Interview: A Conversation with DEVIN TOWNSEND

ANTIHERO: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me Devin, I’ve been enjoying listening to the Plovdiv concert this week and wondered what particular challenges playing such a venue has over regular venues?

Devin Townsend: Well, considering the fact that the steps are uneven getting all the gear and the orchestra and all that stuff in there is more difficult than a normal gig for sure.

The proximity from a major centre when it comes to things that may be needed on a technical front like computer gear or whatever, that was certainly an issue at certain points.

But I think it’s just the sheer scope of it is what causes the difficulty. Even while I was mixing the record, it’s like three hours’ worth of material. To mix three hours’ worth of material and have it come across as anywhere as accurate as you want it to be is also really challenging, there’s a lot of things about it, that were hurdles, to jump over and through. But ultimately, it’s all in the face of something so awesome for me, creatively and personally, that its something that’s just what happens with the job as opposed to something that’s going to colour my impression of it.

ANTIHERO: plus, the difficult things are so much more worth it at the end.

Devin Townsend: Yep, sometimes. [laughter]

ANTIHERO: Was this one worth it?

Devin Townsend: Yes, yes it was, plus it acts like a sort of swansong for the band, there’s really an aspect of it that while I was working on the mix, while working through the logistics of it that was always a kind of motivator, that it had to be really good because it needed to summarise this particular decade of my work, right?

Even the music I chose to tack onto the credits at the end represented a change and a kind of bittersweet moment that was really worth it.

ANTIHERO: Do you have any plans for any other sort of similar ventures? Like, for example, the Royal Albert Hall gig which was pretty special to witness, at such a prestigious venue.

Devin Townsend: It’s great, a lot of these things, I find I have an internal dialogue within these things. First thing that typically comes up, the thought that a lot of us I think share, is ‘I’m not worthy why am I doing this why should I get this opportunity’, then the more you think about it, what separates me from anybody else? Lots of people get the chance to do this and it doesn’t necessarily mean they are fundamentally better or worse people or musicians than I am, it’s just it’s like these steps that you can take. Have you gone through the prior steps and have you solved the problems that come with those things? I was really able to enjoy both The Royal Albert Hall and Plovdiv and, for that matter, the Roundhouse shows as well because there’s a sense that, not that you earned it because that seems arrogant but something like that, like this is the next step. And to feel unworthy while you are doing it is a waste of the experience and so I put a certain amount of energy into all these things, like just enjoy it. This is a really beautiful moment and the people that have supported it and are at the show are the ones that have facilitated this happening, they all want a good show as well, so if you spend the majority of the show thinking you’re not worthy of it it’s not going to benefit anybody.

ANTIHERO: You’d be giving out the wrong energy

Devin Townsend: Yes that’s it, I think having a certain amount of gratitude toward all these situations goes a huge way in terms of performance, as then you are able to own it as opposed to spending all that time going ‘I really shouldn’t be up here.’

It doesn’t do anyone any favours to be doing it, [self-doubt], specifically if you are an entertainer you know your job is to do the best you can in these beautiful environments, and the reason why you and I are in positions to do these things we like to do are because in those moments I think once you’ve started learning how to turn off that self-criticism and self-deprecation in those moments and just play your heart out then eventually it becomes the norm in these situations and then you get to do more.

ANTIHERO: Maturity plays a part in this acceptance of position which is why I think you’ve been doing well in these big venues because you don’t torment yourself anymore with feelings of self-doubt.

Devin Townsend: That’s exactly it and in that process, one thing leads to another.  Once you’ve made a statement to yourself that, maybe even changing your vocabulary as opposed to ‘I am worth it’ or ‘I’m not’ as that seems so absolute as opposed to just, ‘oh here I am’.

ANTIHERO: You have to learn to have that confidence and it’s not always that easy, even with the more naturally confident artists and singers.

Devin Townsend: Well I would hesitate to be able to identify one naturally confident singer. Even the David Lee Roths of the world, I think they are all fighting something.

There’s something inside that is wounded and looking to be filled with validation from others. I think even that recognition that you’re not alone with your insecurities helps because I mean, after the show, its over. So, it doesn’t change your life necessarily. I think a lot of it is the dialogue you get used to. The self-deprecating dialogue becomes part of our fabric that you don’t question it.

Say if you’re a kid and someone told you that you were unattractive or what have you, you internalise that and then you can become the most attractive human being on the planet but you still, a lot of times, carry around that subconscious dialogue of I’m not worth it, I’m not attractive I’m not.. I mean, I was at a party the other day and some lady slipped and fell and when she got up all her friends were around who cared for her, her only thing was I look so ridiculous and overweight I’m just you know I can’t even get up because I’m such a horrible person and I was looking at her and thinking to myself, this has nothing to do with this accident, it’s just this thing that has been going on.

I mean I even try to tell my kid too when he says “I’m an idiot” I say you can’t say that because the more you say it the more you believe it.  One of the hardest things is changing that and saying I’m not an idiot. I’m a human being and I’m not infallible.  I think that every success that we are able to accumulate in terms of the next step in our career ultimately comes from being able to forgive yourself for many of these things. Forgive yourself for thinking you’re not worthy or for thinking you looked like an idiot when you fell or whatever. Just to be able to observe what you’re feeling and sort of cast it aside and move on to the next thing I think that’s how we level up to the next venue, is by not just holding onto that dialogue of ‘Oh I’m unlovable, unattractive, I’m not worthy’ I mean it’s hard too, I struggle with it all the time.

 ANTIHERO: – I think we all do, especially the arty ones.  I think it’s sometimes part and parcel of being an artist.  But mindfulness, meditation and maturity play a part in that for sure.  Even 5 years ago I wouldn’t have thought I’d be meditating or trying to be mindful of my thoughts. It’s so helpful I have to try not to preach about it!

Devin Townsend: I do the same. I also think it’s not so much preaching a much, I mean it depends on how you go about it of course. But I think that you lead by example when you’re elected by people in a certain way to do these things. When I say elected it’s through the supporting of the merchandise or market sales or Spotify numbers or whatever, in a sense you’re elected  to do this stuff, and I think if you got up on stage and were like “Everyone needs to meditate and everyone needs to let their thoughts go and blah blah blah” everyone’s to in jail because I know for myself, I don’t want to be told shit from anyone, however if the proof is, oh this person is really functional and, in passing,  they mention that they are in to certain things  that have a real tangible effect on that thing they are projecting then maybe it’s worth paying attention to, so leading by example I think, is a way to get your point across without sitting someone down and saying “you know what your problem is..”


Well, I think also that you get too down as well. I mean as soon as someone says “you know what your problem is”, my first thought is “and I’m gone”.

Yeah, my problem is the fact that you’re trying to sell me this life coach bullshit when you have every bit as many problems as I do that are just manifesting in your own unique way right?

ANTIHERO: – Well that went a bit deep didn’t it! – let’s get back to music. So, do you have any plans for any similar ventures?

Devin Townsend: – Yeah well there’s always plans. I think that if there’s anything I’ve had to go a little easier on myself for is that I’m a more a mono-tasker in that I don’t, like if someone says oh we need to deal with this I’ll be like, I’ll deal with that next Wednesday and they will be like well, why can’t you think about this now, and I’ll be like well because I’m thinking about something else.

It’s taken me a lot of years to just get to the point, where if people are confused or think that’s funny or whatever, I’m just – however you interpret who I am to be in regards to how you process your environment, it doesn’t change the fact that this is how I am.

ANTIHERO: – RuPaul has a great quote that goes “What other people think of you is none of your Goddamn business”.

Devin Townsend: – It’s true. Even last night, my wife had to go away for three days; I mean I travel for months at a time, eleven months at a time, and she got to go away for three days and had a full-on anxiety attack. My first reaction is just like, ah come on you just need to deal with this, come on it’s three days, it’s like – I think the kneejerk reaction for anyone is to judge other people’s emotions based on what they would feel in that situation and because they don’t relate therefore it’s of no value. I think even with what I’m working on with this next project ‘Empath’, the whole point of it, the whole point of the theme is you have to be willing to empathise with people and I think that once you do you realise that the reason they are acting that way is not because they are reacting to things like you would but because they’ve got a completely different make up. It doesn’t make it any more or less valid than how you would react to it but you’ve got to be compassionate enough with people you love and respect and care about to know that this isn’t like them being dramatic for the sake of antagonising you, as much as just they are obviously upset and even though you don’t understand, if you’re able to put yourself in their position for a minute it becomes clear that even though you don’t understand; they are upset and that’s what you need to focus on. A lot of times people don’t you want you to solve their problems they just want you to hear and be validated. Like there’s no fixing this I just need you to understand why I feel this way. And I’m the same way. In fact with the bands that I’ve been in and left in a lo9t of the ways in both those situations, there was just like, I just need you to understand why. I know you don’t. But it’s really important to me that you do.  And the reason why I am this way is that I am different than you, and that doesn’t make it any more or less valid its just human relationships. It’s the social engineering of it all. Even when I look at discourse in America or worldwide, people against each other without any dialogue and I think a lot of that just comes down to societies being trained to filter out empathy and look at it as a weakness.

But you know here’s the problem with it, I know both people on both sides of the political fence. Everybody has reasons. I think one of the things that become a problem is people looking at political points of view that they don’t agree with just casting off hundreds and millions of people as just bad people.

It doesn’t work like that. Again it’s a very similar thing to not being able to rationalise why my wife has anxiety in a situation. It’s the same thing as it’s very easy to be just like, come on. But when you look deeper you go “oh I understand actually.”

This is why it’s interesting. It’s like you think to yourself in that situation, it’s something that you get so accustomed to it no longer has that thing but if you’re not accustomed to it it’s easy to see how much it’s so stressful.

If I was to go on a roller coaster six times in a row, go on the rollercoaster and get off, go on and get off, go again, by the time I got to the fifth or sixth time I’d probably feel no anxiety. But that first time is just like the unknown. What could happen right?

I mean roller coasters don’t scare me. I just don’t like them. I’ve got my career and that’s enough!

But again, some people like vegetarian, some like meat and it’s easy for people to think, well because I feel this way about it, I don’t understand why people don’t. I often think that’s the most challenging part of society today. It’s sort of getting to the point where you are able to say well you know while I don’t understand, how can I?  Because really the tangible problem here is that someone I care about is upset so you know, when we’re younger, I know from myself I’m like “Argh you’re upset but I don’t understand so you just gotta get over it because this is like ‘I like rollercoasters and you don’t’ or whatever” .  I remember when my kid was first born and my buddy  came over and he said “fuck you look so tired” and I’m like “yeah I’ve just had a kid” and he says “well you know what you need to do, you need to jump out of a plane to fix your fears.” I said, “you know what I need to do, I need to fucking sleep for an hour!”

It’s good to be able to talk about these things as well as it’s very easy to think, again, vilify people who you don’t understand why they feel the way they do.  I don’t know. It’s a challenging time particularly to stay focused.  Meditation works for me as well.

Getting older does that to people!

I’m going to have to wrap the interview up here as I’ve another lined up in a couple of minutes

ANTIHERO: That’s absolutely fine, we didn’t talk very much about music, but that was a genuinely interesting conversation that I very much enjoyed!

Devin Townsend: Much more interesting to me than talking about music to be fair.

ANTIHERO: Well, I am going to take that and put a feather in my cap, thank you!  I have one final question. Have you ever seen Ziltoid on a wedding cake?

Devin Townsend: YES, I have. I have actually. It was excellent.

Devin Townsend Project
Photo © Thomas Woroniak Photography




Donna Craddock

UK - Photographer

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