Q&A with Devin Townsend
Sheila Rene': Where are you buddy?
Devin Townsend: I'm seated precariously on a stool in a men's washroom in the middle of God know where. Isn't that great?
SR: You bet it is.
DT: I just did two interviews in Australia, sitting on the side of a freeway in pouring rain in Kansas. It has been crazy.
SR: Your name has been hitting my ear zone with praise from quite a few people I've interviewed lately. You are one popular dude with a lot of musicians. When someone tells me that you're better than sex, I know you are someone to reckon with.
DT: One reason I get whatever respect or acknowledgment of what I do is because before I got around to doing anything, I did a lot of other projects that had a high profile like the Steve Vai, Geezer, Wildhearts, James Murphy and Jason Newsted collaborations.
SR: You've been able to work with some of the greats, no doubt about it.
DT: When you go through that at a young age and you to work with those guys and you get to see what sort of unadulterated shit is involved with this lifestyle. I used to deify a lot of the people I used to see in the magazines, etc. Once I was around it, having dinner with them as well as going out with them, learning how to smooze and pretend you give a shit about anything. I learned really fast that this was not what I wanted. This isn't right. I got into music because that was one form of expression I could use to get things out of my system and make myself feel good. To see that bastardized almost killed my desire to do music. My other project Ocean Machine came out of the fire of that. It was my way of flipping the scene off. You can buy my records or not. I'll make the rent in some other ways. The bottom line is that I have to do what I want. A lot of people swear this to be true for them too. That's what makes me sick the fact that feeling sincere about music is a novelty.
SR: You bet.
DT: The industry is a joke. The whole rock thing is a consumer driven, media commodity that is perpetuated to sell clothing and running shoes. I personally don't want to be involved with it. I do want to make music and making people understand what I have to say, which isn't anything too profound.
SR: It makes sense to me.
DT: Yes, it does. I'm not nifty, but I'm not. I just had a first-hand view of the lifestyle and what it's like. It's just a crock of shit.
SR: A lot of youngsters don't understand the full meaning of being in a band.
DT: I realized all this when I was 19. I would rather tour in a van with six stinky, bitchy men for a year rather than work a month at McDonalds again. I've got more respect for the people who can hack through that lifestyle at McDonalds to feed their kids than I for some devil may care musician out seeing the world, smoking pot and playing around the planet. It's a pretty escapist form of employment.
SR: It's definitely hard work in spite of the moments of joy and creativity.
DT: The perks for this hard work is better than a minimum wage job.
SR: I talked to Geezer recently and asked him if he'll ever be comfortable with the "legend" tag. His reply was that it's a crock. I just am a person who has been blessed with a gift, pure and simple.
DT: I think the only thing I would disagree with as far as I'm concerned is that the gift of being able to translate ideas into music is more of something that comes through you as opposed to something you're responsible for. I find with myself, the lyrics and the music comes >from a different source. I feel very much like a voyeur since the music I create is necessary and I'm responsible for it as a human being.
SR: You're out on tour now aren't you?
DT: Yeah, I'm out with Testament and Stuck Mojo. It's lots of fun. It's a lot of driving. We're all crammed in this van and I love it.
SR: What is your definition of a good song?
DT: Something that can translate the emotions that the songwriter has to share. A lot of times that gets lost by either (a) vague lyrics or (b) production elements that keep that from happening. Ultimately, this is what I feel and this is my emotion and my metaphor for this particular song.
SR: "Oh, my f**kin' God" is one of those songs for me.
DT: That song is very important for me as well. It was a big realization for me. All of a sudden it hit me that this Christian God has been pushed down my throat since I was two years old with all these metaphors for heaven and hell were just a representation of one truth. Once you realize that you're responsible for everything, me the self. One day right in the middle of recording I spoke those words and knew that I'm God as everybody is.
SR: Amen, brother.
DT: The whole idea of Strapping is rebirth, spirituality through absolute chaos and destruction. You can find the peace.
SR: When I went onto the Internet looking for your page, I came up with a novel by Bryon Dunning called Strapping Young Lads and then 131,190 other entries.
DT: It's crazy. It reminds me of the last cut on this album, "Spirituality." It goes ' you'll never be what you want to be if you try and be it.' That kills me now in hindsight because I was a child when I was doing the Steve Vai thing. All I wanted was respect, acknowledgment, fame, money and big record sales. I thought all those things would fill the void; however, it's not the case. Once the idealism went away I don't give a f**k about this stupid band and their stupid clothes. I don't give a f**k about what anybody has to say about me or the fact that the Japanese label wants to crop the top of my head because I'm going bald. When you relinquish all that, that's when people think you're cool. When you make yourself happy, that's when it comes to you.
SR: Now you can put it all into perspective which is all any of us can do. Was the "Full Hate Tour" a good one for you?
DT: It was because I got to meet up with a couple of people that I really found intriguing such as Samaui. I was considering going over to Switzerland and doing some writing of my own while staying with them. To get a different view of things because I really, really enjoyed them as people. Same thing with Entomed.
SR: Was this an easy album for you to record?
DT: No, it wasn't. It wasn't the technical recording part of it but rather a lot of emotions passing through me at that time. The City album was really an indecisive time in my life, before I had these realizations we've been talking about. What the f**k is going on here record? I was so confused. What a fool I was. Help me or kick me out, I don't want to live in this purgatory then two months later you're ready to do it again.
SR: Some days I don't want to associate with anyone in this business and then I get over that hump and really am grateful for the opportunity to talk with so many people.
DT: That's why most people stay in this business is because it's powerful the way you go through hills and valleys. We tend to remember that we were there and it was a party.
SR: You worked in Steve Vai's Mothership studio? Is it a well-appointed place?
DT: Yeah, it was almost necessary for me to record there just to purge some demons. Doing the Steve Vai record there was difficult for me because I was just a kid. I was being directed to do his vision which is nothing I feel badly about, but at that time I was bent on getting my way. Going back into that studio with music that vile, pounding it out, sleeping on the floor and puking in his toilet, smoking pot in absolute chaos put those demons to rest.
SR: You liked all the work Daniel Begstrand had done before you met?
DT: We had quite a few things in common. It was easy to relate to him. We were both away from out home turf and maybe 90 percent of the people in Atlanta were awesome but there was the red-neck quotient was rather astounding. Ignorance is a hard thing for me to deal with.
SR: Are you still working on the Canadian compilation?
DT: You really know your stuff. This work is going off to produced today, I think. It has an unreleased Strapping track on it and it's called "Grrr" as in we're scary. It'll feature a bunch of bands from Canada that I've produced. Shit, why not get a scene started. There are a lot of good bands up there and I'd like for them to be able to experience this music world.
SR: Another project you're working on is called Hell.
DT: Before Hell, I've got to finish the Ocean Machine project on my own label. The first Ocean Machine release was the opposite dynamics of Strapping. You've got the old ying/yang thing. Strapping is black with a little white and Ocean Machine is a little white with a little black. It got released two weeks ago in Japan and sold 12,000 copies the first week. Over there 100,000 is gold so I'm hoping. We'll tour the record over there in Japan along with Strapping and Wildhearts which is another band I've worked in.
SR: Wow, that's interesting. What do you call your label?
DT: It's HDR for Heavy Devi Records spelled phonetically.
SR: Are you still blacking out when you forget to breath on stage?
DT: Now I've learned how to warm up and I'm not doing that anymore.
SR: That was scary.
DT: It was extraordinarily scary. I wasn't breathing correctly back then. They were always picking me up off the carpet.
SR: When do you do your best writing? Say something like "Detox."
DT: When it's raining and I've got to have a view of something, water, the mountains, the city. A view is the most important thing. I can go with mist or fog. I wrote "City" looking down at Los Angeles and Toyko >from an apartment building on separate occasions. I wrote "Ocean Machines" in a little cottage watching the waves of the ocean. If that fails, then I have to find a ridiculously traumatizing event happen to me. I just need a view of something. I take my energy from that. On "City" I took in that energy given off by just being a part of it. You take in the chaos.
SR: At this point in your life, I'd guesstimate that you've met more than one of the goals you've set for yourself?
DT: I've had superficial goals that I've reached and I thought that was it; but, no I have had only one goal and I just reached it two months ago and it had nothing to do with my music. It's just the knowledge that I can do anything I want and be anybody I want to be now. As pompous as this all sounds, it's true. Ironically, it was through the use of mushrooms. All through my childhood I was anti-drug. When I hit 22 I had a work ethic established, a genesis of a personality and I started experimenting. You know what, if you work with it as a tool and as a responsible human being you won't sit there and just watch television and veg out. I recommend this to everyone. We should outlaw drugs that keep you from thinking.
SR: You have to keep in touch with your feelings.
DT: Technically, you don't have to use anything to get to that point. Some people can't get it on their own sometimes.
SR: I'm still experimenting. Age should never be an excuse for not keeping up experimentation.
DT: Age is something that I'm definitely looking forward to. I only 24 years old now, but I consider myself much older than that sounds. It's just a matter of zapping into who you are and where you've come from. My Grandfather is on his last days and I can't wait to get off this tour and go back and spend some time with him. I want to live with the knowledge of someone infinitely older.
SR: I'm looking at your logo on the City album. Is this a message?
DT: No, but I will have one on the next album. I hate to keep bringing up metaphors but that's the only way I can explain it. Strapping Young Lad is a metaphor for the symbol on the next record. The emblem is simply SYL with a Japanese slant. There's nothing more to it than that.
SR: It has really been a joy to speak with you. Thanks for your time.
DT: How old did you say you were?
SR: I'm 58 but if you add 5 and 8 you get 13. That, I say, is where my musical mind is set. Say hello to the Testament and Mojo guys for me.
DT: That is so cool. Just what you're doing goes to show that there's only one age essentially. Time is linear. It's great to talk with you. I'd like to talk with you more so be sure you find me when we're playing Austin.