Wordy-talking with Devin Townsend

On tours, Transcendence and tiredness...

Poor Devin sounds a bit flat. He seems to lack the usual effervescence of previous interviews but he’s a fucking trooper and when I ask him how he’s going, I get that usual Townsend positivity; “Every day is a gift.” Time is short so I launch straight into the new Devin Townsend Project (DVP) album Transcendence – surely this, combined with all of your other project releases, must be your 4000th album or something? He chuckles and says “I think it’s number 30 so it’s a little less than 4000 but still significantly more than anybody has any realistic time for.”

So what are the themes running through this, and indeed, the majority of your work? “I think there’s a big healthy dose of ‘I don’t fucking know anything’ that goes into most of what I do so what manifests, I believe, is a constant stream of ‘Maybe this?’ or ‘Maybe this?’ as I seek clarification; and I think there’s unlimited inspiration with that because,” he pauses to laugh before continuing “I think as we get older we get less clever, not more clever. I like to describe my work as feeling around in a dark room and you bump into something and shine a little light on it for a second and then you’re like ‘Well, I guess that was that’ – then just move on and try and find the exit.”

I mention that I found Transcendence to be Devin distilled; 100% proof. He chuckles in agreement. “I think in a lot of ways it’s distilled in the sense of the identity of that sound, that sound of the DVP; that heavy rhythm section, poppy orchestration, and modern production – but with Transcendence I think with the help of the guys, and other people, we were able to encapsulate that sound in a way that really hammers it home. But I don’t know if that’s everything? There are still a few things up my sleeve that I hope to do.”

If you see Transcendence as the pinnacle of all that’s gone before; where can you go next? Despite being a bit rough, his honesty and open-ness is still apparent. “Well, I’ve got a bunch of ideas but I really don’t know. I’d be lying if I said I had a clear objective right now. Usually when I do interviews it’s like ‘Well, this is next’ and I have a bunch of projects but it’s not like it once was. It’s not like I’ve got these waves of sharp focus. For the sake of keeping peoples’ interest I could say ‘Oh man, I’ve got a ton of stuff up my sleeve – you wait; it’s gonna be awesome’  but I’m actually like ‘Fuck it! I really don’t know…’ but I hope it’s good because everyone’s on a salary!” and again, he starts chuckling away like some merry prankster.

And with the new album, Devin’s pulled collaborators of old such as Anneke Van Giersbergen, Che Aimee Dorval, Katrina Natale, the specially constructed choir Tigers In A Tank, plus the usual band line-up. You’ve essentially gathered everyone and everything that you love and poured it into one recording. “Yeah, I did that intentionally. It’s interesting because you do this for so long…and the people that have allowed me to have a job are the audiences who knew me from my heavy music like Strapping [Young Lad] or Ocean Machine (1997), and with the new album I wanted it to be known - and I do respect the fact that people have allowed me to do this and there is a sound that people seem to like, and the band likes  – I don’t wanna sound condescending and say that I wanted to reward that by doing a good DTP record – but it is something akin to that. It’s almost like you want to say to the audience ‘Hey I know you like this so I’m gonna do the best version of it that I can and again, you say to the band ‘Hey I know you’ve been working for peanuts for ten years – here’s a bone’ and ultimately it was almost like trying to make an archetype of the thing that you’ve been doing for all these years. And that’s what it is, and that’s what it became – and I’m really happy that it turned out well because it’s a positive thing; it’s not rooted in me thinking I’m gonna pull the wool over peoples’ eyes with a version of something that I’ve done in the past. As you say, it’s a real distilled version of what it is that I do. The whole thing is challenging because you want it to be the best that you can do, and your whole connection to it in what you can do artistically morphs and shifts so quickly, man – you’re lucky to keep up with it.”

We get onto the nature of art and I suggest that there’s this weird dichotomy between doing what you love and being tied to the whim of your audience; it’s a weird balancing act where you have to satisfy not only fans but record label demands. “Yeah; I set a precedent for myself by making music that was a little different. I would get bored so I’d do Ki (2009) then Addicted (2009) then Deconstruction (2011) and then Ghost (2011) then Epicloud (2012) but then you do things that sound like ’you’ and people go ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t a massive stylistic shift; what happened?’ but I’ve never shifted styles to be provocative – it’s just what happened. This is just what’s happening now so you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. If you change it, people are gonna be bummed out but if you keep it the same, people are gonna be bummed out so your only realistic solution is to make yourself happy, and hope that by being authentic it will resonate with people.” Fuck ‘em, mate – do what you want.

So what was the reasoning behind the reworking of Truth from Infinity (1999)? “I never thought I got it right. I really like that song but when I was doing Infinity I was so fuckin’ high all the time that I thought I was totally nailing it.” This reflection makes him laugh before he adds “Then as soon as the record was over and I was listening to it I was like ‘Oh wow! That’s a little rough!’ but it captured the moment, which is ultimately the only criteria for it being on the record, but in terms of the technical aspects of the song it was never what I was hoping to achieve - but as an imperfect perfectionist there’s a good chance that I’ll take another stab at it some time in the future.”

He sounds a bit run down and tired so I enquire if this is the case, and he responds with “I’m incredibly tired.” And then breaks into a massive series of yawns. He’s also busted his ankle, adding “and plus I’ve been screaming my balls off for this last week and a half so my voice sounds deceptively manly – in fact, it’s just kind of shattered.”

Poor Devin. Take it easy, I say. But you just know that he won’t.

Transcendence out now.