[Photo by Wessel de Groot]
Below, we continue our interview with the prolific and influential Devin Townsend. Click here for part one.
Speaking of risks, in October you have something really awesome and risky taking place. The Retinal Circus. How’s that shaping up, and how exactly did that get started in the first place?
Well, we have a new management company. Well relatively new; a couple years now. And it was… we had this idea, the manager did, because he knows that my goal includes symphony stuff, and musical stuff, and theatrical things, right? So how does one get that started? How does one put their foot into those sort of statements? Really, the only sort of thing you can do is to dive in. So we booked [The Retinal Circus] under the assumption that it would force us to dive in. So what The Retinal Circus is essentially shaping up to be is a retrospective of my career. You know it’s a three hour show, right? And it would become this theatrical presentation that has a story and the timeline of that story is illustrated by music from my entire career and I have people involved with the show — like, tons of people; there’s going to be dozens of people on stage. But again, the logistics of making something like this, we’re not proficient at yet. This is our first foray into making this, and we’re on a relatively tight budget for making it work. So we’ve been working relatively tirelessly to make The Retinal Circus something that when you’re there, it’s going to be awesome, but the hope is that someone will see it and go, “hey, why don’t we do this elsewhere?” and then hopefully — my fingers are crossed behind my back here — someone will see The Retinal Circus and see that I’m writing a symphony with the Z² thing, and by the time all that actualizes, the next step after The Retinal Circus will be not a scrappy band of miscreants trying to pull together something on a shoestring. I want this to be for real; I want it to be serious.
So The Retinal Circus is this two pronged crown; one is this epic, really awesome show that’s a retrospective of my career with a lot of surprises coming up at this point, and the other side of it is that I’m hoping it will be the beginning of what ultimately ends up being what the Z² project is meant to be.
A full blown theatrical event.
Oh yeah, but not as awkward as those 70’s sort of things. I want it to be cool, man. I want it to be intense.
Well, I’m sure it’s going to be something to watch. I mean, everyone’s super excited about it. You announced the project like two years ago, then you subsequently cancelled it for ZTV, and now it’s back.
Yeah, well my favorite thing with Ziltoid and all this stuff… you know the label and the management, they tend to be very concerned that I say so much on Twitter or that I announce something and it doesn’t pan out or whatever, and I thought about it, and part of my process is bouncing it off people. You know, I wanna get an idea of what people think, and if I get inspired to do something, I’m excited about it, man, and it’s fun for me to share that. To say, “hey man I just had this great idea, I wanna do this,” and then you know you’ll get a few people that are gonna support whatever you do and say, “hey, we’re looking forward to seeing it,” and you’re gonna get other people saying, “well what about this? Have you thought about how that will affect this?” and it allows me to sort of put it in perspective.
So everything that I’ve discussed on Twitter goes to —- Causalities of Cool, Z², Obviouser, ZTV, the Ziltoid movie, the new website — all this shit is going, but a lot of times they all have to take sort of pole position in accordance to what needs to be the focus, right? So it’s all going, it’s all happening, and the fact that I do mention it is not based on these sort of whimsical ideas that will never come to fruition, it’s just sometimes gonna take between six months and six years to come out, but they all eventually will.
Speaking of projects that will seemingly never come to fruition, any chance the Gnome Chompsky thing is going to happen? [Laughs]
Yeah, that’s called Obviouser.
Yeah, I got the bass rig together for it. I just got these two 4×10 Ampeg cabinets, like sweet, and I got this fretless destructive thing, and it’s going to have an Icelandic choir singing this incredibly dissonant, like death march music. It’s harsh shit, man. But you know, I’m working on the logo and all this stuff, but in terms of my own interests, it’s in the back of my head, and until such time that I wake up in the morning and say, “that’s what I wanna do,” it’s going to remain in the back of my head. It’s an interesting enough project for me, and absolutely it’s going to take pole position eventually, but it’s currently like fifth or sixth.
You mention Twitter and your involvement with social media, and I think that’s another aspect of your career that’s unique and sets you aside from the rest of the metal scene, whereas people are shut in their holes for two years, and they’ll release album art, a song, and eventually an album and say, “Hey what do you guys think?” but then they’re gone again for another two years. Whereas you are continually feeding your fans information and bouncing ideas off of them, and I think that involvement and that aspect of who you are creates a sense of loyalty from your fans, regardless of whether or not it’s bad or good. We’re always excited to see what you’re doing next. Whether we like it or not, we’re always excited to see what you do.
Yeah I get that, and that’s the whole thing. Number one, I don’t like to refer to the audience as fans, you know? It’s the audience. It’s people who listen to what I do. I don’t like that sort of hierarchy that comes along with… like, we’re the musicians and as a result of that we are on some echelon of human development artistically that you can’t relate to, so we will dispense benevolence whenever we deem appropriate. I mean, for me people are… people. There are doctors that listen to what I do, you know they’re saving lives for a living. It’s like, I’m making music and I’m very happy and very honored to be able to do that, but what allows me to make music and what allows me to have perspective on what I do is how it relates to others? I’m not an island, even though I’m stubborn and even though I choose to do whatever it is that I choose to do, those decisions of course are ultimately mine, but I like to interact with people. I like people. So my desire to bounce things off people on Twitter, or involve people with what I do isn’t based on some sort of grand marketing scheme, it’s because I find it a cool part of my process.
I think that there’s another thing that’s always been constant; I remember when I had my long hair and beard, and all this other sort of shit, and in hindsight it just obscured who I was. You know, I wanna be visible. I wanna be accountable. I want people to say, “That’s Devin. I like it or I don’t.” That’s cool; I don’t care. It’s not like if someone doesn’t like what I do, it doesn’t change that I like it, and it also doesn’t change what’s coming next. It’s an honest representation of where I’m at. There’s people that love Deconstruction that heard Ghost and where like, “well I’m going to have to wait until you do something else, because this doesn’t personally do it for me. Good luck though,” and then the same people might hear Epicloud and be like, “oh, not yet,’ and they might hear Z² and be like, “Okay, there’s one that I like,” and vice-versa. There’s people that loved Addicted and hated Deconstruction, and they might’ve heard Ghost and liked that. So ultimately all I’m looking for is for people to be aware that what I’m doing, there’s no motive for it other than trying to be artistically honest, and sometimes that artistic honesty takes me a couple of years to realize that I was full of shit, but at the time I was doing what I thought was appropriate. So social media, the audience, all that shit, it’s interesting for me, and I’ve got nothing to hide.
You know, it’s interesting that you say Epicloud is a very commercial album, but in a lot of ways it’s really not. It still has that heavy metal sound to it that bludgeons the listener. So I always find it funny when you say this is commercial, or that’s commercial. Yeah, it’s more commercial than Deconstruction or Alien, but it’s still isolated enough to where even if you’re too good to listen to top forty hits you can still enjoy this kind of music.
I guess when I say ‘commercial’ — and I do call Epicloud commercial — it’s in relationship to the rest of my catalog. More so than in relationship to what Godsmack are doing, or what Avril Lavigne does, or anything like that. I mean, you should check out my new Ke$ha direction. I’m referring to Epicloud as commercial in the scope of what I do in comparison to Devlab, or…
The Hummer, or City, or Infinity, or Terria, or any of that shit. Throughout my catalog I’ve had tons of songs that would fit on a record like Epicloud, like ‘Christeen’, ‘Stagnant’, ‘Material’ — any of that stuff. I’ve been writing this sort of thing since the very beginning.
But I’ve just never had the motivation, or the inspiration to make a whole record that’s…
Yeah, and half-way through Epicloud I was like, “wow, I wonder if I’m still going to have the motivation once I’m six songs into this.” ‘Cause usually what happens is I write five or six songs and I’m like, “I’m gonna get a record out of this direction. This is great,” then I run out of gas six songs in, and then I think, “well I should just put out an EP,” and then later on I’m like, “I don’t want to put out an EP. That’s a hell of a lot of effort for six songs.” You know?
But with Epicloud, I found that I had enough inspiration for this kind of music that I got like a couple of dozen songs out of it. So I think it was a good move for me, on a personal level.
And Epicloud does have that second disc of songs that you were given permission to release, but you also ran into a similar situation with Ghost, but this time it didn’t fall through, like with Ghost 2. Would you mind going into more detail about what happened there and if we’ll ever get to see it completed?
Well, basically with Ghost 2, at the time I was new with the management company, we had resigned with Century Media and I said, “hey guys, here’s Deconstruction. Oh, and here’s Ghost. Oh, and by the way, I wrote Ghost 2. Give me the word and I’ll finish it,” and at the time everyone was like, “whoa whoa dude, you got so much material that we’re putting out right now. How are we going to put out another one? So you’re gonna have to hold on to that one, until we’re ready to do it.” So with Ghost 2, I was like, “Well okay,” and I left it and it wasn’t finished. The songs were finished — like I had ten songs and whatever, and artwork — but I couldn’t technically release it, and in order to maintain relationship with these new people, I didn’t want to like, trump that and put it out on my own or all this shit. So here we are, a year later, and last week I opened up my folder for Ghost 2, and I started listening to the mixes and listening to the songs, and I lost perspective on it; I’m not there anymore. Where I was when I was making Ghost isn’t very easy for me to access and go, “oh okay, you do this now, and okay, that does this.” So when I’m in a different place for like Epicloud, or Casualties, or Z², Ghost 2 doesn’t have any meaning for me anymore, and it wasn’t finished enough for me to print it and be done with it; I needed to work on it a bit more. So it was a casualty of that whole work.
However, here’s the upside of things. When I listened to it… there are several songs that have already been released; ‘Radial Highway’, ‘Watch You’, ‘Mend’, uh…
Yeah yeah yeah! ‘Fall!’ All that stuff. So half of the record is already out there, and the other half which is music that I love, like ‘Perspective’, ‘Coming Home’, ‘Moonshine’ and all these songs. I started thinking, “well shit, I could actually really use these things as another emotional component to the Z² project.” So currently as I pick away at Ghost 2, I’m finding that a lot of the material that people haven’t heard is going to come out, and once it’s all out in one way or another, whether or not it’s on Z², whether or not it’s on somewhere else — I’m working on a video for ‘Moonshine’ that I’m going to try and finish on this next tour — and then once it’s all out, I’m going to put the whole thing out for download; you can just have it. But at this point when I listen to the record from beginning to end… At this point if I put out the record, it’s going to get attention. They’re going to put it up on the site, and it’s going to be like, “here, Devin Townsend has got a new record,” and if it’s not something that I am one-hundred percent stoked on, it’s just a stupid move for me to just put it up. So I would say to the people who have been waiting for Ghost 2; it got sidelined, it’s a casualty, but you’re going to hear it eventually. We have so much shit coming out; let’s just not rush things. It’s all going to come out eventually.
And this is the most productive period of your entire career
[laughs] Epicloud is your fifth album in three years, not to mention five live albums, a live EP….
Yeah and with the bonus disc on Epicloud, the shit is a double record again, but the way I’m looking at those I certainly don’t want to define myself by my productivity. I’m productive right now cause that’s what I feel like I need to be, right? But with Z², I’ll tell ya between me and you — and I guess everybody who reads this — I wanna take a long time, I don’t wanna fucking rush that thing. I’ve been rushing so much, man. My true nature as a person, I like to take it slow. So I’m looking forward to getting a little bit of a breather, but it won’t be a breather necessarily, it just won’t be as relentless in terms of productivity!
Devin Townsend’s forthcoming album, Epicloud, is due out September 18th on InsideOut Music. Pre-orders are available here, and here. Don’t forget to catch him on his upcoming North American trek, The Epic Kings & Idols tour, with Katatonia and Paradise Lost.