Interview: Devin Townsend
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It’s honestly difficult to know where to begin when talking about progressive rock veteran Devin Townsend. Over the course of a more than two-decade-long career, the multi-tasking maestro has been involved, one way or another, in almost 80 albums, either as a major contributor, producer, special guest, songwriter or otherwise. He’s been the lead singer for renowned guitarist Steve Vai, led the acclaimed death metal outfit Strapping Young Lad, made an insane 17 solo records (one of which, Ziltoid the Omniscient (2007), is about an alien that goes to war with the Earth because he hates our coffee) and once sold a spatula on eBay for over $100. “I put it up for 99¢ and it sold for $100,” the rock icon recalls of the fateful kitchen utensil. “The guy who bought it, he’s in the States, he comes to a lot of the shows and it’s funny. I’ve signed that thing six times now. Every time, he brings the spatula.” The enigmatic Canadian’s zaniness and productivity are rivalled only by his musical versatility, with his albums ranging from extreme metal on entries like Alien (2005) and City (1997) to calming ambience on Devlab (2004) and The Hummer (2006). “I like to think that each record that I’ve put out during a certain frame of mind and at a certain age define that age for me,” Devin explains of his audial variety. “But the experience can be coloured by any number of external circumstances and stimulus: the people who are involved, the studio that you’re in, your level of technical acumen, your ability to focus during that particular period in your life, whatever. It’s all gonna give it colour and make it perfectly imperfect, I guess. “But it starts with trying to articulate that emotional component. I think I’ve always been able to do it to a certain extent. Whether or not I get it as close to the mark as some other records is ultimately… you know, you’re closer sometimes if you are honest, for any number of reasons. I think I find them all really challenging but, to be fair, I don’t think any art worth paying attention to comes without effort.” As a result, Devin Townsend is not someone that considers himself a traditional metal musician, but rather an artist that uses heavy music, in his own words, as a “dynamic”: merely one tool at his disposable. But an important tool nonetheless. “I think that [heavy metal] is recognised as being something that potentially can be very brilliant,” Townsend explains, “And I think it has an emotional authenticity to it that, strangely, when I first started listening to metal, I never thought it could be perceived as having. “When compared to a lot of what’s popular now, there’s no comparison: the artistry that goes into it is heads and tails above a lot of the country and pop and even jazz that is out there. So I think that it was only a matter of time for people to recognise that. I think it took the genre becoming ‘middle-aged’ for people to see that it isn’t just rooted in petulance. “But I don’t really listen to much metal anymore,” he continues.
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