Devin Townsend: King of the Wind, Portrait of a Gentleman...

So what does Devin want on his grave-stone?

With a hiss and a fart and some squelchy feedback, so begins my quizzing of Mr Devin Townsend. With a new double album () consisting of Sky Blue and Dark Matters, we get a double hit of Devin’s fruity genius but is he already sick of discussing it? The buoyant Mr T refutes the suggestion. “Not necessarily; I never know what the hell I feel about what I do, so talking about it allows me to make an assumption on whether I hate it or not – and I don’t think I do! I actually think it’s pretty cool so the more I talk about it, the more I realise that it was a good move so…onward!”

Indeed, it is pretty cool – nay! It’s another thing of beauty in his massive catalogue of work, so given that Casualties of Cool (released earlier this year) was crowd-funded while  was issued via your label, were there differences in the creative process, more particularly, were there greater constraints with ? “Yeah, but it wasn’t the label that provided the constraint; it was more something that I think I put on myself.” He mentions the diversity of the fan-base around Ziltoid, noting that “There are kids that like Ziltoid and I didn’t want it to be something that kids couldn’t listen to – so there’s a parameter, right there. You don’t wanna put swearing on it, you don’t wanna have him say ‘cunt’ all the time, and also with the Sky Blue element; it’s following up on Epicloud (2012) and Addicted (2009), there’s a certain template there that I wanted – not to adhere to – but at least not stray too far from. And I gotta tell you, man – doing that is really challenging. Doing something like Casualties of Cool is much easier for me because I just don’t care, and nor do I have to care – there are no guidelines for it because it’s the first record.”

So you had Che Aimee Dorval on Casualties and Anneke van Giersbergen on , where do you find these powerful vocalists and why do they have such hard to pronounce names? “Yeah! They do have freaky names, don’t they! Holy shit! Maybe it’s like pseudonyms? I need to give myself a pseudonym from now on; Devin Townsend is way too normal – I need to call myself something like King of the Wind or something…where do I find these singers? Fucked if I know, man!” The rest of his response is cut off by the hideous crackle of the web-based phone line that we’re communicating on. I ask if he was listening to a lot of Abba during the making of , as tracks like Silent Militia and From Sleep Awake absolutely reek of the those Swedish harmonies. He says ‘No’ and mentions John Williams and something about being a cheese-ball but again, his response is destroyed by the shitty connection to the point where he has to call me back several times throughout the course of the interview. Technology can be such a pain in the arse.

On the second or third attempt, we get a relatively decent line and I ask about the metaphors behind. It gets bloody interesting as he says ““I think I’m at an age in my life where I can confront, I guess, this fear of myself. It’s very easy after 25 years of doing a thing to think that maybe you should sell out or maybe you should quit  *DISTORTION*  - there’s a fear and it’s very easy to mistake that fear *MORE FUCKING DISTORTION* - and not stand back from it. So the metaphor with Ziltoid is that it comes to a head; I’m sick of being afraid; it’s such a weird time and I think there are a lot of people that might fear that *ARGH! DISTORTION IS SHITTING ON MY INTERVIEW*…people who are afraid of their own potential…I guess it’s one side versus the other…” That could of been a very profound answer but I guess we'll never really know...

The band are starting a tour next Sunday and Devin clarifies that “We do North America for six weeks then Europe – we’re doin’ the Royal Albert Hall – then I think we’re doing Japan, Australia and South America and a whole bunch of places.” In the past, Devin has been known for rushing onto the next project but this time around, he’s actually taking it all in (“I’ve got a ton of music that I could do but I think now, more than ever, is an opportunity to just sit back for a bit: tour it, think about my next step and don’t rush it. That’s the first time that I’ve done that so I’m stoked on that.”)

And with Sky Blue, was there any pressure to release something more serious along with Dark Matters, which could be perceived as being quite frivolous?  “I think it was less pressure and more of a suggestion from a lot of people that I rely on. It’s one thing to think of yourself as an island but ultimately it’s a small scene, man. I’ve got a team of people and we rely on each other – and there are some people that think the Ziltoid thing that I do is just shit.” Essentially he took the advice to make something for fans of his more serious stuff and fans of his nuttier stuff. “But the point for me was that I did it because it’s what I wanted to do. There’ve been a lot of people who have been really critical of the Ziltoid stuff but really, my reaction is like ‘Well, I don’t fuckin’ care! I’m not doin’ it for you’ – I’m not doin’ it for anybody! I’m doing it because that’s the compulsion that I feel it was the right decision for me.” Was it a case of ‘Fuck off and leave me alone; let me do what I wanna do’ ? He laughs, adding “It’s not even that; it’s just ‘Fuck off and leave me alone because I’m gonna do what I wanna do’…”

We touch on his recent guitar clinic tour of Australia and he observes that it was a good thing for him; not least because he doesn’t rate himself with some of the previous guitar players who have been out. “The people that had come out prior to me were like Yngwie, Paul Gilbert, Satriani, Vai; ripping guitar players, and I’m like ‘I don’t do that’ – I mean, I’ve got a couple of licks but it’s not my scene, right? So I was a little insecure about it at first but fuck it! You commit to it and when I got there I recognised that it sort of forced me to examine even how I interact with people, and it ultimately became something that was really good for me. I tried to do a couple of wanky things for the audience and half-way through I remember thinking to myself ‘Well, that’s interesting; I hate this shit!’ – and that was a good thing! So when I started playing what I like to play, people were like ‘That’s more like what you should be doing’ and I remember thinking ‘Ha!’ because I didn’t even consider that that might be an option because it’s not complicated; it’s not sweep arpeggios, right? Ultimately it was a good thing but in ways that I hadn’t anticipated.”

So life’s pretty sweet right now? He responds with a very Zen answer: “Yeah, life’s always good – even when it’s shit, it’s OK…” so what do you want to do before death and/or senility kicks in? He struggles with this one before adopting a suitably sleazy voice and answering “Two girls at one time!” and then he cracks up laughing. “No! Not that! Even that – that’d be horrible, man! I’d hate to disappoint more than one person at a time; that would suck! I dunno…get a good night’s sleep?! Drink some good coffee?! I don’t know…I’m good, man!” but he considers the question some more before coming up with “OK, this is what I’d like to achieve before I die; I’d like to achieve a frame of mind that allows me to die without fear but I’m not talking about a fear of death because personally, I don’t think I’m afraid of dying; I’m just afraid of leaving people behind who I love and how they’d have to react to it. I hate to think that me dying would upset people so in my lifetime I’d like to find a way to make sure that when I die, it’s all good.” Aw! Devin! You’re so bloody considerate!
And what’s going on your gravestone? “I should’ve had the fries!” We’re both cracking up and it’s a fine way to finish up the interview. Once again, many thanks to Mr Townsend.