Interviews

Interview: DEVIN TOWNSEND

ANTIHERO: Hi Devin! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today! So, obviously, we are here to talk about the album “Order of Magnitude” that you are releasing, which is based on the live shows that you were doing last year. Tell me about it in your own words!

Devin Townsend: Well I guess the first thing I’ll say is I do so many projects that it’s it seems like ages ago that I finished that one. But basically, throughout my career, I have spent a lot of time trying to replicate the albums to try and make the live shows sound like the albums and because of the amount of layering and the amount of overdubs that I tend to do on my recording is that it’s meant having no real option other than to play the backing tracks. And although I think I’ve been successful with that because I can improvise around it or what have you, There was a certain part of me that really wanted to see if I could pull it off with a live band rather than with computers. And that’s what this was about. So, I kind of went out and I hired 10 people to play on the stage. And it was a huge undertaking, as you would imagine, because of the amount of work that it took this for the visuals and the logistics of it all. But by the time it was done, I realized that to a certain extent I could pull it off in a live format. And it also brought with it some interesting opportunities for improvisation and what have you. And now we have Order of Magnitude as a result of that.

ANTIHERO: I was actually at the Manchester Albert Hall gig of that tour, I had no idea what to expect and it was completely different to pretty much every other time I’ve seen you and I’ve seen you quite a few times. It was absolutely beautiful, I really enjoyed it. I even cried a couple of times; it was a really emotional evening. I actually I remember I saw you at Bloodstock a few years ago when it all went terribly wrong with the backing tracks, but this time obviously it’s completely different. Because you relied on people instead of electronics, was the dynamic different? How did you enjoy working with so many different people on stage?

Devin Townsend: Well, I think the thing about this particular group of people that was so endearing was the fact that no one had really played heavy music before. And like nobody involved with this, none of the singers, you know, like the guitar player, bass player, none of them had been playing heavy music. So getting all these disparate personalities into one place and then getting them to participate in this was potentially very risky. And what I found is that perhaps through that tumultuous experience, everybody bonded really well. And it became a group of friends really quickly, even on the days off, everybody would spend time with each other, which was in my touring experience, very rare at least with this amount of people and that benefited to the onstage dynamic as well. Everybody enjoyed each other’s company. And, and there is this, there is this kind of communal sense of purpose that made it so that if things did go off the rails it was okay. There is a good chance that we would be able to not only find our way back but oftentimes find something interesting on the way back.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, absolutely. And without the backing tracks, you’re not constrained by the things that you put on two or three tours ago and it’s a bit scarier I’m sure.

Devin Townsend: I think it’s checks and balances, right? Like on one hand, you eliminate that sort of stiff and inflexible thing that happens with computers. But on the other hand, you’re left up to the band and everybody’s memory. And fortunately, it was a bunch of very virtuoso style players, so that even when somebody did forget something or if it did go off the rails, they’d often do something really clever. So I’d be like, okay, well that wasn’t right. But that was really cool.

ANTIHERO: Pretend it was done on purpose!

Devin Townsend: I think that’s it. I, you know, I’ve heard, oftentimes people say that if you make a wrong note, just play it really loud because then people will think it’s intentional!

ANTIHERO: So, what things did you learn from doing the tour this way that you will carry on going forward and what things are you definitely like, “Nah, that didn’t work. I’m not getting that again”.

Devin Townsend: Well, I learned that moving forward trying to plan amidst of pandemic is not a great idea.

ANTIHERO: Well, you’re doing pretty well. You’ve been belting different projects out, twitch, podcasts, live gigs, a whole host of things.

Devin Townsend: Yeah. I mean, it’s my job and I love my job and I’ve got to find ways to pivot it. So that’s just something that seemed like, okay, well, I guess we’ll go this direction now! But I guess in terms of an actual tour, it was so abrupt the way that this came to an end, that I don’t know if I had much of a chance to process what I would take from that experience in either a positive or negative way because I went straight from that and I got sick immediately upon going home. And once that got better, I had to do the quarantine thing for a couple of weeks. And then I just started working here. And the last thing I remember, I was in a hotel room in Nashville and now we’re in basically October and I’ve done a whole bunch of other shit. So I don’t know my friend, I don’t know what I’ve learned or what I haven’t learned, but I just keep learning. So

ANTIHERO: That sounds awful! Was it regular sick or COVID sick?

Devin Townsend: It was a flu that had similar symptoms. So, they stuck the thing up my nose and did the whole COVID test. Oh my God, it sucks. Did you get it done?

ANTIHERO: I have and it’s horrible! My poor husband works in care and he has to have it done every week the poor thing.

Devin Townsend: Yeah. I don’t envy that at all. It’s like the doctor told me to, he was like, “Hey, you’re not going to like this!” And before I had a chance to question him, he stuck it in there. My foot shot out and my toes are going straight. But yeah, I didn’t like it at all, but no, it wasn’t COVID, but it was a bad flu. And it was just one of these things that I came home and I had to quarantine myself from the family, but I was in the studio. So that’s where I decided to quarantine myself. And then after a week when I started feeling better I said “Well, I’m out here. I might as well start seeing how I can make this career maintain itself during this period.” And maybe that’s where the gestation was for all these projects that I’ve been working on.

ANTIHERO: What things have you particularly enjoyed doing while you’ve been stuck at home?

Devin Townsend: I mean, I think everything that I’ve done, I like to a certain extent, but how I tend to function is, you might notice, is that I’ll do a Twitch stream and then I won’t do one for a couple of weeks or I’ll do a podcast and I won’t do one for a month or so. When I do something it’s because I feel like doing it. And so when that’s my incentive to do so, it becomes easier for me to do it because I’m motivated to do it. If I have myself set up on a schedule that was along the lines of, okay, well on Tuesdays you do Twitch and on Wednesdays, you do a podcast and on Thursdays, you do a guitar thing. And it, you know what I mean, if it was like that, I probably would be sick of all of it at this point. But whenever you see something from me, it’s because I wake up that day and say, Oh, I feel like doing that today. And as a result, it’s all been rewarding to a certain extent.

ANTIHERO: That actually makes perfect sense! In my day job as a photographer, its all well and good when I’m shooting the fun stuff, but as soon as I’ve got actual scheduled work to do my brain rebels against me and I’m like “I don’t want to do that!”

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Devin Townsend: It’s funny how that how, when we are self-employed, as we both are, getting used to that feeling of just being like “This isn’t a fun day, but let’s just get through it, so eventually we can get back to doing creative things”

ANTIHERO: But at least in our jobs, our worst days are usually better than other people’s best days!

Devin Townsend: That is very true indeed.

ANTIHERO: I actually asked on one of the Devin Facebook groups if anybody had any interesting questions and I got absolutely slammed with them! So I picked out a few of my favourites. So firstly, the artwork for your albums and also SYL albums have always been really striking. Do you have your say on the artwork chosen and do you have a vested interest in the art? What are your thoughts regarding the artwork around surrounding all your various projects?

Devin Townsend: It’s hugely important to me and I start the artwork often before I start the music. So the record that I’m working on now that won’t come out until 2022, I started the artwork for it last year. And what typically happens is I have a vague vision for what I want to have it be presented as, and then I will choose from a group of artists that I know or have worked with in the past or can afford or whatever the parameters for that particular project include. And then I just have a meeting with them that in the beginning, I say, okay, this is the tentative name. And it can be something very, very specific or very, very abstract, but I say, okay, I see a lot of the color beige or, or all of green. It’s something about the shadows. It’s a complicated or it’s sparse, or I see a bunch of desert dunes or in the, in the case of EMPATH, I had seen this scene that had like above the water and below the water. And there was a mixture of benign and, and aggressive entities. And it just, it becomes a thing that I really require the artists that I’m working with to be excited about it. And also to continuously send me input. So he’ll send me sketches or demos and things. And then as it starts to progress, I’ll make it my desktop background on my computer. So every time I’m working, I’ve got this visual counterpart to it. And then what typically happens is I’ll write a song and I’ll be like, Hey, you know, now that I’ve written this song, this seems like it’s pointed in the direction that I’m wanting to go. And in that is included this other thing that isn’t present on the art. And so then I’ll contact the artist again and say can you try adding a bit of red to it? Can you try adding like a little monster in the corner? Can we try getting rid of that monster in the corner or whatever the case may be? And then by the time the record gets close to the finish line, the art and the record happened working side by side, and it’s a great way for me to function. And it’s, so it’s essential to a release for me, for the artwork to coincide and really compliment what it is that I’m working on.

ANTIHERO: That was a great question with a way more intense answer than I expected, and as a working artist myself, I completely appreciate that you are totally visual. And of course, I am a music fan as well, so the two things are completely intertwined forever as far as I’m concerned. So it’s good to know that you’re on the same level on that. Another question from the group, you have featured a lot of female vocalists in your work, as we know, is that the same going forward?

Devin Townsend: Maybe. I mean, I like the sound of the female voice. The people that I’ve worked with thus far are easy for me to work with because we’re friends and it’s like, it’s very easy. Working with new people, regardless of whether or not it’s a singer or a drummer or anything, it’s like, they’ve got this learning curve that you have to go through on a personality-wise. And sometimes that effort is daunting. And so I will choose to work with somebody that I already have a relationship with. It all started with Enya, I guess when I was 15, the album “Watermark” was just a huge album for me. I just loved that album. And I didn’t realize how divisive she was, but apparently, she is. But since that point I’ve always been like, well, I kind of want to mix Metallica and Def Leopard and Westside story. That’s kinda my trip.

ANTIHERO: I think that’s actually quite perfect. I love it! So obviously with the, with Bloodstock not happening this year, and you were planning a request set which you’ve now done on a streaming basis. Is it the same plan for next year? Or do you plan on doing something totally different?

Devin Townsend: Well at the moment I’m asked once or twice a week to confirm tours that keep getting canceled. So my approach to that is I just say yes to them. And if they go ahead, then I’ll start thinking about the content a month or two prior. And at this point, my plate is so full with the chaos of it all that it makes more sense for me to focus on what’s going on now rather than worrying too much about that yet.

ANTIHERO: No, that makes perfect sense. Another question from the group! How’d you feel at the direction of music is going nowadays for the younger generations? Obviously, a lot of the pop music that’s coming out right now is very forward-thinking, experimental, there’s a lot of different genres involved. And I’m quite excited about where this is going to go. What are your opinions on that?

Devin Townsend: I think music will always play a role in society, of course, but I think it’s, it’s role is less significant now than it has been. And I think that although kids really do love music, the ease in which you can get whatever you want basically instantly has made like a sideline role, as opposed to it being the feature that it has been for many years, like, remember thinking about Led Zepplin concerts in the seventies where 60,000 people would go to see four people on stage, right. With no visuals, with no real lighting, just four people on stage playing music. And I think a large part of that, obviously, it was a good band and all that, but a large part of that there wasn’t a whole lot of the entertainment options that we have now, like the video games or Netflix or movies or streaming or Twitch, or Spotify. And so music in my estimation plays a role now that is just parallel to people’s lives, as opposed to the focus specifically young people’s lives. Maybe not myself, because I’m no longer young, but with the kids that I’ve seen, it’s like, Oh, they liked music, but it’s not a goal as much from what I can tell.

ANTIHERO: And one last question, this one came from the Facebook group, and I really like this one. Do you ever see yourself doing any kind of movie scoring in the future? It’s something I think you would be particularly good at!

Devin Townsend: I mean, I would always consider it. I’ve never been offered. And I would wonder if I would be easy to work with. I wonder if I would be stubborn because the way that I work is so insular. It’s so in my own head that when people ask me to do things, I tend to just react by saying no. And so if somebody had like a very specific movie and they’re like, Oh, here’s the part with the zombies? I’d be like, I just don’t, I don’t care about zombies. So it’s going to be hard for me, my work functions when I care about it. And when I don’t, it’s average at best. So I think as an employee for somebody else’s vision, I could probably suggest three or four other people who could act as composers that would do a far superior job. But, if somebody said to me, here’s the movie, let me know when it’s done. I could probably do really good work.

ANTIHERO: If nothing else it’d be an experience that you’ve not done before. That’s always a good thing!

Devin Townsend: Yeah. And I’m up for that. I’m up for that for sure.

ANTIHERO: Thank you so much, Devin, for your time. I really appreciate that you are talking to a lot of people right now and I hope it’s not too strenuous for you.

Devin Townsend: It’s okay. It’s been a long week, but everybody’s been lovely. So, it’s all right. So, thank you very much for your time and your patience, and thank you for the nice words and love to the family and your friends.

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Donna Craddock

UK - Photographer

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