Cult of Luna
Voivod: Part 2
Voivod: Part 1
Dillinger Escape Plan
The Year In Metal
Dead to Fall
Tapping The Vein
High On Fire
Metal Meltdown IV
Metal/Hardcore Fest 2002
Century Media Records
My Dying Bride
The Year In Metal
Metal Blade Records
Maudlin of the Well
Thrash of the Titans
Dust To Dust
Six Feet Under
Metal/Hardcore Fest 2001
Metal Meltdown III
Pain of Salvation
Children Of Bodom
Cradle Of Filth
Lamb Of God
Garden of Shadows
March Metal Meltdown
Metal/Hardcore Fest 2000
Flotsam and Jetsam
Call him "mad genius." Call him "visionary." Hell, call him "God." Whatever exalted title you choose, Devin Townsend is revered for his work with the aggro-juggernaut Strapping Young Lad and more recent projects, like 'Ocean Machine' and the newly released 'Terria' album, that have fused the heaviness of SYL with the softer, more melodic strains of progressive rock. Metal Update was lucky to snag a few minutes with Hevy Devy to chat about where he's been, where he's at and where he's going. . .
METAL UPDATE: How many different instruments do you play?
I play guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals, do samples and all that shit. That's about it. I used to play tuba in high school, but, you know, nothin' really beyond that.
MU: Did you start on all of those instruments before you started working with Steve Vai?
Yeah, I come from a pretty musical family, so that was all part and parcel.
MU: I don't know if this was your phrase or something a journalist came up with in reference to the 'Physicist' record, but someone referred to it as "speed metal pop songs." Do you listen to pop music? Are you influenced by it at all?
Oh, yeah, yeah. I listen to everything, man, like as much as I can ingest of everything, you know? I think it's kind of ridiculous to count anything out. I mean, if it's popular, there's usually a reason - no matter what the reason is. Even elevator music has its place, right? So, just finding the place for it and using that to your advantage when you're writing your own music.
MU: Do you listen to classical and jazz music, too?
Oh, yeah, everything.
MU: Are you a King's X fan?
'Gretchen Goes To Nebraska' changed my life.
MU: Did it?
MU: The reason why I ask that, I came across that on your website, but also some of the vocal arrangements and atmospheric points of your music have a King's X vibe to them.
Definitely, they had a pretty big influence.
MU: A cover of "Shout At The Devil" that you did with Stuck Mojo was just released on their 'Violate This' album.
Yeah, that was done years ago.
MU: Were you a Motley Crue fan?
MU: Did they just ask you to do it?
Yeah. I was producing their record at the time [Stuck Mojo's 'Pigwalk'].
MU: Strapping Young Lad is very aggressive and I definitely would call that "heavy metal," but would you use the term "metal" to describe most of what you do, or is that too narrow of a word?
I like the heaviness of metal in order to add a dynamic punch to things, but I think at the end of the day, I'm just writin' music, like "music" music, not "metal," not "rock," not anything. I'm just writin' music, but I'm using the heaviness of that particular genre just to, you know, to make it bigger, right?
MU: Are there any metal bands nowadays that you're into?
I like Static-X quite a bit, and I like. . . like Dillinger Escape Plan and Nevermore's new one was good - bunch of stuff. I really like Samael, their older stuff. You know, there's a lotta metal out there that's really cool, but there's a lot of it that just sounds exactly the fuckin' same. I'm producing a band in October from Sweden called Soilwork, and they got a whole sound going on in Sweden, now, I'm anxious to sorta be a part of.
MU: Have you got a deal for American distribution of your records, yet?
We're working on it right now, actually.
MU: Do you know the name of the company you're going through for that?
It's not in my best interest to say.
MU: Okay, but you will be getting distribution soon?
MU: So, did Steve Vai mention or do you know what it was about your talents, specifically, that he was attracted to?
No, he never did. I really don't know. I think he found a similarity between what I do and what he does. It was pretty rough at the time, but I think as time has gone on, his influence on me has shown its colors, and I may be bold to say vice versa, as well. Yeah, I think at first it was just sorta like, "Oh, yeah, this kid seems to be singin' about similar things to what I'm thinkin' about," or whatever it was at the time. That sort of set the stage for the first meeting that we had, which was very much like that. It was very much, "Yeah, great. . . "
MU: You say as time has elapsed, you've shown more of his influence. What kinds of things, specifically, do you think he passed on to you?
Production ideas, I think, more so than anything else. He's a lot more subtle than I am, in the way that he produces, but he layers a lot. I got a lot of that from him. Even though I'd always sort of intended on doing that, I got a first-hand lesson in how to do that from being involved with that record with him and the whole works - that and just sort of doing my own thing, you know what I mean? I think that he is an example of somebody who's doing his own thing and is moderately successful at it. So, you know, it's something to strive towards, I guess.
MU: Do you still keep in touch with him at all?
From time to time, but nothin' really in particular. We're playing a show down in LA next month, and I'm gonna go hook up with him, hopefully, and we'll see how things are.
MU: You know, when you first started out, you were so young and you started with Steve Vai, and then you got a gig playing with the Wildhearts for a while, and then you hooked up with Jason Newsted of Metallica and did some demo-type jamming, and so forth. Within a short amount of time, you'd gone from the guy from Canada and now all of sudden you're playing with all these big names. At that time, was that kind of difficult for you to absorb? Did you have to sit back and say, "Wow!"
Well, I mean, yeah, I'm sure, to a certain extent, but there was also that reality check that came into it, where you're seein' all these people in their underwear. It kinda takes some mystique away a little bit. I wasn't really a big fan of what I saw, as far as the industry was concerned. Throughout all the stuff - even though it was an honor and a privilege to play with all these people and all these bands, blah, blah, blah, and do these shows and all that - I was always lookin' ahead to my own stuff, you know? Like, I would play a club the size of a toilet just. . . with my stuff, you know what I mean? That was always an undercurrent throughout all that stuff. I don't think I appreciated it as much as somebody who, perhaps, their role in music would be that of a sideman because I'm not really. I'm more of my own dude. You know, playing sideman to people kinda made me uncomfortable, I think - didn't do my ego much good.
MU: With the projects you've done, like 'Ocean Machine' and 'Physicist', you're pretty adamant about calling them "projects" and not "bands." In your mind, what separates a "band" from a "project?"
Well, when I think "project" it's like, if it says Devin Townsend 'Infinity', Devin Townsend 'Terria', Devin Townsend 'Ocean Machine', even Devin Townsend 'Strapping' more so than projects, those are just the names of the record, right? But what goes into the making of the record is a whole life experience for me. It sums up a year of my life, including the people that were in it, the emotions, the trying to include pictures of what was going on at that time, photos from that period of time, all these things. So, with that in mind, it takes engineers and artists and all this, managers and all this sort of stuff to make a record come to fruition. Even though it's a Devin Townsend record and I wrote it all and produced it all and played all the instruments, blah, blah, blah, there's still a lot of other people involved with it. It becomes a "project" to me, you know what I mean? That whole. . . 'Terria,' for example. . . 'Terria' is the name of the record, sure, like 'Headhunter' was the name of a Krokus record, but it's still a "project" in the sense that it was a real defined vision that went on in the process of making it. A band, for example, like Strapping, I wrote all the material and played everything except for the drums, really, but what made that more of a "band" is the fact that part of it, from the get-go, was I'd included people in the making of it, and puttin' their pictures in the record and all this stuff - people who I thought would make a killer band. So, it was kind of like a "just add water" type band. There's a record already there, and I just got my friends in, Byron and Jed, and got Gene in to play the parts that I had programmed, and then when we went out on tour with it, eventually we became really good as a band. No longer did it become like the "Devin Townsend thing." It became Strapping, right? So, that's how I would say that, you know, Strapping is that. That's why I'm going to keep that as that one project, and Devin Townsend band would be the other one where I include all my other solo stuff, other than fast stuff.
MU: I was under the impression from some of the news releases I've seen that Strapping Young Lad has been put on semi-permanent hold. Is that still true, or are you thinking about resurrecting that?
Well, that's. . . You follow what you follow, right? Every record that comes out is whatever you were doin' at the time, you know? I couldn't really help 'Terria', for example. It just came out. Now what I'm finding that I'm writing really heavy stuff, you know? So, I mean, if it turns into that then, there it is. That's what it is. That's what I sorta meant to imply when I made that little statement about it. If I get the feeling, I'll do it, but if I don't, I won't. It's as simple as that. It's not like I'm procrastinating or anything. It's just that if you don't feel it, it just comes across as gross if you try, right? So, just go with what comes naturally, but what's comin' naturally right now is that type of music, anyway. So, who knows, it could be in the cards.
MU: When you left Century Media, did you think about possibly switching to a different label, or were you pretty much deadset on starting your own label and releasing your own records?
Oh, yeah. Roadrunner was for a while, but they backed out. Then it went to Century Media. Like, we're not really off of Century Media. Strapping is still Century Media, but everything else is just my own, and the reason for that is I signed a non-exclusive deal with Strapping, or with Century Media. So it's like anything other than Strapping is mine, right? So, that seems to be working out in a way that if I can make both of 'em work, then one benefits the other, right?
MU: How many more records do you have to go before the Century Media contract is up?
There's nothing carved in stone because we're renegotiating everything at the moment.
MU: At least for Strapping Young Lad, do you plan on continuing your relationship with that label indefinitely?
Well, just for the sake of taking the fifth, I'm gonna opt out of that question in case something happens and I have to back up on it. So, no idea yet.
MU: Are you pretty pleased with Century Media? Was there anything in particular that you did not like about Century Media that made you take some of your projects outside of SYL?
Oh, sure. I mean, it was like, when I first started with Century Media, they were just a young company. Their contracts were really shitty, but then at the time, I was pretty desperate. So, it's like, I don't really think anybody really fucked anybody over, it's just that you get to a certain point in life where you just - if you're not making any money, you can't do it anymore. So, you gotta find a way to make money, you know? That was the way that we found to make money was to do it ourselves, right? So, as far as Century Media's concerned, yeah, they're fine. I got tons of friends that work there, you know? It's like there's no real bad blood. They seem to be getting bigger and with that maybe they'll be a little more lenient in really wantin' to focus on promoting bands. If they wanna do that, then who knows? Maybe we can work out something really good.
MU: Does Tracy [Hevy Devy Records President] deal with the major, day-to-day business stuff?
Yeah, she does.
MU: So, you're kinda on the sidelines a little bit?
I do the dishes. . . pick up CDs from the manufacturer plant. . .
MU: With owning your own business now, what kinds of things have you learned, positive and negative, from having your own label?
Well, positive, you're in control artistically. All the successes that you have are sort of heightened because you're sort of. . . a bit more blood, sweat, and tears goes into it. On the negative side, though, if you fail, you fail only because it's your own fault, right? That's a bit hard to swallow sometimes. . . so much work, that it is hard to maintain everything, so it's a constant feeling of failure a lot of the time with this level.
MU: I just got done reading an interview in Metal Maniacs [August 2001], and the interviewer there was talking about SYL and writing a follow-up to 'City'. You stated you were frustrated with trying to compete with other bands that are very heavy. Do you feel you have to compete with other bands like that?
Not at the moment. I did then, but not now. Now, it's just of a matter of just going, "fuck it." Just makin' a metal record, as opposed to worrying about it being viewed as being inferior, or whatever. I mean, it's just an inferiority complex, you know? It's just a matter of gettin' out there and doin' it, now.
MU: The last several records, like the new one and Ocean Machine and stuff like that, compared to SYL, there's still heavy stuff on those records, but SYL was very, very aggressive. Are you less interested in being aggressive now than you used to be?
Actually, I'm more so at the moment, but not necessarily in a destructive way - more just for fun, just energy. I think that's kind of important at the moment.
MU: So, during those years when you wrote 'Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing' and 'City', you talk about your records reflect what's going on in your life, did you have a lot of personal anger or issues in your life that made those records angry?
Well, I don't think any more than anybody else - just life shit, you know? I don't really have too many places to vent, so I do it on paper or on my guitar. It's just a snapshot of a certain frame of mind, and I don't think it should be taken much more seriously than that, you know? It's just a temper tantrum caught on tape.
MU: When you write music, does your train of thought follow a formula? Does it start with a guitar riff, a lyric. . .
It's primarily guitar, but, yeah, it can be anything. It can be a movie or a drive in the fields or whatever. Inspiration comes from all sorts. As far as the process is concerned, I usually compile experiences. Then when I've got a chance to sorta sit down and put it all together, that's when the music comes out. You know, I sort of suppress all my ideas until I've got a chance to really put 'em all together, and I let the floodgates open. Then you got a whole record in a month and a half.
MU: You've been doing this for a good ten years now. Has it become easier to create music? Do the ideas flow easier now? Has it become harder?
It's all about the same, you know? Doin' a record, in general, is a bitch. Tryin' to make it sound exactly like you want it to be in your head is a real pain in the ass. It's all worth it when you listen to it after, 'cause it sounds effortless, but the process is certainly not.
MU: For all of your own records, do you do all the production and mixing and the whole bit?
MU: Do you do that at your own studio?
I rent out studios, but I've got a little basement setup goin' that keeps me doin' it on a digital level.
MU: Do you enjoy having that sort of control, or does that often feel like too much work? Do you get frustrated with having to do everything?
I get frustrated, definitely, definitely, but you learn the path of least resistance. Eventually, it all comes together in a simple way.
MU: What kind of tour plans do you have for the new record?
Well, like I say, man, I split it up into two bands, and we're going to see. If I can do it on the Strapping record, then we'll promote that. In the meantime, I'm hoping to get a bunch of shows in with the 'Terria' guys and try and really hammer this record home. I think it's got a lotta potential.
review of Devin Townsend 'Terria'
DEVIN TOWNSEND / HEVY DEVY RECORDS
DEVIN TOWNSEND FAN SITE
CENTURY MEDIA RECORDS
Interview: Anthony Syme [
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [
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