Devin Townsend: Prepare The Planet Smasher!
People of Earth, your Ziltoidian overlords will soon descend on Australia for a national tour of epicly loud proportions. Fronting the pack of Ziltoid’s musical representatives is Devin Townsend, the Canadian singer/shredder who can’t go more than a few months without releasing a new studio or live album.
With his massive, three-hour long Retinal Circus box set now on the shelves, Dev’s turning his attention to a haunting acoustic ambient album called Casualties Of Cool and the follow-up to Ziltoid’s first space metal extravaganza, Ziltoid The Omniscient. We tried to deconstruct the mind behind the music, but instead found ourselves completely addicted to the intoxicating insanity that is The Devin Townsend Project.
So first off, The Retinal Circus live box set has finally been released. It must feel good to finally have it out in the world.
Oh dude it’s awesome! [Laughs] It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen, it’s a combination of a lot of emotions for me man. There’s a part of me that’s like, “That looks like the most amazing representation of the weirdest thing ever” [laughs] you know what I mean? It sounds really good, looks killer, it’s long, good value and fucking awesome production, but it’s just super weird like High School Musical type shit. Going into it, I was aware of the fact that that’s what it was and I think in order for my process, which is the most important thing for me, to continue evolving, it was really important for me to purge that element of my personality. So for example, if you’ve got a small penis you can spend your whole life hiding it, or you can just throw it out there and be like, “Hey everybody I’ve got a small penis, let’s move on” then no one’s going to have any wonders about whether or not you’ve got a small penis, they’ll just be like, “Hey it’s the guy with a small penis but he can lift stuff so hire him.” I think Retinal Circus is just a way for me to be like, “Well I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, I never know what the fuck I’m doing, I’m by the skin of my teeth the whole time.” Lot’s of what I do I think is really cool, lot’s of what I do is really fucking nerdy and really weird, but as opposed to trying to hide that, here it is on a silver platter. I think Retinal Circus is the best possible representation of that.
How big of a project has it been?
It’s been going for two years. It took a year to put the show together, it took immense amounts of effort to put the show together without having it fall apart, and it’s taken a year to get it finished. It’s huge man, the email threads in Gmail are just thousands of emails long, between the production and the artwork and the drama of it all, it’s immense. There are so many people involved with it, it would be a different story if it was just me and a couple of key people putting it together but no, a lot of people have stuff invested in it. Ultimately, I think it’s a really unique and really special thing, I really do feel that. I won’t lie to you and say that I love everything that I do, but I will say that this project is really, really interesting and really, really cool. There’s a lot of heart in it and I think that perhaps, as a commodity, you don’t see that often. It’s got a documentary that’s the making of, there’s a commentary that I did of the whole thing, so you can listen along while I’m confused with you. There’s a Blu-ray version, there’s a version with just the CDs and there’s a normal DVD version, but we were limited in terms of sheer space. You get a three-hour show and that is a lot of material. One of them, we’ve only made 2,500 copies of it, but it’s like this 40-page hardcover book with a pop out and masks and letters and photos and guitar picks, it’s crazy.
And how does it compare to your previous live box set, By A Thread?
It’s a much, much bigger budget man. Well… not actual budget [laughs] but the look of it, like there’s Blu-ray, about 15 cameras, one show, lots and lots of props, actors and explosions. Again, it’s like a really weird High School Musical. I’d love to be able to say that it’s like some Broadway play but no dude [laughs], it’s like the Glee club got together, made a super weird play and got a bunch of old guys to play it. It’s really weird, but I tell you what, when you turn it up it’s surprisingly bad arse. But again, I think that if you’re going to do something that’s this far left field, you’ve got to go balls out. If you don’t, it’s just going to come across as half-arsed, so we go full retard on it.
The Retinal Circus isn’t the only thing you’ve got coming out. What’s this Casualties of Cool record that you’ve been working on?
If there’s anybody who’s new to what I do, who maybe heard “Liberation” or some of the songs off Epicloud and thought,”This is really cool, I could get into this,” you’re going to hate Casualties [laughs]. I mean really, it’s as opposite of Epicloud as Ghost was to Deconstruction. It’s this weird, dark, not evil but verging on it, bluesy, Johnny Cashy, strange, quiet folk record. But I love it, it’s the one record that I’ve done over the past 10 or 15 years where I can truly say, “This is where I am right now.” You know the other things that I’ve done have been as well in their own right, Epicloud, Deconstruction and Addicted!, but there was an agenda with those, I was trying to say something with them or I was trying to prove a point, make a statement about the past or whatever. Casualties is something that I’ve done without any pressure, without anybody telling me what to do, without showing it to anyone, it’s just what evolved when I wasn’t thinking about it. As a result of that I’m incredibly proud of it, but it remains to be seen whether or not other people will resonate with it. I think they will man, I think it’s fucking awesome and I mean, I haven’t smoked weed in a long time but I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be awesome while you’re smoking [laughs].
Where will it fit into the Devin Townsend discography in terms of sound? Will it still slot in among your more traditional Dev sounding albums, or will it be a bit more removed like your ambient albums?
Somewhere in the middle, you know, somewhere in the middle. It’s like, if you took the weird elements of Ki and the weird elements of Devlab and added a vintage sort of vibe. My management had a suggestion which I think is pretty cool, which was, “You shouldn’t call it Devin Townsend Project, you shouldn’t even put your name on it, just call it Casualties Of Cool and put it out as its own thing.” It’s got a different singer, I sing on like half of it right, but it’s got this lady [Ché Aimee Dorval who also appears on Ki] who’s just this brilliant singer, she’s a young, despondent sounding bluesy vocalist and it’s creepy. I think that that might be a way for me to get away with it, putting it out without it being part of the DTP [Devin Townsend Project] or whatever, because of course, as this is nearly finished, I’ve got five more songs to mix and it’s finished, I’ve got tons and tons of this Ziltoid stuff to go next, which is over the top, outer space craziness with big choruses, puppet shows, laser guns and all that shit. I don’t know what to tell you man, I just go where it feels the most honest to go, then I deal with people thinking it’s weird afterwards [laughs].
Is there a particular atmosphere you want to create or a story you want to convey?
Yeah there’s a story definitely, it’s going to take a little longer than what we’ve got for me to explain it, but you’ll hear it eventually. I want it to be something you listen to quietly, by yourself, in the middle of the night, with a big old full moon outside. It’ll work perfectly.
And your third upcoming release is, of course, the next Ziltoid album Z². How big is that project?
I’ll tell you what, speaking as Ziltoid’s representative, what we have planned for the next one is a TV show, a movie, a radio show, a live production similar to a Rocky Horror Picture Show vibe. It’s a double record; half of it will be this insane music and the other half will be outer space versions of Epicloud, it’s going to be a lot of fun and very visible.
Looking back just a little bit now, the first four albums you released under the Devin Townsend Project were the first that came out after you made some massive life changes, so they were a bit of an experiment of sorts. Once they were done, did you feel more grounded, musically and mentally, when you went into Epicloud?
I think Epicloud surprised me, as a result of me not having it as a plan to make anything like that. After Deconstruction and Ghost, the last thing I felt like doing was making more music. But I just kept writing these big sort of cheesy choruses and then it turned into something that I felt really drawn to, like my love of that big ’80s stuff. It became very important for me to make that statement. So Epicloud wasn’t necessarily more or less grounded, it just kind of happened right, and Casualties is also not grounded, in fact it’s less grounded than anything that I’ve done. As a person, I think I’m more grounded than I’ve ever been, but in order to become more grounded, I’ve definitely had to go into my fears, I’ve had to go into the darkness. It’s very easy for someone when they’re not drinking, not smoking, not fucking other women or whatever, to go all goody two shoes, or Christian or religious in any sense. But that doesn’t seem to make much sense to me, what makes sense is to face those things about me that are causing me problems, and sometimes it’s not pretty, you know, sometimes it’s not beautiful and sublime, because I’m certainly no saint. I think it’s very important right now to make a statement like Casualties that says, you know, even though Epicloud was all “Grace” and “Liberation” and all that sort of stuff, that was an experiment, I was trying it on for size. It fit to a certain extent, but it’s not the whole story. Casualties, in order for me to reach that goal of being grounded, it’s really important for it to be unhinged, and it is.
So could you keep making music once you reach the point of being grounded?
I’m always going to make music, but the goal of being grounded probably includes me being a bass player for somebody. All I do is practise bass man, I play bass all day, every day, and I’m slowly accumulating this awesome bass rig. Eventually, when I run out of things to say, if and when that happens, someone will be like, “Hey let’s get that guy to play bass in this band and we can pay him a ton of money” and I’ll be like, “Great, I’ll just stand by the drummer and make you guys sound bad arse.”
But most people know you as a guitarist and singer, so what drew you towards playing bass?
Perhaps it’s something to do with learning about foundation, like, being a father and being a functional adult has forced me to be supportive in ways I’ve never been before. It’s a type of discipline I think is really healthy. Like if you’re frontman, lead guitar and all this shit that I’ve been for so long, after a while you think, “Well maybe that’s not the whole story either, maybe a lot of what I’m craving in life is the opposite of what I thought when I was younger.” And who knows man, you may be right, I may never end up stopping making tons of weird records, I may end up becoming a total raving lunatic, I may end up being a lead singer for some stupid punk band, who knows? From my perspective, playing bass is just a really great thing for me right now and maybe in 10 years that’s what I’ll be doing.
I’d love to see you fronting a Canadian punk rock band as a raving lunatic!
You know, you’re not alone. A lot of people want to see people who can rage, but as you get older man, you… I don’t know man, your ability to do those things, like, it’s absurd for people to assume that just because you once were able to you’re still able to. But who knows man, I’m leaving it all open at this point.
Catch Hevy Devy on tour this month at the dates below!
The Devin Townsend Project Tour Dates
Thu Oct 10th – The Auditorium, Brisbane
Fri Oct 11th – The Metro, Sydney
Sun Oct 13th – The Palace, Melbourne (18+)
Tue Oct 15th – Metropolis, Fremantle (18+)