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Interview conducted July 07 2012
Interview published August 02 2012

At this year's Getaway Rock Festival in Sweden, Devin Townsend was one of the line-up's most eye-catching names. Some hours before his performance, Metal Covenant sat down for a chat with the Canadian. Besides being one of the most productive and talented artists in the metal scene - and one of its biggest personalities - Townsend also proved to be a relaxed, down-to-earth and nice bloke. Many thanks to Peter Klapproth at Pirate Smile Promotions for setting up the interview.

Mozzy: I read on your Twitter account that you had quite a tough journey to get here?

  • Devin: Yes, that correct. It was a long travel, but I got a good 12 hours worth of sleep last night, which was most needed, to be fair (laughs).

Mozzy: How would you describe your relationship to Sweden?

  • Devin: I've done a lot more in Sweden than I think I've done in most countries. For example, I mixed City in Uppsala, and I produced Soilwork here. And a bunch of my friends… I guess the bands I've come closest to relalationship-wise are mostly from Sweden.

Mozzy: There are indeed many great bands from Sweden.

  • Devin: Yes, plus I think the culture is similar to Canada in some ways. So it's pretty easy to relate, human-wise, and all these sorts of things.

Mozzy: You have a new album coming out. Tell us a bit about it.

  • Devin: Yeah, I just finished it. It's called Epicloud. It's really good, man. I mean, the whole thing with Epicloud is that it's a… I don't think I had intended to make a record this quickly. My main focus I guess is just this Z² project which I have been thinking of for a long time, which is the second Ziltoid record. It's sort of a culmination of everything I've done, with orchestral stuff, a concept and all that. The four records I just finished with Devin Townsend Project were so demanding. Thematically, it was really pretty close to my own life; there were a lot of lyrics that were about things that had happened in my life - trials and tribulations and all this. I found that as soon as those records were done, I had kind of gotten that out of my system and I wanted to write something, apparently, that was very simple.

    Epicloud is supposed to be, in my mind, sort of a… a temporary record - a stop-gap between those four and Z². When I sat down to write the new Ziltoid thing, I think because I spent so much energy writing complicated stuff recently, I just didn't have any complicated music in me. So Epicloud is a simple, simple record. I mean, it's less simple than it started as, to be honest. But if I ever made a commercial record, or a 'pop' record, that's what this is. And I really like it. It's what I really felt the need to do. I went through songs that were from my childhood and songs that I enjoyed that were on the radio, and I never learned those types of song structures. So I just went through them and learnt a bunch of traditional song structures and wrote a bunch of songs based on that. I think it's a really, really cool record and I'm very proud of it. Again, it's an inter-mediate stage between what I did and what I'm gonna do.

Mozzy: So it (Epicloud) will have some catchy choruses, then?

  • Devin: Oh god, the whole thing.

Mozzy: I think you've often had those, and they should actually appeal to a broader audience.

  • Devin: Yeah, I think this record… If I ever made anything like that, it's Epicloud. I find that live, there are certain songs we do - like Life, Vampira or Bad Devil - that a lot of people have fun with. So I just decided to write a bunch of songs like that. And I like it. I think that after Deconstruction, the reaction from the traditional heavy metal crowd was confusion, for the most part. So I thought, if you're not gonna be fully accepted in that scene… If as an artist I feel like being hesitant to make commercial-sounding music because of the implications of that… like it means you're a major sell-out, not heavy or whatever, not having Deconstruction really accepted by the traditional heavy metal scene was very liberating for me. Cause I thought: fuck it, I'm gonna make of one those; I'll make some Def Leppard-sounding songs before I go on and make the new Ziltoid record. And I'm very happy with Epicloud, it's really cool.

Mozzy: Personally, I've always admired your music, from Strapping Young Lad to your other projects. I have quite a varied taste in music and you obviously have, too.

  • Devin: Thank you. Yeah. Well, Epicloud might ostracize some fans, because it is so simple, it's a standard rock formula.

Mozzy: I wonder, since your music has been so varied, do you plan the writing process or does it come naturally?

  • Devin: Well, I never really plan it, but it always comes naturally. I tend to just allow myself to do what feels important. To illustrate that: before I started work on Epicloud, I had no intention of making a bunch of standard rock songs. I thought I was going to start writing the new Ziltoid record, but every time I picked up the guitar, I just started writing like (humming) "de de de de" … I kept putting it aside, thinking - "no no no, you're writing complicated, Alien type of music".

Mozzy: So it really comes naturally, then.

  • Devin: Yeah. And invasively, too. There are some times when I end up writing music that I have no intention of writing. I remember when I did Alien, the Strapping record, I didn't even enjoy that process because the music was so toxic.

Mozzy: That album was certainly a bit complex.

  • Devin: Yeah. But it was something that I felt very compelled to do, so I just did it. And it's the same thing with Epicloud, with Ghost, and the new Ziltoid record: very little energy goes into second-guessing it. I guess that's why sometimes I make excuses for it when I'm making interviews or go online. I'm just like, hey man, I'm sorry - I have no…. this is what happens, this is where I'm at, you know.

Mozzy: That keeps it interesting, too.

  • Devin: Yeah, it certainly does, it keeps it interesting.

Mozzy: You have a special show coming up, at the Roundhouse in London this autumn (titled The Retinal Circus, it will have a very big production).

  • Devin: Oh yeah. I think the future for me has a lot more to do with musicals, and orchestral type of stuff. Still heavy, of course. And I really like the idea of humour and puppet show and this sort of thing. But to get to the point where that is reality, there are certain steps I think we have to learn as a band and as a group of individuals. And one of those things is: how do you make a live performance that represents that sort of musical thing? So The Retinal Circus is going to be our first attempt at making sort of a 'play'. But it's not going to be a play like a Broadway sort of thing. It's a lot of music, and a retrospective of what I've done throughout my career. And I think that… obviously we'll have some choirs, some visuals and acting and so on. It will give us an opportunity to start, at least. And by the time I get to the next Ziltoid record, hopefully it will be second-nature at that point, you know.

Mozzy: Sounds great. I might just have to go to London to see that.

  • Devin: It will be great, you should.

Mozzy: Will there be some guests as well?

  • Devin: We're trying to, but it's like… I find that a lot of the guests I want to get are just too expensive. That's the bottom line... I think that because we're doing it for a DVD, and we're doing a bunch of stuff, I think people get the impression that we got more money than we do currently, or that it's worth more than it's actually is. So the people that I've contacted so far, I just cannot afford, you know.

Mozzy: Do you remember your gig at Bloodstock in 2010? I was there, and you had some serious technical problems before you could start the show.

  • Devin: Oh yeah, man… (sighs)

Mozzy: But it was still very entertaining; it turned into almost like a stand-up show in the beginning. Do you remember that?

  • Devin: Oh yeah, I remember. Well, I think the thing is that… I got asked on the last interview what the most memorable shows are, and I think sometimes the most memorable show are the ones you think are going to be a disaster. Because it all depends on your reaction to it. With that Bloodstock show, if we as a group of people had allowed ourselves to be as stressed out and as miserable as the environment was almost insisting that we were, I think it would have been just a total shit show. Just a total disaster. But we kept a good attitude, and as a result of that it was a success because we did not allow it to become a failure, you know.

Mozzy: True. And you certainly got a great response from the crowd.

  • Devin: Yes. Thank you. And I think that's the case with a lot of things. You know, when I was stuck with the travel yesterday, and planes were being cancelled and everybody was upset and I hadn't slept… There's a certain point were you can either get super angry, or you can just try to let it go. Because to get angry about it, nothing's gonna change, it's not like you will get there faster. You're just gonna be pissed off.

Mozzy: Exactly. That was indeed a memorable show, though.

  • Devin: Yeah. Well I think for the same reason. The amount of stress was so overwhelming that I remember thinking, "ok, you can either allow yourself to get angry at that person, and that person, or you can just make the best of it". And by making the best of it, the audience responds. Because no-one wants to see someone have a tantrum onstage (laughs). And I think at the end of it, it's a good job to have and those problems you encounter - to do this professionally, you are going to encounter those problems. And if you're the type of personality who cannot deal with those sorts of problems then you probably shouldn't be doing this.

Mozzy: You quit touring a few years back. Why?

  • Devin: Well, we had a baby. I wanted to take the first three years off to just connect, and be a dad. And it was good; I definitely have a relationship with my kids and everything.

Mozzy: Cool.

  • Devin: By the time I got back into it, it was good for me to have another perspective, on touring and on music that I didn't have before. I think it really helped; those three years off have really allowed me to enjoy this again.

Mozzy: So you do enjoy it?

  • Devin: Oh yeah. It is hard, as you can imagine. But the best quote that I've heard was "you don't get paid for playing live - you get paid for the 23 hours of travelling and all the other shit". That's the job. Playing music isn't a job; playing music is a privilege. But the hardest part of the job is everything other than that. It's tough, but I mean, it's a job. I have friends who are fire fighters, and their job is incredibly tough, so…

Mozzy: Without a doubt. So, finally, what can we expect from tonight's show?

  • Devin: Well, it's a mix of songs. We're trying to have a good mood and we want people to enjoy themselves. And I think that, you know… we decided a while back that what we play in front of people who aren't that familiar with our music should be a little different than playing in front of people who are familiar with our music. There's going to be a number of people here that have never heard what we do, so we're trying to make it a little more engaging for them. We will try to satisfy them while still try to satisfy ourselves.

Mozzy: Well, I think you will go down well. This is a very nice festival.

  • Devin: It seems to be, there's some great bands here too.

Mozzy: Have a good show and thanks for the interview!

  • Devin: Thank you man!

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