Interview with Devin Townsend

Devin Townsend is best known as the founding guitarist/vocalist for the heavy metal group Strapping Young Lab and The Devin Townsend Band.  Media Mikes had a chance recently to talk with Devin about his latest solo releases and his future plans.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about your latest releases?
Devin Townsend: These two releases are the last releases of a four record project I started about 4 years ago. The four records together in my opinion are a representation of the process artistically that I think my life has gone through. I had quit my last band as well as stopped drinking and smoking. My wife and I also had a baby during this time. I felt the need to exercise certain things in my past that I may have had creative hang ups about. At the same time I felt it was important for me to make four very different styles of music to represent that versatility. “Deconstruction” and “Ghost” are the last two albums in the series. “Deconstruction” is a very stream of conscience, avant garde heavy metal record. I was lucky enough to be able to use the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, The Amsterdam Choir and a few other guests from the heavy metal world to do some of the vocal work. The album has a sort of left of center theme to it. “Ghost” the final album in the series is more of an ambient, new age record. There are a lot of flutes, mandolins and acoustic guitars on this album. Both albums came out on the same date and hopefully they will represent a level of versatility to what I do.

AL: Was there a certain instance that drew you to the idea of a four album series?
DT: Not necessarily. I think it comes more so from dissatisfaction in the past of having to write in a certain aesthetic. I remember during Strapping Young Lad being frustrated while writing because it had to be a certain thing. It had to be ferocious and fast. While writing the Devin Townsend Band records there was a part of me that found it frustrating to not be able to allow certain things. These four records are more of liberation for me to do what I want. Hopefully the next project I do will be free from any of those restrictions.

AL: Is there one of the four albums that sticks out as a personal favorite?
DT: Overall I think my favorite would be “Ghost”. That album is the least offensive to me. I think “Ki” has definitely has some interesting places where I could take that style. Over all it is the quiet and darker moments that I like. I like the crunchier stuff also but I think when left to my own devices I like quiet and dark music. The bonus track on “Ghost” titled “Watch You” I think does a good job of pulling those off. This is an area that I have really started to investigate.

AL: How did you get involved with the show “Metalocalypse”?
DT: Towards the end of my ten year with smoking weed Brendan Small the creator of the show put out a picture of the characters. One of the characters had been styled after me with the skullet hair style. It really tripped me out and I didn’t know what to think of it. I was paranoid about it as I didn’t want people to associate that image with things. Through a lawyer I asked him to stop. I was very adamant about getting away from it at that point. Luckily Brendan has a great sense of humor and just gave the character a comb over. Later on I got a call from Brendan asking if I would do some character voices for the show. I had the opportunity to explain about my previous paranoia and he was cool about everything. I ended up doing a few characters for him even though I have never seen the show. I think Brendan is a very talented guy.

AL: Can you tell us the idea behind “Ziltoid the Omniscient”?
DT: That was around the same time when I was quitting drugs. I think the image that I put across to the public was sort of a mad scientist type look. I had a kid at this time and everything in my life was changing. I realized a lot of the anger I demonstrated which was perceived as craziness was often just a choice I made and I wasn’t really crazy at all. Crazy is a very good place to hide because who is going to argue with you? I really looked at everything and figured out I had developed a very elaborate defense mechanism. “Ziltoid” became this personification that. When I cut my hair I glued it onto this puppet. The idea of being led by your addictions, your public persona or being a puppet to it was something I had on my mind. I thought creatively it would be a lot of fun to put some of the things I was no longer able to justify seeing in real life while still participating with them on a creative level. “Ziltoid” became that personification.

AL: Do you still have plans for expanding the character?
DT: Yes. After I finished “Deconstruction” which is an album very devoid of standard song structure I started thinking as a reaction to that album I wanted one that I could just sit and listen to. I don’t want to be besieged by some sort of metaphor or existential crisis. I just want to write a bunch of really cool songs. The next record I am working on is titled “Epicloud” which will feature 12 hard rock songs with a very theorial vocal vibe. After that I am doing a record called “Zed Squared”. This is something I have been working towards for many years. Essentially it will be the new “Ziltoid” record. It also is going to be a very theatrical production.

AL: Will there ever be a Strapping Young Lad reunion?
DT: Highly doubtful. The misconception people have about that band is that I have some sort of resentment to it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Strapping Young lad was an immense part of my life and my development as a musician/person. What people have to realize is because Strapping Young Lad was in most cases me in its entirety. That it hasn’t gone anywhere. In order for me to move forward I need time. I don’t move quickly when it comes to making decisions. In the future what made Strapping Young Lad awesome will of course be 100 percent a part of what I am doing. I won’t go back to something I was when I was 25/26 to rekindle something that’s basic reason to exist was to move me forward to where I am now. I think a lot of times people who have a romantic attachment to a certain period of life it’s hard to convince them that there is something better out there. In time what I do in the future will not only include the element of Strapping Young Lad but it will surpass it.

AL: What are your plans for 2012?
DT: I am continuing to write for “Epicloud”. I have about 20 songs written but I would like around 30 to be able to choose the best 12 from. I then will make demos probably through January and February. We are scheduled to play the Sound Wave festival in Australia around that time and after that we come back and record “Epicloud”. I also have a bunch of cool things to announce for America and then we are hitting the summer festivals. Once the new album comes out we are going to be on tour hopefully with the budget and personnel to take the live show to a level nowhere near where we are able to do at this time.

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