The singer/musician talks about Accelerated Evolution, feeding the imagination and his favorite insufferable geek.
An interview by Jedd Beaudoin
Let there be no doubt about it: 2003 is Devin Townsend's year. (Or, what we hope will be the first in a series of "his years.") Townsend's released two incredible albums (Strapping Young Lad's SYL, available on Century Media and, of course, Accelerated Evolution with the Devin Townsend Band, out on Inside Out Music America), toured widely with SYL and, as you read this, is prepping another series of dates with DTB. Who could ask for anything more? Certainly not Townsend who, despite his success, seems as grounded as ever.
Read on and visit http://www.hevydevy.com for more information.
Sea of Tranquility: Accelerated Evolution is one my favorite records of the year and I think part of it is that it deals with issues that I'm facing--issues with relationships, with getting older and watching those around me go through the same things. And yet this is hardly a confessional songwriter kind of record, it still, for lack of a more elegant term, rocks. Can you talk a little bit about your frame of mind as you were writing this record?
Devin Townsend: I got kind of obsessed with the records in certain artists careers that optimized them before they freaked out and lost their state of identity--records like Hysteria, The Joshua Tree, Thriller, so I tried to use that mind set; this is my version of a pop record.
SoT: Can you talk a little bit, too, about how you put the particular group of players for the DTB together?
DT: What I wanted to do was find a set of players who had very little experience doing the type of things that were required to do with this particular project; it was like starting a band from square one, hence the name of the record; it was an experiment and still is.
SoT: You seem to embrace many different kinds of music, is there part of you that wants to do a confessional singer-songwriter kind of record?
DT: I don't know really. I am just doing what seems to come naturally right now, and if that includes that at some point then, sure, but at this point I am doing what I want to do.
SoT: Do you find, too, though that you're more and more interested in heavier music as time goes by? Ideas about how that interest grew?
DT:Yes, I get more interested in the inner workings of heavy metal as time goes on, we are working towards the Zen of it.
SoT: Some have commented that you don't so much write songs as create these kind of atmospheres, musical landscapes where a lot of diverse stuff happens and can be experienced. I guess that's what it comes down to with music, having an experience. Do you feel that, maybe, sometimes, the typical song environment doesn't allow for experiences vast enough for you?
DT: I think on AE I tried to make more songs than musical landscapes, every record is an experiment in working things out. I think in the future it will work out so every record contains songs and landscapes, landscapes within songs.
SoT: I guess I see it all as the difference between a short story and a novel. Some writers prefer the succinctness of a short story. Others have to have that novel. I think of you as more of a novelist type.
DT: I write on feel, it's like you can't just make music for the sake of making it. That never works out, I just wait for the inspiration to hit, and write until it feels done, if that makes me more of a novelist in approach, then cool.
SoT: Do you find that there are certain environments that are more conducive to creativity for you than others or is the flow of music more of a continuous thing?
DT: There is always environments that are more conducive than others, I just don't pine for inspiration. I just do it when it comes, if it doesn't it doesn't so that's why it probably feels more natural when it does.
SoT:Well, I find a certain continuity in your work, whether DTB or SYL, where I don't feel so much that I've listened to a group of songs as I have an album, in the largest sense. That I've had a continuous experience that covers a lot of terrain. Is that something you've appreciated in other artists or is it something that you think just developed inexplicably?
DT: I appreciate it in other artist I always have, but perhaps as you said in your last question, I always figure a piece of work benefits from a middle beginning and end, not so much a story but a theme; and, as a result of that, I view the albums more like a movie where it just has a vibe about it that leaves you with a feeling at the end of it, it's entertainment where the medium is emotion.
SoT: How much are you able/interested in listening to music by other artists? Who inspires you at this point in time?
DT:I listen to music constantly there is tons that inspire me, right now I listen to Lamb of God, Meshuggah, Cornelius, Rapoon, Square pusher, among many others.
SoT:I've read that you're about to work with Steve Vai again. I know that that relationship was strained for a time. Are there things about your experience with him that you're better able to appreciate now than when you were going through them?
DT: Yes. I see him more as a person now, rather than a rock star and as [people] we share more things in common. [We're both] insufferable geeks. Steve is a good friend and a good person, as we all are. I look forward to working with him again.
SoT: You know, it's funny, because I envision being a "bandleader" the same way I view being a parent: There's a point (at least there was for me, while I was growing up), where you say, "I'm not going to be like that SOB." Then, a few years later, I found myself saying, "Uh, [cough, cough, mumble], the SOB was right."
DT: That's true, people change. The unfortunate part about being in the industry is that you are held to a lot of your interviews; people change situations change, listen to the music and leave me the fuck alone is my mantra now.
SoT:What, in your estimation, is the best food for the imagination?
DT: Weed cookies.
SoT: In the past, people have focused a certain amount of energy on painting you as some kind of "mad genius." I think that many people see a link between "madness" and creativity. Has there been part of you that's sacrificed, at times, your own piece of mind in favor of the madness for fear that sacrificing that instead might somehow stifle your creativity?
DT: Sure, but I have stopped reading my interviews and stopped reading my press for the most part and I really don't care what people say; call me what ever you want, just don't call me late for dinner.
SoT: Okay, last one: Cats, dogs or children?