Published Jan 01, 2006Making 20 albums in ten years would tax any artists capabilities. But Devin Townsend has achieved that milestone, and his output is almost never "mellow, from the crushing, atmospheric anthems of his eponymous solo band to the brain-bashing, foot-flailing industrial metal of Strapping Young Lad. Its no wonder the 34-year-old Vancouver singer-instrumentalist recently announced hed take an extended break from the music biz after SYL finishes supporting their fifth studio album, The New Black, on this years Ozzfest tour. His last solo release, Synchestra, dropped in January.
"Im ready for a break, and my contract [with Century Media] is finished, says Townsend from his hotel in Portsmouth, England. "I did my best to make sure that each record was as good as it could be.
The exhaustion in Townsends voice is palpable. Battling a cold, he sounds like hes just gone through Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon or a triple overtime game in the Stanley Cup finals. But the joy of approaching the finish line isnt foremost in his mind.
Getting fellow Vancouverite Bif Naked and shock rocker Oderus Urungus of GWAR to provide guest vocals was one highlight of making The New Black for Townsend. Yet the former singer for Steve Vai isnt as excited about the artists hell perform alongside on Ozzfest: "If Meshuggah or Opeth were on, Id really dig that. But theyre not. Its just a bunch of bands. I know there are a lot of multi-word band names with calligraphy, and a lot of brightly coloured sleeve tattoos. To me, this is another gig. Im going to do my thing, but you definitely wont see me parading around afterwards trying to cash in on it.
That jaded attitude colours The New Black, the third SYL studio record in the last four years. Stadium-sized chants of "SYL! toward the end of "Decimator are clearly ironic, as are the "Whoa yeah! Hell yeah! refrains in "You Suck.
"The stuff is really accessible, but underneath I think its the same old chaotic disaster that Strappings always been, says Townsend. "Strapping just started as a pet project of mine. I had no aspirations in terms of it doing anything at all. Lyrics on the early records even alluded to that. But here we are now, doing big festivals, and part of me is just like, Okay, heres a record. There you go. Fill your boots. Its still Strapping underneath, but on the surface its like, Everybody sing along! So before I lose faith in music completely, Ive got to stand back for a while.
"Hevy Devy has long played the consummate metalhead, with his famous "skullet (bald on top, party in the back) and crazed facial expressions. Ever since the 1995 release of SYLs debut, Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing (reissued in June), hes never relinquished his outsider status, taking an art-first approach thats earned him the credibility to produce contemporary metal acts like Soilwork, Lamb of God and Darkest Hour.
But right now, the gifted workaholic is ambivalent about the hyper-commercialised industry he works in. "It allows people whove sold 30,000 or 40,000 records to pretend theyre rock stars and walk around all puffy-chested with their endorsements and shit, right?
That said, Townsend still takes pride in the new SYL disc, featuring his profane rants about society and music, along with the chunky chords of guitarist Jed Simon and bassist Byron Stroud and the frenetically proficient drumming of Gene Hoglan (ex-Death and Dark Angel). Yet unlike a typical artist in promo mode, he adds unprompted that SYLs sophomore effort, 1997s City, "is the real Strapping record. Thats the ultimate one out of all of them.
With his wife/manager Tracy giving birth to the couples first child in October, Townsend will spend more time close to home, and hes looking forward to dialing down the pressure to create: "Its one thing to be really prolific if youre a dude with a studio apartment who lives by himself and has no friends. But Im married and I have close family and lots of friends, and yet Ive had no time to do anything but create for the last ten years.
Whether hes changing diapers, working in a warehouse, drinking Coronas on the beach, listening to everything from Squarepusher to West Side Story, or occasionally producing other artists, this will be the Canadian metal icons chance to decompress.
"Im sick of me being my main focus, he says. "My career has been just so based around looking at my ugly face. As a singer, you get a lot of attention, and as I get older, I think Im becoming a little more private and starting to resent it.