An Interview With Devin Townsend!

An Interview With Devin Townsend!

How has the response been from your fans/supporters about your transition?

I think it’s been interesting. I think these interviews that I’ve been given the opportunity to do at this point, definitely allows me the opportunity to clarify, at least to some fans, some confusion they may have over the direction. The records– there’s 4 records in this project that I’m doing right now, are all slated to be released by the end of the year and my whole intention going into it at first was to, you know I had written a lot of different music, and a lot of different styles, and in the past, what I kind of been stereotypically known for was real chaotic, really heavy, kind of wall-of-sound-screaming and what not kind of music. So, when I released this first record, a lot of people are like ‘What the heck? This is not something that we are used to accepting from you.’ Obviously there were a few of the fans that had known me as the chaotic type of personality that were in a lot of ways unwilling to accept this kind of change. But my whole point, straight off the bat was, the past three years bought a lot of music to me. Some of it incredibly heavy and really, really complicated, and that is yet to come, I mean there are four records. So, to the people, that all they want is that chaos and that heavy, I mean that’s definitely on the horizon. But, in terms of it working as a one complete package, it was important for me to be able to introduce them with a record that was a little quieter. I mean, in the past three years, a lot of things have happened on a personal front that (inaudible) change. For example, we had a baby, I quit doing drugs of any sort, quit drinking, and all that drinking.

 

So, there’s a lot of changes that came along that I felt were important for me to be able to represent on this introduction record and in a lot of ways, what I found about the past music that I’d been involved with was that it really screamed for your attention. From right out of the gate it was like yelling at you to pay attention to it and I think that with my current state, you know I’m heading towards 40 now and there’s a lot of things in my life that do need my attention and the last thing I really wanted from my music on this introduction was for it to impose itself in the same way. You know, I’m like, I’ve left something that didn’t need me to pay attention to right off the bat, So, these interviews are a good way for me to say ‘hey, you know this first one, if you really want my music to yell at you, it’s coming, don’t worry!’

And, you know, it’s funny, it’s like you spend so many years smoking pot, and drinking, and you kind of think of what your artistic motivation is really here based on that and you’re like “Well I’m really not accountable to anything artistically and it’s a good place for me to be able to be stoned or whatever” but then all of a sudden, when you remove that from your world, you realize that a lot of what you’ve done is kind of contrary to your nature but in a way you blind yourself into thinking it’s part of who you are, right? But in a different way, it’s actually contrary to who I am, in fact, I’m actually a bit more of a nerd than I’d like people to know. And what I found is that the focus that I’ve gotten in terms of these four records is that I’ve gotten more focused and a lot more powerful in a lot of ways where I can basically say “Not only is this truly who I am, but it’s a lot easier for me to tour and do interviews because there aren’t any questions anymore.” It’s not like I’m playing in some sort of metaphoric fantasy world, it’s just like ‘no, actually this is who i am, go for it, hit me, what’s your question?” You know, so it’s stronger and a lot easier for me to represent my music when I know what my motivation is and I know it’s coming from who I am as opposed to what I’m doing to myself, right?

 

Can you explain or describe how your transition from writing lyrics with the use of drugs and alcohol to writing without them?

Well, at first it was a very strange transition because a lot of my process was heavily infected in that routine, right? It’s like I’d wake up and have 3 cups of coffee, smoke 6 joints, and then you know not eat til 5, and then I’d eat something, smoke, and then start drinking at about 9, and by the end of it, I found that there was this kind of thing I was doing that was like, you know, the real stereotypical kind of martyr musician mentality where you’re like I’m a martyr to the fans, I’m a slave to the muse, and blah blah blah blah blah, and then all of a sudden when you take that all of that away, you realize that, that whole slave to the muse, martyr for the fans shit, in a lot of ways is just a real, self proposed kind of ego trip that you do, and maybe that’s just not the case, and maybe it’s just a romantic image that people like to have of some musician sitting on the top of a hill, scribbling madly into a book.

When you take it away you realize that it’s actually a real drag and there’s a lot more things you gotta to do; you gotta to get up early, you gotta take care of business, you got a mortgage to pay, you got a life, garbage that has to go out, cat shit that needs to be cleaned out of the box, all this sort of life stuff that happens, it really doesn’t have a lot of time for that kind of fantasy, romantic, artistic vision. At first it was very difficult for me to create under those circumstances because I’m thinking ‘But I need that, I’m kind of attached to that whole process and without that, who am I? Am I not this kind of eccentric musician that the labels and the media has presented myself as. I got so much of myself presented in that image that without that, what do I do?’ And it took me a year to kind of realize that maybe it’s just discipline, maybe if you get up at a reasonable time and go to bed at a reasonable time, and just focus on what you’re doing as opposed to sitting in the studio having philosophy discussions with all of your buddies, maybe you’ll get just as much done, in fact more done.

It’s just whether you end up artistically in the end; it’s obvious to me that I wrote four records in this and all of them in my opinion, are valid. It’s a little different in this process. In fact, you have to relearn how to create without end, but once you do, you start to find yourself in a position where you look back and what’s done in the past, you say ‘well a lot of that trial and tribulation, all of these hardships you were kind of whining about in the past were self imposed, so you know, get over it, and get on with it.

 

Can you explain in a philosophical matter the over all vibe or ‘feel’ of Ki versus your previous work with Strapping Young Lad?

In terms of the philosophical nature of it, it’s an interesting choice of words. When I was younger, philosophy was a big deal for me. Me and my buddies would get together and sit on top of a roof somewhere and discuss whether or not trees think and all that sort of thing and I said ‘ultimately, you get to the point now where it’s got to be literal. Philosophy is great and everything but the problem with philosophy in my opinion is it’s like you just want an answer. Just leave me an answer. A lot of the nature of philosophy, there is no wrong answer. You know, you argue correctly, and then number one, you’re never wrong, and then number two, you never get anywhere, and then the further you get with philosophy, it’s almost like mental masturbation. The true nature of the universe is infinity, really, you can go any direction, as far as you want and you can philosophy until the cows come home. You never actually get it done, right?

So I think the past, with Strapping Young Lad, a lot of the nature of that was just ‘well lets think about it, lets discuss it, lets hypothesize about it, lets, you know, maybe maybe maybe.’ But I think the nature of the records now, well sure there’s a million different ways you can go, there’s infinite of different ways to go with any thought. But ultimately, in order for me to get it done, I need to commit. And I think in a lot of ways, commitment, is a really liberating thought, because if you can just say ‘ok, this is what I’m doing, this is who I’m doing it with, this is when it has to be done regardless of all the infinite directions it can go, regardless of all the options you can take, if you commit to something, then there is a route you can work with, and for me, it kind of adds or alludes to the thought process that ultimately gets you from point A to point B; and there’s no denying it, there’s many different ways you can be anything and there’s many different options for any motor thought and if you can’t commit to any of them, then you basically sit there philosophizing about all the why’s, if’s and who-dun-it’s. That’s interesting too because when I was 18, that was interesting, but now that I’m 37, it doesn’t get shit done. And in a way, there’s a different between Strapping Young Lad and Ki, and with Strapping Young Lad, I spent so much time worrying about it, by the end of Strapping’s music, I was making really paranoid statements and then now, it’s not like I’m not worried, I just don’t have time to think about the what-if’s, this is just where I’m at.

 

Do you think by the end of the Devin Townsend Project, you will gain the respect back from those who may have stopped or refused to support you?

You know what, I think a lot of times the people who’ve stopped and refused to support me are basically because they’re attached to my catalogue that interests them and there’s no harm in that. And honestly, do I care if anybody supports me? Man, it’s going to come out whether or not people like it or don’t like it. And, me being honest at what I do at this point, there are going to be several, dozens, hundreds, thousands of people that aren’t going to like it or appreciate it. And if I had motivation to make music for people to like, then I might as well just stop now and start writing pop music. And honestly, I could-not-care-less.

 

You made quite a name for yourself since you worked with Steve Vai to Strapping Young Lad to Ki, how do you feel about being dubbed one of the hardest working men in metal?

Well, I guess it makes me wonder if people get into metal cause they just don’t want to work. (laughs) I mean, honestly, it’s like I’ve got a brother-in-law that works in a steel factory and he works as every bit as hard as I do, and my friend down the road, he takes pictures for a living, and in fact he puts in harder days than I do, right? So, I just think it’s funny. I think that if you apply a work ethic to music, that is the same work ethic you would use to fix your lawn mower or something. There’s no reason why you can’t get as much done as me. And I just think it’s funny that people come up to me and go ‘hey, you’re one of the hardest working men in metal’ and I’m thinking (laughs) ‘well…thanks i guess’ but honestly, it’s like, I know a lot of metal-heads that live and sit around smoking a bong talking about the nature of the universe, wondering why they’re not selling any records. But I don’t sell any records either, but I keep things afloat, right?

 

You said that you had a bipolar disorder, how would you say it affects your artistry compared to how a normal person who just writes and composes music?

Well, in the past, I had made the mistake while doing interviews, kind of talking to the interviewers like I would a friend down the street, and a lot of times you’d mention things of a medical nature or whatever and it kind of gets blown out of proportion; and that combined with the way I looked and the music I made obviously put the image of me out there being crazy in a lot of ways. Here’s the thing, I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder a month after I did acid for the first time in my mid-20s, after I had my reality scheme all phased-out and then I continued to smoke marijuana for ten years after. The thing is, I go to the psychologist,I’m actually going today, I go once every couple months, and it’s amazing what happens when you quit doing drugs. It’s amazing how much of that had a psychosis on things and I’m not saying I either do or don’t have bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, or any number of things, but all I’ll say is that it’s amazing how much that stuff gets misdiagnosed–not even misdiagnosed, but diagnosed as being a mental illness.

I guess the thing is, it’s like you can take as much prescription medication as you can possibly ingest, but if you continue to do drugs, and you continue to drink, and specifically continue to eat poorly, none of that stuff gains anything; you can take as many prescription drugs as you want, but if you keep ingesting all of these narcotics, (inaudible), so I still watch myself, of course. And you know again, I’m not on record to say I am or I’m not, all I’m saying here is that if you quit doing drugs, you’d be surprised at how that diagnosis was based on you just being poor to your mind.

 

Do you ever have dreams or visions that inspire your music?

Umm.. I have melodies that come into my head while I’m dreaming. You know, it’s like on the Ki record, in this song called Lady Helen, to my grandparents for passing away, and my grandma’s name was Helen, and I just had this melody in my head and i just woke up and my guitar was there and I picked it up and documented it and I went back to sleep and it ended up being a song. In that way, sure, it’s definitely contributing to it, but at the same time– again when I was 15 I was a lot more into the fantasy than I am now, right? I mean, I definitely have a good imagination and I definitely, on occasion, am able to let that go free and stem from that and it may come across as being. Ultimately, a melody coming from a dream, it doesn’t play a big part in the creative process.

 

You stated that you aren’t going to get in a band or tour clubs in the middle of nowhere once the Devin Townsend Project is complete, do you have any cities or countries in mind that you would maybe like to play?

Well, ultimately at the end of the process, touring seems to be a part of the job, and it’s a job that I have accepted based on the fact that I’m not very qualified to do much else, plus I enjoy it and I’m pretty lucky to be doing it. My first step to a rise is that I’m going to do some clinics, go to music stores, you know, just kind of present myself as who I am and allow people to ask me questions and you know, play some guitar, do some backing things, and discuss the process in a lot of ways. Again, you know, the loose lips, same shit kind of thing, years and years ago, when I was in the press, I just did myself in serious by talking about personal things which ultimately led me to a place where I got this reputation of being crazy or the mad scientist or whatever. And now I’m in this position where you’re going to have people follow you artistically, specifically folks who are younger than you.

And, I think I have an opportunity now to be able to explain the process and clarify a lot of things in the past that were maybe based on something that was drug related or a delusion, and as a result there’s people that are going to be saying ‘Why did you do this? What was your motivation for this?’ And at this point it’s important for me in terms of my future and career to be able to say ‘OK this is why I did this, this is why I said that, this is why I did that at this particular point of time.’ And, a lot of times, what I’m finding is that the true answer to these questions in the past sort have stopped me and prevented me from doing interviews, based on being unsure of the answers myself. What I’m finding is that a lot of these answers are actually more embarrassing than I had led myself to believe. If you can’t come to the conclusions, if you can’t allow yourself to truly get to the point of why you feel a certain way, a lot of times you think, ‘Well, I might be crazy,’ or people will think “He might be crazy.” But now, I’m like, ok, well maybe.

For example, I continued doing toxic music for so long because– ok lets look at it very honestly, I was never part of the “cool club.” I was the last one picked on the football team, and then all of a sudden when I kind of had this temper tantrum, when I was 24 years old, and made this music that the intention of it in the beginning was just to be obnoxious, and then becomes popular, as the music starts resolving itself as a result of just like music being catharsis. A lot of that issue that made that temper tantrum in the first place was that it was all simply doing the record and then I’m finding myself a part of this “cool club,” you know? All of these popular heavy metal bands were saying “Well come on out on tour with us,” and I start thinking to myself like “Well, I can’t let this go,” you know? It’s like I’ve never been cool. So, what am I going to be able to do at this point to maintain that? And the answer was well, put yourself into some kind of crazy personal duress, so you can write based on that; and that’s exactly what happened.

So, in hindsight, a lot of my motivation for doing things which up to this point has looked as if it was erratic or confused, was just me being really insecure and wanting to kind of perpetuate this image of myself that ultimately, once I kind of removed that stimulus, I was back on it and I’m like, “Its not even embarrassing, it’s fuckin’ more like, ok well, maybe that was just you and your childhood kind of rearing its head on you.” So, presenting myself in a public way at this point, allows me to say “Ok, before I do what I do in the future, so be it in symphonic works or whatever, feel free to kind of just ask any questions about this past and we’ll move on,” because ultimately, my goal at this point is to just say look, this is who I am, and am I crazy? I don’t know about that.

 

What will be next for you once the Devin Townsend Project is complete, besides touring?

I really don’t know. Sleep. (laughs) I mean, honestly, I’m so single minded when I’m working and at this point, I got so much work to do, that there’s really no goal for me or future idea for me past these four records. Ultimately, I’d love to continue creating, I’d love to be able to make enough money without worrying about where the checks are coming from next month. But ultimately, I’m in a really lucky situation to be making music for a living and have people willing to listen or ask me questions about the process and something here too that gives me nice cars; it’s a great situation to be in. But in terms of goals, I’m fine, right? And I think, in all honesty, if you want to debate the biggest and the best, your motivation in the first place is going to be affected by that, so I’m fine.

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