Devin Townsend is like a mad scientist, a man so dedicated to the art of making and producing music, that he can literally take nothing and turn it into something. Throughout his 20 plus year career, he has worked with Steve Vai, recorded multiple solo albums, as well as forging a successful career with Strapping Young Lad, he is responsible for bringing us the tale of a cheeky green coffee worshiping alien named Ziltoid, he spans genres and is probably one of the most important figures in current music.
When we caught up with him in Southampton on the last date of ‘The Epic Industrialist tour’, we were able to ask about the astonishing year he has had, his most recent album “Epicloud,” as well as his upcoming releases in the form of a country album, “Ghost 2” and what is happening next for Ziltoid.
2012 has been an amazing year of accomplishment for you, what stands out most in your mind?
It’s been so hectic that I haven’t had chance to process much of it, we started by mixing the ‘By a Thread’ set, and finishing that, we did the Soundwave Festival in Australia, then the summer festivals, we did Epicloud, then it was right into Casualties of Cool, Retinal Circus, before the Katatonia tour, and now this tour. Its been to the point where the activity has yet to catch up, I’m hoping once I stop that I’ll be able to give you a more solid answer, right now it’s all about preserving what’s left of our group spirit.
As you say, things are always pretty hectic. When do you find time to just sit and think about the next thing?
I tend to be fortunate enough to get a hotel every now and then, in those moments I try and quantify all those thoughts. The thinking for me, all the music, all the projects and all that stuff that’s the fun part for me, implementing it is the difficult part. It’s one thing to thin up the Retinal Circus or Ziltoid, but the ideas with these group of people always become more outlandish the further into the concepts we go, so when it comes to putting them into practice, that’s where the effort comes, so thinking about them is nothing more than a pleasure.
Epicloud was released as the fifth album under the Devin Townsend Project banner. Originally it was only meant to be four albums, what was thinking in adding Epicloud to that group?
I changed my mind. I originally sat and assumed I’d start writing the Ziltoid project,which is a big deal for what I’m hoping to do in the future, it’s a really expansive project – but I guess since ‘Deconstruction’ was such a complicated procedure, Ghost was as well to be fair, my natural tendencies ending up being to write things that were a little more straightforward structure wise and a little less introspective lyric wise and a little more about the Rock & Roll elements of it and I just kind of went with it. It was written relatively quickly and we all had a say in what songs were the ones we should keep, it was a collaboration between the management, the label and us, the band, we had put together something that was a good presentation of what the last four albums had served as support for, we just blasted it off really quickly, I spent 3 months gluing that son of a bitch together and here it is.
Epicloud is a very different sounding album to Deconstruction and Ghost. Were you surprised by how well people took to it.
I was surprised by how well people took to it, I was afraid people were going to think it was too commercial of a move, but I guess I sometimes fail to recognise that the audience we have is moving in similar ways to we are, and I like to think that whatever we do musically or thematically is coming from a place of honesty rather than trying to force some pop shit down people’s throats. I think that you’re going to have people that dislike different things like that based on the fact its not their trip, but overwhelmingly people have enjoyed the record and it sets us up to do tons of different things in the future without us worrying.
It’s interesting, because you have such a wide and diversive back catalogue. I think you are one of the only artists that can change styles with each album and still retain their fan base throughout.
We’ll see what people think when we drop the country record. But again, I think what has been happening, especially with out new management is that they have been focusing less on the music and more on the process and the personality and entertainment elements of it. I think what Retinal Circus shows is having like a ring leader of a bunch of different things and then the music becomes a soundtrack to this spectacle, the story of whatever all this shit is becomes more important than any one track and it totally frees me up personally, my only job as an artist, if you want to look at it that way, is to make sure what I’m doing is that it’s because its the thing I want to do as opposed to the thing I think I want to do.
There are three projects you currently have in the pipeline. There’s the Z2 album, Casualties Of Cool and then Ghost 2. Where are you at with them?
I’ve also got this bass thing I’m working on as well. Casualties will be the first thing, but I’m not going to make a big deal, and it’s probably not going to come out under the Devin Townsend monicker, it’ll probably come out under Casualties Of Cool, just because it is so different that whatever work we’re doing with the band and the the current arrangement we’ve got here, I don’t want to sidetrack that, and give people something so far removed their just confused, so we’ll put that out as a separate thing, but I’ve almost finished it. Z2 is something I’m hoping that I can release in about a year and a half to two years, the reason for the delay with that is that I want to have the movie, the comic book, the tv show, and we’re also working on this really uncomfortable puppet show as well, there’s also going to be a kickstarter project for that, there’s going to be this big choir and all this other space bullshit, it’s going to be really over the top. Those are the two main things I’m working on, I’ve got this bass thing like I say that’s waiting in the wings, I’ve got a bunch of improvisational projects I’m working on with a bunch of other artists as well
One of the other things you’ve been known for is producing albums for other artists. Is that something you’re still interested in or have you completely stopped that now.
I’m not as interested in it, I find that production more the psychological aspect of recording, and you end up micro managing people’s internal relationships and the dramas, and as I get older I have less and less interest in people’s problems. I’ve got my own shit to think about, so as a producer my level of empathy has gone way down and I’ve got less patience to do it.
After the year you’ve had in 2012, where do you go from here?
Home. I just want to hump for a week. (Laughs) but it’s not gonna happen. I’ve got to fix the facet, and got to kids pageants and stuff. I’m coming back to Manchester to edit the Retinal Circus DVD, then we head to South America, India, There’s talk of doing Australia, then we are out with Gojira in the middle of January, we’re doing a bunch of festivals. Basically I spend most of my career hoping the next thing I do is the thing that does it for me, it’s important for me now to take stock of the fact that I’m doing what I want to do, so there is no goal, we still get to do what we want to do, it’s now more about balancing life and family and finances and trying to make things play ball with each other.
Do you have any comments for the Devin Townsend fans out there?
Thanks for listening if you do. Thanks for criticising if you do. I’m just happy doing what I’m doing.