I think I love Devin Townsend...

No, seriously, I think I do...

Devin Townsend just rang me. Not some label rep wanting to put me on hold but the man himself, which was kind of odd as I wasn’t totally expecting the call and wasn’t quite prepared for the interview but Devin is such a nice fellow, it didn’t really seem to matter that much. As I ferreted about looking for my notes and a pencil, I asked him what goes through his mind when he hits the stage to a sea of adoring fans. He answers in a typically Devin-esque self-deprecating way; “I think there’s a real separation between the person you’re talking to right now; in pyjamas on his couch, and that person [on stage]. I think a lot of what allows me to perform well enough to entertain a lot of people is just that I am a pretty emotionally stunted person. I don’t think about much; I think about the fact that I feel like I’m collaborating with the audience in a weird way, and I really love to entertain – it doesn’t really go much further than that. I certainly don’t think ‘They love me’ or ‘This is my definition of myself and it’s defined by my ability to do this’; it doesn’t have a lot to do with that, it really is just ‘I really like this, this is a lot of fun, the more people the better, I really like my music so let’s have a good time’. Then as soon as I get off stage that part of my life doesn’t exist; for example I’ve been married so long that to try and take home any of that sort of persona to the real world, it’s just not healthy, right?”

So you get home and say to the missus ‘I’m a big rock star’ and she just shrugs and says ‘Shut up and clean the toilet’? He's laughing hard as he answers “Well, that’s it. Exactly right. We’ve been together so long...you know all the people in my life that are really close to me, they’re so over what I do that it’s [just] the job so really when I get up on stage, my whole thought is “Fucking right! This is great! This is a ton of fun and this is my music and I’m really lucky and this is awesome” and soon as I get off stage, it’s like ‘OK, where do we put the gear?"’

With the last 4 records; Ki (2009) to Ghost (2011), recorded under the moniker of the Devin Townsend Project, you said you saw these recordings as “clearing the pipes out”, so where will you go now with the next album? As always, he’s working on several projects at once and he elaborates in a mild Canadian drawl: “My process of creativity is always a reaction to whatever is going on in my life so my current music is a reaction to what I’ve just been through. The last records Deconstruction and Ghost were a really, really complicated process to actualise, to make that music not just a jumble of notes – admittedly there are people who think that’s all it is in the first place – but in my mind it’s organised chaos and to make that as such took a supreme amount of effort on my part just to not say ‘This is too difficult, I’m just gonna watch a movie or something’, so my current music as a reaction to that, is really pretty straight ahead. There’s not a lot of metaphor to it, there’s not a lot of ‘deep, philosophical undertone’ that I’m trying to instill into the music through some dumb metaphor or whatever; it’s a bunch of rocking songs that act as really cool music that has very glorious and very melancholic moments, and I’m hoping that this record acts as a bridge from Deconstruction, which, as I just said, was really complicated, and the record that comes after, which is the other one I’m working on now, which is called Z Squared, which is going to be unbelievably complicated, so I figured I need to do myself a favour and write something that was just cool, fun and catchy, and that’s what that’s what Epicloud is.”

So Epicloud is next, followed by Z Squared. There’s no release date as yet so fans will just have to keep an eye on the metal news circuit. Metal As Fuck is probably your best bet but then I would say that...

So, Mr Townsend, you're famous not just for banging tunes but also for your ability to switch styles, for instance Ki is just dripping in gorgeous mellowness yet Juula is a pounding, pounding track. I’ve seen a number of interviews where people have said that you should focus on one style or the other; surely you must get sick of trying to explain and maybe just want to get on with whatever takes your fancy? He’s quick to respond in a diplomatic fashion; “I’ve got a certain amount of energy in my life that I can invest in scenarios like kids going to school and finances and all that real life shit and I don’t have any energy to get pissed off about things like that. It’s the job and you make your bed in terms of music. I feel like the best way for me to be creatively fulfilled is to be honest with which ever direction seems to rear its head; be that really dark, chaotic heavy metal or sort of ethereal, new age acoustic music or folk or pop music...”

Or Devlab (2004) which is essentially just noises? “Yeah. Like chaos, but when I was doing Devlab that’s exactly what I wanted to do – I was really inspired to do it – so because I choose to do these things and because I choose to really put my neck out in terms of confusing people, you’ve gotta be able to stomach relentless questions and the need to explain yourself and your decisions. To not expect that is just naive in my opinion; it’s like saying ‘Hit me! Hit me! Hit me!’ and then someone hits you and you’re like ‘Why’d you hit me?!’ so if answering those questions were such a bother that it was effecting me emotionally then I just wouldn’t do the things that created those questions. So I’m totally fine with it. I think that eventually people will be like ‘You know, it isn’t actually that odd that a musician who has a proclivity and an interest in many different types of music does different types of music and does them accurately. I think the only reason why it’s an anomaly recently is because there are probably not a lot of people who have thought that it’s an option, maybe up till this point record labels have been such a dominant force that there’s been no way people could do that. I guess my whole thing is, yeah, I do new age stuff and folk stuff and metal and prog stuff and orchestral stuff metal but I’m not very good at a lot of it! I’m just passionate about it, you know? And editing these DVDs, I’m watching my technique as a guitar player and listening to my voice, and I’m trying to mix this stuff and I’m not very good at any of that shit! I’m not a technically proficient singer and I’ve got no technique as a guitar player – I recognised that I used my pinky finger [that’s little finger to non-musical types] like three times in four shows, and I’m like ‘What is wrong with me?!’ and I’m sitting here thing thinking ‘How do I get rid of that low end hum on the mix?’ but I don’t know! So I just piss around until something works and I think that that has pretty much defined everything that I do and has allowed me to make tons of different types of music because really man, I’m not afraid to fail (chuckles) because what’s the worst that can happen? I look like an asshole? Well, I tell you, I’ve looked like an asshole more times than I can count! Bring it!”

Mr Townsend! You’re being far too unkind to yourself! Without wanting to drag up the past, you must be a half decent singer to have scored the gig with Stevie Vai. Apparently he sent a bunch of demos entitled Noisescapes to a bunch of labels and Relativity got in touch...oh, you tell the story, Devin. He continues at the point where Relativity called and said “‘Hey! We love your demo’, or ‘Like your demo’ at least, and we’d like you to come to New York and we wanna sign you, and I was like ‘Well, that’s great!’ and then they did. They brought me out there and gave me a record deal, and after I was home, a week later, I got a call from the A & R guy and he said ‘Hey, another guy on our roster, Stevie Vai  has been looking for a singer; I was at his house and I played him your demo and he really wants to meet you. Would you come out and meet him?’ And being a fan of Stevie Vai, I jumped at the opportunity and one thing lead to another and I became Stevie Vai’s singer and my record with Noisescapes never came out. But in hindsight, what I was doing with Noisescapes was really a very unrefined version of what I’m doing now so it’s all good."

Your sound is very much layers upon layers of sound. Do you sometimes have problems knowing where to start? “Sometimes. My formative years were very much spent with orchestral music as a big deal. I love, for example, John Williams’ soundtrack for Star Wars or Trevor Jones with The Dark Crystal, and I really love musicals – 70’s musicals; Jesus Christ Superstar, Paint Your Wagon, West Side Story and all that.” Because it’s Devin Townsend, I can forgive him for confessing to a liking for musicals; anyone else and I may have hung up, just on principal. He continues “So my connection to music has always been orchestral in terms of one vocal is doing this, another one is doing that; counter-point and whatever it is. That’s how I was taught music in my own mind, you’re a product of your influences, right? So when it came time for making my own music, I just used whatever was at my disposal to do counterpoint or moving things, or different things interacting with each other, and really, all that was at my disposal were things like electric guitar and bass . As the career gets a little easier to facilitate working with an orchestra or a choir, as I did with Deconstruction - and I’m going to do with Epicloud - I’m finding that that wall of sound thing is clearing up because it’s really not that dense; my arrangements, I’m not writing like Stravinsky type shit, you know? I’m writing pretty basic but just what’s been at my disposal has not been orchestras or Broadway musicians, it’s been double kicks and Strats.”

You were diagnosed with bi-polar in the late nineties but you took yourself off of medication for Alien (2005); what happened there? “Well, what ended up happening was after Alien, I went back on medication and was going to a psychiatrist – now here’s the kicker of all of this – during the time that I was on medication, from the first time I was on medication, from the first moment I ever took medication during Infinity (1998) to the last time, I was doing drugs and drinking at the same time, so when I was first diagnosed with bi-polar I had just finished doing acid for the first time, or mushrooms or something, and I went all in because, all of a sudden - I’d never done drugs, ever - I never even drank up till the age of 21 or 22, so from a whole life of not having any of that ‘glimpse of what’s going on’ on that other side to being full of it, I said a bunch of stupid shit to a bunch of people who didn’t understand, and at the end of the day, I haven’t been on medication or drugs or drink for over five years, and to be perfectly honest, I’m doing pretty good (you can almost hear the smile in his voice as he says this), and I’m not saying ‘This is me’ or anything else; I still see people to make sure that I’m in check but bi-polar sometimes gets misinterpreted as people who shouldn’t be drinking and doing drugs, drinking and doing drugs.” There’s a lesson here; if you bang down some mind-altering substances and tear the veil aside, sometimes it’s just better to keep quiet about what you see...
Sadly, time is not on our side with this interview and he politely points out that he has to go now. Another interview calls. Before you go, can I just get a quote about your upcoming Soundwave shows? He obliges, in that easy on the ear Canadian drawl; “Soundwave is something I’m incredibly honoured to be involved with and I’m going to be the best version of me that I can possibly be because there’s no way I’m gonna try and compete with anybody else.” And with that, we say our goodbyes. The man is a complete legend. Down to earth, easy to talk to and regularly taking the piss out of himself.

Catch him at Soundwave. I know I will be.