Devin Townsend - 19/05/2009

DEVIN TOWNSEND is a Canadian musician and record producer best known as the co-founder, vocalist and guitarist in extreme metal outfit Strapping Young Lad. Townsend was discovered by a record label in 1993 and was asked to perform lead vocals on Steve Vai's album Sex & Religion. After recording and touring with Vai, Townsend was discouraged by what he found in the music industry, and vented his anger on a solo album released under the pseudonym Strapping Young Lad. He soon assembled a band under the name, and released the critically acclaimed ‘City’ in 1997. Since then, he has continued to write and record albums with Strapping Young Lad, along with solo material released under his own independent record label, HevyDevy Records.

 

Townsend's trademark production style, featuring a heavily multi tracked wall of sound, has been compared to the styles of Phil Spector and Frank Zappa. His versatile vocal delivery ranges from screaming to singing, and his songwriting is similarly diverse in nature. Townsend's musical style is rooted in metal, and his albums are written to express different aspects of his personality.

 

Strapping Young Lad's five-album contract was fulfilled with the 2006 release of ‘The New Black’, leaving the band on indefinite hiatus. Townsend has since spent more of his time producing albums for other groups, and continues to write and release self-produced albums from his home studio. Townsend is currently working on a four-album series called the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT, with each album being written in a different style. The first entry in the series, ‘Ki’, is due to be released next week.

 

 

So there was much to talk about and DEVIN was available to answer some questions. Here you can read what he had to say to the readers of Metal-Experience.com

 

It’s been a couple of years since you put Strapping Young Lad to rest (2006) and your latest release ‘Ziltoid The Omniscient’ (2007) came out. So can you give us a quick update, what have you been up to the last couple of years?

Basically the past couple of years I’ve tried to formulate a plan for where I want to be musically and to figure out what I’m going to do. I was looking for a different style,

It has to do with being free. In the past few years the music I made is who I am and what I want to do. In the past few years I knew I wanted to keep making music, but also making a different style of music. The music had to be clearly defined.

How did you launch into writing the material for ‘Ki’, did ideas come easily so that you just had to write them down or was it more of a careful composing thing?
‘Ki’ is a careful composition, but generally the way I write I don’t spend too much time thinking about the process, it just kind of appears. ‘Ki’ is no different, but this one in particular was a difficult one to make because I was constantly second-guessing myself, because this is so different from my previous work. But this is also very rewarding for myself, because it allowed me to realize that whatever the music wants to be, you just allow it to be that. It’s the purpose of ‘Ki’, a calm and peaceful album. It has been produced in a different  way than I normally did.

 

 

What were the goals you had in mind when you started writing this album?

I did not allow it to go to extremes. A lot of people wanted it to be heavier or more extreme. But I did want something new!! So for me it was exactly as it should be. Sometimes you have to hold back your temper and find piece. If it had been any heavier, it wouldn’t have worked for me. My life has also changed a lot in the last few years and you can catch that in the music. It feels good. My life has gone through all kinds of phases and that’s also what works through in my music. It’s about emotions and life changing things.

Did you have an idea of which musicians you wanted to feature on this album before you wrote the songs for ‘Ki’?

I knew that I wanted a drummer and bass player combination who were older and from a different scene. But I didn’t know who. But these people were in my life at that moment. They fit the occasion, so it just seemed to make a lot of sense to ask them.
 

Could you please describe the implications of the title ‘Ki’, what does it stand for and is there a special meaning behind it?
It has two meanings, it’s a Japanese /Oriental term which means ‘life energy’ and has a lot to do with where I’ve been over the past few years, like people dying and getting born and all that. And also ‘Ki’ was a favorite record that I was very influenced by as a teen from a Japanese artist named Kitaro, so that’s how I got this title.


On this album you had help from drummer Duris Maxwell and bass player Jean Savoie to name a couple, but each of you guys is from a different musical background, how did you manage to come to one musical agreement when you worked on the songs on the album? Or did you just instruct them what to play?

Yes I did instruct them absolutely and I was definitely open for their meaning and what they could do. Things had to be possible for them to play. For the most part I just told them what I wanted to hear and how they had to play it.
 

Can you give us a little background for the songs on the album, is there a story behind them? I think if  there is a story, it’s a very loose story,  then it’s basically a representation about what happened to me personally the last few years, like I have been through a lot of changes. I’ve quit smoking and drinking and cut my hair and am a father now and quitting the band. All these things happening to me have made me who I am now, and it follows a time in my life. It’s no dark side of the moon kind of theme but there are moments in your life that make you change and that turn your emotions and energy in other directions…
 


Did you spend a fair amount of time working on the record before heading over to record the album? How much time did you spend in the studio?

It took me about 3 months in the studio but it took me a long time to write the album. That is because at the same time I also wrote the other 3 albums. ‘Ki’ is just the first album of a series of four. It’s the beginning of this series and hopefully they will all be out by the end of the year. The good thing is that they are all very different musically. But together they make sense.

 

I read that ‘Ki’ is the first in a series of four, where each album is essentially a different band or collection of session musicians playing your music. Can you already give us some names for your these albums and what can we expect on these albums?

The second record is called ‘Addicted’ and I already finished the drumming and bass guitar on there, it should be ready for mix in about two weeks. It’s a very heavy melodic album, something like Devin Touwnsend band, but then heavier and less personal (lyric-wise) and a lot more fun. Production wise it is also very modern. The 3rd record is called ‘Deconstruction’ and  this is a very, very heavy record in some spots similar to Strapping Young Lad but very different in other spots, very avant garde and almost symphonic, but very heavy! And the fourth record is still untitled but this is an acoustic kind of new age ambient  like record. I still have to work on that.


What is the utmost important ingredient for a song according to Devin Townsend?

Something that makes me emotionally involved with it and that does not necessarily has to do with the lyrics, it’s how it makes you feel and the energy is very important. It is all about the energy. A good song can make you feel strong or sad or happy and energetic. Then it’s a good song, if it touches your feelings.
 

Do you have any favorites on this album, songs that you think are somehow above the others?
I like the song “Kado”, “Terminal” and “Ki”. I am proud of the whole record but these are the songs that I like most right now!

 

With such a big fusion of styles in your music, are there any particular bands who’ve been a big influence in your song writing, metal or otherwise?

Oh yeah very many, when I was very young I loved the musicals from America like Andrew Lloyd Webber and others like, Jesus Christ Superstar and West side story.

When I was younger I could really connect with these musicals. as I got older there were bands like Judas Priest and Def Leppard and later on Kings-X, Jane’s Addiction and Fear factory and death metal and black metal and The Young Gods. What I love musically is pretty large and wide. I love symphonic music and so on. It’s all about the emotion the music gives you.

 


Have you received any feedback on the new album yet?

A lot of people who reviewed ‘Ki’ at first didn’t like it at all in the beginning. But as they listened to it a few times, they changed their minds and started to like it. Some even said that they gave it a bad review but after playing it again they heard something new every time and then they started to appreciate it more. But it doesn’t bother me too much, I could see people who don’t like it but I love it and that’s very important to me.


How difficult is it these days to sound original?

I think that it will be difficult if your intensions are to be original and different. For me I never have to make it different, my life gives me the inspiration to make music. It’s totally unconscious and it comes naturally.


What were the highlights and low points throughout your career up ‘till now?
We played some good shows with all my bands, We played the world cup in Korea  which was very cool. I played with many, many good musicians and I can’t really tell you a highlight, I just put my head down and go for it, and currently I go for whatever lies ahead of me instead of the past.


What is the ambition you still haven't fulfilled yet?

Completing the next 3 albums. After that we will see what’s coming my way.


Which album has been your biggest musical influence, one that made you think “this is what I want to do!”?

Maybe ‘Watermark’ by Enya and ‘Nothing Shocking’ by Jane’s Addiction and ‘Soul Of The New Machine’ by Fear Factory and don’t forget ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska by Kings X?

 

What about touring again, can we expect some live shows in support of your latest release?

I would say if I am successful in releasing the four records, which I will be, then there is no reason why I wouldn’t tour. But for now I have so much work that it’s too far away to think about it. But it will happen if people like my albums. I just don’t know how it will be and when I will tour again.

 

Finally, where do you see yourself going in the coming years, or do you not think of the future too much?

Personally I don’t really think about the future too much. There are definitely some directions or options how to go. The albums could become popular, they could be impopular or basically it could go like everything else went. I prepare in some way or another for whatever comes. As long as I like making music I will continue.

 

Any last statement?

Anneke from The Gathering/ Agua di Annique is going to do some vocal stuff on the next album which is entitled ‘Addicted’. I like her voice and she recently came over to Vancouver to record the vocals. That will be a good surprise for the Dutch metal heads.

Thanks for the interview!

Talitha Martijn

 

  

Albums:

 

Devin Townsend Project

2009 - Ki

 

Devin Townsend

1995 - Punky Brüster - Cooked On Phonics

1997 - Ocean Machine - Biomech

1998 - Infinity

2000 - Physicist

2001 - Terria

2007 - Ziltoid The Omniscient

 

Devin Townsend Band

2003 - Accelerated Evolution

2006 - Synchestra

 

Strapping Young Lad

1995 - Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing

1997 - City

1998 - No Sleep 'Til Bedtime (Live in Melbourne)

2003 - Strapping Young Lad

2005 - Alien

2006 - The New Black