Devin Townsend – Love Songs Are Silly (And So Are You)

Sunday, 31st March 2013

(This content originally appeared on in October of 2012)

This scribe has done several dumb and/or careless things over the course of his three decades on this planet, but spilling coffee on Devin Townsend could have been the capper, if not for the miracle of gravity. After exchanging friendlies with Townsend and his band in the upper regions of Mr. Smalls Theater in Pittsburgh, we proceeded to man a small table, where upon an attempt to sit down resulted in the kicking of said table (I have long legs and tend to cross them at all times…in a manly way, mind you), causing a momentary wobble and tilt of Townsend’s piping hot brew. Miraculously, the coffee maintained its balance, all the while an oblivious Townsend was distracted by conversation with his tour manager. Sighs everywhere. Imagine the headline: “Devin Townsend Cancels Gig Because of Severe Burns. Idiot Journalist Shunned By Metal Community.”

Epicloud is the name of Townsend’s newest sonic foray, an unofficial companion piece to 2009’s Addicted, an album that blended arena metal vibrations with the off-beat and infectious brand of metal only Devy can provide. Epicloud takes things a step further, though, as heard on earth-shaking, joyous “love songs” (Townsend’s words) like “True North,” “Save Our Now,” and “Angel.” With the aid of former The Gathering songstress Anekee Van Giersbergen, there’s no shortage of sugary vocal acrobatics and moments of sonic bliss. It might be Devy’s most satisfying solo work to date, but don’t tell him that – it will only give him impetus to do something different for the next album.

We mucked it up with Townsend during his recent run on the “Epic Kings & Idols” tour with Katatonia and Paradise Lost. And once all fears of getting scolding hot coffee on Townsend subsided, we got down to business… For this tour, on one side you have the “dark” bands, which are Katatonia and Paradise Lost, then you have you guys, which are on the opposite end. Pretty nice dichotomy, eh?

Devin Townsend: That brings up something I’m passionate about – the idea that music being not necessarily a reflection of the people who make it. I think a lot of the time people come to a show assuming that because they have an emotional investment in the type of music you do, that you’ll be that person…and you’re not. You’re able to represent parts of yourself that needs to be exaggerated, but shit, Paradise Lost and Katatonia are great people. Everyone is coming at music from the same angle – we’re just trying to get by. I think it’s healthy for people to recognize that music is coming from a place of honesty, it doesn’t matter what you do. So far with this band, we’ve done Obscura… [interrupting] You were here last year with Bodom, right.

Townsend: Yeah, and we’ve done Between the Buried and Me, and Cynic, and now there’s a talk of a bunch of bands that you wouldn’t think we’d be getting involved with, but it works. But from my point of view, I’m trying to entertain people with music that has been healthy to exercise certain things with. The album came out today, so how does it feel to have another in the books? You’re at what, 20-some odd albums?

Townsend: I’ve lost count. It feels great; I love to make music and people to turn on something that makes their day better…or worse [laughs]. I really love this one, I’m very proud of it for a number of reasons. On the surface, Epicloudis a very simple record, and it’s epic. There’s this element of the audience that has a personal investment in wanting things to be progressive or complicated, and it really seems like the scene is going in that direction. You get a bunch of 20-something year old bands… [interrupting again] Who can shred and do arpeggios.

Townsend: Right! And that’s all they’re interested in or comparing themselves to. So for me, it’s very liberating. I’m not going to do it, fuck it, good luck…I did something like that with Deconstruction. So we put something together that you could enjoy, your wife could enjoy, and your kids could enjoy. My girlfriend likes it, and she doesn’t even like female vocals.

Townsend: I think Anneke is an anomaly, too. She’s got a little pixie voice, but she’ll beat anybody down. I like that strength in her. I think it was important for me to make a statement to do something aside from the expectations. And also not throw curveballs at people with this one; I just wanted to make a good record. I think it’s a lot like Addicted, where there was no messing around.

Townsend: Yeah, but with Addicted, there were some curveballs melodically or rhythmically that I put in there because I hadn’t gotten to the point where I could be confident enough. There’s a little melody in “Resolve!” [hums melody]. I think that’s cool, but we didn’t need to crowbar that into any of this one. But I think it’s also fair to note that this one is a moment in time and what I do next will have little to do with this one. That’s how it’s always been with you, though.

Townsend: I’m hoping if we gain any momentum with Epicloud, it won’t be trumped by what comes next [laughs]. There’s still this avoidance of any comfort zone.

Townsend: Which is really good for business [makes sarcastic face]. The label [InsideOut Music] is going to want anotherEpicloud if the sales are good.

Townsend: Right, but the next one I’m doing is this country, Johnny Cash thing. Again, I’d much rather follow the things that important to me to follow than to follow what the label wants me to do. But, I have a really good relationship with the label, they roll their eyes, sigh, then work with whatever we give them. I have the album on my iPod and the parts that always get me is the “Effervescent” sequence that pops up a few times throughout the album. Is that you doing all the vocals, or is it a choir?

Townsend: It’s me, and Anneke, and a choir. I hired a gospel choir for this thing. It’s this 20-person, Vancouver-based gospel choir who were really cool. They were very liberal [laughs]. I tried to be conscious of the lyrical contributions because I didn’t want to offend them. I have no interest in religion at all. I think there are some good things in spiritual nature that no one has any knowledge of, but that sound, I really like. After a little while, they asked what it was about, I told them it was how I think humans can be really cool to each other and every song is a love song, so if you’re down, you’re down. And they were. They were super into it. By the last song, “Liberation,” there’s a line that says “It’s time to forget all the bullshit and rock!” I didn’t want them to say it, right? But you could see them chomping at the bit. It was the greatest part of the record. In terms of using Anneke again, did you fly her up for this album like you did for Addicted?

Townsend: Yes. We have a good relationship. We’ve tried to foster this heavy metal Sonny and Cher [laughs]. She’s the same age as me and she has kids too, so our relationship is based on trying to represent this male/female dichotomy and the drama that comes with it. A lot of times if you’re working with a female vocalist, singing is an intimate thing. That gets clouded if your lives aren’t set. She knows my wife, I know her husband, she has great kids, I have great kids, so our relationship is based on like, “Let’s use these two sounds that we have an emotional connection with.” I think that lack of drama is awesome. You brought “Kingdom” back, which was originally onPhysicist. Is there any process for bringing back old songs?

Townsend: There are a lot of things from Physicist that I’m working on bringing back. I want to do “Victim,” I want to do “Namaste,” there’s a bunch of things. I just hate the sound of that record. From the minute it came out, I thought it sounded bad. I slowly want to re-do certain songs on it because there’s a lot of good stuff on it. With “Kingdom,” it seemed to fit into this record because when I wrote Physicist, I went through a time in my life where I made a bunch of stupid mistakes and I was really morose and apologetic about it. In hindsight, being able to look at it differently and see what my decision making process was at the time, I’m able to see it with a much different frame of mind. It comes across as an affirmation of that process, as an opposed to an apology. Let’s not forget you brought back “Hyperdrive” onAddicted, so you’re two-for-two in that department.

Townsend: With my music, it’s all a work in progress. There’s some bands and artists and I hear what they do, and it’s like “This is it. This is set in stone, this is our monument.” And for me, it’s a by-product of life. It has very little to do with the music or record. If something is not right, I’m going to make it right. If that means redoing songs or scrapping albums, I’m going to do. Ultimately, the music is there for me to sort out my process, so shit, who knows what will get scrapped in the future [laughs]. I’ve stuck with the comment you made regarding how you had Def Leppard in mind when writing Epicloud. How much does it ring true?

Townsend: That’s what I wanted to do. I’ve always loved that vibe. A lot of it comes down to, ever since I got into heavier music, any inclination toward that stuff is met with, “That’s cheesy.” Through Strapping and Deconstruction and the proggy things I do, you get stuck in what I call “The Heavy Metal Chess Club.” Unless you’re doing things that are pushing certain envelopes…I get so sick of that elitist mentality. “I only listen to challenging music.” I like challenging music, but not all the time. In fact, a lot of times, I think of it as pretentious muck. And I’m down with that. Sometimes I don’t have the mind for it. It took me a little while to get around to it, like, maybe I’m not as smart as those guys. Well, fuck it. If that eliminates me from being a part of that crowd, better to do it now than in five years. It doesn’t take much to get into both Addicted andEpicloud. You don’t need that sort of complexity, you know?

Townsend: I’m surrounded by kids. My kids are playing with other kids, my sister has kids…kids are everywhere. And I think there’s something to be said for that direct, “I like it or I don’t.” There’s no beating around the bush.

Towsend: If all relationships were that easy, it’d be a lot easier to get through [it]. I think there’s a time and place for complication. I have a proclivity for it, to a certain extent. But I also think if you just focus solely [on that] for a certain amount of time, you’re going to get sick of it, and that’s what happened to me. I did all of this soul-searching, existential BS and that’s what I had to go through with those four records…with the intention being stated from the beginning that I’m trying to work through certain artistic hang-ups to achieve clarity. That was the intention. So to release a record after that, still doing that, it’s like you didn’t do anything. With Epicloud, it’s inevitable. If those four records are about getting over it, then Epicloud is like “I’m over it, what’s next?”

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