Devin Townsend: The Fresh Perspective That Was 'Transcendence'

"I Don't Wanna Fucking Grow Up Today... Thank You"

Metal As Fuck caught up with Devin Townsend on the arse end of 2016 and just off four heavy months of touring for the Canadian native – at the time of this interview the band’s latest album Transcendence was taking the metal world by storm and managing to get top position on nearly every metal media rag there is…. In a candid chat, Devin opens up about his own transcendence during the writing of the latest album…  

It’s the first time in twenty years I’m doing Australian interviews at like 11 at night – so if I sound tired or spacey or I’m giving lame answers, I’m sorry [Laughs]  –  over the past ten years, you know life changes, kids and all - I go to bed at like 9pm every night now, because clearly I know how to party. So I’m a little out of my element now. It’s weird – I’ll have interviews where I am being asked questions about heavy metal and like ‘how do you stay relevant?’ and all these sorts of things and I’m thinking to myself ‘wow it’s passed by bed time’ It’s so pathetic now, it’s unbelievable”. Seeing as that we both like to spoil ourselves with a 9pm bed time - hopefully I don’t have too many daunting questions for you, so we’ll start off nice and slow. You are my lucky last interview for the year, hoorah – we’re getting quite close to the end of 2016 “Yay!” Now there have been a lot of comments about 2016 being a very difficult year for a lot of people – how have you found 2016? “Well I guess it’s what you make it. I’m very fortunate to have managed to surround myself with people that allow me to do what I do efficiently and as a result of that there have been some ups and downs as there are any year – but other than the things that have affected all of us about 2016 I think I’ve made some progress this year and that’s really encouraging. Things are really looking up for me in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. It’s been a struggle but ultimately one that has resulted in good things”. Now I know you’re not one for taking vacations – however what are you up to over the Christmas break? “I mean a vacation for me – we went on a cruise recently with the family, which was amazing and I hope to do it again – though a vacation for me now just turns into not having to answer e-mails. Right? I’ve got a great space to write and record music, cool jam spots and again a lot of cool things going on in my life – the booby prize for this a lot of the time is that you have all these great opportunities – but no time to do them because you’re so busy with the job. So a vacation over the holidays for me I think is going to entail other thrilling things like getting all my cabling together in the back of my rack and having some time to watch some Netflix, pump around on the base and just ‘stuff’… I had ice-cream tonight and it was really good! I mean [Laughs] this is the sort of stuff that really feeds my work, like the past four months, I mean god, I was on tour, I was in China, Bulgaria – I was doing a symphony with an orchestration team – all great things but fucking full on too – by the end of it ‘what do you want to do for vacation this year?’ ‘I just wanna go to bed’ [Laughs] so I think that having a modest request when it comes to your time off is great because I know I can achieve it”.

Since the release of Transcendence you have had some opportunity to tour the album so far – I understand you have done North America at this stage – how is the material being received so far by fans? “Really good...Yeah really good! It’s a really great record with a lot of work put into it, it sounds so much better in ways that I never thought we would. I focused more on trying to get a vibe on this record and trying to get the tempos down to the point where they work in a live environment a little more than stuff I’ve done in the past. So it really worked. And at certain points of the shows we’d be playing something like ‘Higher’ or whatever and while we were playing it I’d be like ‘god this sounds great! And that’s a great feeling too’. Someone asked me the other day ‘how do you maintain the interest in what it is that you do after so many years’ and it’s a real visceral thing you know – playing in a band, playing heavy music – it’s something I still really enjoy and I think when this record was being written I personally tried to focus on what it was about that type of tempo and those types of songs I like playing live and it really worked”. Did the album force you out of your comfort zone? “I forced myself out of my comfort zone for the album. We’re all creatures of habit right – and I find that it’s really easy to get stuck into these patterns and then you got nothing to say to people anymore because you’re not learning anything about yourself, you’re just repeating yourself and that is also a fine line because I don’t want to drastically change what I do to the point where people who have supported it to this point are all of a sudden ostracized. So I worked out a bunch of things, physical activity – different disciplines like martial arts and those are things that I’ve never tried before and they really worked for me. Finding different ways to focus my mind, to learn to share and participate as part of a team as oppose to the hierarchy – the musical fascism as it has been in the past and all these things really allowed me to sort of view the same trip I’ve been doing for years but with a fresh perspective and I think the next record I do will be in the same fashion. I don’t think you should ever stop pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. I mean especially as an artist – how are you supposed to elicit any type of emotional reaction? How do you expect to grow? Some days you’re more tired than others, you’re like ‘I don’t wanna fucking grow up today, thank you’ [Laughs] ‘I just wanna do bugger all’ right? Luckily we’re still moving forward”.

With each record – it feels like you have conquered something, at the end of listening to these records even I have a sense of victory and it’s quite calming – was this the case for yourself with Transcendence? “Yeah it was, it was a bunch of things – not only the physical stuff but some real self-analysis. Trying different types of therapy; not because I think I’m fucked up – not because I am ‘woe is me’ but again you get so complacent in your ability to process information in certain ways that you often don’t recognize the patterns that you establish for yourself are unhealthy or rooted in some sort of fear ultimately – so I really had this sense that there was some sort of binary action going on in my creative mind where the herbivore and the carnivore were having some kind of vicious arm wrestle and I think by the end of this record it was less about one side winning over the other and more of just having the opportunity; for the first time ever to watch this thing happen – watch this arm wrestle happen and I felt this strange sense of compassion for myself that I haven’t felt before, because I spend so much time thinking I’m an idiot. For the first time ever I was able to cut myself some slack, like ‘you’re doing good man, just chill a bit’ which resulted in letting go. Luckily, for the sake of the experience I’ve always found that music is my way for explaining these sorts of things and it was really a good moment to be in a transcendence, sort of lost in the mist. It was a really good feeling”.  I think a lot of artists (and people in general) are often quite hard on themselves, yet taking a step back and gathering a fresh perspective can do a lot for the mind and body “Totally, and I think one of the other patterns you can fall into; at least I do is that sort of martyr thing ‘well I can’t take a step back’ if you get a calm moment it’s almost immediately replaced by a sense of panic ‘ohh I should be working’. Transcendence is a record; even the name Transcendence is about recognizing that in a way. When I was younger I was really hung up on all sorts of things that served very little purpose in my life. You get hung up on relationships, you get hung up on all sorts of things and you realize somewhere down the line that you’re wasting your time and if this is the only chance you get to live; which seems to be clearly what it is – you’ve got to really enjoy it, you really have to try to learn what it is that you want, learn what your parameters and limitations are and within that go get it! What do you want? Get that!... I think I’m at a stage in my life now – you have to learn how to integrate other people and that’s hard for me - I stepped outside my comfort zone well enough to find this self-compassion but also a realisation that I barricaded myself emotionally from other people, kind of like a self-defense mechanism that I think ultimately that there is this sense that I wasn’t participating emotionally in the experience other than through music, almost at all. Every record that goes by is just another documented piece, just another layer of the onion”. Portraying that in your music was your way of having that emotional connection to people – “And I think it’s important because I think I’ve been so shit scared of people my whole life - that having an avenue that allows me to connect with people forces me out that – so I’m not living Unabomber style in the arctic somewhere.  I’ve got to participate with other people; you have kids, you’re married, you have a band – all this shit. Good luck trying to hide from it all, you just can’t right? Throw yourself at it and hope that you’ve learnt enough to not make mistakes – and that is transcendence…”  


Saturday, 20th May - The Triffid, Brisbane

Monday, 22nd May - Enmore Theatre, Sydney

Tuesday, 23rd May - 170 Russell, Melbourne

Wednesday, 24th May - 170 Russell, Melbourne (SOLD OUT)

Friday, 26th May - Capitol, Perth