Interview: Devin Townsend
Before the show, I sat down in the green room with the legendary Devin Townsend during his 2011 North American tour with The Ocean to discuss important issues, such as the past, the present, the future, Ziltoid, and old man balls.
MEB: For those who don’t know, what bands were you in prior to Strapping Young Lad?
Devin Townsend: Well for starters, I was with Steve Vai, a band called the Wildhearts, and a bunch of session stuff for bands like Front Line Assembly and stuff like that.
How did the recording of Steve Vai’s Sex and Religion album come about? What events transpired to make that happen?
When I was 18 or 19, I did a demo and sent it up trying to get signed. I hooked up with Relativity Records to put out my own record (which never came out). Steve was on their label as well and was looking for singers and the A&R guy passed my demo along to him. We ended up hooking up as a result of that.
If the opportunity ever came about, would you consider bringing back IR8?
Well, it never really was in a place to be brought back from. We just jammed for three days and came out with a couple songs. I haven’t talked to Jason Newsted in many years. He’s a really good guy but we just stopped talking. So the chances of that happening are pretty slim.
So what thoughts went through your head at the time when the head of Roadrunner Records called your music “just noise” back in the ’90s?
I… probably agreed with him. You know, everyone has their own views on what constitutes music or not. I think there are enough people out there who listen to my stuff and consider it to be just noise and that’s probably reflected in my record sales.
What made you want to record both Strapping Young Lad and your solo stuff instead of just bringing it all together under one name?
I think what I’m doing now is essentially bringing those two things together as The Devin Townsend Project. At the time, I don’t think I was emotionally mature enough to do that. I felt that the best way to express myself was to have both of those projects going at the same time. Eventually, neither of them were satisfying so I stopped them both and ddi what I’m doing now.
What are your immediate plans for bringing Ziltoid’s second album?
Well, I need more than two days off at a time to process my environment. Once I have a moment to sit and think about what’s going to happen next, I’m sure I’ve accumulated ideas that I’m not even aware of currently. At this point, I have Ziltoid 2, Epicloud, ZTV, and other things that I have the seeds planted for; it’s the where, when and how that I have to figure out next and to not be focusing on the chaos of life.
So are you still planning on the Ziltoid graphic novel and stage musical?
It takes massive amounts of money to be able to pull it off. In January, I’m going to make a bunch of pilots for my Z-TV show, which will be an interview show similar to what we’re doing now, except Ziltoid will be doing it. He will interview bands, play videos, and interview companies and scientists. We’re also doing this Soundwave Festival and if I have the puppet done by then I will be interviewing some of the bands there.
You have to interview Coal Chamber man!
Oh definitely! Hopefully some of these people will have the same sense of humor since they will be essentially talking to a rubber mitten.
So what made you choose coffee as the driving point of the Ziltoid story?
It’s benign enough that I can make it more of a public thing instead of having a quest for, like, cocaine or something like that. There’s probably less of a market for a puppet on a quest for cocaine compared to coffee.
So what information can you give about your upcoming album Epicloud?
Well we’ve spent so much time in airplanes over the past year and a half, and every time we were flying I would look out the window at the clouds and the sky and I kind of heard these epic songs playing in my head and a theory of vocals. I put up a demo on Youtube the other day [check it out Here] that is one of the ideas that’s rolling around. I like the idea of clouds and being above the clouds and also the play on words interests me. I have seven or eight songs I’ve written for that, five of which I think are really awesome. Epicloud might be the next thing, ZTV might be the next thing, again I’ve planted all of these things in my mind and we will see which is more interesting when I start working on them. Of course, what might happen is that I will pick lint out of my navel and watch TV for a while.
Well why not? You’ve been continuously busy all these years and a break wouldn’t be a bad thing.
I don’t know what would happen if I were to stop. I would probably panic.
I’ve read bits and pieces about this Ghost 2 album. What is it exactly, since the information surrounding that is slim?
Ghost 2 is finished, it’s just not mixed on my hard drive. A lot of the music has been released already like on Radio Highway. I’ve got artwork done for it and as a cohesive unit, it’s a really cool record. I just need a full week to finish it.
Is it going to match up with the other four DTP concept albums?
In a way. It was definitely written in the same time as the others. But someone asked me the other day if I plan to actually continue the Devin Townsend Project after these last few shows and box set and to be honest, I like the logo so much that even if it’s not called the Devin Townsend Project it will still have something to do with the D, T, and the P of the logo.
Are there any other bands or artists that you are currently working with?
Yeah, there’s some guest spots I’m working on right now. I can’t really say too much… I’m singing a song for Ihsahn’s new thing [who was also guest vocalist for the DTP song “Juular”]. I’ve got a ton of things that are happening, but again I can’t really say too much about it right now.
What’s the story behind the recording of Gojira’s “Of Blood And Salt” song?
I love Gojira. Like, legitimately. I think they’ve got it right as far as writing heavy music to say something other than “I hate my dad” or whatever. It has such powerful meaning and to be able to say something passionate, in their case about the environment, speaks a lot for them. I’m not even really sure what the hell I’m trying to say, but it’s about things larger than me, be it nature or math, and I kind of use humor to disarm it. It’s always about infinity. With Gojira, using heavy music to say something that is important to them makes me love them and I think they’re fucking awesome. I met Joe Duplantier after a show in New York and we got along really well. So when it came time for Gojira to do their Sea Shepard EP, he asked me if I wanted to be involved and I asked him if he wanted to be involved on Deconstruction [vocals on the track “Sumeria”], and we talked on the phone and realized we had a fair bit in common.
So what is this Devin Townsend box set that’s coming out soon, entitled Contain Us? When and where are you recording the live performances of the albums for the box set?
In London as a matter of fact. God, I have so much work to do… the box set is eight discs, which consists of the four records, two of which (Ghost and Deconstruction) are re-mastered to a certain extent. One disc is full of b-sides taken from the recording of the four albums. Another disc is demos, and the other two discs are DVDs which contain live performances, all of the stupid Youtube clips I’ve done, audio commentary of all four albums, live audio tracks, stems for remixing and more. There will also be a 75-page book of pictures and dumb little stories I wrote. I think it’s a really cool product. Whenever I see re-masters and re-issues, I think that the industry is just doing what it can to get cash from the fan base, but as far I’m concerned the fan base is more welcome to everything I’ve done for free. However, we have to pay for the stupid expenses somehow, so if we’re going to release things that are cool, I like to think they’re worth it. [You can read more about it Here]
So considering that this box set will have b-sides from the DTP albums, will Ghost 2 be an actual album?
Basically Ghost 2 is of b-sides that didn’t fit on the Ghost album. They’re very much their own thing. When I keep proposing records to the labels, they’re like “dude, you keep putting out records, what do you want us to do?” I mean, I also put out an acoustic record a few months back, Deconstruction, Ghost, and on the side I’ve done Devlab and Hummer. I have more music than brains, which is not surprising. I hate constantly milking the audience for money, but I want people to hear and enjoy it. But I hate it when bands do “Now if you sign up to my Facebook page you can buy one stupid song for $0.99.” I would rather be like “Here’s a ton of shit, come to the show.”
What have been some of your favorite places to play in this recent string of shows?
Definitely Australia, the UK is killer for us, Holland is great, everywhere is great. The shows we do in North America are smaller shows, like around a couple hundred people, but the people who are there are almost consistently the same as anywhere else and are just as much into it. My goal in the States is to get more people on board with the Devin Townsend Project. Finland was also great. We headlined the Damnation Festival in front of 40,000 people. Two nights ago, we played Colorado Springs in front of 85 people. But it’s kind of the same thing as those 85 people are just as much into it as the 40,000.
What does it mean for you to have a band like The Ocean open for you?
They are such an awesome band. They are very different from us, but they are just such cool people. They are extremely smart and really make you stand and think. I hope they have an immense amount of success.
Out of the hundreds of songs in your arsenal, what are some of the most fun to play live?
Depends on the audience. Sometimes we have a more subdued audience and the acoustic stuff will appeal to them more. Then other times we play the heavier stuff and the others respond better to that. It all depends, it’s a crapshoot. The other night we played to an audience that was very much on our side and it didn’t matter what we played. Then other times it’s like a constant fight the whole time. We played this festival [Rock And Shock Festival] in Worcester, Michigan with Cavalera Conspiracy and Mushroomhead and we confused more people in one shot than I’ve ever confused. I mean, you have all of these heavy bands, then you have us with an intro of “Barbie Girl” playing and we have puppets onstage. Doing stuff like that is a bigger middle finger than going out there and pretending you’re all hard when you’re not.
*Asked by photographer Al Primack* I was at NAMM 2009 during your first acoustic performance and you made a joke about how sweaty your legs were and your balls were sticking to your thighs. Fans all over are wondering: Are your balls doing okay after that show?
It wasn’t that traumatic to be perfectly honest. My balls, as I get older, are more and more pendulant. In fact, it looks like a turkey skin with two ostrich eggs in it. And as I get older too, the other day after I got off stage I wasn’t wearing any underwear because the bus broke down for two days; my old man balls are getting lower and lower into the ground. It wasn’t a traumatic event as much as dire strafe from the pants I choose to wear.
Are there any last words for your fans and what to expect in the future?
Well, as you get older, it’s in your best interest to wear underpants; that would be my advice. What I plan to do in the future is this, with a choir.