun to your head. Its just the everyday dirge of life. Its slow
death on a certain level.
But it can also be rebirth too
Absolutely! Death, rebirth. Suicide can also be willingly getting rid of things about
your personality that slows you down. You know, certain elements of your ego that just
make you waste time. Lets view it as a happy thing, shall we? (laughs)
The vocals seem to be a lot more melodic, but also more expressive.
Yeah, I kind of just wanted to sing on this record. A lot of times Ive been put
in this dubious position of being a singer so with this record I just wanted to say,
Ok, I can definitely do it so here you go.
There were parts too that hinted at the Sex and Religion album.
Absolutely. Its all coming around full circle. As I grow into my career a little
more Im finding that every step of my development musically has been important. To a
certain extent, sometimes its important to revisit it. The Steve Vai thing, I
dont think I had completely processed it at the time. Now having a chance to sort of
analyze it, its cool.
When you first started doing Ocean Machine, did you think you would have such a long
string of solo records?
Oh yeah. Im actually surprised that theres been this many Strapping Young
Lad records because the Ocean Machine thing was never a question. When I was younger,
thats what I always wanted to do, that kind of sensitive without being angry but
still really powerful kind of music. Thats not to say that I dont enjoy
Strapping Young Lad because I really do. I really enjoy that type of vicious energy.
Again, its all part of the same brain.
Its the Yin and the Yang of Devin
I know Ocean Machine had the sort of water element surrounding it and Terria had the
earth element. What would you liken this album to?
Either ice or crystal, something like that. Maybe mercury or something. Crystal maybe,
I like that.
So is the Devin Townsend Band lineup permanent?
At this point until somebody either has it better off with their own band or fucks up
somehow. Were just going to pound through and see what we can do. Were coming
down to America in August to do a tour so hopefully it will be cool. It seems good.
Everybody seems to be really cool in the band. Theyre all good musicians. Its
a lot of fun.
Did DTB go over well in Europe?
Yeah, it did. Some German shows were not so good, but for the most part it was
excellent. It was a great tour.
Did you guys write a lot as a band?
No, DTB is pretty much me, but I have good musicians to play my music. Because they
were in relatively unknown bands at the time, they were sort of willing to do that for me.
As a result, it works kind of in both directions.
Is this next solo album going to be with the Devin Townsend Band?
I think so, yeah, with a bunch of guests. Thats going to be a cool project.
Do you have anyone else lined up that you can mention?
Well, I mean Im just going to keep meeting people. Ive met lots of people,
and when the time comes Im just going to spring it on them that theyre going
to be on my record and they dont have a choice. (laughs)
Band Website: www.hevydevy.com