Musical chameleon Devin Townsend recently played two full metal sets on board of the Independence Of The Seas, the majestic ocean liner that hosts the annual 70000Tons Of Metal Cruise in the Caribbean. Headbangers Lifestyle’s Stan Novak was on board and talked to Devin about this exciting new chapter in his already illustrious career.
Photo by Stan Novak
Devin, last night’s show was very entertaining but it was not up to par with what we are used to from your headlining shows. The wall of sound was there but you seemed to struggle with the elements and many details got lost. Given the short preparation for this show it is if course understandable. Having said so, the audience had a great time. And so did you apparently.
,,You know, we have only been a band for two days. We never played before. I already knew drummer Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth) but the other two I just recently met for the first time. Wes Hauch is former guitarist of The Faceless and bassist Kyle Konkiel is with Bad Wolves. For this project I needed people that can get the material down in two days and then play it live accurately under difficult circumstances. During the first three songs of the show our in-ears system was mal-functioning and we had plenty of monitor issues as well. You know, this is the most Dutch thing anybody has said to me on this cruise.”
What is so Dutch about it?
,,Over the years I have learned the Dutch culture to be very outspoken. My manager is Dutch and he is always extremely honest to me. I never doubt his words and trust him like I do my wife. For these cruise shows you have to take into consideration that our preparation was minimal. There is not a large group of people that can even put on ‘a not up to par show‘ like we did yesterday given the amount of time we had. Circumstances for our second show at the outdoor pool deck could be technically worse but I am aiming at more comfort on myself. I hope to be able to perform it in a way that is more in line with where the objective of this material lies. The months prior to this metal cruise I have done completely different music, which was good. I was out on the road with a large group of people without the technical backup, so these metal shows are a very different objective.”
FULL METAL MODE
For the first time in many years you are doing a full metal show. How did you decide on what to play?
,,Since this cruise was added to an already full agenda most of the stuff was chosen randomly. I decided to do the cruise because I felt like I had feared my true metal side for whatever reason for the past ten years. I always thought that my creative motivation to play this kind of heavy and aggressive stuff was rooted in some dysfunction from my part, rather than an essential part of me that I needed to address. What became clear to me recently is that all the things that I am allowed to do, whether it is country, new age, circus etcetera all stems from this community. Although a large portion of the set is Strapping Young Lad material I have no desire to put that format back together. I keep stepping out of my comfort zone because it allows me to become better than I was before. Staying in your comfort zone does not stimulate creative growth. But I also think that the willingness to take chances that are object to failure are a big part of why I have found the success that I have. Strapping Young Lad was very important to me but the reason for me leaving it were the same for abandoning the Devin Townsend Project; I felt limited in what it am able to achieve. The fact that my musical mind has so many desires is a problem in some way. What is more of a problem than anything else is having to have personal discussions with people as to why I want to do things a certain way. And then there is always the salary issue. If musicians are capable of executing one aspect very well but not the other stuff then not only do I have to compromise creatively, but I also have to have these discussions with people which at the end of it I resent. When I am paying a steady salary, which has become almost impossible in this industry, I think I am entitled to go wherever I want to go creatively. Putting back together any of my past bands sets a precedent for the audience. I just have no interest in those levels of expectations. Music enables me to be more functional as a human being.”
Since you confirmed this project the name Strapping Young Lad seems to be on everyone’s lip.
,,I understand that but I never wanted to be a star or in a band like Slayer which has a strict format. Strapping Young Lad was also a format in a way. My creative motivations function in a way that there is no more room for formats in my mind. My career has forced me to explain this process to my audience and I have no problems doing so. I don’t expect people to understand it or relate to it. Ultimately you like it or you don’t. Society moves so quickly at this point and I can relate to the fact that people do not want to invest their time in trying to understand me. My music is my whole life and purpose but I don’t expect anybody to care. I get a lot of critical feedback about the humour I put into my music. I hear a lot of that. But I just happen to think that our whole existence is fundamentally absurd. I think that the idea of being a human being is insane. There is just so much absurdity. If I zoom in on that absurdity it is often said to be not metal and not appreciated. If something is not eligible for metal because it is weird and absurd then I think that is full of shit. If you don’t like it than don’t listen to it. Why would you allow something to bother you if you have the choice to not participate? My objective is very clearly not to bother people and be as honest to myself as I possibly can be. Like everybody else I also have the freedom to opt out on things and when I feel that something is a threat to my health then I will certainly opt out.”
80% IS OKAY
You come across as being very much in control and always putting the bar high for yourself. When do you find a project good enough to release?
,,I always approach my projects as assessments. Maybe it will be good for me if I do this and then halfway I am like fuck, what did I get myself into now….I am generally in the dark until it is finished. I am always hoping to find a light switch but then I realise it is a potato or whatever. My decisions in life are mostly based on intuitions. I have spent enough times on my personality to know whether I am full of shit or not. I am more self-assured then ever before. But there always remain to be maybe’s. I often dread handing over new records to my label because I then have to explain it to people. When an album is done I want the people to feel a certain way. If I get it to 80% of that then it is okay. So 8 out of 10. If I am fortunate it gets a 9. I think that my arrogance is what continues to inspire my work. A part of me is chasing perfection although I do realize and accept the fact that I too am in-perfect. Thru the years I have come to terms with my in-perfection. I need a goal though and having fun is a very good reason to do things in a certain way. But like I said before, humour in metal is often a reason for discussion.”
The humour element seems to have grown thru the years.
,,When I was younger I was trying to make music because I thought I was on some kind of mission. But now, at age 48 almost, I realize that my projects and career need to be cool and fun in the first place. When I said that Dutch thing earlier on I meant it as a compliment. I want to become a better person and musician and want to unfuck myself. I do not want to be a liability for my family, friends or work. The only way I can grow is I if can get challenged. So that is super important to me. So your critical feedback is highly appreciated. I met someone in LA two days ago, I cannot give you his name, somebody incredibly talented but surrounded by these business characters that enable him in dis-illusional thinking. Stuff like that saddens me. When I look at myself I can only say that I am happier then I have ever been. I can honestly say that I am happy. I feel great. I get to do what I want and am surrounded by great people.”
How hard is it for you, for someone who has gone through substance issues, to be stuck on a boat for five days, being in the middle of an around the clock party mode?
,,It’s great to see everybody partying. It’s awesome but I prefer to go to the gym. I also meditate but I don’t do it to be a martyr. I would do crazy shit if I felt like doing it. I am not denying myself anything. In fact if I want a glass of wine I will have one. I am definitely not a teetotaller. I allow myself to drink but I decide to total T if I had the option. You know what I mean? I don’t say no to booze but I don’t ever really wanna get shitfaced again. I don’t feel superior when I see people get shitfaced and I don’t feel like they are doing something dumb. It’s their choice and that is awesome. I myself like to chill out and hang with my friends though. Being on this cruise can be a little punishing at times though. It’s a lot of metal. You wanna know what I really dislike? Listening to metal when I am eating. It’s terrible. Breakfast with death metal fucking sucks man. Pfoeehhhh…. This morning I got some coffee and oatmeal and then all this screaming. I think people might be happier with a little lower metal profile. It feels like there is just no way to escape it. Metal on the intercom, on the toilet and even in the late night dining room.”
I totally agree on that and I will bring it up in the press conference.
,,Please do. But maybe you and I are just getting too old…Having said so, this cruise and metal thing is very important for me to do. At first I said no but then I thought, the fastest way out is thru. Part of the ‘Empath’ process for me was confronting the things that I am afraid of. And I can tell you that the thought of being surrounded by metal on a boat with no escape was frightening me. But I decided to just do it. I rather rip the band-aid off then do it slowly. So I did it and I really appreciate it. But it’s a lot of black t-shirts man… But look at you and me, we are both wearing Hawaii shirts (laughter fills the cabin). I’ve have been doing this for 30 years now and I realise now more than ever that I am part of this community. It does not necessarily mean that I have to live by the code. Live performing is all about wanting to entertain people. But it is recording that really my hearts thick. But without the live stuff I would run out of things to write about. So one thing feeds the other. Thanks for this conversation Stan. It was very refreshing.”
Devin and Stan Novak