He burst on to the rock scene as the man behind the mic on Steve Vai’s Sex & Religion before making Strapping Young lad his rock weapon of choice.
Now older, wiser but just as prolific, Devin Townsend is halfway through a four-album sequence under the Devin Townsend Project name.
With the catchy and commercial Addicted! winning widespread acclaim we caught up with the Vancouver-based axe machine to talk music, music and more music. Oh and a fair bit of Vai for good measure…
rushonrock: How do you find the time and energy to record and tour four records in less than two years?
Devin Townsend: Every riff and every album is a reaction to the one that came before. In the close proximity that I’ve been recording these albums the reactions have been more extreme. The nature of Ki is so different to Addicted! – the intense nature of that album makes you want to move on. The previous album was so tense and I wanted Addicted! to act as some kind of release. Production-wise Addicted! is a very complicated record but it’s true that it’s more accessible than its predecessor. It’s a reaction to the testing nature of Ki.
rushonrock: Anneke van Giersbergen gives Addicted! a very different slant – was she always lined up to collaborate with you?
DT: Having a female vocal on Addicted! was always important to me. The theme of the record required that. I did have a few names in my head but there was no definitive choice and I actually had most of the record completed before I’d found the vocalist I wanted. But fate decrees that these things often happen of their own accord and I got an email out of the blue from Anneke asking me if I’d work with her on her new album. I said let’s kill two birds with one stone and she came to Vancouver. We threw caution to the wind and went off base in a few ways. I think it worked.
rushonrock: Halfway through the Devin Townsend Project’s four album cycle are you feeling the strain?
DT: I think the decision to make four albums in quick succession puts more pressure on the audience than it does on me in all honesty. There’s this huge influx of Devin Townsend material for a year and a half and it’s a lot for people to take in. But it doesn’t bother me. If I didn’t have to do promotion or look after the family or go on tour or piss or shit then I’d be happy to go into a studio and pound out music eternally. I know that’s not an option but I like spending my time in studios making music – if I had the opportunity to keep making records in quick succession I’d take that chance. It’s exactly what I’d choose to do. But the industry is set up in such a way that touring has become a totally different entity compared to the past. These days it’s a real way of getting people interested in music – it’s the ultimate selling point for people like me.
rushonrock: Addicted! has been out for less than four weeks but is its successor done and dusted?
DT: Album number three in the four-album series is already on its way. It’s written and a lot of it’s already recorded. I’m really happy with the way it sounds. Addicted! was always going to be the most commercial of the four and this next one is a very heavy orchestral undertaking. It’s expensive to make a record like that and the financial return will be minimal. It will confuse a lot of people but I’m plodding on and getting the job done.
rushonrock: Is it too much having four records on the go?
DT: The only thing that gets tiring is the fact that I put myself in a position where I’m always having to speak to the media and explain the concept and process behind the four records. Because it’s such a convoluted theme I’m aware of the confusion that it creates among audiences. But music for me has never been a complicated emotional or mental process – it just happens. It’s easy enough for me writing this volume of music and easy enough separating one record from the next.
rushonrock: With the studio commitments you have is their room for the new music to be heard live?
DT: The first tour starts on January 5 and we’re going through the US. We’re doing a ‘get your feet wet’ trial tour before we go to Australia and then we’re heading back to Europe for the summer festival season. In terms of when the third and fourth albums are released and when I get to spend time with my family – it’s just a real juggling act. The days of me touring endlessly are over but the days when I am at home endlessly are over too.
rushonrock: Addicted was recommended to rushonrock by Steve Vai. How do you feel about that?
DT: The peer acclaim you get is important to a degree. I do think about it. Flattery is nice. But what’s important to me at the end of the day is to be true to whatever artistic emotions I’m feeling at the time and to be able to support my family financially. If those two things are Ok then I’m Ok. Finances could always be better but I’m not starving.
rushonrock: It must feel good to have your peer group behind you?
DT: There can be a backlash from the peer group thing. The people within the industry who listen to my music can be very defensive about it. That can turn other people off. But basically I’m just a guy doing my thing and everything that an artist does is subjective. If someone says everything that someone else does is great then that in itself makes it difficult for other people to engage. I’m very lucky that I have a protective fan base and I’ll never forget that. There’s not many people who do music for as long as I have and have the opportunity to acquire that kind of backing. But I think in terms of people like Steve Vai and people who I know in other bands praising my work – that’s ultimately the biggest public satisfaction that I get. I’ve never been able to take compliments very well but if someone like Steve says my work’s good then that’s very humbling.
rushonrock: Are you surprised Steve takes the time to publicly support you after your brief and often volatile stint with him during the early 90s?
DT: The thing with Steve is this: when I was first working with Steve I was a rotten kid. I was a little shit. So the whole process of reconnecting with that guy has been such a humbling experience. My life is a work in progress and the Steve Vai experience was an amazing opportunity which I didn’t appreciate at the time. I did react strangely to that environment and it has shaped my life subsequently. To have a guy as giving and talented as Steve give me that kind of support and recognition is really incredible. In all these years he’s never said that that kid Townsend was a total dick to him. It wasn’t like I was trying to be mean to him but I responded to the whole situation in a very amateurish way. When I hear that he’s supporting my work it really does bring a tear to my eye.