Devin Townsend: My Music is like Sugar coated nightmares

Devin Townsend Project. FOTO: Insideout

Yes, the man can certainly be described as crazy and mad about music. He has four albums released in the past year, on several albums he plays all the instruments by himself and he has recorded some of the songs with on up to 300 tracks. „I have very specific visions,“ he says. Devin Townsend is coming to Classic Rocknight in Bonn next Thursday, 9th July 2015. Concert begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are still available.

Interview by Cem Akalin.

Devin, how would you describe your music to someone who has never heard of you?

Devin Townsend: Dynamic and varied depending on the release. A highly orchestrated type of expansive music based in hard rock and heavy metal. Dense and produced with a large amount of ambient elements. Powerful, if you’re in the right mood for it, haha.

Devin Townsend Project. FOTO: Insideout
Devin Townsend Project. FOTO: Insideout

What do you think of this description: The Red Army Choir meets Happy Metal, Italian opera meets Fantasy Rock, Symphony and Heavy Rock, virtuoso rock guitarist meets Spacefun?

Townsend: Haha, I like it! I think the one thing that seems appropriate is the dichotomy between two opposing things. Sugar coated nightmares… I don’t know anymore really, all I can say is I do what I do…

But seriously! There is hardly a musician who turn one creative project after another into reality – with such obsession. What drives you? Where do you get your energy?

Townsend: I am a very goal oriented personality. I don’t like to let interesting ideas go un- actualized. (If that’s a word…) the idea of completing things drives me almost as much as the work itself. I am obsessive, yes…but I like to think my work is a good channel for that tendency.

It seems like ideas are a dime a dozen. Where does this partly insane lyrics come from?

Townsend: There’s always ideas, yeah. Some better than others, but the ideas flow pretty constantly. I tend to write lyrics automatically and based on how they sound with the music more than what they may mean. I don’t consider myself a great lyricist, but I think I can articulate my ideas appropriately. That often results in strange sentiments though, I agree.

Extreme metal, alternative, hard rock, progressive metal, new age … Is there any genre where you really feel at home? Or do you see yourself like sort of a hitchhiker through the vast universe of styles?

Townsend: I have often described what I do as fumbling in the dark until I find a form, then taking my flashlight and analyzing it for a while in the form of records, then leaving that area and moving on. The goal is to get outside where it’s light, but until that time…I feel compelled to process what I find to a logical conclusion.

Devin Townsend Project. FOTO: Insideout
Devin Townsend Project. FOTO: Insideout

You play with styles and uses them as you like. You’re always going through a sort of a transformation like a butterfly emerges from a cocoon. Can you explain biographically, where you get this versatility? Do you come from a musical family? From a cosmopolitan family?

Townsend: A musical family yes, not particularly cosmopolitan. I feel life propels the need to analyze personal transformation as it is constant and unavoidable. As my process of musical creation is tied to what I tangibly experience, it’s inevitable that the themes end up about transformation… life is nothing but. My nature asks me to stay in one spot and resist change, but my reality doesn’t allow that. I think there’s a wild, humorous drama to it all as a result.

When „Accelerated Evolution“ (with the fantastic „Dead Head”) came out in 2003 , right after „Terria“, I was totally surprised, but in a good way. They are like two products with a very personal story. Is that so?

Townsend: Sure. Of course. Those years had mental, spiritual and personal growth that was specific to that time. The aesthetic of those albums reflect those changes. I had a lot to learn about love, sex, and surrender at that point.

Is music a personal valve for you? Can it be that you reveal much more personal about the music? I mean much more than other musicians?

Townsend: I guess an attribute to the way I have worked is a sort of willing obliviousness to other musicians and their processes. I listen to a lot of music, very rarely my own, but when I do listen to others, I don’t believe I classify what I do as similar for the most part. In many ways, I don’t even really consider myself a musician. Though I have facility on several instruments, studio, and voice…they are all a means to an end that is rooted in articulating emotions in ways I suppose I’m uncomfortable with in all other walks of life.

Do you have a particular way of working?

Townsend: Yeah, several. I guess it’s summarized as ’slow and steady‘ …even when it’s rushed, though I’m sure that makes no sense. I kind of plod along in life and then document it in a sort of stream of conscious way as I go. I rarely analyze what I’m doing, but am hyper analytical of why I’m doing it.

Devin Townsend Project - Sky Blue (stand-alone version 2015)There are albums on which you have played all the instruments by yourself, you have recorded some pieces with up to 300 tracks. Can you explain a „mere mortals“ like me how do you keep track of that all? But most of all: How can just an idea of a sound or the idea of a song just consist of so many layers? How can such an idea be created?

Townsend: I don’t know. I follow a vision. If I have any particular talent, it’s that I have very specific visions. The amount of layers I do is less about trying to be excessive or win some race for ‚most complicated recording’…it’s just a compulsion like the rest for the sounds I create to ring the right emotional bells. I may start with a vision of something that’s ‚point and red‘ and the sounds I end up stumbling on are static and a lot of upper mid frequencies. Shapes and colours etc. are connected for me in a lot of ways, so I just follow things till they make me respond the way I need. Please understand that if I track 300 tracks of stuff, it’s a nightmare… I assure you I’m more mortal now than ever. I curse myself for some of the corners I end up backing myself into.

You must be kind of mad, don’t you? You’re a bit like a mad scientist, right?

Townsend: I guess that’s for others to decide. I think I hold it together pretty well, personally…

Devin Townsend Project - Dark Matters (stand-alone version 2015)How did it actually come to this strange, bizzar Ziltoid-history?

Townsend: I enjoyed the movie ‚the dark crystal‘ when I was a child, and often thought ‚when I get older, I’m going to make something that’s a fantasy based puppet show like that‘ and when I got to a point where I could do it all myself, the pieces lined up and I proceeded. As ‚mad‘ as Ziltoid seems, it can be also viewed as ‚creatively free‘. My life is very structured and requiring discipline, so a project and character like Ziltoid is really just a way for me to cut loose a little bit. Some people may drink or do drugs, but I guess I make heavy metal puppet shows.

Why did you brought out another part?

Townsend: Seemed like the right idea at the time.

What are you going to play on the tour? What can the fans in Bonn look forward to?

Townsend: I have so many albums, I think a combination of several things is what they can look forward to. I hope my musical world and the shows we present make people happy. That’s all I can say 🙂