Exclusive Interview With Devin Townsend (Part Two)

Devin Townsend on stage at The Junction in Cambridge October 2012

Last week, we published the first part of our exclusive interview with metal legend and all around fantastic human being, Devin Townsend! If you missed out on the first part of the interview, please check it out here. The first part of our interview with Devin focused on the build up and plans for the Retinal Circus. In this second part, Devin talks about his increased musical output, some of the reasons behind ending Strapping Young Lad and what’s next for him amongst other things. Please read on for the second part of Jamie’s exclusive interview with Devin Townsend.

Jamie: Do you think with the last three years because you’ve been able to put out so much music and you’ve had such a high output do you think it’s been a more creative period in your life or do you think it’s you’ve always been producing that much music and now more you’ve had the opportunity to release it to everyone?

Devin: There is that but I also quit doing drugs and drinking and that gave me eight extra hours in the day right there *laughs*
Jamie: Well that helps!
Devin: Yeah and at that point it was like, well what am I going to do today? Well I could…ah fuck I’ll just write. Before I knew it I’d got more music than time. That’s continued now, I’ve got so much music that if I could I’d love to just sit in the studio and relentlessly put out music but I also think the music is affected by what I learn about being faced with relentless interviews where you’re forced to confront your own embarrassment and your own lack of desire to hear yourself or all these things. Being as visible as I am, I’m everywhere. Every time I see a magazine or whatever there’s me and there’s my face and my name and my words, my dumb shit. It’s like a big part of the job is that you have to learn to not pay attention to the criticisms or the accolades. The goal for me is to be creative all the time with people that are creative and with people that I like and friends and all these sorts of things. If what it takes to maintain that level is to have that part of the job be omnipresent then go for it. As a result of being confronted with that then it gives me something to write about. Everything I’m writing about musically now, all this music that’s coming out is because of what I’m learning from being forced to deal with parts of my nature that maybe if I wasn’t touring or doing interviews then I’d never feel the need to. So I think it’s this weird double edged sword where you grow despite yourself right?
Jamie: Totally, I guess talking about things even that happened ten or fifteen years ago like some of the Strapping Young Lad stuff can make you think about things in a different way.
Devin: Oh my god dude, well look at Retinal Circus and then look over the past twenty years of music. I’m having to re-learn lyrics and do shit and it’s just like “oh my god man, you really felt that way”. So yeah you’re forced to confront it and to look at it with an optimistic slant there’s not many people who have that opportunity, that they’re forced to reconcile themselves. And it’s forced by your own hand, I don’t have to be in music. So it’s this weird combination of narcissism and the things that come from maybe rather not being perceived as such. It gives me tons to write about, it’s a weird self perpetuating circle that when I was doing lots of drugs or whatever I’d get hung up on thinking about it and then I’d just stop myself from doing things, or it would come out in a way that was more fear based than anything else. Like the difference between say Alien & Epicloud. I thought at the time when I was making Alien I was gonna let it all hang out but I was so hell bent on getting as drunk and high as I could because I thought there was a romance to that, being that kind of an artist. But because my more pure nature was freaked out by it all the record just ended up as this paranoid statement and I really like it, I think it’s really good but man there’s so much fear in that thing as opposed to maybe now with Epicloud there’s maybe a lot of people who would prefer to hear that sort of thing like the more fear based music. But when I let it all hang out with Epicloud it just ended up being this…whatever the hell it is *laughs*. So at least now if someone asks me questions about Epicloud I can back it I can be like “no no I meant to do that”. Whereas with Alien it was a case of “what do you mean by that?” and I’d be like “I DON’T KNOW, QUIT ASKING!” *laughs*.

Jamie: Speaking of fun, did you enjoy headlining the tent at Download, especially with The Prodigy being on at the same time?

Devin: It was awesome! It was awesome but it was cold man, there was like this wind that kept coming up behind the drum tech because there’s a big opening behind, the drum tech was like oh I think Ryan’s high hat stand was all fucked up or something so he needed Dave to stay there and Dave was like “don’t worry man I’ll be there for the whole show” but like after the first gust of wind he was on the side of the stage going “Noooo” *laughs*. But again it’s like the more visible things get and the more epic the opportunities that we’re presented with become, for me it’s a mistake to think about it too much then it adheres a level of importance to it that sucks the fun out of it. If people are like “what does it feel like to do this?” then I may think “shit I haven’t thought about it up until this point it’s fucking terrifying now, thank you!”. But I think as long as we can maintain that element of it without it turning into a total cheese fest then it doesn’t matter. I think you could be playing huge shows and you can still take it with a grain of salt but I think anything musically that you do, if you’re thinking that of more importance than the other things in your life, it’s going to become really rock & roll and that’s the antithesis of what we’re trying to get across.
Jamie: If you stop having fun you’re not going to want to do it anymore.
Devin: Well that’s it, and that’s what happened with Strapping. It got to the point where it was just turning out to be intense with the drugs and violence and all sorts of shit that I’m just like it’s not really my trip. All of a sudden I was dreading it, I don’t wanna do it. Strapping started as fun for me, you know twenty one year old piss and vinegar fun but it’s still fun. But by then end of it, after Alien I was so freaked out by the whole thing. And it wasn’t because of the subject matter or the people or anything like that it was just my own process. I got too….not involved with it because I’m involved with everything I do, it just…maybe I began to take myself too seriously.
Jamie: It became a bit too consuming?
Devin: Yeah it really was. And then it just didn’t leave me. Music I find haunts my thoughts anyway but if that’s compounded with thoughts of your own identity then you just have a vortex and then everything you write about ends up being you and your own dramas. Obviously because everything is in my name now I’ve got so much focused on me anyway, that with Epicloud I tried to make a conscious effort to use “you, we” rather than “me, I”. I remember someone sent me something saying we ran this thing all over Alanis Morisette’s lyrics and the number one most used word was “I”. I was like oh well that serves her right, do that to me! Same result! So I was like “awwww fuck”. You know with Epicloud I tried to consciously be like, after those four records where it was all me, with Epicloud I didn’t think I was as interesting as I once thought I was so let’s make it a little bit more outward, and I enjoyed that.

Jamie: Just touching on something you just said, as a result of how things were at the end of Strapping Young Lad was The New Black a record label obligation to put out that one last album.

Devin: Actually I asked to put that out. If there’s anything I pride myself on it’s finishing what I start. I didn’t wanna just bail on the Strapping thing after Alien, and we were given the opportunity to do Ozzfest which I’d always wanted to do, it was something that I always thought would be cool to do. So the combination of Ozzfest and the fact that Strapping was becoming popular and the Download appearance and all this sort of shit, it gave me this ironic way to write about Strapping where it was kinda taking the piss of what Strapping had started as verses what it became. So The New Black is actually one of my favourite Strapping records in a weird way, just because it’s more self aware of it’s self awareness.
Jamie: It’s taken with a pinch of salt against itself.
Devin: Totally. But some of my favourite Strapping songs are on that record, Almost Again for example
Jamie: That’s one of my favourites too, it’s an awesome song.
Devin: And the lyrics for that are all about Strapping. I don’t think anything I’ve ever done has been contractually driven.

Jamie: I’m sure people must bring it up all the time but I take it as far as Strapping goes that ship has sailed and is probably never coming back…

Devin: Well yeah and again somebody said something to me this morning that made me go “thanks man that’s really cool”, he said I see why as I’ve been following your records, your music becomes more of a soundtrack to how you grow, not in terms of “oh I’m trying to grow” but dude I’m like forty, you grow, if you don’t you’re a liability to the people around you. So not saying that because I grow it’s different to you, me or anybody but my music has never been the focus of my life it’s just been the output of my life. It’s obvious why it comes from where it comes, and so when people say why do you choose not to do Strapping, it’s because it’s not where I am.
Jamie: Twenty one year old you is not the same as forty year old you.
Devin: Totally! I often say to them, if Strapping had an emotional impact on them it’s for the same reason it had an emotional impact on me because it’s from the heart. Because it’s not from the heart now and Epicloud is or Casualties is or Ziltoid is or whatever, why would you want me to do something that….so many people rail against people posing right? And dude, I see so many fucking posers! They’re always the ones in life who are like “dude that guy is a poser” and I’m like no it’s you! I think a lot of the time people are afraid of violence or whatever and they’re into MMA or something because they can deflect it by no one thinking that they’re a pussy or people that hate gay people because inside they’ve got some crazy latent homosexuality that they’re ashamed of or something. I figure if you’ve got these things you’re going to spend much more of your personal energy defending and pretending you’re not that because then you’ve gotta keep up with your lies. With Epicloud or whatever people may say it’s super cheesy but I got nothin’ to hide. It’s not like I have to pretend that I’m some hardcore twenty one year old rather than being a squishy fourty year old. It’s best to be who you are.
Jamie: Absolutely, and you’re doing what you want to be doing and you’re not forcing anything else.
Devin: Again, totally. So when people say why don’t you do Strapping, I could give you some long winded explanation or I can just say I don’t know…it’s not where I’m at! But ultimately again it goes back to the interview thing, I’ve been doing interviews for twenty years and you’re accountable for all that shit. I remember thinking it was really clever to do interviews on mushrooms when I was twenty two years old and still til this day I’ve had like fifteen years of “mad scientist says crazy thing” and god I was super fuckin’ high! *laughs*
Jamie: I saw you say something quite recently on Twitter to the effect of you feel like you need to bite your tongue at times.
Devin: Well it’s because you have to rationalise, I think if I remember what I said was that you have to rationalise your impulses because people are always like “why did you do that thing?”….I just felt the need to do it and then it’s like let’s talk about it and then it takes me five or six interviews to come to closure. But it’s usually those five or six interviews that are on Blabbermouth or whatever so again going back to the part of the job you have to learn in order to take the next step, you can’t focus on that because you’re going to make mistakes. I’ve made so many fuckin mistakes but in fact I think your ability to fail effectively defines how well you take success. If you can’t fail then if you ever get success…
Jamie: You won’t be able to appreciate it.
Devin: Either that or you’re going to turn into a rock star. There are elements of that, I mean there’s invasive things that happen, the bigger it gets there are people that refuse to…or at least have some sort of personal investment in assuming that the people that are in these positions are different from them. That because someone’s put out a bunch of music and they’ve managed to tap into a song or something they have an emotional connection to it means in some way they’ve got an answer as opposed to flinging shit at the wall and then hoping that some of it makes sense to them. When things were a lot more underground than they are now if shit like that were to happen I’d be like “just don’t project that” because I don’t know what the fuck is going on, I’m just making music, I’m making guesses at it all. But now the more it grows the more I find people that want to think you’re really good or really a piece of shit and I’ve got too much to do to try and defuse that. So I find there are elements of having to stay away from people that I used to think of as being just rockstar bullshit and even though at this point we’re at the beginning of an intermediate stage, but I do find just for my own piece of mind that I can either spend a bunch of time saying hey don’t think this shit or I can make puppets or write another song and I think my time is better spent doing that.
Jamie: You’d much rather spend your time being creative than deflecting people or saying “No I didn’t mean that, this is what I meant”…
Devin: Absolutely. But I still find I need to do that if something is REALLY misinterpreted but again if we’re going to get to the next level if you can’t handle that shit you shouldn’t be doing it. But is it hard to handle? Fuck yeah. It’s definitely an acquired skill.
Jamie: And I don’t think some people including people who are in that position have got the capability to deal with it.
Devin: Totally! I mean you get a lot of people, I mean I’ve got a big mouth man, I know that’s one of the biggest things, I’ll just be like “blah blah blah blah blah” and then I’ll read it and be like “awwww dude!” *laughs*, “what have I done this time?” or “man you say fuck a lot”. But then I look at Dave Mustaine or someone like that and everything that comes out of that guy’s mouth is just like “dude, dude, dude….duuuuddeee”. But it doesn’t change the fact that Megadeth are a good band. But because of how things are….
Jamie: I think a lot of times over the last year or so when he’s done stuff like that a lot of us have had our heads in our hands.
Devin: Oh man, well here’s the thing. The guy who runs Blabbermouth, Borivoj, I used to live with him. I lived with him in Marina Del Ray and I know him really well, I love the guy. But he’s always like “he said it”, so he puts it on up there and so any time I say something stupid I gotta look at it and think “well, I said it”. So I might need to clarify things just because I did say that.
Jamie: I can’t escape, I did actually say that one.
Devin: Absolutely, and going back to accountability I think that you have to learn how to do that. And if this ever does go more than just a novelty, if you can’t learn to deal with that shit now you’re just going to self destruct.

Jamie: Ok, one last question. What’s next after Retinal? I know you’ve said a couple of times that you’ve tried to do the next Ziltoid album and going off on tangents like to Epicloud or other things. Is it another attempt at Ziltoid?

Devin: It’s gonna be called Z-squared, whether or not it’s Ziltoid. Casualties is this record that I’ve been working on that I love man, but I think I’m gonna have to do that one quietly because whatever momentum we’re gaining with Epicloud it’ll just shoot it in the foot with Casualties. It’d be like “oh you guys like this real accessible space rock thing that I’ve done? Well you’re really going to like this background music / country record” *laughs*. But I gotta get it finished because I love it, but how and when that comes out, it might just be Internet or whatever. Then Z-squared, I thought because it’s “Z” in there would be Ziltoid but I’m actually starting to wonder if it’ll be something totally different and Ziltoid, who we are working on next, might just end up being this incredibly bizarre TV show.
Jamie: Is Ziltoid going to play a big part in Retinal?
Devin: Oh of course dude, he’s our Eddie. He’s got a big part in there. Retinal Circus man, it’s gonna be fuckin epic, whether it fails or succeeds.
Jamie: I can’t see it failing somehow.
Devin: Well that’s it, that’s exactly it. Even if we have a carload of dwarves falling off the front of the stage it’ll still be like “well you don’t see that everyday”. That’s one thing I can say about Retinal, it’s not gonna be something you see everyday.
Jamie: I can almost imagine it being to the point where it will be hard for you to sing because you’ll be smiling and laughing at what’s around you.
Devin: Well that’s it, I think the Roundhouse is a very cool venue too so it’s like someone has given us a nice present. Here’s this weird thing and enjoy it because you’re going to be in a van for the next two months!
Jamie: And you’re back here in December with Fear Factory too.
Devin: Are we? Sweet, alright, thanks, I’ll take it!

The Devin Townsend Project will be returning to the UK on a co-headline tour with Fear Factory in mid December (support will come from UK tech metallers TesseracT). Their latest album Epicloud is out now on InsideOut / Hevy Devy Records. The Retinal Circus spectacular will be released on DVD at some point in the future, details still to be confirmed. For more metal interviews such as this please keep checking back with Rocksins.com regularly.

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