Interview date

April 2009




Interview Devin Townsend

Hi Devin, thanks a lot for accepting this interview for the french metal webzine After a two-year break, how do you feel ?

I feel excellent !

Listening to "Ki", it seems to be your most mature album. There are a lot of different aspects on this album, sometimes it even sounds like a soundtrack. There are some threatening songs, some funny songs, some bluesy songs. How did you integrate all these elements ?

What you touch in terms of a "soundtrack" is automatically where I'd like to end up. What I'd like to do is to be able to create music that has a reason to include many different dynamics. In terms of a soundtrack, it's like a fight scene or a love scene or something sad or something creepy. I've had the ability and I've learnt technics in order to create many different styles and production styles. With "Ki", it was a very constant decision to keep the energy consistent throughout. I have written four records with material but I wanted into "Ki" to get that soundtrack idea. What the record wants to be, it will be. With "Ki", I spent a lot of time with the drummer and the bass player trying to figure out what my intention was. The fact that there are all these different styles on it, I think that's something that's coming more and more naturally as I get older. The idea to stick to one style as I did with Strapping Young Lad made me disatisfied because not having the ability to stretch myself out a bit. This is the perception of a heavy-metal singer, I do other things in my view better than singing as a heavy-metal singer. I know people who have infinitely better voice than I do, I know I'm good at it but I'd also like to show other things as I get older. You know, I'm 37 now. The best record, in my opinion, maybe not the cleverest but the best we did with Strapping Young Lad was "City" that was our second record. At that point, I was 23 or 24 year old and that album came totally naturally to me. It was like from the heart. When you try to recreate something like that, no matter how clever, how many Pro-Tools tricks or how many drugs you take trying to go back in time, you'll never gonna have this kind of freedom. Currently, at this point of my life, this is who I am and "Ki" is just the same as "City" in that sense. Now, I'm 37 and at 37, this is what I wanna hear. When I was 23, "City" was what I wanted to hear, of course ! I think that the binding factor in all this is that when I do things that come honestly, the audience is clever, the audience is intelligent enough to know when you're trying to pull the wall over the eyes. A record like "Ki" will resonate with people who are truly into what I have to offer, more so than a record like "The New Black" which is a good record but the intention behind was not "I really want to make this record".

Your line-up comes from rock n' roll and blues, not from heavy-metal. You're also a Frank Zappa fan. Everything seems to be going into the same direction. You're 37 and you're taking an orientation more rock, jazzy, bluesy. Am I right ?

Huge completely ! But I'd like also add to that that the songs that I wrote for "Ki", if I played them on a heavy-metal guitar amp with a heavy-metal drummer, would be heavy-metal songs. So, the idea was to write heavy-metal songs on a clean guitar and to play them with somebody who has nothing to do with heavy-metal. That way, that heaviness that I still crave, at least for a 37 year-old mentality has that kind of sonic space. This point is essential to me because I have so many things in my personal life that demand my attention that I can't listen to music now that does that. I've got a child who demands my attention, I've got money problems that demand my attention, I've responsibility that demands my attention. So, sometimes I listen to my old records and they demand my attention and I'm like "You have to come last, I'm sorry". What I want in my life is music to be a part of my world and actually make my world better, as opposed to more complicated and louder. I think that the reason why I was more engaged into complicated and aggressive music when I was younger is that I didn't have the same type of responsibility. It was a lot simpler in that sense.
I think that going back to the jazz drummer and the jazz bass-player, they're still playing metal riffs. In that sense, it's still a metal record, it's like an older person metal record.

On this album, you also integrated some female vocals. Who is the lady who's singing ?

Her name is Che Dorval. I recommend people checking her web site. She's 24 year old, lives in Vancouver, currently works in a restaurant but it won't be long before she doesn't. She's incredible.

You shaved your head one more time as you did for your "Infinity" album. "Infinity" was your weirdest album, is there any link between your hair and your albums ?

As I've been saying, I quit drinking and smoking majijuana. As a result, I'm in a position where I can clarify the past and I can clarify why I did certain things. I can totally appreciate when somebody would look at an album like "Infinity" and say "That's really weird !". But I think, with a clear point of view, that I can probably exlain my motivation for doing that and it wouldn't be quite as "weird".
"Infinity", first time I ever did acid. And so when I ended up doing was misconstruing that experience into something that was inaccurate. And I ended up making this record based on the experiences that I had that deluded me into thinking that I was the center of the universe. Saying that is you is embarassing, that was a very public thing, I was standing on a cover naked like the center of the universe. But, again, having the prospective now to be able to clarify that makes very easy for me to make music from this point on. That is clear, "Infinity" and "Alien", both records, I went into with the same idea. The idea was "I want to make the most complicated music ever". Zappa did complicated music, did he take drugs ? When Frank Zappa wanted to make incredible complicated music, he was able to realise and finalise without the music getting the best of him. Why do you think that I went into with the intention to make incredible complicated music on these both albums ? Because I thought it would make me look smart ! But what I ended up doing at the end was drugs and both times, the intention of those records ended up seeming to people really crazy, really weird. But now, I'm in a position where I can understand definitively, I hear the same thing. I'm very aware of why it failed. Having those failures is a very beneficial experience for me because failing in public is an embarassment to a person whose ego is as big as mine. You say "I'm never gonna do that again !". But it's only now, after I did it twice, I can say "I can't do that again". Because it's been 3 years that I'm sober.

You'll release 4 albums. "Ki" is the first one. Will it be a conceptual thing ? A logic through the different volumes ?

It can be seen as a concept but I didn't write a story because I think I'm a terrible story teller. But the way that it is a concept is that I attach sounds to certain emotional experiences of my life. When this experience is over, then I come with a serie of songs that define that experience. This experience of quitting drugs, having a baby, just a lot of life changes, people died in my family, life changes... and a lot of music attached to it. And because I had so many different things happen, the music is very different, it's like "Ki", the first one. "Addicted", the second one, is a very commercial but very bizarre record. "Deconstruction", the third one, which is basically my new attempt of what I tried to do with "Infinity" and "Alien". This time, I'm sober so I hope to be able to do it the way I tried to do it the both times. And the last record is the resolution to that, what I'm expecting and what I've discovered is that I'm trying the most complicated music I can possibly make, basically chasing your tail artistically because why are you doing that ? what is your point for making complicated music ? what is your reason for doing that ? I think that a lot of it comes back to my ego. It's fruitless, that's not the type of music that I really really find contributing to my world. I wanna soundtrack to my world. So, my motivation to make that chaotic cloturing record was that I failed twice. This whole process, these 4 records, the story relates how I got to the end of it. Unfortunately, it has to include that last record.

3 years ago, you were depressed and you declared to stop touring. Did you change your mind ? Do you have any plan to tour for these 4 records ?

The short answer is "Yes". The reason I said I didn't want to tour, I'm sure I didn't realise at that point, is because I wasn't satisfied with the music that I had created that I was touring from a honesty point of view. I think that I was making music for the wrong reason, to be part of a club, to impress people, to pretend I was hardcore. I was like a charlatan. Why I said that ? Because everytime I went on stage, I had to take on this character, I was becoming very good at, I was very hard on my throat, hard on my head, hard on my spirit. I didn't wanna do it for the living. I realised that my motivation was a little more selfish than I thought it was. If I can be popular doing what I really want to do, singing how I sing, playing how I play, then of course I'd like to tour, of course ! And I'd be happy to tour and to do interviews. It just took a couple of years to realise that the reason I was unhappy is because I wasn't doing was I truly feel I should be doing.

"Ocean Machine" was a fantastic record. Do you a plan an "Ocean Machine II" ?

Thank you. "Ocean Machine", other than "Ki", was the only record I've ever done sober. So, very possibly !

You're a Frank Zappa fan. You like creative things. What do you think of the creativity of new metal artists ? What are you listening these times ?

I love bands like Opeth, Gojira, Messhugah, they're very creative, brilliant. But honestly, I never listen to it, never. Because it's too heavy. I listen to a lot of new age music, like the french band Air, Enya, Paul Horn, then again Stravinski. I love dance music, I love that. The only metal song I remember recently was the second song from "From Mars To Sirius" by Gojira. That's the only song I remember that made me bang my head. I really respect Messhugah, I really respect Opeth but I don't listen to much metal. I listen to music for production, I listen to Nickelback for production and the mix (I don't like the music !), I listen to classical music, I listen to the Young Gods. When I first listened to "Second Nature" by the Young Gods, it didn't affect me at all, it's so minimal. But after a while, I loved it.

In 1995, I saw you live in Marseille with Steve Vai for the "Sex & Religion" tour. What image do you keep of your beginnings with Steve Vai ?

What I remember of Steve Vai : overstimulous. I still haven't made peace with that record, I'm closer to it. I think I should work with Steve again to be sure to understand what that record means to me.

Do you have any projects together ?

We've been talking about working on the third record together. But the problem is that he's professionally in a such different place than me that his time is worst more tha, I think that I'll be able to afford. But the fact is that we have an open dialog at this time.