Devin Townsend is not stopping anytime soon. Following up the massive 2010 and 2011 he had in which he released four albums and two box sets, Townsend sat down to talk with Popblerd! during the Worcester stop of the “Epic Kings & Idols Tour” about his latest album Epicloud, along with The Retinal Circus one off show in London and why Youtube won’t let him post his own videos:
1. Within the past 4 years you’ve released your four album concept, Contain Us, By A Thread came out over the summer and finally, Epicloud was released this week. What drives you to not only keep making music but to keep making so much music?
I’d say it’d be a couple of things. First off, the opportunity to do so is a big deal for me. I write immense amounts of stuff and I love being productive that way. It’s very artistically satisfying. I think that it’s more than I’m comfortable with but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we put ourselves in a position to capitalize on twenty years of doing it wrong and there’s a lot of need for material and visibility and it requires us pounding it out. Even if that wasn’t the case, the fact that I’m able to do it at this point is a real big deal for me and I’m happy [for that].
2. How does Epicloud differ from the other work you’ve done in the past 2 years?
I don’t think there’s a veil on it in the sense that in the past I’ve really been hung up on metaphor in some sense and using something like Strapping [Young Lad] to represent a latent hostility or something or Ziltoid to represent this, that or the other thing and I think the underlying thing is fear of being seen or fear of vulnerability in some sense and Epicloud is maybe the first record that I’ve allowed myself to do that doesn’t feel the need to cover it with that sort of stuff, right?
At first I was actually kind of uncomfortable because Epicloud was something I made on autopilot. I didn’t premeditate it in the way that I have a lot of the other records and so to have it come out that way against my better judgement was frightening at first. I didn’t know what to think. You’ve put so much energy into protecting your identity in some sense by making a caricature of it that to have it so laid bare is like “Oh my god!”. It’s vulnerable, right? But then again you’re like “Well, what are you afraid of?”. Are you afraid of being seen as somebody who feels that way? Why are you afraid of that? And I think my first thought was that society seems to be so hostile towards anything that isn’t overtly aggressive specifically in the scene that I find myself in. The vote of confidence for it always seems to come back to I’ve got a lot of friends who play this type of music that are really good and sensitive people and maybe the fact that it is based on human interaction or love or whatever the record ends up actually ultimately being about is something that I should be more proud of than tentative. That’s kind of where it’s ended for me.
3. You’ve reteamed with Anneke Van Giersbergen on Epicloud, how did your musical relationship with her start and what does she add to your music and writing?
It started with her sending me a Youtube clip out of the blue of herself singing “Hyperdrive” (Off of Ziltoid The Omniscient) and I’ve known of her voice for many, many years of course as a fan of The Gathering’s first record specifically so after seeing it I was like “Wow, it’s really nice to hear my stuff interpreted by a female voice” because, on a side note, I’ve always preferred female voices. Not in metal. I mean when I hear metal, I don’t necessarily want to hear a female voice specifically if they’re doing death metal vocals but I love the sound of the female voice. The problem with including female vocalists is it’s an intimate relationship you enter with anybody that you sing with and you have to choose carefully who you’re going to be involved with because the implications of that can be potentially damaging to what it is you’re trying to achieve musically. If you’re own agenda on either side of that genre that’s participating becomes apparent in the music then I think that’s distracting so working with Anneke is something that I’ve found, over the past three years, we’ve got a really good thing going. We’re the same age. We’ve both got kids. We’re both married. So our relationship has been really about trying to put across something strong musically that hopefully incorporates both sides of the equation so it’s a strong female and a strong male without it being wrapped up in a relationship shit, right?
4. Like “Hyperdrive!” on Addicted, you’ve reworked “Kingdom” on your latest. Why did you choose to revisit that particular song?
I think when I first wrote it I was in a very dark place and it was right in accordance to where I was at at the time so it came out as an apology I think. Then after playing it over and over and over again and with a different perspective in terms of vocally and instrumentally, it became more like an affirmation at this point. To be honest, even though there are some people that really like Physicist, I hated the sound of that record from the moment it came out. For me, a s a person who wrote it and recorded it, I hate how that record sounds so to do it again? I welcome the opportunity.
5. Are there other songs in your catalog that you’d like to rework?
Several on Physicist I’d like to revisit. I’d like to do “Victim”, I’d like to do maybe “Planet Reign”. Maybe “Material”. Maybe “Namaste”. I mean there’s a lot of things on Physicist that I don’t feel got a fair shake just because it sounds like balls, right?
6. Getting to the tour, are there songs from Epicloud that you’re excited to play live?
“Grace” I think is one that I’m really happy with how it’s turned out. As always is the case when you’re playing music live after having not played it before you find that certain songs work better than you expected them to and some songs just don’t work at all. There’s a couple songs we’ve found on Epicloud that I was convinced were gonna work great but so far they’ve fallen a bit flat. This tour, in particular, has been a good opportunity for us to experiment with that and to see which ones we can hone and “Grace” is definitely turning into one that is fucking killer live.
7. Are there any songs in your catalog that you’ll never play again?
Well, never say never, right? There are certain things that I have no interest in currently. People are always talking about “Bastard” from Ocean Machine or Strapping stuff or whatever and I mean if I ever feel like it, I will, but currently my life is going in a direction that eliminates certain elements of my catalog and it’s not because I don’t like it, it’s just I’m not there.
8. What can you tell us about The Retinal Circus?
We just started working on it. Well, we’ve been working on it for a year but the real brass tactics started last night. It’s a fucking humongous amount of work. An overwhelming amount of work. It’s a retrospective of my career and we’ve got a ton of people on stage and a ton of things that are special that I haven’t done before that are very exclusive to this. The people that will be there, will remember it to say the least and if things go well, there’ll be people in the future that said they were there that weren’t, y’know what I mean? It’s potentially going to be really fucking amazing and it could potentially be a total trainwreck, too, but at least it’ll be epic either way.
9. What’s next in the pipeline and what’s the status of Ziltoid 2?
There’s a record called Casualties that I’ve been working on which is sort of like Johny Cash sort of stuff. I’ve got a drummer for it that is an absolute stunning machine. Potentially [after Casualties], I’ll be able to start really working on the Ziltoid record. It’s still several years off because I’ve been releasing things with such intensity that I need to back away from it just to regroup.
10. What’s going on with Youtube?
The bottom line is my account is called “Poopy Nuggeteer” and perhaps they don’t equate that name with some of my music, but, shit dude, it’s registered under my name. It could be Century Media. It could be Youtube. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter. I like fucking with things and it’s fun to put things up.
If you missed Devin Townsend on tour then you’re in luck because all the info you need about The Retinal Circus is right here including how to stream the long sold out extravaganza when it happens live on October 27th at the Roundhouse in London. See if you can spot me in the crowd.