Interview: Devin Townsend discusses Steve Vai bonus track, re-recorded “Truth” for upcoming album

Posted by on January 16, 2016

Devin Townsend is likely one of the most under-rated musicians in the current industry. And not just because his role as frontman in Strapping Young Lad and other progressive metal projects were immensely creative, but the fact that he has expanded his horizon to blues, country, ambience, and alien puppet-driven rock operas. We had the opportunity to speak to Dev about his experimentation, upcoming album, Steve Vai, autobiography and more.


I just wanted to start by saying I’m a huge fan of all your projects. And the last time we spoke it was during your tour with Animals as Leaders, you seemed a bit frustrated with how everything was going so I hope things are better since then.

I think at that point, I was working balls to the wall for so many years. When music, which is such an honor to be involved with, becomes a burden in a way, it’s time to step back. I’ve spent most of the past year away from the pressures that resulted in that frustration. So, I’m in a better place now.


Yeah, and I think stuff like Casualties of Cool and your solo acoustic shows really helps with that and show a different side of your creativity. Can you describe the difference between playing and creating that type of material versus the more metal stuff in your catalog?

If it’s done from the right frame of mind, it’s no different for me. It’s just a different aesthetic from the same person. In the past, I think people have found that if you do different types of music, then you have schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. But the way that I look at it is that every day that goes by, there’s so many different moods and frames of mind that happen from simply being alive, that by doing only one thing with the exclusion of all else would be just mind-numbing. So, doing all these different projects just keeps it interesting for me more than anything else.


Would you say that all styles of music that you make are equally therapeutic?

Yeah, in some ways. I don’t think therapy is my prime objective, but rather living my life and then as a function of my process, having the music come along in the background, almost subconsciously. It’s not as much therapy, but rather an inevitability to have these different styles.


So there will be an upcoming Casualties of Cool rerelease and I think there’s talk of a second album with Che as well, is that correct?

Yeah, I mean there is talk of it as in Che and I have a good relationship. But, there is also no pressure being put on it. So hopefully, in the same way that the first record evolved, which was really long-term and without pressure, the next record will be the same.


I recall you mentioning a classical music opera kind of thing on the horizon. Is this still going on?

Yeah, it’s still rooted in what I do, it’s just a bigger and more elaborate version of it. In all the records I’ve done basically, there’s a wall of sound thing going on. And it was never my intention to create a claustrophobic experience for people, but it was just the result of the instruments I had and the technology available. So, with the next orchestral thing that I’m thinking of, I want to have the orchestra, choir, guitars, and hybrid instrumentation and hopefully, refine the same thing I’ve been doing for years.


Another really cool thing you did earlier this year was your involvement in Intronaut’s recent album, The Direction of Last Things. Can you talk about this experience?

I’ve always liked Intronaut. There’s not a lot of heavier bands that I find interesting besides Meshuggah, Gojira, or The Dillinger Escape Plan, but Intronaut is one of those bands that took a different approach. They offered me to mix the record and of course, I spent far too long on it. That’s just why I’ll never make enough money because I have this compulsion to make things that need to be done to the best of my ability. But luckily, they’re really cool guys. I never met them, but we talked over email and they’re really respectful and willing to let me fuck around with their music.


You’ve recently posted about working with Steve Vai again. When do you think fans will find out more about this collaboration?

Well, right now. Basically, Steve and I have been good friends for years. He’s helped me out with Retinal Circus, guitar solos, and tons of gear. He’s rereleasing Passion and Warfare, which is the record prior to the one I did with him. He contacted me and said there’s a bonus track that he didn’t want to sing and offered the part to me. In our past, I think I was pretty critical towards the fact that I was told what to do. Because him and I have similar tonalities in music, we have very different approaches. I think I’m a lot more primitive than him in a lot of ways, emotionally and musically. So, I was very resistant at first, but it seemed like a good opportunity for me to bury the hatchet in my mind and thank him for being in my life. He gave me some free reign and it was nice. Is it indicative of us doing anything else in the future? No, not at this point, but it was great to be able to do it together.


You’ve previously rerecorded some of your past songs for new albums such as “Kingdom” or “Hyperdrive.” Are there any songs from early in your catalog that you’d like to rework into something new?

If there’s one thing that I can pride myself on is that I’m very willing to admit when I made a mistake or when things could be better. Everything that I’ve done is a work in progress. I have no qualms with saying I’d really like to hear this one redone. So, I’m going to redo “Truth” for the new record, Transcendence. I remember when I first heard Infinity and I thought the song was great, but it just wasn’t big enough. I’m going to try it again and hope to make the statement I wanted to.


While we’re on the topic, would you like to talk about this new album?

We start recording in March. None of the records that have been made sound that great to me. They’re getting better, but I want there to be this huge, thick rhythm section and a really chunky guitar in the mid-low end. So, I keep trying to figure out how to find that and I have some new ideas on how to achieve that sound. And on the second front, on Z2 I was so over-stretched in terms of my personal, financial, and emotional business. I was touring relentlessly for five years and was just done, but I managed to capitalize that frame of mind to be the theme of Z2. Anyways, I’ve spent this year since Z2, really trying to refine and be more efficient in the way I’m going to approach this record. We’ve given ourselves way more time to analyze the music and production. My hope for the new record, Transcendence, is that all my work from the past seven years will coagulate into a more singular statement.


It’s just the beginning of the year. Are there any plans for the rest of the year you’d like to discuss?

I’ve got a book coming out, which is ludicrous because I’m 43 and that’s at the height of old shittery for someone in my position to put out an autobiography. However, I did and I worked on it for a year and it took a ton of work. I recorded an acoustic EP for it. I think I can offer other people insight on the music industry and my experience. This book ends up acting as a way for me to describe my process to people. You gotta sell this shit and it sucks. But trust me when I say that I know that and it’s not some genre-defining classic or whatever. But if you do buy it, know that I put a lot of work into the packaging and the accompanying music and work that went into the writing. And I just think it’s something that I think can be a value to someone who is a DIY musician. So, that comes out and then work on Transcendence. We’ll start a symphony at the end of the year and by 2017 we’ll be touring like crazy people.

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