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Devin Townsend Discusses His Epic Workload, James Hetfield

Posted by on February 20, 2013

Devin Townsend is the mad Canadian mastermind behind the Devin Townsend Project, all things Ziltoid and the former mainman of Strapping Young Lad. Prior to his Sacramento performance at the Ace of Spades, Townsend and I met in a shady alley that smelled like burgers to discuss his current tour, his upcoming self-induced music release dryspell, the next installment of Ziltoid and much more.

So, you were out with a back massage earlier?

Oh, acupuncture.

How are you doing now?

I’m ok. I’ve got forty years of use on this back, so every now and then it goes out of whack.

My inner pessimist was like, “Oh no, Townsend’s not playing tonight.”

No, I’ll be playing. I’m always playing. I just whine while I do it.

I was actually at the show last night, (At the Fillmore in San Francisco) because I’m that kind of fan apparently –

Oh awesome, man. Thanks.

I read on twitter, was it true that James Hetfield was at the show last night?

Haha yeah.

How was that? Did you interact with him at all?

Of course not. As I said on Twitter, I think the thing that makes Metallica Metallica is the fact that they’ve always gone out of their way, maybe not as much lately, but when they were getting popular, they were like the cool guys. I think if we were in high school, James and I probably wouldn’t have spent that much time together. So, probably him watching me last night was similar to him going to drama class in high school and watching the “queers.” I actually love James Hetfield. It’s a huge inspiration, just as a dude lately because of the sobriety thing. It’s like really cool. I like how he put himself out on the line unashamedly, sort of, been a spokesperson for that kind of lifestyle. I appreciate that. He took a lot of flack. With that being said, if there’s anybody that I would not have expected to enjoy or understand what I do, he’d be in the top ten.

How’s the whole Retinal Circus process going right now with mixing and all that?

Well, the mix is pretty much done. I finished it just before this tour. I just sent it to mastering. I mean there’s elements of it I can still kind of tweak while I’m out here, and have been, but in terms of the whole project, we’re still deep in it. The video editor is still putting it together and I’m still making notes, and there’s still artwork to do. I’d say, within a month, it’ll be completed and hopefully for a spring release. That things awesome, man. It’s killer.

I wound up catching the live feed, which I know you had –

Ugh, oh yeah.

I know you’ve talked about the shit audio on it.

You gotta see this version. It’s pretty overwhelming. It’s like such a clusterfuck on stage too. Whether or not people who’re new to it understand what I’m trying to do, I like the idea that it’s like…when I watch it I’m like, “That’s pretty much how I feel it should look like.” For better or for worse, it’s like this crazy chaos.

What inspired the setlist for that? I know you were trying to do an overarching thing of your entire career, so was it just trying to get a bit of everything?

Yeah, I tried to get a bit of everything, but at the end of it, it was most important to include the songs that we could illustrate the best. The show itself had this peculiar story and so that story arc required me to choose songs that would contribute to that, rather than just elbow it in there. So we missed some stuff. Terria wasn’t in there, and whatever, but it leaves room for the next thing.

Since then has there been a rise in people asking about Strapping (Young Lad), because Jed (Simon, former SYL guitarist) was there?

Not really.

Or to people get that that was the nail in the coffin?

I think you get the impression that people like to be contrary. Whatever you’re doing, your going to get a faction of people that want to be contrary to it just because maybe that’s how they live their life. You know, be the one guy in a band that says no to things that everybody else says yes to, because it gives them attention or whatever. So, I find a faction of people like that, and then another faction similar to me that just really like the music. What I tried to do with Retinal was play the stuff and include Jed in it to say, “Look I’m not afraid of this shit. I wrote it!” It was a huge part of my life. If somebody said to me, “Why do you choose to do Devin Townsend Project and not Strapping now?” the easiest answer is, I was incredibly fucking unhappy and now I’m incredibly happy.

Good!

And if anyone says, “Why not go back to being unhappy?” I’d be like, ‘that’s your trip man. Good luck!’

That question answers itself.

There it is.

How is Casualties (of Cool) coming?

I’ve got about ten songs recorded, and Ché (Aimee Dorval) and Morgan (Ågren) have sort of thrown their stuff into the mix consistently, but it’s been so much material with Retinal and everything coming up, I feel like I run the risk of over-saturating the people who’ve been listening. And so, THAT, the over-saturation of it combined with the realization recently that my workaholic tendencies are something that, perhaps, my addictive personality has transferred to, and ultimately this obsessive need to be productive is starting to show signs of being ill advised. So, I’m standing away from the uber-productivity after Retinal for a bit. I’m gonna still write, I’m gonna still record –

But, as far as putting it out there, you’re going to hold back?

I’m going to hold back. I’ll still have all this material, Ghost 2, and Casualties and Ziltoid, which I love, but I want to let it sit for a little bit. Even for the sake of my personal life, I really feel it’s important for me to appreciate all the things that we’ve done and the good things that are in my life as opposed to, just use the present to look forward to what’s next. But, if you want to look to the future, Z2 is fucking awesome. That project is gonna be amazing, and that’s the thing I want to focus on next. Casualties, will sort of be a sideline, might not even be involved with the Devin Townsend Project, it might just be called Casualties. I’ve got a ton of things I’m interested in doing, but I feel that over the past couple years, my desire to be creative and productive as started to take a turn that I’m not too fond of where the productivity supersedes the desire, so I’m going to step back a bit. But I’m going to tour my balls off, and everything else that goes along with this, but try not to put out seven records in a year.

Touching on Ziltoid, are you at all surprised how much of a life Ziltoid has taken on, or was that done on purpose to take focus off of you?

I think Ziltoid is really cool, and I think the potential for what it came be on this next record is really awesome. I mean, myself, I’d rather look at a character than a person. I like myself, I’m ok with myself, but I’m certainly not incredibly fond of looking at myself everyday. My career is so based on me. It’s my names, it’s my voice, it’s my face, it’s my words, it’s my interviews, it’s everything. Unless you’re just some complete self-absorbed character, you’re going to get sick of yourself after a while. It’s just inevitable. For me, that has sort of manifested in things like Casualties, where I’m not necessarily the lead vocalist and I’m not necessarily the name on it as much. So, that makes it easy for me to do music, but not just perpetually trying to mine my own personality for things I’m not revolted by. Ziltoid’s ideal for that because I love puppets, the whole sci-fi element of it’s a lot of fun and the thing with Ziltoid for this next project is, dude, we’ve got orchestras, and choirs, and movies, and comic books, and TV shows, and all this stuff that ultimately is involving a whole lot of other artists that can do those things much better than I can. So, it allows me to sort of delegate the ideas, as fantastic as they may be, and see them come to life, and that’s always been the goal. If could just sit there and say, ‘OK we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this, and here’s my part and here’s what I do, and you guys do all that, and I’ll do this,’ and at the end of it you have this things that’s larger than anything, that I’ve been involved it, or specifically me in particular, that’s awesome.

Are you able to touch much on the story of it?

Still working on it.

Because I feel like the original Ziltoid kinda had a finite-

It did. I have some ideas of how it’s going to come around, but I think the one thing is, and this could really change, I got the idea that after the festivals recently, like Retinal and Tuska (Open Air) and all this stuff where he was the focus, I like the idea of he lets his arrogance take over and he starts all the attention being paid is because he’s who he is, and he’s really special as apposed to being just a character, or a puppet. So, I like the idea that the aliens come and take him away and take away two of his dimensions since he gets stuck in a comic book. He’s trying to get out of the comic book but he…

Fuck! The layers on this thing.

Yeah, well, he’s trying to actualize because he’s stuck in it he can manifest whatever he wants so he makes these huge hedonistic environments and ultimately the sense that it’s just an illusion, and he gets bored and frustrated and starts to meditate. I want Z2 to be, like, everything Ziltoid, and where can you go with that? Anywhere.

On this tour, you’re playing with Gojira, of course, and there’s been a little bit of crossover the past few years with you and Joe. On this tour has there been any discussion of doing “Sumeria” or “Of Blood and Salt?”

There has been but, our role on this tour is to support them. I think what they do is really important to the scene and it’s very rare that I think music that’s that visceral can be as sort of aware and beautiful, so it’s a very important run for them and up to this point everyone’s been really working hard to just make the shows as good as they can be without that additional pressure. So, if eventually it becomes a reality, it would only be for a show or two. Where those shows are, who knows yet.

I don’t know how to say this without insulting you-

You can’t insult me.

Why do you think you aren’t as big here as you are in Europe?

I think there’s an element of exposure. I’ve noticed in the past few years, things are starting to grow a bit in America. I think what it comes down to is I’ve spent most of my career working Europe, and very little by comparison working North America, specifically Canada. The more we play a place, the more it sort of grows because we’ve been here and had opportunities to play with these awesome bands here, I do notice it’s starting to grow here, and in Europe, I think it’s just a matter of, I’ve been hitting it for twenty years. Maybe in the beginning the whole “progressive” sort of, peculiar nature of what I do is more readily agreeable to other cultures other than Canada and the states, but as progressive music grows in stature, I find the distinction’s getting a lot less

Can we expect a follow-up to the First Movement that featured Fear Factory, with Gojira?

That’d be fun, eh? I have no idea. It’s like we have a bunch of things coming up this year that are just awesome, but I feel like I’ll get in shit if I mention any of it. You’ll hear about it soon.

With five, almost six, Project albums done do you see another break coming like you had in between Strapping? You’re holding off putting stuff out, but as far as touring-

After this tour I take a month off. Like, OFF. I’ll have my guitar to plunk away at, but I’m not going to record, I’m not going to write, I’m not going to do anything, I’m just going to take it off, and that’s all I need I think at this point. I’m in no danger of burning myself out if I get that.

 

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