Devin Townsend – Presiding Over the Clusterf**kSunday, 15th September 2013
Dead Rhetoric: It makes me go back to when you were playing with him – how old were you? Nineteen or 20?
Townsend: I was 19, but man, I fucked with him hard. I went out of my way to make him miserable because I couldn’t articulate my frustrations in a mature, realistic sort of way, so I’d do what anyone else would do and take a crap in his guitar case. I think that all of these things are parts of what I do musically. To much of the chagrin of people that want me to repeat myself, whether it’s with Strapping or Ocean Machine or Epicloud or anything, I’m so tied to my life in terms of my creative process. Who am I is reflected in myself. So all of this Retinal Circus, Steve Vai, what I’m doing now, what I’m doing later, it’s all part of that.
Dead Rhetoric: Jed [Simon] joined you for “Love” and “Detox.” As you said, there’s always the cloud of Strapping Young Lad hanging over you, but you confronted it by having Jed onstage with you. How cool was that?
Townsend: First off, thank you for recognizing that, because that’s exactly what it is. Ultimately, I’m going to do what I want to do, and that’s the bottom line. The more that people demand I do something, the less I want to do what they demand me to do. When I was a kid or first in a relationship with my wife, she would comment, “Whatever it is I want you to do, I make sure I don’t tell you to do it.” I’m aware of it, which is a good first step. It’s the truth – I hate being told what to do and I won’t be told what to do. So the more people go on with these self-serving demands about Strapping Young Lad, I’m like, “Look, NO!” Not now, more than ever before, because I keep being bugged about it.
For me, having Jed there and playing Strapping was important because I didn’t have the opportunity to really – other than being “Fuck you, quit talking to me about Strapping” – I’ve not had the ability as a musician or as a person to reflect on, “How do you feel about Strapping?” Regardless of what anybody feels or their misinterpretation of it, how do you feel about it? And how do I feel about it? I’m totally proud of it; it’s a huge part of my life. It’s something I have an immense emotional connection to, and respect for, but in the same way that what I’m doing right now, which is Ziltoid or Casualties, Strapping is what I was doing then. I find that I can totally sympathize why people would want it back, but my frustrations lay with any band, Guns ‘N Roses, Godflesh with Streetcleaner, anything, I don’t understand the process people go through in terms of assuming that if the band was still active right now, they’d be like the period that was of emotional significance to them. I don’t understand and I’ll say that straight-up. But the more I look into it, I realize that it’s everywhere.
I read something about Ihsahn and about Emperor getting back together, and in the interview, he gave a very explicit and perfectly logical explanation as to why Emperor wouldn’t be the same now as it was then. I thought “Okay, that makes perfect sense.” But the comments are unequivocally “No, I don’t agree – you’re wrong. Emperor would be perfect if they came out again.” My reaction is just confusion. That being said, because it’s a reality and you can’t escape it, I have no problem explaining myself.
Dead Rhetoric: To back that up, you played a Strapping song in Chile and posted a message on Twitter after the show essentially apologizing for it. What happened there?
Townsend: The crowd loved it, but for me, I don’t know how I feel about it. And Strapping Young Lad, as much as I wrote 80% of the music, it wasn’t just me. It was Gene [Hoglan], Jed, and Byron [Stroud]. For example, I bought the new Black Sabbath record and I can’t listen to it because the drums are distracting.
Dead Rhetoric: Because it’s not Bill Ward playing.
Townsend: It’s not Bill Ward. It has nothing to do with the drums being not-Black Sabbath or poor performance or poorly recorded, or anything – it’s just that I can’t shake it’s not Bill Ward, so it’s not Black Sabbath to me. I know that it’s a naïve way of looking at it, but I feel the same way about anything I do. Unless it’s completely me, I don’t want to be that guy, I don’t want to be that guy that goes up and plays Strapping Young Lad songs. I wrote most of the stuff, but I didn’t feel comfortable. In fact, I felt that until I worked on my relationship with those guys – and not that my relationship is bad, it’s healthy – but until I come to terms with it and until people stop bugging me, I’m not going to have any perspective on the band other than frustration, other than odd memories. I just felt that it’s not what I wanted to be doing right now.
Dead Rhetoric: Moving along, you’re working on Ziltoid Part II right now. What’s the goal with it this time?
Townsend: I think the goal with anything I’m working on right now is to take my time with things. If it takes five to ten years, that’s what it takes. If it takes two months, it takes two months. In the past, I’ve been forced in a lot of circumstances to think quicker than I’m comfortable with, or to make decisions thematically or conceptually that were knee-jerk as opposed to thinking it out. The record I’m working on now, Casualties of Cool, it’s the first record I’ve made since Ocean Machine that I’ve been able to think it out. Everything else has been “Go, go, go, we need another record, you have to get it out.” What I did with the Devin Townsend Project with the four, and now five records, and three box sets, there was never any time to think about it. And so, now, I’ve been working on ways to generate income that allows me to slow down that process. There’s a lot of different things: I’m doing seminars, I do a radio show, there’s a lot of different things are letting me take more time with Ziltoid Part II or Casualties of Cool, because I’m past that point where it was need to produce is of any interest to me.
Dead Rhetoric: Like you’re a factory.
Townsend: Exactly. And that’s what it was becoming and what I was becoming. I was running, not out of ideas, but out of interest in it. It ended up being “Why am I doing this?” Am I doing this because of other people? And I think Epicloud in a sense was about that. I put an empty suit on the artwork and wrote a bunch of songs that I thought people would like. I liked it too, but I had to come up with a theme underneath that engaged me because the music was so simple. That record was written in a month, there was no long-term anything. It was, “You know what? I want to write a bunch of pop songs.” I got it done and I think the end result was that it did well. But I had to put on the choir and had to find a theme that engaged me or else I’d feel like it was phoning it in.
After Epicloud, I decided the next thing I do, I don’t want to knee-jerk. I don’t want to be doing anything other than my desire to do. If I don’t love what I’m doing, it’s not going to be authentic. I did love Epicloud, but one more after Epicloud? I would have been over it. Because it was relatively commercial and it did well, there are a bunch of people in my life that are like “We want another Epicloud. Give us another Epicloud.” And, my reaction to that is the same for Strapping Young Lad: “It’s not what I want to do right now, I don’t know what to tell you.” If I do another Epicloud right now, it’s going to be full of shit.
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