is a Canadian musician and record producer best known as the co-founder,
vocalist and guitarist in extreme metal outfit Strapping Young Lad.
Townsend was discovered by a record label in 1993 and was asked to
perform lead vocals on Steve Vai's album Sex & Religion. After recording
and touring with Vai, Townsend was discouraged by what he found in the
music industry, and vented his anger on a solo album released under the
pseudonym Strapping Young Lad. He soon assembled a band under the name,
and released the critically acclaimed ‘City’ in 1997. Since then, he has
continued to write and record albums with Strapping Young Lad, along
with solo material released under his own independent record label,
Townsend's trademark production style, featuring a heavily multi tracked
wall of sound, has been compared to the styles of Phil Spector and Frank
Zappa. His versatile vocal delivery ranges from screaming to singing,
and his songwriting is similarly diverse in nature. Townsend's musical
style is rooted in metal, and his albums are written to express
different aspects of his personality.
Strapping Young Lad's five-album contract was fulfilled with the 2006
release of ‘The New Black’, leaving the band on indefinite hiatus.
Townsend has since spent more of his time producing albums for other
groups, and continues to write and release self-produced albums from his
home studio. Townsend is currently working on a four-album series called
the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT, with each album being written in a
different style. The first entry in the series, ‘Ki’, is due to be
released next week.
So there was much to talk about and
was available to answer some questions. Here you can read what he had to
say to the readers of Metal-Experience.com
It’s been a couple of years since you put Strapping Young
Lad to rest (2006) and your latest release ‘Ziltoid The Omniscient’
(2007) came out. So can you give us a quick update, what have you been
up to the last couple of years?
Basically the past couple of years I’ve tried to
formulate a plan for where I want to be musically and to figure out what
I’m going to do. I was looking for a different style,
It has to do with being free. In the past few years the
music I made is who I am and what I want to do. In the past few years I
knew I wanted to keep making music, but also making a different style of
music. The music had to be clearly defined.
How did you launch into writing the material for ‘Ki’, did ideas come
easily so that you just had to write them down or was it more of a
careful composing thing? ‘Ki’ is a careful composition, but
generally the way I write I don’t spend too much time thinking about the
process, it just kind of appears. ‘Ki’ is no different, but this one in
particular was a difficult one to make because I was constantly
second-guessing myself, because this is so different from my previous
work. But this is also very rewarding for myself, because it allowed me
to realize that whatever the music wants to be, you just allow it to be
that. It’s the purpose of ‘Ki’, a calm and peaceful album. It has been
produced in a different way than I normally did.
What were the goals you had in mind when you started
writing this album?
I did not allow it to go to extremes. A lot of people
wanted it to be heavier or more extreme. But I did want something new!!
So for me it was exactly as it should be. Sometimes you have to hold
back your temper and find piece. If it had been any heavier, it wouldn’t
have worked for me. My life has also changed a lot in the last few years
and you can catch that in the music. It feels good. My life has gone
through all kinds of phases and that’s also what works through in my
music. It’s about emotions and life changing things.
Did you have an idea of which musicians you
wanted to feature on this album before you wrote the songs for ‘Ki’?
I knew that I wanted a drummer and bass player
combination who were older and from a different scene. But I didn’t know
who. But these people were in my life at that moment. They fit the
occasion, so it just seemed to make a lot of sense to ask them.
Could you please describe the implications of the title
‘Ki’, what does it stand for and is there a special meaning behind it?
It has two meanings, it’s a Japanese /Oriental term which
means ‘life energy’ and has a lot to do with where I’ve been over the
past few years, like people dying and getting born and all that. And
also ‘Ki’ was a favorite record that I was very influenced by as a teen
from a Japanese artist named Kitaro, so that’s how I got this title.
On this album you had help from drummer Duris Maxwell and bass player
Jean Savoie to name a couple, but each of you guys is from a different
musical background, how did you manage to come to one musical agreement
when you worked on the songs on the album? Or did you just instruct them
what to play?
Yes I did instruct them absolutely and I was definitely
open for their meaning and what they could do. Things had to be possible
for them to play. For the most part I just told them what I wanted to
hear and how they had to play it.
Can you give us a little background for the songs on the
album, is there a story behind them?
I think if there is a story, it’s a very loose story, then it’s
basically a representation about what happened to me personally the last
few years, like I have been through a lot of changes. I’ve quit smoking
and drinking and cut my hair and am a father now and quitting the band.
All these things happening to me have made me who I am now, and it
follows a time in my life. It’s no dark side of the moon kind of theme
but there are moments in your life that make you change and that turn
your emotions and energy in other directions…
Did you spend a fair amount of time working on the record before heading
over to record the album? How much time did you spend in the studio?
It took me about 3 months in the studio but it took me a
long time to write the album. That is because at the same time I also
wrote the other 3 albums. ‘Ki’ is just the first album of a series of
four. It’s the beginning of this series and hopefully they will all be
out by the end of the year. The good thing is that they are all very
different musically. But together they make sense.
I read that ‘Ki’ is the first in a series of four, where
each album is essentially a different band or collection of session
musicians playing your music. Can you already give us some names for
your these albums and what can we expect on these albums?
The second record is called ‘Addicted’ and I already
finished the drumming and bass guitar on there, it should be ready for
mix in about two weeks. It’s a very heavy melodic album, something like
Devin Touwnsend band, but then heavier and less personal (lyric-wise)
and a lot more fun. Production wise it is also very modern. The 3rd
record is called ‘Deconstruction’ and this is a very, very heavy record
in some spots similar to Strapping Young Lad but very different in other
spots, very avant garde and almost symphonic, but very heavy! And the
fourth record is still untitled but this is an acoustic kind of new age
ambient like record. I still have to work on that.
What is the utmost important ingredient for a song according to Devin
Something that makes me emotionally involved with it and
that does not necessarily has to do with the lyrics, it’s how it makes
you feel and the energy is very important. It is all about the energy. A
good song can make you feel strong or sad or happy and energetic. Then
it’s a good song, if it touches your feelings.
Do you have any favorites on this album, songs that you
think are somehow above the others?
I like the song “Kado”, “Terminal” and “Ki”. I am proud
of the whole record but these are the songs that I like most right now!
With such a big fusion of styles in your music, are there
any particular bands who’ve been a big influence in your song writing,
metal or otherwise?
Oh yeah very many, when I was very young I loved the
musicals from America like Andrew Lloyd Webber and others like, Jesus
Christ Superstar and West side story.
When I was younger I could really connect with these
musicals. as I got older there were bands like Judas Priest and Def
Leppard and later on Kings-X, Jane’s Addiction and Fear factory and
death metal and black metal and The Young Gods. What I love musically is
pretty large and wide. I love symphonic music and so on. It’s all about
the emotion the music gives you.
Have you received any feedback on the new album yet?
A lot of people who reviewed ‘Ki’ at first didn’t like it
at all in the beginning. But as they listened to it a few times, they
changed their minds and started to like it. Some even said that they
gave it a bad review but after playing it again they heard something new
every time and then they started to appreciate it more. But it doesn’t
bother me too much, I could see people who don’t like it but I love it
and that’s very important to me.
How difficult is it these days to sound original?
I think that it will be difficult if your intensions are
to be original and different. For me I never have to make it different,
my life gives me the inspiration to make music. It’s totally unconscious
and it comes naturally.
What were the highlights and low points throughout your career up ‘till
We played some good shows with all my bands, We played
the world cup in Korea which was very cool. I played with many, many
good musicians and I can’t really tell you a highlight, I just put my
head down and go for it, and currently I go for whatever lies ahead of
me instead of the past.
What is the ambition you still haven't fulfilled yet?
Completing the next 3 albums. After that we will see
what’s coming my way.
Which album has been your biggest musical influence, one that made you
think “this is what I want to do!”?
Maybe ‘Watermark’ by Enya and ‘Nothing Shocking’ by
Jane’s Addiction and ‘Soul Of The New Machine’ by Fear Factory and don’t
forget ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska by Kings X?
What about touring again, can we expect some live shows
in support of your latest release?
I would say if I am successful in releasing the four
records, which I will be, then there is no reason why I wouldn’t tour.
But for now I have so much work that it’s too far away to think about
it. But it will happen if people like my albums. I just don’t know how
it will be and when I will tour again.
Finally, where do you see yourself going in the coming
years, or do you not think of the future too much?
Personally I don’t really think about the future too
much. There are definitely some directions or options how to go. The
albums could become popular, they could be impopular or basically it
could go like everything else went. I prepare in some way or another for
whatever comes. As long as I like making music I will continue.
Any last statement?
Anneke from The Gathering/ Agua di Annique is going to do
some vocal stuff on the next album which is entitled ‘Addicted’. I like
her voice and she recently came over to Vancouver to record the vocals.
That will be a good surprise for the Dutch metal heads.
Thanks for the interview!
Devin Townsend Project
1995 - Punky Brüster - Cooked On Phonics
1997 - Ocean Machine - Biomech
1998 - Infinity
2000 - Physicist
2001 - Terria
Ziltoid The Omniscient
Devin Townsend Band
2003 - Accelerated Evolution
2006 - Synchestra
Strapping Young Lad
1995 - Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing
1997 - City
1998 - No Sleep 'Til Bedtime (Live in Melbourne)
2003 - Strapping Young Lad
2005 - Alien
The New Black