Published May 15, 2009Cathartic. That's what this latest series of albums - one may even call it a new direction - is for guitarist/vocalist Devin Townsend. Renowned for his work with metal outfit Strapping Young Lad, laying down vocals for Steve Vai, producing an onslaught of bands and, more recently his namesake band, the borderline-reclusive "mad scientist of metal" has been cooking up a new brew under the Devin Townsend Project moniker. It's vastly removed from anything we've heard from him before. A four-album process that finds Townsend addressing and exorcising many of his personal demons (he dumped smoking and drinking which he says has drastically affected his bipolarism for the positive), the affair is linked together by a common theme and is being created with hand-picked musicians that will assist him in achieving very specific goals. Each album will feature its own musical style, not necessarily metal. While only the first effort Ki is officially released, Townsend hopes the remaining three - Addicted, Deconstructed and an as-yet untitled affair - will all be released in 2009 via his HevyDevy Records. It's an intense goal for an intense individual. Yet as Townsend discusses the meaning behind and overt goals for Devin Townsend Project, it's obvious that he has newfound clarity. This is the most comfortable and organized Townsend has been in his two-decade career.
How did this project come about since you've been a solo artist for a few years now?
Project might just be semantics. It's just another solo thing. The definition of "project" is that it's a four-record series that all contribute to the same theme. As a result of that, I needed to summarize that the albums are all connected in some way. "Project" is the definition of a four-record set that - in my mind - has been a project of self-discovery, change... apathy. I'll pick some word.
The last three years have been spent just writing. I've come to a lot of conclusions about myself. I've spent a lot of time putting out this image of myself with the crazy hair. European magazines were on the mad scientist trip and that becomes your niche. The problem with that is, we moved and had a kid. I also stopped smoking pot and drinking. When I did that I started realizing I'm not as crazy as I thought. I'm predisposed to mental illness. If you can control it, you lead a normal life but if you exacerbate it by throwing drugs and alcohol into it, of course you're going to react to it. As a public musician, you're defined by those actions. By removing that from my reality, I came to the conclusion that I'm just a normal guy. When I don't drink or do drugs, I don't participate in these drug metaphors that my music had been based on a lot of the time.
During that process, I found myself needing to clarify and define myself outside of it because I was always defined by that synthetic atmosphere. I put that together and represented it with record three, other ideas with record two and connected them all with a loose theme. It's a project of self-discovery. In the future, I don't want to be based on self-discovery. This just seemed appropriate at this time in my life. I had no idea that as a musician, I was so heavily vested in writing under the influence.
So these four album are a transitional affair out of that world and into a straighter one?
Yeah. I have had the opportunity to do a lot of interviews on this one and a couple of years back I was hesitant to do interviews at all. I'm not good at selling myself or being a businessman. I make music. I get into the studio and pound out music. A lot of the time doing interviews, I'm like, "What was my motivation for doing this? What was I thinking?" But you have to be able to answer those questions. Not for the sake of the audience but for your own process. Why do you choose to make the music you do? "I don't know," doesn't cut it. A lot of the time people don't have an answer because it's perhaps embarrassing. Why do you make destructive, chaotic music? On the surface, you say you love metal and you're angry or whatever but if you go further, maybe you're really high, insecure and terrified of the world. The easiest way to reflect that and not let people know you're a normal, sensitive person is to frighten people before they frighten you. As a metal head, that's not the most manly thing to write a record about.
That's inherent with a lot of metal heads. The imposing look wards people off by coming on strong.
A lot of the metal community were playing D&D in grade eight. By finding that in myself, I came to the point of feeling stronger for just saying it. I can say "fuck it" and do whatever I want. I love metal as a dynamic but in the future I'd love to make orchestras or plays. I can use the 15 years learning about metal as a dynamic so when it goes to that emotionally intense level, I have that experience to use absolute heaviness. It's one spoke on the emotional wheel.
To focus on that to the extent of everything else? I've realized metal is the most conservative form of music. It's a clique. My family moved to a small town and we don't get along with anybody. We're not invited into the clique and that's the same thing with me and metal. I can participate in it because I'm good at it but when it comes down to being invited to the parties, the phone never rings. I got the point of not wanting to be a part of their stupid club. I can do what I want musically, I have a ton of respect for heavy music but what's the motivation? You ask people and their answer isn't satisfying. "Just because." Really? Ok... you sure you're not just mad at your dad? That wouldn't be nearly as cool as being mad at God right?
That's what I found with quitting smoking and drugs. There's this epic metaphor that's attached to everything when you're high but when you take that away, it's just what it is. I worked with a band once and thought heir music was so dark and heavy. When I was clean, it wasn't like that at all. They were just people. I've been afraid to be good at what I can do musically for years. I know it's unique but I have a fear that I don't want people to know I'm capable of this or that; that I actually liked Enya more than Grim Reaper when I was 15. I've put most of it aside - I'm still a banana - but that process of needing to be part of the club. This is what I do. I can use these interviews as a means to express that.
In terms of what I want to do with my music, people say I'll make more money of I do this or suck up to whoever. I'll make music regardless of who I'm supposed to suck up to. Or downloading... go for it. Get my entire catalogue in under an hour. It's all up there. If you'd like me to make more, it'd be great if you bought a shirt somewhere along the line but my point isn't to buy a mansion. It's just what I do. I'm not good at anything else. This is where I put all my eggs. I just do my thing.
Maybe your apprehension with interviews was clouded in the past by drinking and drugs. Now you don't have that shielding or clouding you?
Absolutely. I'd do interviews high and I'd misinterpret the questions. I'd find 14 reasons behind something but when I quit, I saw that it means what it means. If you're participating in that metaphoric world, your answers are based on it and you confuse people. If you're honest, you can define what it means without the interpretations. It's more straightforward. For me at this point, it's important to be blunt. They may see another meaning but I'll tell them it doesn't [have one]. Maybe on some other level it means something to someone else but the intention - which in my mind is most important - has nothing to do with that. What it means and how it contributes to your reality scheme, well, if I think about that too much, I won't be making music anymore. I'll be stuck on the pendulum of the many ways things can be interpreted. I don't want to appease or I won't be making anything people will want to hear. Someone came up to me the other day and said I should write songs for other people. I could stay home and be with my family and make money writing for people. His buddy writes for Avril Lavigne and others, making millions of dollars. One of his songs came on the TV and I was like, "I would slit my wrists if that ever came out of me!" I could never write that shit. There's a high art to it but if I wrote anything that sounded like that, it would be a parody on some level. I hope 1,000 years from now, control, power and money mean the opposite of what they do now. Then those assholes won't have anything.
The theme around this concept. What is it?
"Theme" is another word I'm using because I'm at a loss for a better term. Each album documents the process of what I had to go through to realize myself. It's not some profound theme. The way I write is that there are moments of emotional significance in life and we attach music to personal moments. The ones that are most important to me keep rolling around in my head. The songs I write are documents of those moments so these are chronological accounts of what was going on. Four records are a lot to do to your audience but don't buy it then. Download it. It would be great to make a million dollars but I'm not gonna. If you don't wanna hear 'em, don't. For me, every record I get out of my head makes more room in there.
How did you arrive at documenting all of this on record because you were pretty specific about which musicians you used?
I love making records. The process is my passion and I make an event of it. I choose people who suit or can assist the "theme" or feel of the album. Maybe they're going through something similar in music, life, age or circumstance. After talking for a while, we have those things in common. We're from different worlds but we're all connected musically. The theme of Ki is about neither here nor there; that tense energy that results from being out of your element but adapting. So I found people for it that had that energy the record needed. I could have used a drum machine but there's more depth when people participate and they're involved in the theme somehow. I'm in the process of the second record Addicted. In terms of quitting drugs and drinking, that's one type of addiction. But there's addiction to power, pain, money, pornography...whatever. Once I started getting rid of things in life, I realized I just scratched the surface and it's all opening up. The third record Deconstruction is the most metal. It follows the idea of coming to the root of why your motivation to do the music you do exists. I'm just rambling here...
So, the fourth one isn't titled? It's gonna be new age-y; something you'd hear at a metaphysical bookstore or something. Acoustic guitars, native flute and beautiful things. No weirdness. I've got this nice digital recorder and my acoustic. I'm gonna go to Australia or New Zealand or India or Tibet or Montana with them and just jam. Then I'll go back to my studio and make something beautiful of it. The root is quiet improv.
You seem very liberated now.
I'm hoping. I just have to get through the Addicted and Deconstruction albums.