Power of Metal.dk Interview

Interview with Devin Townsend - October 2014

What made you decide to do the CrowdFunding campaign for the Casualties of Cool album?

Because Casualties was not a part of my current record deal, which allowed me to actually just do it. If you’re signed to a label and you’re getting a certain amount of money to record a record, it just seems a little crass to be asking for money above and beyond that, right? So I had originally thought that I was just going to ask for what it cost to record Casualties, because that record meant so much to me, but then when it exceeded the goals, it ended up just being great because not only could we finance the Ziltoid record but with the additional money I could make all these crazy puppets and sort of take the art to a different level and do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do without that. So overall, well honestly, man, it was just a super intense experience.

That must have blown you away.

Yeah, I’m super insecure at the best of times, man. I guess that’s why I sing. I don’t know any singer who’s not a total fucking banana, right? So there’s part of me that thinks that that’s it. But the one thing I had going for me up to that point was a willingness to be oblivious to the fact that other people participate in what I do. Above and beyond the humbling nature of the support, you’re confronted immediately with the fact that this isn’t just you anymore. This is something that people have an emotional investment in. It should have been easy just to be like, “Okay, let’s just go from here,” but it really threw me for a loop in a lot of ways. I didn’t want to second-guess things and I didn’t want to have it affect my process too much. But ultimately, in a way it affected the Ziltoid record because, after Casualties, which really, let’s be honest, asks a lot from a heavy metal audience, it pushed me with the Ziltoid record to be like with this, let’s make sure it’s stuff that people like. That’s not to say I’m writing things that I don’t like. This is stuff that comes very natural to me. I’ve got tons of it on file. So, as opposed to taking some of that money out for the Casualties thing and just going off on some other weird, artsy thing, it’s like well, you made your art movie there with Casualties, so now do a kind of Michael Bay trip on it and see what happens.

It’s time to do the action film, right?

That’s it, that’s exactly what it was, man. And it was fun. I think that there’s some portion of the audience that enjoys the fact that it reinvents itself every time. There’s an element of that with Ziltoid for sure, but it’s more an expansion of it than a rethinking of it. If it hadn’t been for the Crowd Funding thing, I don’t know if I would have done that. I’ve got all these weird ideas kicking around my head of like strange artsy-fartsy type of things and I’m going to do them for sure because that’s just how I’m wired. But Ziltoid, in a sense, was a way to say thank you for the contributions.

Did you feel some kind of pressure coming out of it?

That’s always the way it is. I never think about writing, it just kind of happens. I blew basically every cent of that on Ziltoid. The new website and the first episode goes live tomorrow. And you’ll see, it’s stupid. Orchestras and choirs and Hollywood style artwork and voice actors and all that shit. That’s what I want to do. If I get a good amount of money to do something, you bet your ass I’m going to invest it in the art. That’s what I want to do. I don’t have any desire for fancy cars or stuff. I’ve got people in my world that make me guitars that I could never afford. So in terms of toys, I’m covered. I don’t play video games, don’t do drugs. So if my rent is covered, man, let’s make some fucking puppets and put an orchestra on it! That stuff’s awesome.

It’s just a little bit over the top, is what you’re saying? Just a little crazy? [laughs]

You know, just let me think about that for a second: yeah! [laughs] Trying to explain it to my family was very interesting too. They’re like, okay, so you got some money from that thing, great, what are you going to do? And I’m like, we’re going to make an incredibly complicated record full of farting puppets, and it’s going to be really expensive, and we’re going to put an orchestra on it. But ultimately, this is a perfect time for me to do that, and it’s not going to be the last time. People close to me are like, well, you probably learned your lesson – I’m like, nope! I’m just getting warmed up. It’s the best thing ever. And I think I’m in a sort of fortunate position too, because I’ve been doing this for so long that in a strange way, I can get away with doing this. I’ve got an audience who are very kind and very supportive and receptive, and I’ve got a label I’ve been working with for so many years that they let me do this shit.

You’ve had a relationship with InsideOut for as long as I’ve been listening to you – the mid ‘90s.

All the important relationships in my life are long-term. I don’t do short-term very well. I’m not a one-night stand type of cat. I like working through problems because I think the thing that comes with that is a type of resilience in the work and in the relationship that allows you to really do things like this. Friends of mine at the label, they’re not helping because they feel if they don’t it’s like an ultimatum or something. They’re helping because I’m willing to go far and they’re willing to go far. And ultimately, it’s fun. We’re not doing the same shit that we have to do every day. It’s fun. And the band and people in my life -- I like commitment, it works for me.

The fans are definitely committed too. So many people are into what you do. It’s encouraging to me that people actually get it and are legitimately into it.

Yeah, I get it. I was just in L.A. this week and I had this big producer songwriter guy, that does hard rock stuff that’s on the radio, write a song and produce it with me. I gotta tell you man, I don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t know if I’m even going to release it. Talk about costing a bunch of money, man. Because everybody was like, well, now’s the time to put a song on the radio and all this shit. And I’m like, well, it’s worth a shot, I’m not against the experience, but I can’t even process it because the whole way that that world works is so contrary to how I am connected to music. I often think to myself, do I even want that type of audience to listen to my stuff? Now I’m at this point in my career where there are all sorts of these decisions that are meant to be made every day. Everybody wants salary and the whole Royal Albert thing and all this puppet stuff. There’s a part of me that is connected to the commercial stuff and always liked it. I’ve always liked it. Since the first record, “Life” or “Stagnant” or any of that shit, I’ve had it. But the biggest part of my career right now, the creative part is never hard. That’s the prize for having to answer 400 emails every morning and make decisions that are difficult and band dynamic and money and family and sobriety. All that stuff is real, right? So writing music, I’m like, oh shit, there’s tons of it, what more do you need? What do you want? You want some alien stuff? Give me a week, I’ve got tons of it. You want some quiet? I can do that, that’s no problem. So writing is not the thing, but all these decisions and all the ramifications of them, it becomes heavier and heavier and heavier. I think the one thing that I’m starting to recognize is I can’t back away from it because I’m in a position where I do get to do all this stuff that seemingly not a lot of people, if anybody else, gets to do. And I’m certainly not going to let that go by because it’s in my own silly little way kind of important to be able to actualize these things if you have the opportunity to, but at the same time, the psychological aspects of continuing this are what take the most effort. Writing music? Shit, dude, I do that once every month and I lob out 10 songs and I archive it so when I do get a chance to record I’ve got a ton more music. So it’s just interesting, I think.

That does sound interesting! So tell me about the Sky Blue album, which is one that I am really looking forward to. Is it the pop stuff like Epicloud?

Some of it. It’s following Epicloud and it made sense for me to get back into that. How I tend to write is, like I say, I archive shit so I’ve got tons of things. If I’m in a poppy mood, I’ll write a poppy song. If I’m in a crazy mood, I’ll write a crazy song. When it comes time for me to compile records, I just sort of go into my archive and I’m like, okay, here’s a poppy one. I’ve got another 40 songs from the Z2 session that I didn’t use because it didn’t fit. With Sky Blue, it’s similar to Epicloud, some of it. Similar to Addicted, some of it. But it’s also really intense and really melancholy in ways that I didn’t expect. Because with Epicloud I constantly tried to make such a positive statement with it, it’s coming up that there’s a lot of expectations – well hey, it’s happy-happy Dev or whatever. But dude, I’m 42 and life is life, right? The amount of times where I feel happy-happy, it’s like everybody else, if you get 15 minutes of that a month, you’re good. I didn’t want to try and make something that was full of shit with Sky Blue. It became a lot more about real things that were happening, like death and depression, things like that. The whole thing with Sky Blue is trying to get through it, so it’s based on those sort of concepts but it’s not wallowing in it. It’s really trying to find a way through it, try and find some light in it. There’s an energy that has come from it that makes Sky Blue, if I may be so bold, I think it’s a real powerful record if you’re in the right frame of mind. So it’s similar in some ways but I’m happy that it’s not full of shit. I’m happy that I didn’t feel the need to make Epicloud part 2 and pretend I was in a great mood when I wasn’t. It was hard. This whole period was a total slut, man. But we’re through it and we did it well, and I think that’s what Sky Blue is. Everything was a pain in the ass, but we made it through and things are good.

And of course there’s Dark Matters is the Ziltoid sequel that everyone has been waiting for. You probably don’t want to give a lot away.

I don’t want to give it away just because it’s really stupid. I wish I could say that I was presenting something to people with some grand metaphor. It’s a bunch of entertainment, man. The one thing about Dark Matters that really was important to me is because the Sky Blue period was just so fucking heavy, man. Everybody just kept dying. What do you do, right? It was heavy. So when I got to Ziltoid, a bunch of things changed. On the first Ziltoid record it was really, well, I was coming off like smoking weed and all this sort of thing. It became more of a metaphor about me and my trip and all this, having kids and all this, but now when I started doing Ziltoid, I just want to make sci-fi things and I want it to be fun, and I don’t want to put any swearing on it because the people that really like Ziltoid are all 12. There’s a part of Ziltoid that’s sort of creepy, horror, sci-fi looking stuff and really complicated music. But there’s another part of it that’s like a kids’ record. And that’s great. The story is stupid, dude. [laughs] It’s one of these things that I never got asked to score a sci-fi movie, so I had to make mine, and my strength is not in writing stories. Any secrecy that I’m trying to impose on it, media ban or whatever, it’s just because I’m like oh my god, when people hear this, it’s just stupid, right? But the third record of the digipack has no story, so you just get to hear this kind of wanking Ziltoid stuff, right, which I really enjoy writing! It’s great! But what sort of function does that type of music play in real life? Unless there’s a story for it to back up, it’s kind of masturbatory in a lot of ways. But I do it well and I have a good time doing it.

You’ve got to have fun.

That’s it! And Ziltoid is that, it’s like the whole prog thing has gotten so intense, man. Everybody’s gotten to that point where everything is a concept record and some big heady story and all this. The older I get, I just find I’m not that smart. When I was a kid I was pretty convinced that I had a big brain and then all of a sudden you have children, you’re just like, I don’t know shit. I know less now than I knew yesterday, so my whole thing with Ziltoid is I want people to like it because it’s fun. I want it sound good. Of course I’ve got my own trip and of course it’s a metaphor in some ways. But I’m trying not to make that overt right now. Things got dark and the world got increasingly more and more intense, so I wanted to make something that people could enjoy. There you go.

How about the upcoming tour – do you plan on performing both albums together?

I like to refer to myself as a mono-tasker. As a result of that, today and tomorrow I’m thinking about interviews, and then Wednesday I’ll think about what the hell we’re going to do live.

Can we expect more ZTV episodes?

We did three because it costs a fortune and they’re really hard to produce and I’m a terrible puppeteer. So the combination of all of that is this awesome thing where the puppet is having a stroke. [laughs]

Would you have thought you’d have to be a puppeteer in your career?

Oh yeah, that’s what I wanted to do before music! When I was a kid I saw The Dark Crystal and it just blew me away. Ziltoid is all about just that. It was always a goal and I had no idea this was going to happen. Now finally I have the opportunity to make it happen.

Can we expect a “Ziltoid 3?”

I put a “to be continued” at the end of it, but we’ll see. That’s what stupid movies do. I got this guy to do the voice acting that’s like that guy you hear in the movies. Talk about blowing money, right? But ultimately if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it for real or else you should just not do it at all, right? And that’s what happened.

Devin, I really really appreciate it. It was a pleasure talking to you, man.

You too man, thank you for the support!

Devin Townsend Project - Z

Label: InsideOut Music

Website: www.hevydevy.com.


Listen to the interview

Devin Townsend – vocals, guitars, keyboards, programming
Dave Young – guitars, keyboards
Brian Waddell – bass
Ryan Van Poederooyen – drums
Mike St-Jean – keyboards
Anneke van Giersbergen – vocals

Devin Townsend Project Discography
Ki (2009)
Addicted (2009)
Deconstruction (2011)
Ghost (2011)
Epicloud (2012)


Interviewed by Rob Pociluk
Transcribed by Pamela Pociluk