The prolific Devin Townsend has released his new limited edition boxset, Order of Magnitude: Empath Live Volume 1. We caught up with the guitarist to learn more about the new release and his upcoming Halloween livestream: Devin’s Crappy Halloween Show! The frontman also shared the latest update about his new album, Lightwork.
Order of Magnitude: Empath Live Volume 1, is out October 23rd. It was really well done. How much time and preparation does it take to do something of that magnitude?
Too much. Well, thanks, first off. But, I often think that effort doesn’t count, if you’ve got a vision. I don’t think you can gauge the quality of something or the lack thereof by how much work it took. And so, everything I do, my reach always outstretches my grasp. So, I make these huge, stupid, crazy ordeals for myself. And then, when we’re all in the room together trying to figure it out, we’re all like, “Oh shit, how do we do this?” This was certainly an example of that. When I say it out loud, it sounds like I was just trying to make problems for myself, but it wasn’t actually that. But, 10 people on stage, no backing tracks, no click tracks. Nobody in the band had played metal before, really. And we’ve got costume changes and like Tiki bars and all these images and everything lines up. And because it’s not on a click, we have to sort of sync the visuals manually. And the learning curve for that is… It’s insane. But fortunately, in this scenario, at least, the people involved with this, the band and the crew, were just all laid back, good good-natured people. So even when the stress was high, it was a good hang.
You mentioned wanting to be a little more organic with this show because in your statement, you said the albums were, “perfect,” in a way.
Well, and also to let go of some of that control, for me, I think benefits my future and my future projects. I tend to be very, not controlling with people, necessarily. I would prefer to do it on my own than try and impose that on people. But if people do choose to work with me, I tend to sort of shoot a couple of shots across their bow to begin with and be like, “Well, listen, it’s… I’m really fastidious about this because I’ve got a vision that I’m trying to accomplish. And it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. If this doesn’t line up with this and it doesn’t line up with this, it’s just going to be a mess.” And so this one was… I had to sort of suspend that and just have faith in the fact that these were incredible players, so that even if it did go off the rails, there’s a good chance, even if it wasn’t like the record, it would be interesting. And that was cool to have, as well. And by the time the tour was over, I think I benefited from not being in control of it in the ways that I typically am.
You mentioned the wardrobe changes. It made me laugh when you came out in a dress or a tutu. I was not expecting that. Is that something you just did randomly, like to surprise the audience?
It was solidarity with the ladies. You know? Ché’s wearing a pink tutu and Sam, Anne, and Arabella were wearing a pink dress and they’re just like, “Listen, we’re going to do this. You’re going to have to step up to the plate.” And I was like, “All right. Tutu it is.”
That’s pretty good! I also liked how you were saying, “hairy balls,” during that part of the show.
Hairy fucking balls. [laughs] Yeah. I mean, see, that’s the thing, is it’s like, I also… my relationship with the people in this and I would suspect most of the people who participate in this type of music, feel similarly. Men and women, the distinction between the two of us is roles that we have to play, but really we’re all fighting a similar battle. I think that going into these things, it’s clear that my agenda for working with women is because I want them to be singing, as opposed to anything else. So, maybe the first couple of days of me rolling around in my underwear, yelling about hairy balls, the ladies were looking at me like, “Dude, really?” Then after about a week, they were just like, “Oh yeah. It’s whatever. It’s him. He’s harmless.”
I also wasn’t expecting the metal fan solo, like an actual wind fan.
Neither was Morgen [drummer Morgen Agren].
So that wasn’t planned, you just did that?
No. No. In fact, what we did before the show is, because Morgen really reacts well to things. He’s like an interesting drummer that he’s better when you surprise him. Most of the drummers I’ve worked with in the past, if you throw a curveball at them, they’re done. They just stop playing and look at you like deer in the headlights. But Morgen, he’s just, he’s like, “Oh, okay, I’ll just roll with this.” So before the show, Diego, the keyboard player, and I, we’re like, “We should just bring a bunch of stuff up.” So while he’s playing, we just… So I brought up a thermos and a fan and all this stuff. And you see him in the video. He kind of looks at it for a second like, “What do I do with this?” And then after a while he was making rhythms out of it. And that’s Morgen.
It was like you brought back Stomp a little bit on stage.
Oh my God. It’s like the most ghetto version of stomp ever.
At the end, when you were trying to get the tray of drinks all the way to the sound booth and the lighting guys. Did it work?
It worked. It did. Nothing spilled. They got it. They drank the drink.
That’s nuts. Did you have any doubts, when that happened?
Oh, dude, I have doubts about everything, all the time. But I think that, that shouldn’t be a deterrent. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Right? And I think that’s what… one of the things that I’m most proud of, in my evolution as an artist, that I’ve had so many public things that went wrong, that I don’t fear that, necessarily, anymore. And in fact, I would… I feel sorry for people that haven’t fucked up, like mightily, on stage, because maybe in a sense they’d be afraid to try things, in fear of what it would be like to fail. But for me, I was just like, “Oh yeah, that… Failure? Oh yeah. We’re well used to that one.” So, if it happens, if things go tits up and it’s not working, I mean, I know what that feels like. I don’t like it, but I mean, it’s not like it’s like it’s going to be something that’s going to slow me down from giving it a shot.
Well, you have a very good way of coping and just jumping back up on your feet. You’ll just throw some banter out there and make some jokes. I remember one time I saw you at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn and you were talking about the hipsters, drinking their PBR, because I think something else happened. You’re so quick on your feet. Is that something you just learned?
Well, I mean, having kids helps, because then it doesn’t really… again, it doesn’t really matter. It relegates my work to a place that’s a little healthier than my life depends on me landing this line. It’s like, “Well, I’m fortunate to be able to do music and no matter what, this is a walk in the park, compared to having kids. So, that makes it easier. And then, in terms of being light on my feet, you’ve probably caught me on a couple of fortunate nights because there are some nights where I crash and burn pretty hard. But that’s kind of the risk and by being willing to crash and burn every now and then, when you do scale the heights, you can get pretty high. Right?
The fans do love you as well.
That helps because they’re kind of in on it. They’re letting you do it, which really helps. Right? They’re like, “Yeah, be a jackass!”
I remember one of the first times I saw you, you just finished Strapping Young Lad at that point, and started the Devin Townsend Project. With Strapping, I feel like every other song you were just saying something to the crowd and I was like, “Oh man, is he going to say something about me right now, being in the front row?”
That’s what people… but the funny thing is, because of Strapping, I was surrounded by a bunch of tough guys. So, when I got out of it and I realized I can’t fight, I was just like, “Oh shit.” You know what I mean? Now I gotta watch my mouth.
When talking about the set list, you guys played a “Disco Inferno” cover. I thought that was pretty random, but it worked really well. Is that because Ché was there and she did it really well?
Yeah. She likes disco. She’s a big disco fan. And Morgen’s really good at playing that sort of stuff. And so, when we were looking for covers, it hadn’t come up originally, but it was actually the label in Germany who… Thomas the guy there. I’m good friends with him and have been for many years. And he was like, “You know what would be great, is if you tried doing something way left of center, like disco.” And a lot of times I have a lot of different singers out on the road with me because the stuff I write is so intense to sing, that unless I’ve got some sort of backup, I kind of lose my voice after a week. So, by the end of that set, I was just like… I asked Ché if she would just be a pitch hitter for that.
Well, it’s funny that you mentioned singing that hard. When you sing, “Deadhead,” do you dread singing that song live at all, because it seems so taxing on your voice?
It is. Yeah. I don’t… I mean, dread, may be a strong word. I can’t say, for the most part, I’m like chomping at the bit to do it though. The only time I’ve… When my voice goes, every now and then you’ll have a night on tour where you have no voice and that’s so disheartening, man. But you have to kind of take the good with the bad, in that sense, as well. But the worst it was on this tour, this one that you just… we’re talking about here. We were out for a couple months in Europe, and this Brown Hill show was right at the very end. So, it was just as things we’re wrapping up. But for the majority of that tour, for at least three of those weeks, actually, even after that, I had a hemorrhoid for the first time in years, that was like a Hitchhiker’s thumb man. The thing was a mess. And whenever I went to sing, Deadhead, it was like you’re inflating like an emergency balloon. And that was no good. That was no good. Go for the high note and it’s just like… You’re like one of those mating monkeys in a Richard Attenborough documentary.
I would say that hemorrhoids and your songs do not mix. I’m glad it’s gone.
What, hemorrhoids? No dude, they don’t. They don’t. And I remember it was like… Again, it was everybody in the band, my filter for those things is pretty limited. So, everybody’s back getting changed and everything. I just burst into the room and I go, “I got a hemorrhoid!” Shay’s just like, “Great. You know, if you just want to take that elsewhere, that’d be sweet for all of us.”
You announced that you’re doing a Halloween special: Devin’s Crappy Halloween Party. That threw me off a little bit because just the other day on Twitch, you said you didn’t really know if you wanted to do that, but you want to do a Christmas special. What changed?
Oh, the day.
You just thought it was a better idea?
Yeah. I think one of the downsides of having being interviewed and doing Twitch and all this stuff for 30 years now, is you say things very clearly and definitely, and there’s a memento of it and a document of it. So when you do change your mind, people are like, “Yeah, but you said this.” And in the beginning, I used to sort of do this little dance around it and be like, “Oh, I did say that, but this was my process that happened that led me to another conclusion.” And so now I’m just like, “Yeah. People say things, I guess.”
When you said you were going to do the Halloween special, I was like, “Oh man, is he going to dress up like he did in Vampira?”
Of course, dude. Of course. I think the thing is, I’m trying to think of ways to make that audience inclusive. Some of them suggested like a costume challenge, or what is it called? Contest? So, maybe what we could do is we could have… We could check Twitter at the same time and we can see whose costumes are up and we can post it while we’re doing it. And if I do it on green screen, as well, I can have people improvise visuals. We could even do a poll, like who wants to see kittens versus skeletons? And then we could have that in the background while we’re doing the next song. That’s a good idea. I think that’s what we’ll do.
So, this is definitely going to be live? The other quarantine show, “Empath Volume 2: By Request,” was previously recorded, but you attended the event live.
Yeah and that was the only way, after massive amounts of trial and error, did we find that we could do that, because everyone was in a different city. So I figured that the best way for me to kind of bring it into a live thing was to be present at the bottom, but this is different. This one’s live. But the way that I’m doing it, I think it’s really interesting and I think you’ll dig it.
You’ve been using StageIt for your live quarantine series. Why did you choose StageIt, instead of Twitch, which you’ve been using?
I don’t know. It seemed like when I was talking to everybody in the management and label, they seemed to think that that was the best way for us to do the quarantine shows because for those ones, I offered a download of the show. And by doing it through StageIt, versus Twitch, it gives you a list and the emails of who participated. So then you could do a mass email after and hopefully not miss people, whereas on Twitch, it’s a lot more random. It’s just like a group of people. I think that a show like the last one, the green screen thing, it costs, I think, $40,000 to make. So with that, I needed to try and recoup that and the best way to do that would be on a platform that was monetized. Right? And then moving into this next one [the Halloween Special], where it doesn’t really matter if people pay, I think now it’s just more because I’ve done it there so often that it makes sense.
You see so many bands streaming now. For instance, Between the Buried and Me, they used Twitch. Trivium and Behemoth, they did their own website, Trivium.live or Behemoth.live
Oh, good. I think it’s one of these things that if, as bands, we’re hoping to make it through this period, we have to pivot. And there’s a lot of opportunity for creativity, within these kind of quarantined shows. The green screen one that I just did, I mean, I think that turned out really cool. And it was… So there’s a lot of ways that we could go. The next one I’m going to do is going to be a little bit more, well, substantially more cheesy, I think. It’ll still be green screen, but this time it’ll be kind of me and my buddies doing it, as opposed to like a professional company. When I first did the quarantined shows, those were super cheesy. You saw the remotes and like the mixing bowl and all that shit. The next one that we’re doing is much more in line with the ghetto nature of that. But to be honest, I mean, those sorts of things… I mean, there’s a certain faction of the music-listening population that insist on a certain level of production value and are very critical if you miss notes and if you’re sharp or flat or whatever. And I think most people are just sick of being at home and are just looking for something. When shit goes sideways, in a lot of ways, that’s the best part, right? You’re like, “What are you going to do?” Right? Well, I forget what happened recently, but shit went super sideways and I was super bummed out about it. Then everybody afterwards, was just like, “Yeah, it was funny. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s like, no one died, man. Let’s just move on.”
I think there was a delay on the first or second one.
I didn’t like that. That bummed me out. But, it was one of these things where I didn’t have anybody else involved with me. So, at the end, I was trying to troubleshoot it. I had to learn the camera thing and the remotes and OBS and Streamlabs and then how to sync it in there and how to have a capture card from my main computer to the other one. And, it was so much prep. That delay didn’t exist, prior to me pressing, start, as Murphy’s Law would dictate. And by that time I was just so like, I honestly don’t know how to solve this. In fact, at that point, I also felt like the amount of information I had put into my head was like an oversaturated sponge. So any new information I was going to have to lose something. You forget what grandma smelled like or something. But you remember whatever it was.
So, do you think that you will be doing a Christmas special?
Oh, yeah. I’m going to do a telethon. I’m going to do… You remember like the whole Jerry Lewis or Timmy’s Christmas Telethon or all these sorts of things? Where they’d have like a 12 hour variety show and they do it for like charities and homeless shelters or whatever. I think we should do that. I think we just get a whole bunch of artists too and everybody could just send stuff. And then we could be like, “Now, straight from wherever, here is, you know, Johnny Winkle Tits, doing a tap dance routine.” I think that’s what we’ll do. I think we’ll do a Christmas telethon and it will just be… It will be the worst telethon ever. Maybe that’s what we’ll call it: Worst Telethon Ever.
Volume Two for Order of Magnitude. Are there any plans for a release date?
Well, there was. We had 30 festivals and a lot of which we were doing headlining slots and it was going to be the crowning moment. And instead, I watched, “How It’s Made,” in my underpants. You know what I mean? So for next year, what they keep doing is they keep booking tours that we have to cancel. But the reason for booking them makes sense to me, because there’s now a limited amount of venues and a million bands. Right? So, trying to get some sort of tour routing ahead of time makes sense to book, but man, they keep canceling them and rightfully so. By the time it turns around to the next legitimate touring phase, I hope I’ll have the interest to do it still, but maybe I’ll have changed. Right?
Back on the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise, the backdrop fell off on the deck. How was your overall experience on the cruise? Was it grueling or fun?
Yeah. I mean, like I said earlier, having kids is the great equalizer, when it comes to being able to cope with things like that. I’ve seen bands and musicians that maybe will freak out when things like that happen or in a worst case scenario, have a tantrum about it. But it just seems like, compared to real life, these are all manageable problems. And that’s just another example of it. It’s like the backdrop fell down. No one got hurt. And so now we play without a backdrop, and go. You know what I mean? We played this show in Barcelona years ago, where nothing worked. And I had to do the world’s shittiest standup routine for 40 minutes, you know? But ultimately, at the end of it, people remembered that too, so…
I think you did that at PlayStation, as well, when you were on tour with BTBAM.
What the hell is wrong with me, man? It always seems to happen.
That show confused me too because you came out after the show with ankle fracture boot. You seemed fine on stage and then later you came out with your boot.
Oh yeah. That’s because we were trying to flip tires at some gym, and I have no muscle in my leg. So I snapped the ligament in the back of my leg. It sucked. It was brutal. It’s horrible. And it all bunched up in my calf. So I had this like… Because it’s like all the muscles that attach from your Achilles heel up to the back of your leg. I do like to exercise on tour. That’s a big part of my thing, but I don’t exercise like, muscle man exercise. I exercise because I’m almost 50, you know what I mean? And I’m trying to sing. But then I think I got a little cocky and we went to this thing and everybody’s flipping these tires. They’re like, “What? Are you not going to flip it?” I was like, “Oh, I’ll flip it. You think I won’t flip it? I’ll flip it.” And then I went to do it and the muscle in the back of my leg just went! And it was funny because, you look in the back of your calf, there’s a big bulge where the tendon had gone up to. Dude, it sucked, man.
What’s the latest update with the new Lightwork album that you’re writing?
I’ve got about 25 songs done and I’m in this process that I typically get into when I’m writing a record and that is, I vomit until I find a song, a couple of songs or even a riff, that really encapsulates what it is that I am subconsciously trying to get at. That’s a hard process because if it was just something that I could articulate immediately, I wouldn’t have to write those 25 songs. But I functioned with sort of a left brain, right brain, independently. And the way that I uncover the first piece of the puzzle, is to just vomit music. At the end, what ends up happening is, I have a bunch of music that I can use for bonus discs or anything. But once I stumbled upon the first piece of the puzzle, then I can start to go. And I’m not sure if I’ve got that first piece of the puzzle yet. I’ve got something resembling it, but I’m not sure if it’s right yet. But I write every day, basically. Sometimes I’ll take a couple of days off just to sort of catch up on life and pandemic and all this stuff. But during school hours, I write. I tend to be fairly efficient at getting a lot of materials finished quickly. Right?
Do you think it will be released next year?
Well, they say, first quarter of 2022. So I’ve got four records that I’m doing next year, that are separate from that. I’ll put all the quarantined stuff in one place and live records and all this, just to kind of keep the boat floating. But I think it’s important that all the records that I do from here on out are not rushed. I think they’ve got to be really, really good. I managed to take my time with Empath and I was satisfied with that. And I think with Lightwork, I got to figure out a way to take that process another level up to, in my own eyes. It just takes time.
Grab your copy of Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1 here!
Grab your ticket to Devin’s Crappy Halloween Party! livestream here!
Tags: Devin Townsend
Categorised in: Interviews