Exclusive Interview With Devin Townsend (Part One)

2019
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Devin Townsend on stage at The Junction Cambridge

A week before the spectacular that was the Retinal Circus, Jamie had the privilege of catching up with the legend that is one Devin Townsend in Camden as the final bits of preparation were being done for Retinal. In this first part of the interview Devin talks about some of the decisions and process to do with retinal as well most recent album Epicloud. Interested? Then please read on…

Jamie: First of all, did you have a good flight over?

Devin: I slept on the floor and fucked my neck up, so there’s my winge for the day *laughs*

Jamie: The Retinal Circus was announced a long time ago now and has been very successful in the fact that it sold out several months in advance but how long was it in the planning before it was announced?

Devin: Uh, it wasn’t! *laughs* Well, essentially, management has always been aware of my desire to do theatrical things so this was an opportunity after we had done the last four shows in four days to make a step towards that goal and have people who were already around aware of it. So they said “do you want to do this?”, and so I had to start thinking about it. Since then it’s just been because we’ve been on tour the whole time and because there have been a lot of things that have been going on, it’s not like we have months of sitting around contemplating it. Retinal is something that has happened while all of the rest of this has been going on. Ultimately I want to have a lot of fun. That’s really the bottom line. I want not only me to have fun but the people involved, the audience and anyone who sees it. Maybe typically a lot of the time people would want horror or they’d want to reinforce that sense of doom or drama or whatever, that’s not what I’m into *laughs*. I just want to have a good time, so that’s what I hope the ultimate reaction to this rigmarole is going to be for everybody who is involved whether they’re working with it or going to it. I just hope everyone will come away from it going “that was three hours that was awesome!”. Either that or they’ll come away from it going “well that’s three hours I’m never going to get back” *laughs*.

Jamie: Why did you choose London (for The Retinal Circus) or was London chosen for you?

Devin: Well it was chosen for me but you go where the interest is. Ultimately to do a show like this, it’s the beginning of what I hope to do on a real grand scale. I saw this Katy Perry special and her stage show, whether you’re going to have things like lollipops and whipped cream guns or whatever, it’s just so epic. That level of production is definitely something I’d like to be able to pursue but in places like Des Moines we played to like seventy five people. So to pull something like this which is the introduction to all of that off in a place that doesn’t have that interest just doesn’t make any sense right?
Jamie: No of course.
Devin: There are a few places where we’re doing OK right now and London is one of ’em. Because the label is here and our tour manager is based here just logistically it’s a good way to start because we’re still on a budget. So it’s a good place for us to start, and the hope is that people will see it and there will be interest from some of these other places and they’ll be like “well why don’t you bring the banana boat to Des Moines” or whatever. Then we’ll look at it at that point but again you go where it’s most feasible to pull something like this off. Because other than acoustic shows and little subtle things, my vision for music has always been over the top so…
Jamie: You can have the most fun that way.
Devin: Well that’s it! That’s exactly right and it’s like someone said in the last interview I did well the bigger it gets and the more intense it gets well how do you guys cope with that? I think you cope with it in whichever ways you want to. If you want to stress out about it and assume that it’s of the utmost importance and that it’s a big drama then that’s what it’s going to be. But I tell ya man, music is the easiest part of my life. The rest of my life, real life, its fuckin’ hard shit! So this shouldn’t be any more than “let’s get together and have a good time”. Everybody who’s involved with it is putting in a lot of work because I think that frame of mind is shared. Because life is….rank for most of us and getting harder. So to have an opportunity to do this, it’s more of a break from that.
Jamie: And it’s nice to have a good team who are all working towards the same thing.
Devin: Fuck yeah. It’s like when I was stressing about this because obviously you become the focal point of it, and you have to learn how to navigate that, I know I do because I get so sick of my own face and my own voice that you have to learn to BE the focal point of these things otherwise it’s going to be ridiculous. But when I was stressing about it to a buddy of mine he said well you’ve got a good team around you. And then I started thinking about in terms of whether or not you’re making the right decisions in life, I think that’s defined by the people that you find in your life. The people who cause drama and problems, I don’t want relationships that take that much work. It’s like I found in the past I have these relationships that are interesting but it’s just drama, you can’t say something without it turning into some sort of excursion into trying to change each other or some life lesson or all this other shit. But I’ve got too much of that as it is so I find that those relationships in my life are becoming more and more distant. The ones that are a part of my life are easy and when they are easy you can focus on the things that you’re trying to achieve, rather than trying to navigate each other’s emotional needs.
Jamie: Obviously everyone has some of that stuff but on the whole life’s too short for too much of that…
Devin: Yeah, I think any relationship is compromise and anyone who has a whole “I don’t compromise” thing usually they don’t have a lot of people to spend time with. For me, I’ve had to compromise a ton in my life in ways I never thought I would have to but there is really good things to be said about that. Because ultimately if everybody is compromising, as ugly a word as that is, then in a perfect scenario everybody’s strengths are utilised. It’s like teaching your kid to pass the ball in football as opposed to always going for the goal. It’s like if you’re going for a goal from the other side of the field you ain’t gonna get it, y’know? But if everyone is passing to each other and then whoever gets the goal isn’t the important part but the team getting a goal is, then you’re good to go. You have to learn to pass.
Jamie: And that isn’t always easy.
Devin: It isn’t. Especially for adults *laughs* It’s like “pass me the ball” and someone else is like “nononono, I don’t pass”.

Jamie: You’ve got your two shows in Newcastle and Cambridge this week. Are they the warm up for Retinal, at least from the musical point of view if not the full stage production?

Devin: I asked for those two shows actually because on the first show of the tour, for me I have to go from being Devin, which you know I’ve got a sister and family and a mortgage and I can’t pee in public and I don’t like being seen when I go out to eat. I have to go from being that guy to being the “wacca wacca hi I’m on stage having a good time” guy, and that usually takes me two shows. The first show I’m normally like “What in the fuck…” *laughs* So hey Newcastle! “What in the fuck…” usually you can do it but you run out of things to say. Now that there’s somebody face to face the words are starting to come a little easier but you have to learn to do it, you have to learn to change gears. In my nature, man, changing gears is not one of my strong suits. It’s like going down the freeway in fifth and then ramming it in reverse, it takes a couple of minutes.
Jamie: Yeah you can’t do it instantly..
Devin: No you can’t. It’s like today as well I was in the shower and I was like man my neck is sore and then I thought well just turn around and the water can fix it. But it’s that first three seconds of going from a cold back to a hot back, that sucks, this sucks this…aaahhh that’s better. It’s the same thing with shows or interviews or anything. So those two shows because Retinal I want it to be fun and effortless and easy, I want it to be everyone on board with each other with a common goal. But if everybody is like “wow we’re on stage again” then it just adds something else to it.
Jamie: Well I’m coming to your show in Cambridge…
Devin: You’re in round two! *laughs* You know what I find though? Because I’ve been doing it for twenty years, internally when I’m on stage if I realise that I’m not connecting in the way I feel is easy I’ve got a whole repertoire of bullshit I can pull out. “How you guys doin’ today?”, like I got all that stuff and I can pull it off to the point where usually, in a good scenario it’s just me that notices that I’m super awkward. It’s just that I want to have fun too! I guess that’s the whole point of it. Any altruism that it comes across as with Retinal and the total narcissistic nature of it where it’s about me or whatever is underlined by the fact that we need a subject and I’ve been making these records for so many years so at this point that’s what the subject is. Yes, the me show, starring me! Ultimately I want to go out there and have a good time, I don’t want to go out there and just be like “Oh I’m doing this for the fans!”, I really like to play. It’s a ton of fun and the fact that we’ve got a ton of people on stage doing super weird shit at the same time, I mean even better! So the goal ultimately is to have the most bizarre, but epic things as possible at the show and then that way when I’m on stage I can look around and be like “this is cool as shit!”.

Jamie: Speaking of having fun, I know you’ve said in a couple of interviews recently when you’ve been recording some of your more recent albums, especially Deconstruction that it was quite a tough process for you and now moving onto Epicloud was that more of a fun writing and recording process?

Devin: Epicloud was harder than Deconstruction because the goal for Epicloud was to make something that was about love and make something that’s very positive in a place in life where things aren’t always like that. A lot of times I’ve done interviews with people and they say “oh you must be like in this completely happy place listening to Epicloud” and I’m like no I’m in the same place I’ve always been. I’m typically a forty year old miserable Canadian son of a bitch *laughs*. But that’s part of it, and I think the whole thing if there is any power in Epicloud it’s like making a positive statement in the face of that. It’s like making a decision to make a record like that as opposed to thinking oh I’m just gonna make it a super miserable, son of a bitch record which is obviously easy in a lot of senses, but it’s a lot like jerking off in another way where you’re just like “oh hey everybody check out how miserable I am”. I was saying as well I was listening to the radio the other day and every song that came on was some singer songwriter that was like desperately looking for some validation saying “oh I’ve managed to overcome these hurdles in life” it’s like fuck dude everyone has, I don’t know what to tell you! Would you quit with the minor chords right now I’ve fucking got a headache, you know what I mean? So I think with Epicloud, even though some of it is ludicrous, while I was making it I had a couple of days where I was working on Epicloud and I was like I don’t wanna be making this music man..
Jamie: It wasn’t how you were feeling..
Devin: Yeah this isn’t how I’m feeling right now. I committed to the idea and I knew that I wanted to have that record for my own sake because I wanted my world to resonate with that at this point in my career. So, I think to make a record like Epicloud was actually harder in some senses than Deconstruction because you have to struggle with your own doom and gloom. I think as a result the record is strong because it’s not oblivious to that either. Addicted was really like…”everything’s great!” but Epicloud isn’t. It’s definitely not like “everything’s great” it’s like no things are really hard but let’s look at it from this point of view. If you’re going to go on tour and you’re going to play and if you get an opportunity to be around your friends and you do have these things you can be happy for in your life, to not acknowledge that when they go away you would be like “fuck I had it pretty good”. You know it’s like I often think, there were these people with cancer, like some serious forms of cancer and I had to talk on the phone to them and it was really cool but they were really optimistic about it just like yeah we’ve got this and I hung up the phone and right before that I was feeling all shit and after I was like “what the fuck are you doing?”, you know what I mean?
Jamie: Yeah, if they can be that positive…
Devin: Yeah then you just feel like a jackass! And It’s not like saying I’m never going to not make sombre music or whatever but at this particular stage it just seemed that after Deconstruction and after these four records it was like OK, now that you’ve made this “I’m getting through it” statement what do you want to say now that you feel like you’ve gotten through it? And Epicloud is it. I wanted to say hey this is an option that I choose to work towards at this point. I think Retinal Circus is almost like a party at the end of it.

The second part of our exclusive interview with Devin will be online very soon where he talks about Strapping Young Lad, overcoming some of his demons, responding to critics and many other things so please keep checking back with Rocksins for part two.

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