Devin Townsend Interview
In June, or was it July, I forget now, but anyway, during one of those months, Devin Townsend toured the UK with Strapping Young Lad and Ocean Machine. Which was nice. Well it was as far as I was concerned. Anyway, the bottom line is this. I bottled it. I was going to approach about doing an interview, but decided not to. The reasons? Well, I didn't know that I had any decent questions. The other reason, well, the questions that maybe I could think of had already been done to death by the magazines. And it's a bit intrusive to go asking about the infamous "checking in for treatment." So, I left it. And regretted it of course.
Since then, the man has released yet another album, this time it's called Infinity. Also since then I'm in contact with Century Media, and it was Andy at the label who asked if I wouldn't mind doing an interview. And so this was set up. The request came through to do the interview by e-mail, as it's the easiest method. Which is true. Unfortunately, it looses that little something. There's no extra bits going on to let you know about. I mean, you don't want to know that the answers to the questions arrived as I was working on Chapter 3 of my thesis do you? Nah, thought not.
The other problem is that you don't get that face to face contact to try and determine in your own mind whether the line of questions you are posing is of any interest to the person. They're done in advance, and that's it. Same with postal interviews. At least on the phone you can maybe get an idea from the voice. Or you can explain properly the reasoning behind some of the questions. So, in some respects this might be a slightly dry interview. It also can explain some one word or short answers. Cos I wasnt able to prod for more, or push the point in some other direction. But ee being me, I'll probably interject with some clarifications or explanations behind my reasoning. I mean, I've already wasted about 30 seconds of your time reading this introduction which was no doubt totally and utterly unnecessary. But YAZ wouldn't be YAZ without it.
Luckily, even in type on a computer screen, there's an element of character comes through. Well I think so anyway.
So, mouse at your fingertips, eyes gazed at the monitor (cos you have to believe you're sat in front of the computer at the moment) it's time to begin ....
And you even get to read the extra explanation bits that I included in the interview. Lucky bastards. I spoil you y'know (pats himself on the back, and adds a ! after the name of the zine, maybe even a Ker in front of it. Keryaz! Well hey, Ive been after a new name...)
Before the questions, I'd just like to say thanks for the time. I was going to try approaching to do an interview on the last UK tour, but I bottled it! Didn't think I had any worthwhile questions. Probably when you've read these, you'll think I still haven't, but I've tried to think of some stuff. Most probably crap, boring or irrelevant, but here goes anyway ...
Anyway, I'm going to try and structure them into a few groupings. Some regarding the new album, and the other DT related musical projects. Some based on, and directed towards the industry, and finally some which are just well, different. Maybe. Or hypothetical. Or just crap.
The albums / music related ones ...
Is there any general spiel that's been issued regarding the new Infinity album, and if so, do you want to re-spiel it again?
There's no shpeeel I'm afraid, just music...another in a long line, if you want a spoonful of art in your musical consumption, buy it...it will make you squirm.
There was talk in some interviews at the time of the release of the Ocean Machine album, that people had to wait until Infinity was released in order to get the clearer, or the whole picture. Now it has been, I'm still as confused as hell. Would you like to shed some light on how the different projects inter-relate with each other, and maybe with yourself if it's a deeper statement.
It makes sense to me...and I guess that's the bottom line. I assume that people care when most of the time, they just want escapism. I'm pretty naive that way. Anyone who wants to take the time will figure it out, but it's no secret. It's just math...1+1=1. I can leave, but I can never leave... pompous shit like that. I went head on into an explanation in my last round of interviews and had people scratching their heads when what I should have really said was "It fucking rocks..." as opposed to 'juvenile metaphysics 101'.
One of the tracks, Ants, seems to have a Cardiacs feel. Totally over the top. Indeed much of the album seems very familiar, that "it's on the tip of my tongue feeling." Were there any obvious musical influences here, and was this a
No, but thanks for noticing. I have heard that a couple of times, and it hits me the same way. There's something that has been very familiar about this album ever since the beginning, I wish that my ploys were deliberate, then I wouldn't feel such guilt when it fucks people over.
The cover of Infinity seems to have come at an awkward time, what with old Marilyn Manson doing his androgynous bit, and body suits or spray painted pictures or whatever. Coincidence or intention?
Coincidence and intention I guess... methinks that it's just about that time in mans development when we find it clever to be naked. Ask Alanis, she'll let you know. I wanted to keep my knob in the shots as well to put across the '26 year old male human' bit, but some people would find that offensive so we made it androgynous. By no means is it meant to shock... it's just to say, 'Look...there's nothing hidden...I'm skinny and balding, this is where the music comes from...a human just like everyone else.' Vessels tuned to certain frequencies I guess, and Marilyn Manson may just be on the opposite one, or the same one but American.
As there are no lyrics supplied, I'm still trying to work out whatever the album is actually on about. So I can't really ask specific questions about it. Is there a general theme running through it or can you explain some of it. I mean,
Noisy Pink Bubbles???
The theme is tragedy, that weird energy that you get at the end of something and the beginning of something else...like Sunday nights before the weekdays, or a new millennium, I'd like to spend time explaining it, but it's more something that I feel as opposed to something I know. What do you feel from the record? ...that's what I meant.
A few of the songs, at least on the SYL albums, seem to deal with religious issues, or at least a dismissive view on religion. Any views, and any views on all the so called 'new age' religious notions.
Ooo, yummy... well, it's a dangerous topic to get on, as people always seem to be biased. It's hip to be atheist or agnostic at the moment, but as for myself, I'm still working it out. I could go on endlessly but that wouldn't do anyone any good.
I have no problem if people wish to insult or not with religious views. I'm personally still trying to decide what I believe, and part of that decision involves listening to others viewpoints and reading about different ideas. At the end of the day, I'll believe what I want, if I believe anything at all. The only thing I dislike, is if religion is rammed down your throat. And it doesn't matter where it comes from. A death metal band making that you can't believe in them, or like them if you don't share their religious views is just as annoying as a Christian fanatic wanting you to send them your money.
There seemed to be talk prior to the release of the Ocean Machine album that it marked the end of SYL. Or that Devin Townsend would in the future combine all the elements of SYL, Ocean Machine, and now Infinity into one musical outpouring. So what's the plan, if any for all these projects and directions.
I hate touring, I'll wait until we get shitloads of money, then we'll talk.
Before you jump in, I checked, and its the travel, shitty food etc that he dislikes, not the playing live.
How do you think this would work live? Would it work live, or does the music appeal to different people, who would be confused during the set?
Broadway musical type proportions. Confused? No more so than any other day.
When would you be planning on bring this to the UK.
The three different projects represent different musical terrain. It seems to me that despite today's alleged open-mindedness, eg, rock fans can listen to techno, there's still a closed minded attitude. If they like techno infused rock, then that's all they like. Do you sense that there is a greater feeling of open-mindedness to accept different styles of music today?
I don't pay attention. I only do what I feel like doing then see how that relates in hindsight. Closed or open, there is always a desire to feel good, and I think it's just a matter of finding the passages to those desires and a community will emerge.
The industry related ones ...
Just some general blurb from me again. Not that you need it. But since I've started doing my zine, my opinion on the industry, from the very very limited view that I've seen of it, has not been good. So these questions are motivated by that rather than any one band or thing.
In the UK, there's been a recent ruling introduced by the industry people who rule the charts. They decided that singles which have more than 3 tracks, or feature more than 20 minutes of music, are ineligible for the charts. This was supposedly partly to bring down the costs of singles, but I believe also partly to help the artists who were "under pressure to come up with the extra tracks for a single". Given that in one guise or another, you've now released 3 albums worth of material in little over a year, do you think this "artists under pressure" concept is valid? Do you think bands should exist if they can't write a couple of extra tracks per year?
I can't speak for the press and all the time it takes to pre-sell a record, but from an artist point of view, it doesn't make a difference (if I understand you correctly), shitty bands that can't produce more than three songs a year will always be there, and the industry is based around accommodating the status quo so it seems to work alright. I probably won't chart too highly with any of my recent projects based on things other than just being prolific however, as I don't reach a broad enough audience yet. Perhaps the industry will change to accommodate me?
Following that a little further, it seems to me that if a band can't write the extra tracks, the easiest alternative is to finance a bunch of remixes. How do you feel about the remix concept, both from a creative / artistic point of view, and from a commercial fulfilment point of view.
God, I'm afraid you're posing questions to me that don't quite work with the way I choose to work. I don't think about things like that too often...(primarily because no one ever approaches me on the idea) I did one remix for a band called 'Unit 187' that was killer, I took two words from the original track and then wrote a new song around it called 'Looking at the love load'. See if you can find it, it's on 21st circuitry records. I always just do extra songs and not remises for my own stuff though...for no reason other than it always ends up making more sense that way.
You appear to do a great deal of the work involved in creating and distributing your music. Is this due to "control freak" nature, or is there some form of distrust of the industry in general behind all the involvement.
No one in the industry other than USG and Sony in Japan give a shit about my stuff, so I always end up having to do it. Believe me, if I could find someone competent to manage me and wipe my bum, I'd be a menace.
Do you ever feel that an outsider would be able to give a credible insight and input into the music.
Sure, if he / she can get past my psychological beatings. I don't play very nice when it comes to something I'm good at.
If you could choose to change one thing about the industry, based on your various experiences with it, what would that be?
More hookers and blow...oh I don't know, I'd have a system where you could leave your idealism at the gate when you were 18, then pick it up again after the fiasco was over and be able to get joy out of things like mowing lawns and watering fucking hedges...
I notice that virtually every band in existence, when they have a new album to promote, find something bad to say about the previous one. Do you think this is fair on the people who bought the album? Or an insult to peoples intelligence.
I'd say that the reason an artist continues to create is because they are perpetually dissatisfied with their own work, therefore, it just seems inevitable that you'll get scenarios like that. That being said however, there are 6-10 things on Infinity I would change, and it's not even out yet.
Following that, why should they believe the band when they say "this is the greatest thing we've ever done" when the previous "greatest thing" is now a "rushed piece of shit".
Artists are ego driven sociopaths for the most part. Don't believe what we tell you. Is the new record the best? Is the last one a rushed piece of shit? If you like the artist, support his cause and just buy the damn thing and make up your own mind.
Fair enough, but there's a point where it feels you're being taken for a ride. My personal view is that bands don't owe the fans anything, but neither do the fans owe the bands. And that the band maybe just insults you. "If we say this is great, they'll go and buy it like nice little people.". So what does that make the people who write zines then???
The others ...
Hevy Devy Records puts out GRRRR, which I believe is a compilation of upcoming Canadian bands. What's the music scene like in Canada, and are there any bands that you would strongly recommend people check out.
There's bands everywhere. GRRR!!!! was just an example of one city, in one country... I just like seeing people get off their asses and going after a cause, even if it is a disk like this, at least there's a sense of community involved, and that's nice to be a part of. It's like a really bad football team.
On the Ocean Machine album, there's talk in the credits of "sell out". I was wondering what you consider sell out to be. And whether it's actually bands that sell out, or fans that sell out just because a band suddenly does something they maybe don't like.
'Sell out' was like a disclaimer on that record. Artists include selling out into their art in my perfect world.
On the recent UK tour, at one of the gigs (Birmingham), there was equipment problems before the gig even started, which resulted in various solo spots from the members of the band, and mutterings from yourself of "no, I'm not embarrassed. Really". Or something very similar. So I was wondering what the most embarrassing moment onstage has been.
Blowing a fire extinguisher off in Germany on a boiling stage in front of 3000 hot people while pretending I was farting... the chemicals in the extinguisher nearly killed people...yuck, what a moron.
And is there a best moment? Or something that just makes everything suddenly seem worthwhile.
Japan, 2 weeks ago.
Also, at the same gig, you mentioned that Kerrang! had been at the London gig, and you thought they wouldn't be impressed by the fact that you tried to kick stagedivers offstage. What's your general thoughts regarding stagediving, and the whole macho image that is given off at "metal" and it has to be said "hardcore and punk" gigs these days.
GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY GUITAR LEAD YOU IDIOT! Hardcore describes dirty movies, Metal is used in the production of dishwashers, and punk should be saved for lovers quarrels. Stagediving is cool, but the 'Look at me' syndrome should be saved for the stinking artists. God, 5 is more than enough...
Similar note. Saw Jello Biafra perform spoken word a couple of weeks ago. One of the rants included how there is a move in some States to "sticker gigs" and put an age rating on them, similar to the Tipper Sticker. Do you believe that some kind of legislation like this could actually see its way through to law, and how would you feel about your gigs being "rated" in such a way. How would you rate them?
I'd sticker my own gigs. God, this biafra fellow is on just as much as this gore woman, I think it's a conspiracy to keep them both in work. Who cares? Save a whale.
Ok me again. We're going to have a definite disagreement on this one then. Biafra does say some controversial things, a lot of which I'll disagree with. But he makes you think and he makes you aware, and it's my contention that we need to be aware these days otherwise the freedom might well be threatened.
KORN recently switched their sponsorship from ADIDAS to PUMA. Who would you like to sponsor Devin Townsend and projects. If anyone.
Anyone. As long as they let me do exactly what I do right now.
Finally, it has to be asked, because so many people over here want to know. Will you or won't you be working on an entire album or musical project with Ginger from The Wildhearts?
Unsure, ask again later...
Thanks for the interview! Sorry about my mood!
Well, there you have it. Its always kind of different doing interviews by e-mail. As far as Im concerned you get a totally different feel. But it does make it a damn sight quicker in terms of getting the things typed up for the zine.
My thanks to Devin for taking the time to answer the questions, and also to Tracy and Andy for arranging the interview in the first place.
Images used courtesy of the HevyDevy Webpage.