Bloody-Disgusting is thrilled to bring you an exclusive interview with none other than the great Devin Townsend! Discussing everything from his new coffee maker to the just-released Epicloud to scoring a movie, we get the rundown on all that is going on in the world of Devin Townsend. Read this extensive interview below!
Bloody-Disgusting: How are you doing?
Devin Townsend: Good buddy, how are you doing?
BD: Not too shabby! How’s life treating you these days?
DT: It’s good! Like how a baby treats a diaper.
BD: What’s new and exciting for you these days?
DT: Uhhh…got a new coffee maker! It’s pretty sweet. You set a timer on it, wake up in the morning and get coffee. Other then that, a ton of sh*t in music! [Laughs]
BD: [laughs] Sounds fun! Before we get started, I have to ask, is it pronounced “epi-cloud” or “epic-loud”?
DT: Both. It was me being clever.
BD: Gotcha. Because I’ve been saying “epi-cloud” this whole time.
DT: I guess that’s what I’ve been saying too. It’s a double-entendre [laughs].
BD: The recording process for your albums is always something amazing to hear about and see in videos. How grand did you get with Epicloud?
DT: Oh dude, I mean…You know, I’ve got 25 records, right? So, everything that I do is a result in a lot of ways of me finding a theme or a concept that engages me and that appeals to where my life is currently at. Epicloud has that in spades.
But when I went into it, my thought process was to make something that was easy to listen to and didn’t have incredibly narcissistic metaphor about my own process, because I’ve been doing that forever. So, in order to do that, the pieces of this puzzle started coming together in that, okay, I wrote a chorus and that’s a big chorus. How would we take this to a level that you’ve hinted at. When I make music, I tend to make music that are really over the top. But I think there’s also the part of me that is aware that I do that a lot of the times and, in the past, has been insecure about it or tried to hide it. You know, I’ll read a review or do an interview and I’ll read or hear “there are layers of sound” or “this over-the-top thing” and blah blah blah, “I’d like to see it stripped back”. And so this time I was just like, “F*ck it! How far would you take it if you could?”
It started by getting this really big drum set. Done. We’ll make all the chords really open so when we play them there’s a lot of space to fill in. Okay, done! Vocally, let’s make the melodies this sort of effervescent uplifting tonality. And then from there it just sort of snowballed. Let’s put a gospel choir on it, let’s take that over-the-top dynamic that you’re obviously toying with and just hammer it home.
And so the process became just how big can we make this? And it’s debatable as to how well we achieved that because obviously I do all my own stuff. It’s gonna have its deficits in terms of the technical end of it but, as far as I can take it, I did. As a moment of time specifically where it represents me perhaps getting over the fact that I’m being afraid to be this accessible… You know, in the past I was afraid to say, “No, I really want to make a very easy to listen to commercial sounding record” because I love that type of music. And then not only committing to that but also committing to the Liberace grandness of it all, it’s really cool for me to sit back and listen to it because I got it out of my system. And I think it’s been, like, clogging up the pipes for many years now.
BD: So it sounds like there were zero limits when it came to the recording process for this record.
DT: Well, I think I’ve been guilty, if you want to look at it that way, of doing that for a long time now [laughs]. Deconstruction and Ghost was definitely like that! But I think the difference is, with Epicloud, there is a stigma, I find, specifically if you’ve done left-of-center heavy music for the majority of your career there’s a real safety in not straying from that. I think it’s a safer move for me to make an album like Deconstruction than it is like Epicloud. I actually think it’s safer for me to make an album like Ghost than it is to make Epicloud, because Epicloud you run that fine line of making commercial, radio-friendly music, right? And I think that once I kind of searched my motivation, I realized that I love stuff like that and I’ve been afraid to do that more than anything because I was concerned that I would be ostracized from this scene that I’d been involved with for so long. And so, when I finally committed to myself and decided that it would be an album in a catalog that would likely not contain anything like it ever again, when I finally made the decision to go for it, I was like, “Okay, just go for it. Make it exactly what it wants to be. And then from there? Damn the torpedoes. I’ll lay it out and then people can make their own decisions on it.”
BD: You said that you were at some point worried about being ostracized from the heavy “left-of-center” community. But I’m curious if you were at all concerned that you might not show the popular music scene justice with Epicloud?
DT: No, god no! That’s definitely not a concern. I don’t believe I’ve ever had that concern for any style I’ve done. I guess I’m just so far up my own ass that doing a scene justice has never been a part of my process. To the point where I’m sure that I’ve upset people. For example, when I released Deconstruction, I was pretty convinced in my own head, “Yeah, this is a really great heavy metal record!” But I immediately encountered this frame of mind of, “Not Strapping [Young Lad]? Get the f*ck out.” You know, I don’t want to hear you do anything heavy unless it adheres to this parameter that either the audience or myself imposed upon that scene, so many years ago.
And so when Deconstruction first came out and got hit with that criticism, not from everyone but from some people, my first though was, “Huh! That’s actually really liberating!” Because if I’m not longer able to fit into that scene when I’m giving it everything I’ve currently go to do so, then what the f*ck am I hanging onto it for? Go do what you want to do! Then after Deconstruction I started writing again. Before the Zed Squared Symphony, which is a couple of years down the line, before I do anything like that, I just want to make a commercial sounding record and I think it was really liberating to have Deconstruction sort of viewed as not appropriate for the metal scene by and large because it allowed me to put that need to conform totally aside and make a record like this.
Now, I have to say with Epicloud, it’s not like I am selling it to a hard rock scene. The people who are going to buy this record are the same people who have bought my sh*t for years. It’s not like I’m in any real danger of reaching out to a new market. And so, also there’s that! I made Epicloud for the people that have listened to what I’ve done because I really think that this style of music fits well into my personal daily life and hopefully others. And then, from here on out, who knows where it’s going to go?
BD: One of the things you mentioned was this sort of “unclogging of creative pipes”. Have you noticed that a lot of new musical ideas have been flowing out?
DT: Hoo! The new stuff that I’m writing… I think in the past my love for commercial things, I equate it to being in the closet where it ends up leeching out into what you do in ways that maybe compromise things that don’t need that. If I’m writing something that’s left-of-center as opposed to trying to crowbar in a commercial sounding chorus and having this strange conglomeration of styles in one place, and there’s validity to that, of course. The stuff I’m writing now is, “No, I did that! I’m good! It’s out!” I don’t have to drop a commercial sounding song into the middle of a Ziltoid record because I managed, with Epicloud, to purge that. And so what I’m writing now is, in my opinion, completely free that I’ve done. If it requires a melodic aspect that’s accessible, of course I’ll put that in there. But there’s no subconscious need to try and get it heard because I’m too afraid to put it out there in its entirety, unabashed. And so Zed Squared, Casualties of Cool, everything I’ve been writing since Epicloud has been this relentless zero compromise.
And I find it strange in hindsight how your own inability to recognized parts of your artistic nature compromise your output until you address it.
BD: There was the quadrilogy of Devin Townsend Project albums: Ki, Addicted, Deconstruction, and Ghost. Does Epicloud fit within that line of albums or is the beginning of something new?
DT: No, no, it’s a summary of that. I had no real intention of making Epicloud. As soon as I had finished recording Deconstruction and Ghost, I was like, “Right, time to start writing this symphony.” It’s a couple of years away, I want to do a movie, it’s this massive undertaking. But when I sat down to write it, I realized that I wasn’t ready yet! I had done a ton of complicated stuff with those two albums and the full records having these narcissistic metaphors about my own personal growth that I just wasn’t interested in it. I found that my love for music is, in my opinion, unabashed and has a lot to do with being free to make the expression of where I’m at currently real.
And I started thinking, “I’ve done these four records, what a catharsis! It’s out of my system!” And if those records are about just getting over it, then I started writing music about just being over it and that became Epicloud. The fact that it’s so soon after Deconstruction and Ghost and yet so far away from Zed Squared, it’s like you’re over the cloud, as silly as that sounds. And even the album cover. You’re going into outer space but you can still see the planet [laughs]. You’re still here but see ya!
And so Epicloud is definitely a way to summarize what I’ve been trying to say over these past four records by essentially saying, “There! I’ve said it! See ya!” [laughs]
BD: Tell me a bit about the “Epic Kings & Idols” tour. What are your thoughts of that line-up?
DT: It’s odd, y’know? Where I’m at as a live entity is definitely a very positive thing. I want it to be intense and light-hearted. I want it to be a bit of a party when people come to the show because life is pretty grim, right? If we can offer respite for an hour or so, that’s good for me when I’m out. In the back of a van in the parking lot of Detroit, I’d rather have a good time than not.
But I guess the thing is when we come out with Katatonia and Paradise Lost and Stolen Babies, each band has got its own vision of reality, I suppose. And so, investigating the bands I realized that all these bands are really good, like the new Katatonia stuff is so good man! And I don’t know if you’ve heard Stolen Babies but, f*ck man, they’re killer! And Paradise Lost, I’ve known those guys for a while and they’re just such nice people that I think, on the surface, it may come across as many different moods in one night. But standing back from that I think it’s really interesting for people.
It’s not that there is one band that is better than any other. It’s just four different takes on music and life and I think it could potentially end up being a really, really memorable show for the people who come out. And that’s what I’m setting myself up for and what the band is gearing themselves for as opposed to tapering our set to fit in with Katatonia’s music, we’re just gonna make the best show that we’d like to see. And if the other bands are doing the same thing, which I’m assuming they are, it could end up being a great night of varying moods!
When we play shows, I just want to say, “F*ck it. Let’s do our best to have a good time.”
BD: If you were approached to do a movie score, what would it take for you to say, “Yes.”?
DT: Umm…enough money for me to spend a year doing it without anything else and creative control, complete.
I’m very sensitive as to what kinds of movies I bring into my world. I’m not interested in sadistic sh*t, I’m not interested in Human Centipede type sh*t. It’s not that I think it’s right or wrong it’s just that I have zero interest in that type of art. I think that if someone wanted me to do music, it’d have to be a theme I relate to, otherwise I’d have nothing to offer. I did a video game soundtrack at one point and I couldn’t do it because I just don’t care about video games.
So, with a movie, it would have to be something that inspires me. And once I’m inspired, I’m good to go!
BD: Devin, as always, it’s been a real pleasure. Thank you and best of luck to you!
DT: You too buddy! Talk to you soon!
Banner photo taken by Erich Saide