Devin Townsend Project: Transcending Heaviness
Known guitar wizard and absolute musical anomaly Devin Townsend has now released the latest offering from his (aptly named) side-project, Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence. The album is chuggy, eclectic and downright brut-iful: a worthy entry into the band’s extensive back catalogue, and dare we way, a potential usurper of your previous favourite album from Townsend. Following the release, we caught up with the man himself who talks us through his battle with giving up control, true heaviness, and something that even he seemed interested in analysing – writing metal in your 40s…
Transcendence has been out for a couple of weeks now, and judging by some of the reactions from fans and media, it seems like it went down really well. Maybe your 40s are the ultimate time to write metal?
It wouldn’t surprise me. I remember being a kid and looking at guys who are my age now and thinking, “Dude, just back it up, you’re way past your expiration point!” But I’ve learnt the heavy stuff now. When I was legitimately playing heavy music in my mid-20s. I didn’t know shit about the heavy parts of life. I didn’t know anything about death, or birth. I didn’t know anything about responsibility. But now, when it comes to writing, I’m like, “Oh, you want to know heavy? Soccer practice.”
I once heard that heaviness has nothing to do with tuning or beats per minute. Heavy is a state of mind…
I’ve been experimenting with making the sentiment of the music a lot more constructive. As opposed to just making music that was, essentially, destructive and “fuck everything” and “we’re all going to die”. I mean, sure… Fuck everything, and we are all going to die… But while we’re here, I would rather spend my time making a difference. But it doesn’t mean it’s not a heavy sentiment. Striving for things that are beautiful and peaceful doesn’t mean that you’re at peace. Arguably, you have to fight harder if that’s what your objectives are – you don’t have to fight super hard to engage in misery. It’s ultimately a choice that I’m making now that integrates the heavy stuff in my immediate world with the stuff I’ve learned about music.
I rarely address album names in interviews as usually there’s not much to them but It sounds as though there’s a lot of agency behind the name Transcendence if you were going through this, I guess, awakening.
The names often come early for me. Once I have a name it illustrates a trajectory. Then all things become hardwired to it and all the elements of the music become a participant in whatever that overarching theme is. Transcendence was the name that occurred to me months before I started writing it so, yeah, subconsciously, there must have been a pull towards the idea of getting over ‘It’ – getting over yourself, getting over whatever.
I run into patterns with myself as I progress and age. But what I started to recognise is that the only way you’re going to quit making the same mistakes is if you identify now only what those mechanisms are but why they’re occurring in the first place. And it’s often much different than you think. For example, why do you need control? Well, I have a really distinct vision and if it doesn’t get done that way then it’s not worth doing. But beyond that, why do you need control? I’m afraid.
“As much as I had to let go of control, the irony of it with Transcendence is that I was on the shortest leash I’ve ever been on.”
It’s a lot easier to give that first answer, there’s still an aspect of bravado about that. The second one is what I realised was ultimately at the root of all these things for me – I’m afraid. I’m afraid to let go of control. Why? Because my insecurities as a kid manifested into this person whom all of a sudden they found success in music and all things got hired-wired to it. So my identity became so heavily invested in it that to let anybody else into it, runs the risk of me thinking ‘Well, I’m not going to get all the credit’ and the truth will be out that I’m a fraud.
Then when I started experimenting with letting it go, I started to realise it’s not the things you thought you needed control over that you need control over. In fact, the things that define the vision, the things that define the music – are much less of the process than I had assumed. By letting go, it only gets better. There have been a lot of things that I’ve been trying to control for many years that I’m frankly just not very good at. So by saying ‘well, do you this, you do this, you do this’. Then all of a sudden, if everyone is respectful, and friends and on the same team – with is the operative word, it’s arguably a lot stronger. That’s where the strength of Transcendence comes from.
It’s my vision – it’s the same thing I’ve been trying to do for years, I wrote the majority of the record but ultimately the level of help I had putting this together was at a level I’ve never had before. And I was like ‘Holy fuck that worked really well…’
Well, in the Tarot card world, when you pull the ‘Control’ card it usually means that the thing you need the most is to lose all control.
As much as I had to let go of control, the irony of it with Transcendence is that I was on the shortest leash I’ve ever been on. The analysis and depth that went into ever decision…In order for me to let go of control it had to be so tightly wound with everybody, that the next thing that I do – Man, I can’t wait to loose control. But I’ve not done it for so many years. I think a lot of the reasons why I’ve been so afraid to do so was the last time I did experiment with loosing control with [Strapping Young Lads’ 2005 album] Alien or [1998 solo album] Infinity, it just fucked my life up. The difference is back then I wasn’t sober, I hadn’t learnt the things I know now.
Now, when will you be bringing the album down for your Australian fans?
There’s some talk of it now, but no specific date yet – we’re just trying to work out. There’s a tonne of other work that’s happening now but it won’t be long.