Interview: Devin Townsend talks ‘An Evening With’

Devin Townsend has been pushing the music limits of himself and the industry with an extensive and vast discography spanning from the early nineties. Among being known as a heavy metal god, Devin has an abilty and talent to expand and empathic qualities to share the large sounding compositions into stripped back acoustic numbers, giving new life and emotion to the tracks.

Since the split of the Devin Townsend Project, Devvy has been hitting the road with a string of these talked about shows down under this September! Thanks to Janine Morcos from Dallas Does PR, we got the chance to delve into the mind of Devin Townsend ahead of the shows!


SR: You have had such successes with Empath hitting number 10 on the Australian Charts. In our last interview, you were saying that your music is all about sharing with people and experiences and, you know, hearing what they have to say, was that still relevant? And what was your favorite comment about Empath?

I mean, it’s about sharing it in the sense that I feel that what brings music for not only me, but just any artist, is typically when you have an experience with something emotional, it’s like The Omen, in a sense, right? Like, you’re in the presence of someone who’s been born or dying, or something like that, like some serious emotional impact. I think within that, there’s like a fragment of truth. And if you are doing music, prove the point of view of trying to be authentic about it, then what people hopefully resonate with is that same fragmented truth. So there’s something universal in it, that through your bias, and through your trip, or whatever. And I found that within that while i was making it [Empath]. Myself, friends of mine, a lot of people generally there’s, there’s like a certain amount of depression that was going around with it. And to, to make this record, there was a real conscious decision. I’m a part of a lot of people that are participating in it, to make something that helps with that. And so the comments that I think I received from it that I were most happy with, were the ones that recognize that. You know, and recognize it, regardless of whether or not you’re into my trip, or the sound that I make, or the mix or instrumentation or whatever. There’s something buried in that that resonates with something true. I mean, that was really, that was really gratifying.

SR: So, you know, in our last interview, you said that previously with each album, you were quite bossy, and then when it came to Transcendence, you kind of let the band take the reins a bit, how was it coming back into your own project?

In terms of Transcendence, they took the reins in terms of interpreting new parts. But, you know, that record was also written very similarly to how I write most things, where I have an idea and a theme, and then I flesh it out. And then at the tail end of it, I brought it into the band, and then we put it together in that sense, and continued in that way, except for the pool of musicians that I chose for this one. Because, they were people that I knew, and I knew they could bring something really colourful to the table. And ultimately, what I’m trying to do with this stuff is not change its intention, so if I bring up something to people, and I asked for their input, I’m not necessarily looking for like the course to change or the structure of change I was looking for, but how can we make it better. Transcendence certainly gave me a foothold on how do that. That was a practical use when it came to me. And what I suppose was the most important part as well was learning how to say no, efficiently. I mean, when it comes to creative things, you’re so emotionally invested in it, that if somebody gives you an idea that you don’t like it, it’s like a fine line in that environment of saying, “No, I don’t like this”, and kind of fuck up the vibe and hurting someone’s feelings, versus saying “no, I don’t like this”, and having it just come across as without any malice or without any intent to cause harm. And I really experimented with that with Empath. I remember even talking to Mike Keneally in the beginning, I said, “Listen, I’d love to be able to have a conversation with you prior to getting into the creative part of this, that explains that when I say no to something, please understand it done with it greatest respect. I’m like, I really do respect you.” But as opposed to having to do that song and dance every time I say no , like, a caveat, like as much as I respected and as much as I think that’s a cool idea. I said, you know, “please let me just say no”.[laughs]

And, and that was really efficient, because I was able to move much quicker. I was able to kind of let go the sort of thought that maybe on a subconscious level, I was being cruel when I said no, because I’m not, I really am not,. I’ve got such a vision for what I do, that there’s a certain amount of collaboration that can be allowed that will benefit it. But after a certain point of time, it just changes the vision. And, I know what I’m interested in maybe in another situation that that could be appropriate. So learning how to say no efficiently was the next step. And it worked out really well.

SR: You’re bringing your acoustic show to Australia. You’ve been here so many times throughout your career, is there anything that you haven’t done yet that you’re hoping to maybe do this time around?

There’s always things, that one would love to do. I’ve got a checklist in life of things that I would love to do. But I wonder how many of those things if I actually did it would actually be a bummer. I think that you need to hold on to certain fantasies. And, perhaps there’s a certain thing about Australia that because I was raised; with my aunt and uncle lived there and my grandparents traveled there a lot. It was such a part of my childhood, just the aesthetic of it, and the arts and music and things like that. There’s still a part of it there that I kind of want to hold on to that fantasy, you know, and I’ve been there so many times. I know so many people that, that if I’m not careful, it will turn into just another destination. So I would like to hold on to these things.

SR: Having so many albums and such a vast discography, when you kind of preparing for these acoustic shows, how do you choose which show songs to kind of break down and rearrange for an acoustic set?

It kind of happens gradually and organically like, requests or what have you- I try to figure things out as I go. But to be perfectly frank, the acoustic tour functions in three ways for me one, I’m kind of starting again, and then going to be coming back with new people, new bands, and bigger performances and only sorts of things. I wanted each tour to be a different beast. So the acoustic tour is its own thing. It’s a very kind of experience for me, because it’s not that much different, I think, emotionally then the full band.

The second, I think it’s important for me to be able to present this music and show that even in its most stripped back, without the orchestra’s and chorus’, all the stuff, it’s still emotionally very similar to what it was. And that what that proves to me, it’s all this music was written in a very similar form like this me like guitar. To present it like that, I think really display is what it is that the music is meant to represent.

And then third, it’s given me a chance to think! The project [DTP], the project was such a monster to do in so many ways, and took so much of me to complete and get even to the state that it got, that the idea of flirting straight into a new group of people in the social dynamics that’s going on with like new human beings, it just seemed like such a pain in the ass. So by going out with acoustic, I was able to think, present the music in a really interesting way, in my opinion, have an opportunity to talk to people, answer questions in a more intimate setting. And then by the time I get back with the next live thing that I do, which is going to be really interesting, I’m going to take everything that I’ve ever done, like every, everything that I got from Strapping through everything, and I’m just going to kind of do a best of what I’ve done. Yeah. But in order to get to that, in order to get to that point, I really needed to kind of wrap my head around who I am and where I’m at in life and age and kids and all these things. I love like, I love it. It’s shocking how much I like it.

SR: That whole self discovery thing- I feel like something’s going on in the universe of the moment. I think that’s happening for a lot of people right now.

I agree with that. It’s like these sort of weird alarm clocks are ringing in our head. I think it’s like trying to figure it out and I’m not sure if it’s the same with you- is a way to figure it out seems to expressing itself in ways it seems almost counter intuitive. Like, I remember thinking, Okay, clearly in life to be a center, spiritual person; here’s a checklist of things that you need, do you know what I mean? You need to begin yoga, all this sort of shit… But then the more I become aware of my trip, it’s like, we’re going to investigate all that and see if that works for you. Because what if it doesn’t, you know, it’s like, if you’re doing things just because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. I don’t think it carries the same authenticity, as if you had really explored it and seeing what it is through personal experience is going to work for you and what it’s not going to work for you. And I think there’s a certain amount of pragmatism that needs to come into that as well. You’re right, there’s something I think, globally, happening a lot of people where they’re just like, I’m not for the shit, I need to cut through and figure this out.

SR:And a need to say no, right?

Absolutely. Well, I think it’s my path has been unfortunate, rooted in people pleasing, you know, like, I want everybody to be happy. And like, even to the behest of my own emotional health, I would go out of my way with bands or, or partners or whatever, to make sure that they were okay. All the time. But after a certain amount of time, it is like you have a well what if I’m not? And my whole life is making sure other people are okay. My buddy, he made a great analogy, it’s like if you’re in an airline accident, and the gas mask comes out of the roof, you know, the oxygen mask you’ve got to put your own mask on before you help others. And I think that in a similar way, if you’re going to lineage of people pleasing, which I certainly do, learning how to take care of my own needs and my own desires and my own, what is going to work for you versus what isn’t, is something that that takes practice. And that’s a good thing to learn now.

SR: You know, you said as well when you’re playing, are you still feeling that emotion? Is there any songs that you actually do prefer in an acoustic atmosphere? And also, I just want to point out to that, I think I don’t think that it really matters. How it’s played, I think it’s the fact that the way that you kind of play your music, you’re an empathy, I’m an empath, you know, and what we feel what you feel, and that’s kind of portrayed through your voice and your lyrics.

I appreciate that. You know, it depends on the frame of mind. And this is something that that goes back to the empathetic qualities as well, right, like, some days all want to do is play quiet. And I just want to, you know, play for people to play something beautiful, sing nicely. And provide people with like a warm blanket, basically. Other days I just want everything to burn. And when, when everything winds up, it’s great. when I’m doing acoustic music, and I want to be making acoustic music. However, there’s days where just for whatever reason, you might wake up and you’re in a shitty mood or something happens or you’re more aggressive, or you’re like, feisty in some way. And then you pick up the acoustic guitar, and it’s like, I don’t want to hear it here hear something that’s more aggressive, or something that’s more destructive or what have you. In those moments… I don’t like playing at all. I mean, like, so I think there’s techniques that you utilize to coerce yourself into into it if you’re in the wrong mood. But ultimately, I don’t think there’s any, there’s any songs that are like exclusively, preferential, right, it just depends of my frame of mind.

SR: While you have been touring, you’ve been posting on your social media about your kind of truck stop stuffed animal escapades. Where did it start?

[laughs]I just got bored! And I think it’s funny. I mean, it’s like, in those American trucks, going for 40 bucks, you can buy like a six foot stuffed toy. And they’re just this shitty quality. You know, like, absurd things. And there’s something about the fact that touring is boring. Playing shows is great. Certainly, aspects of it are great. But I mean, you know, I think anybody who has been in a touring band will agree that there’s a certain type of emotional and intellectual fatigue that comes with the groundhog day of it, that a lot of times leads people to just get hammered every night, you know, or just get high every night or something. And I think we all have ways that we try that we try and cope with that. You know, exercise is a good thing. And meditation is a good thing. But also buying big, fucking stuffed animals at Two o’clock in the morning and watching the bus driver just looks so perplexed as you’re walking toward the bus with this thing. Like, there was a bus available, and the bus kept filling up with all the stuffed toys. And I don’t know, it’s like, it’s funny. It’s fun. And it’s amazing how little it takes to the raise the mood with a group of people. If everybody’s in a shitty mood, and he walking with, like an eight foot long stuffed snake with googly eyes. I mean, it’s like it, that’s really a pretty good way to lighten the mood.
And then maybe that becomes a thing every day, I get 20 bucks per Diem and then blow it on a stuffed toy I think it’s like, I’m just older now and bored. And it seems funny.

SR: Talking about being older, what’s changed the most for you over the years?

I think I’m legitimately becoming unconcerned about what other people think about me. There’s a distinction to be drawn there, though. Because I want people to enjoy the work. I want people to think it sounds cool. I want people to have something to contribute to their world in a way that is like enjoyable. I mean, I want to entertain people have people enjoy what I do. But I think for years, and going back with the people pleasing aspect of my personality or anything, there has been a certain amount of my self worth, that over the years has been invested in whether or not I have the approval of the people and be a deep in my energy base getting older or something. I mean, who knows. I really just don’t feel that need to impress or placate people in the way that I want to date. And that has been great for my mental health and really bad for my inbox. For years, you know, people, write, and, and as opposed to sometimes it’s fuck this guy, you know, I mean, I want to this is stupid, or, sorry, trying to show me something or somebody like, what you’re saying, oh, the record or something, it’s like id write back to everybody. And now it’s like I only write back if people want to have like a, like an authentic relationship. No, no. fuck it. [Laughs] And also, you know, people come up and say, I really like this song, but I’m not sure about the new record, and looking forward to doing something that you would like that I would like in the future. And I’m just kind of looking at them, like I’m shocked that you think that I care. And it’s not that I don’t want people to enjoy it. But it’s going to be on my terms, right? I think that it’s always been the case of me, you know, like for years, because I’ve never really fit in anywhere. It’s like you go between death metal and New Age, and then you have people and it’s like, well, you know, maybe put your focus on this and you can kind of go with this group of people. And look, it’s like, wow, like, really? I don’t know, my objectives are not to make anybody happy with what I do other than myself. Right. But I think that’s helped. And that’s changed. And I think it’s probably going to continue a little bit late. But like everything I need to kind of push it and see where the weak spots are, and then figure out how to solve the weak spots.

SR:  I’m kind of starting to get my music out into the world of the internet. What advice can you give me as aspiring artist?

I’ll give you the most important piece of advice, I think you need to learn how to fail well you need to learn how to get kicked in the face, and then come back from it better. Because I think the amount of emotional duress that we endure as a result of other people doing shitty things to us, or the internet, without any accountability, just going up to your own band camp, and then telling you all the ways that you’re a terrible person, I mean, or even, let’s take this even further and say, you get a big opportunity, you get a chance to play your music on a TV show Infront of a million people, let’s say this happens. And you go on to the show, and you blow it. Like, it’s not good. You know it, the people there know it, it’s like, clearly not good. The people who are going to be successful are the ones that come back from that and through trying again, find the weak spot and figure out why that went the way it did. Maybe it was just circumstance, maybe it was whatever. And then forgive yourself for it, and then move on and you can learn how to fail efficiently. You can be successful, the people who I think are doomed to, to feeling like a victim, but also wondering how come it never came their way is the one of the take those really hard kicks the face and then it just like see the world against me. You know what I mean? And I think that music is such an ugly industry in the way that you can choose any one of my videos on YouTube, and you’ll find a bunch of people telling me that I should choke and die, this guy a piece of shit. not done anything good since his first record, and I mean that’s like, like a fetish for people to just make other people feel horrible right? So you, you need to, in my opinion, just learn how to ignore that stuff. Because it’s in my experience, it’s impossible to ignore, but you need to find a mechanism to get over it. And if you can, I think that’ll that’ll really help your your chances of success.

SR: That is honestly, probably the best advice I’ve ever had in my whole life. Thank you.

You’re welcome. But I mean, it’s it’s funny, too. It’s like you look at what’s happened over your past couple of weeks. Right? It’s like you think How-  dare you make me feel like I’m going to give up? You know what I mean? Like the whole you’re not important enough to me. I’m just saying, I’m not talking about your situation, specifically, but it’s true. It’s like, you know what? You are not allowed to have this power over me where I now dissolve into oblivion, because you have hurt me. Like, you can’t have that power over me. And I think that the way that that power over me, the way that I think you can maintain your power is to be angry about it, that’s the hardest thing. Because I think that it’s like, if you’re angry at somebody, they still have control over you, but if you’re able to, like legitimately forgive them and just be like, “you know what, it’s fine.” Then they have zero power over you. Zero. It’s so hard because it’s like to forgive somebody for hurting you in a really profound way. It’s like, it seems impossible, but I don’t think it is impossible. I think that i think that that the biggest show of strength that someone can do is just like not allowing somebody negativity to ruin their life. And I think that goes for music. I think it goes for relationships. I think it goes for a lot of things and highly recommend breathing exercises. Because it’s like, just learning how to like let go of that shit is like, you know, I think it’s gonna help not only in your music, but also another thing that certainly helps for me.

Catch Devin on his solo acoustic tour this September!

Empath out now!Image result for devin townsend tour poster acoustic