Devin Townsend Project
Well it’s pretty damn exciting to have The Devin Townsend project coming to town. The legendary guitar virtuoso has an impressive back catalogue ranging from the ambient to extreme genres of metal… and he even has an alien puppet show! Here’s our interview with Devin before his Auckland show on 18 May 2017.

NZR: I saw you play at Soundwave a few years ago and you opened with a Ziltoid video which was hilarious. What a way to start a metal show!

Devin: Yeah that’s the Ziltoid default. For me it’s just so good because I can say all sorts of shit with Ziltoid that in real life I could never get away with right? Haha!

NZR: Such a cool idea. I love how you’ve got so many creative outlets like that… who would’ve thought you could be doing ambient metal and then have a puppet show as well?

Devin: Well I think there’s really something cool about never having succeeded in a huge way with anything. There’s been things that I’ve done that have had a relative level of success but there’s never been like a massive album so as a result of that the sky is kind of the limit, it doesn’t really matter you know. It’s like whatever direction seems relevant to me, I feel free to go and that’s a great thing man. I’m very thankful for that.

NZR: When you look back over your career there are some amazing recordings in there. I first got into your music when a friend showed me OCEAN MACHINE. You have a lot of variety, its it cool being able to express yourself musically in all those different ways?

Devin: Yeah, in fact there’s times, you know like this year I’ve had to play the OCEAN MACHINE record – and I’ve not listened to that thing in years – and I listened back to it and I was like wow, I’m doing the same thing. I’m doing the same thing now, the same intention as I was doing then, And that’s cool, I really like this stuff, it still feels like I was making that music back then because I really needed to make it. Rather than feeling like it’s got to be a structure that we can sell and you know, get to the chorus quick so you can get on radio. It’s the same shit that I was doing then that I’m doing now and strangely I’ve sort of managed to make a career out of it and that’s awesome.

NZR: There’s nobody else out there that does ambient metal quite the same that’s for sure.

Devin: Well I mean I like to think that everybody does something unique. It’s just a matter of finding what your voice is. In my situation I kept failing to the point where when I finally was able to make OCEAN MACHINE and ‘City’ (STRAPING YOUNG LAD) and all that I had nothing to loose. It wasn’t like I was doing something cool that it would’ve been wise to stick to. Heavy as a really heavy thing was cool but super dorky. And you know, I got a bunch of shit for the STEVE VAI record. It was always… I felt like you know, I was never part of the cool club so in a sense that was the best thing that could’ve ever happened because then I didn’t feel like I needed to play along with anything. It was like well just do what it is that you feel and then at least you’re making it for you whether or not you fit in with whatever is hip at the time like WHITE ZOMBIE or whatever. At least you’re doing something that’s good for you and I guess just by accident I managed to find my own voice and I think that’s the case with everybody in a certain sense. It’s just a matter of how far you’re willing to go to find that. And I mean I made a bunch of missteps and I’ve copied a bunch of bands right left and centre as I’ve tried to grow but for whatever reason it’s kind of distilled into something that’s got an identity now.

NZR: What did it feel like re-recording ‘Truth’ and ‘Victim’ on the ‘Transcendence’ album? Did it bring back memories from when you recorded them the first time?

Devin: Oh yeah, I mean everything is a work in progress. There’s a good chance I’ll do them again. I think the problem with being a perfectionist is that I’m not perfect haha! So I’m always going to be vaguely dissatisfied with everything that I do but I’ve also got no qualms about putting something out again if it’s a step ahead of where it was or closer to the actual goal.

NZR: You had Adam “Nolly” Getgood (PERIPHERY) assisting with production on this record, what dynamic did he bring to it?

Devin: Well I think that might be a mistake in the press release because he didn’t produce. He engineered and mixed. I still produced it and you know, drove him crazy as I do with people. But Nolly is a really good guy. He’s brilliant and he’s a great engineer. And more than anything else on ‘Transcendence’ I included and I sought out the opinions of other people Not only Nolly, but people like the management and bands and I think that was really healthy for this record because it allowed me to have different perspective on my own trip. And moving forward in the future… because right now I’m in this sort of odd in-between stage where I’m experimenting with a bunch of stuff that I don’t have a direction yet but I think that in the future including other people will be something that I’ll want to explore further even and Nolly was a great help to me man.

NZR: What else did you do during the recording of this album that was outside the norm?

Devin: Well, usually what I do is I write 10 songs, give them to the band and say it goes like this. And this time I wrote 50 songs and went, what do you think of this one, what do you think of this one? And then when we agreed on the ones then I tried something different from what I have in the past. While I was showing the guys the parts I was telling them why the parts existed. You know like in the past I’m like the guitar goes like this, bass goes like this, drums go like this. But now I was like, the lyrics are about this and that’s why it’s chaotic here. Or the lyrics are about this here and that’s why it’s triumphant or heroic here or whatever. So with everybody having more of an idea about what the emotional aspects of the riffs were, they were free to say that’s sort of cool, knowing that why don’t we try this? They had more of an opportunity to throw their 2 cents in and I think that really helped refine the riffs. There was more importance put on each one and I think that had a really dramatic effect on its whole vibe.

NZR: You’ve had all sorts of guests come in on the various albums… who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?

Devin: I don’t know, that changes daily, because some days I feel like I want to play bass in a band in which case I’d work with a certain group of people and then other days I want to put together a group with a bunch of different people from bands. But ultimately I don’t have a burning desire to work with anybody really. I think if anything I’d like to just hire a bunch of musicians and do something completely off the chain next. But that’s a hard one for me to answer currently because there’s nothing that springs to mind.

NZR: Going back to ‘Transcendence’, your track ‘Stormbending’ it just the most epic song for me. What’s  you’re proudest musical accomplishment on this album?

Devin: I think ‘From The Heart’ is one that means a lot to me. ‘Stormbending’ too, yeah that’s a good one. There’s a lot of this record that I quite like. I think the biggest accomplishment that I’ve managed to be proud of with ‘Transcendence’ is that this far into the career I still care about that style and that sounds flippant but I know that that sort of sound is what has kind of become my identity in a way, that sort of big echoey, ambient, heavy metal hard rock thing. But as I change and evolve there’s a part of me that just has a real hard time becoming inspired to do it again so on this album I really had to dig deep in to the process and into the people in my world and my own shortcomings regarding all of that to find inspiration and I really did. And it was a hard won inspiration on this one. It wasn’t a record that turned out well because of some off the cuff thing. It was like I really had to do dig for this one and the fact that it turned out well is a real accomplishment in my mind.

NZR: When you’re looking for that spark to create a new album, where does it come from. Where are you when you come up with the concepts initially?

Devin: I don’t know. It’s so arbitrary and it’s like a treasure hunt in a way for me. And I’m shockingly oblivious to where it’s going to come from. So I’ve found that after 25 years of doing it my only hope of being authentic to the music is to try and structure my life so that I’m involved in things that I want the direction to represent. You know like, if I don’t want a certain type of psychological pain that is self-inflicted then you have to stop doing those kinds of things. So in a sense you guide the boat with your actions but you don’t know in which way it’s going to manifest until you’re deeply involved in your life and ah… it keeps it interesting. Because like right now I’m writing tons of different styles but I’ve no idea what it’s going to sound like, I know what it’s going to look like, I know what the next albums are called, and I know what they’re supposed to make me feel like, but I don’t hear it yet. So it’s a really sort of arbitrary thing where your subconscious plays a huge role in it.

NZR: So with those albums you have like a blueprint which you’re going to fill in with more detail as time goes on?

Devin: Yeah one of them is called ‘The Moth’ and the other ones called ‘Empath’. And I’ve got the artists already working on it. I know exactly what it needs to look like and the more it starts to come together artistically the more I can start to fill in the blanks in terms of guitar sounds for example or production styles. And then it starts to appear over time and before you know it you’re recording again.

NZR: So do you interpret the music from the colours of the artwork even?

Devin: Yeah well I mean the way I like to describe it is it’s like an archaeological dig where you trip over something in the dirt and you don’t know what it is so then you start excavating it you know, digging around… and then after a while it appears and when it’s finished it’s a really specific thing, there’s no questioning it whatsoever but until the last minutes you’re thinking well it could be this, maybe the bottom of it’s going to be different, maybe it’ll be broken. You just have to keep digging away at it in the hopes that what you unearth is a practical and accurate representation of where you’re at.

NZR: What’s the first song that you ever wrote that you said, I’ve nailed it, this is me really expressing myself.

Devin: Ever? I think I would’ve been 8 years old. I was sitting at my grandparents organ and I was just playing on the black keys and I had the sustain thing down and a little melody… something like that, I still remember it. I remember at the time going, that sounds like how you feel.

NZR: Off the topic of music slightly, when you come over here are you going to get a chance to check out a bit more of New Zealand outside of Auckland?

Devin: Oh I’d love to. All I’ve seen so far is downtown Auckland. I would love to but I admit I don’t pay too much attention to the schedule prior to getting there so I’ll have to see once I get there if we have any time. Hopefully. Sometimes I find myself in different places with time off and in those times that what I want to do is see the nature right, so fingers crossed.

 

 

 

 

 

Dave Borgioli-Jones

Interview By Dave Borgioli-Jones