Devin Townsend – The Man, The Musician, The Tasty Dessert

First things first – The Devin Townsend Project is co-headlining the aptly titled Epic Kings & Idols tour with Katatonia at the Commodore Ballroom on September 5. Paradise Lost and Stolen Babies are also playing. Go buy your tickets and come right back.

I’m not exactly sure of the first time I heard Devin Townsend’s music, but I know it was a Strapping Young Album. It was most likely around the time the self-titled album came out in 2003, six years after the paradigm shift that was City was unleashed, which had flown right over my head and untrained fifteen-year-old ears. Strapping Young Lad was without a doubt the heaviest, most devastating music to ever invade my skull. That stands to this day. Just crank “Detox” and try to debate this.

I quickly became a hardcore fan, which prompted me to do some research and see that this was the demonic brainchild of Devin Townsend. I got into his solo stuff to see what else he could possibly be creating, and my jaw hit the floor again. I listened to Terria and, while there were still moments of heaviness, this stuff wasn’t pulsing with seething hate. But I was okay with that, because it was just as great. Over the years, “Deep Peace” has soothed my myopic, puny-human despair; “Nobody’s Here” has relaxed me, made me laugh, and forced me to take pride in being a lone Self; and “Tiny Tears” has picked me up off the ground, slapped me like a brother, and told me to get my shit together. “I’m 29 years old, and I’m a million miles away.” Man… now more than ever.

I could ramble on for eons about Devin Townsend, his music, how he’s one of our country’s greatest artists, and why you should bow down, but who am I? I’m just the guy typing this.

I had the opportunity to speak with Devin over the phone a short while ago, in anticipation of his Commodore show, the upcoming Retinal Circus shows in London in October, and the release of Epicloud, his latest effort, due out September 18 on HevyDevy Records and InsideOut Music.

Devin Townsend: Hi, it’s Devin Townsend.

Vancouver Weekly: Mr. Townsend.

DT: How you doin’ buddy?

Vancouver Weekly: Pretty good, how are you?

DT: I am quite well.

Vancouver Weekly: How’s your Friday so far?

DT: It’s been European interviews since 8, and I’m in Surrey at a buddy’s house and I’m on… my fifth cup of coffee, so I’m… slowly rejoining the land of the living here. [laughs]

Vancouver Weekly: Okay, right on. Let’s kick it off. I feel as if calling you prolific or even a workaholic seems to be an understatement. Do you think you work too much?

DT: Yeah, I do. I think I work too much, but I also think that at this particular stage in my career, I’ve been kind of given another opportunity to do this, right? And to not utilize that at this point, it doesn’t make any sense. I definitely work too much and have worked too much for many years. With that being the situation, to stop now doesn’t make a lot of sense for me. I’m hoping that now that Epicloud is coming out and the tour cycle’s starting, the next record that I do will be – other than the side projects –one I can afford to take a little more time on.

Vancouver Weekly: Throughout your career, the styles you’ve covered, they run the gamut from extreme heavy metal to ambient to experimental, and all sorts of sounds in between. Do you think there’s a common thread throughout all your work?

DT: Well yeah, I mean, whatever I choose to do, it’s because I truly feel inspired to do that. And every record that I do is a very definite reaction to the one that came before, so strictly as a fan of music, and any music that kind of comes from the heart, I find that I’ll put in a ton of effort into actualizing each idea and then after that’s done, my desire to use that again is nonexistent because I’ve just spent immense amounts of personal energy getting it finished, right? So to me it doesn’t seem strange at all that the records are all so different. It’s just a music fan going between what interests him based on what he’s sick of, to be honest.

Vancouver Weekly: There does seem – even in all your varying styles – to be kind of a grand, epic if you will, feel to a lot of your music. Is this something you try to consciously try to achieve as you create or do you think you just gravitate to that naturally?

DT: I think I gravitate towards it… There are certain projects that I’m working on that are immediate reactions to that as well, going back to what we talked about previously. You know, you’re a product of your influences, obviously, and I remember when I was in high school, I remember being in a provincial choir that kind of took singers from different high schools, and we got the opportunity to sing Handel’s Messiah and… these really extreme statements, right? I like that sort of broad stroke of emotion. When I was a kid, I also really enjoyed these – admittedly hard to watch at this age – ‘70s musicals, you know, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, Phantom of the Opera, all that stuff. I loved just how obvious the statements were, how big they are. Mix that with a healthy love for Def Leppard when I was a teenager, it’s just inevitable that it goes in that direction. However, I’m at the age of 40 now, and I’m 25 records into this – the inspiration for me to go in the opposite direction of that is definitely rearing its head, on the sidelines.

Vancouver Weekly: Keeping on this grand thing, last November in London, you played all four Devin Townsend Project albums with four different bands over four nights. You defined that as, possibly, the defining career moment, perhaps life moment. Now, there’s the upcoming October show in London, the Retinal Circus, and from the info coming out, it sounds like it might even top the London shows. What can people expect at the Retinal Circus?

DT: I remember when I was starting in music, I used to hang on to my “successes” really tightly, y’know? I’d work obsessively on a record like Infinity or something, and because of the effort going into it, I was almost unwilling to let it go. And I would define myself, let alone my music or my career, based on these, y’know, achievements. But, I’m finding now that the things that are happening career-wise and life-wise are just happening at such a pace, that there’s really no opportunity to hold onto them. And, I think that’s actually one of the more liberating elements of where I’ve found myself headed career-wise is that there’s no opportunity to reflect on one thing being a defining moment. Like, before we had done the four shows in London, we had headlined the Tuska festival, I’d done the Ziltoid thing, then I’d look back at that one and think “Well, that’s that biggest thing I’ve done.” And then we went back the next year, and it was bigger. And a couple months back, we headlined a side stage at Download in the UK, and each one of these things, I’m starting to get the impression that to hold onto those experiences at all is just going to compromise what happens in the future, so [the pace is] kind of insisting, in a way, that I learn how to roll with it, in a way that I didn’t actually realize I was capable up to this point, and I’m really thankful for that. It makes the individual experiences more fun because there’s less pressure. It’s like “Well, this is just one of what’s happening. Now let’s just see what happens next.”

Vancouver Weekly: Yeah, not necessarily “self-defining”…

DT: Well, yeah! I also think that there’s the risk of, again, investing your identity in what you do, so, in essence, who you are is defined by your work. I just think that’s really unhealthy, specifically because I did it for so many years and I know what the ramifications are like, because what happens if it gets taken away, right?

Vancouver Weekly: Yeah.

DT: What happens if, the things that you’ve put all this stock into being essential to your relationships and your personal development, you’re no longer able to do for whatever reason – do you cease to exist? I mean, that’s… it seems like a genuine liability to just being a functional human, right? What I do, I love music, man. I just love it, and I just always do it, even when I’m not doing it for work, I do it for fun. I love music. It has led me to some places that are positive and some places that are negative, but ultimately, if my frame of mind is coming from a place of honesty, then wherever it leads me, I’m okay with, right?

Vancouver Weekly: You mentioned that for the Retinal Circus, you’ll be putting together and performing some tunes that you’ve never performed. Can you give us a hint as to what you might pull out?

DT: Well, I mean, without divulging too much of the specifics of the songs, it’s a three-hour performance and it’s acting as a retrospective of twenty years of me making music. I think that with Epicloud… it’s a stopgap, if you want to look at it that way, between the four prior records and what I hope to do in the future. It puts me in a position where I’m able to summarize myself and my process with this record, and I think with Retinal Circus, it’s another facet of that summary, because it puts me in a position to analyze and take stock of what I’ve done, again without holding onto it too much, but just sort of saying “Well, look, I did this and that and the other thing…” How can we represent that and make a certain theatrical statement about what you’ve done in the past, while including songs that, without the opportunity to have choirs and some of these things we’re fortunate enough to have for this Circus coming up, would never have been able to be projected accurately, right? Y’know, without saying much… there’s a lot of things I just said. [laughs]

Vancouver Weekly: [laughs] Okay. Why London?

DT: Well, I mean, we find that what I do has been much more successful in some territories than others, like North America has never been a place that I’ve found much success.

Vancouver Weekly: Really…

DT: We keep working it and I think it’s becoming better, right? But for an idea of perspective, this Retinal Circus, it’s 4000 tickets and it sold out a year ago, y’know? And as a result of that sort of interest, we can use that opportunity to present something and film it for Blu-ray and all this, that hopefully we can take  to people who aren’t as familiar with what we do and in the territories that aren’t as strong and say “Look, this is what, given this level of commitment, we can pull off.” I think that, ultimately, there’s some people I know in bands that are just like “Well, we’ve never had much success in this territory, so we don’t tour there,” and that’s not the case with what we do. We are from Vancouver, y’know? So… we want to be a Canadian band. We want to be an international band, of course, right? But currently, we find success in Australia, the UK, Finland… y’know, certain territories like that, so when these opportunities come up to make a statement, it just makes sense to go there.

Vancouver Weekly: Right, okay. So as of now, are there even any loose plans for the Retinal Circus to pop up elsewhere on Earth?

DT: Well, I guess the whole purpose of doing it… well, I mean, not the whole purpose, but definitely a sideline… is to make a very professional surround-sound Blu-ray disc that presents that show in a very professional and dramatic way. The hope is that, other territories will be privy to that and say, “Well shit, that looks great. Why don’t we have that here?” Right? Again, it really comes down to leaving that up to the audience and circumstance to decide. I can’t be too focused on that as being a goal, but we’ll definitely do what we can to put that forward, right?

Vancouver Weekly: Right, right. So for Circus and Epicloud, it sounds like there are a lot of your different flavours at play – if you were to eat Epicloud, what would it taste like?

DT: Well, you’d have to put whip cream on it, I think. I think if you were to eat it, it would be… there would be a lot of it. It wouldn’t be a small portion. It would definitely have multi colours in it, and I think it would be a lot of fun and uh… it would fill you up, but not to be completely done when you’re finished eating it, you’d probably want to have another one and another one and another one. There’s definitely a lot of sugar in it, man… So it’s a dessert of some sort.

Vancouver Weekly: Alright, well, thanks man. I’ll be seeing you September 5th at the Commodore, I’m looking forward to that.

DT: It’s gonna be what it is, man, it’s a bunch of nerdy dudes being nerdy, and jamming.

Vancouver Weekly: With a bunch of nerdy fans, it’s gonna be good. Alright man, I appreciate your time. Have a great Friday and weekend and hopefully you can wrap up your work and chill out a bit.

DT: The work – all morning is interviews, then three hours of rehearsal, then making visuals for the tour, so… Y’know, my hope is tonight, at some point, I’ll get laid, but, chances are slim, right?


Will someone please give this busy guy some love? You can throw yourself at him on September 5 at the Commodore. Be sure to check out Epicloud. It’s sure to be exactly what it sounds like when you say it.