“I’m sure Metallica have got more money than God” - Devin Townsend
For two decades Devin Townsend has been one of the most prolific solo artists in hard rock. He speaks to Ronan McGreevy ahead of his concert in The Academy this weekend
Bald headed: Devin Townsend (with guitar) is noted for his full-on commitment to his art on and off stage.
You’ve had 25 albums and counting. How do you keep up the pace?
I’ve been doing it for so long now. I’ve had a month to reflect on it. Every step of the way is like a rebirth for me. It is an obscene amount of work and the worst part of it is that I’m still trying to figure it out.
It is not like it is 25 completed statements. It is 25 ideas that just keep progressing hopefully to a point where I finally get it.
At this point of my life I’m asking myself: why do I make so much music?
I’ve got tonnes of music I’ve been writing recently, but my desire to pound out records is all but gone.
I come from a blue collar background. I don’t have a lot of time for people who don’t take care of their own problems. Everything that needs to be done takes effort.
In an ideal world, musicians should only release a record and tour when they are ready to do so, but has the collapse in record sales made that something which is now impossible?
That really is it. There is a certain inspiration that comes from that. I don’t think anything that I have done has been forced by commerce exclusively. This is what I do for a living. I’ve got a band on salary and I haven’t picked a lucrative genre.
Luckily, my creative juices are pretty much on tap. If I’m compelled to do something, I can go for it and get it done. Given the option, I wonder would it be more in line with my personal nature to be doing a record every three years and touring every now and then. Money up to this point has prevented that.
I saw a recent interview with Metallica where Kirk Hammett said they have to tour for financial reasons, yet they are multi-millionaires. Why do you think that is?
I’m sure Metallica have got more money than God, but they have got a group of people who rely on them. They’ve become like a family over the years.
There are lots of people who are heavily invested in the project.
In order to keep the boat floating to allow them to do what they do with these people, they’ve got to make sure that everybody makes a living.
You’re a very versatile musician. Do you have a formal music education?
To be honest, all it takes is one good teacher. I had a very good choir teacher in high school. He inspired me not to be afraid to be different.
He was also my English teacher. I was never very good at mathematics. I was never very good at the social elements of school. I was definitely an odd bod.
That education I received from that guy pretty much defined what I have done.
Was being in a choir part of the reason why you have the operatic sound in your music?
More so now. I quit smoking six years ago and that definitely helped my voice. I think that the pivotal point of me in terms of the choral stuff is that I was involved in this provincial choir at 16 or 17. We went and played in churches and convention centres. The music we got to do was so inspiring for me. It thought me how you can represent quiet and loud and how harmony works and the intervals that are involved with the music with a lot of seconds.
Between that and Led Zeppelin, everything blossomed and it just went from there.
You really pushed the boat out with your last album with Epicloud. You must be proud of that album?
The thing with Epicloud that I’m most proud about it is that it says something loud and confidentally that there are things that the metal community don’t like saying - the whole idea of a positive thing and speaking about your own truth without some bullshit religious agenda. It sounds legitimate and doesn’t sound as awkward as if I’m speaking about it.
You are doing a follow up to Ziltoid (2007 concept album about a fictional extraterrestrial). What is that going to look like?
It is a puppet show with an awesome puppet. It is a movie which is the most out there disturbing, comedic thing. It is a free form stream of consciousness. The albums that are going to illustrate it are going to be two-fold. There will be a really complicated orchestral bit that will serve as a soundtrack and there will be a really campy, Rocky Horroresque album that will be more in line with what Epicloud was sonically. It is a big thing. It is creatively really liberating for me.
Canada seems to be producing a lot of really good music at the moment. Have you benefited from the state-sponsored Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records (Factor)?
We’re just starting to. We are up for the Juno awards (Canadian equivalent of the Grammys). The attention that has got has allowed us to be a bit more visible in Canada and that we can take a chance with this Government sponsorship.
At first I was a little weirded out by it because some Canadian folks just make a living from it, but the label said if we didn’t get it, someone else will get it.
When I was growing up I wasn’t listening to Raven or Anvil (Canadian metal bands), it was much more UK or the US like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Metallica or Faith No More or Enya.
The Juno awards have now entered a hard rock category. Is heavy metal taken seriously in Canada?
Fuck, no. They smugly put it there to satisfy the cries of outrage that it has not been included. It is the red-headed stepchild for sure.
As soon as you mention that you are into heavy music, people think it is like Motley Crüe circa 1983 with denim jean jacket with the Number of the Beast patch on the back no matter what you say.
I did an interview on the Canadian national broadcaster and from the start he was asking me was I out there, was I doing drugs and worshiping the devil.
By the end of it, I was saying yes, I was sacrificing kittens and listening to Motley Crüe.
You like Enya? There’s a surprise. You should go and visit her in her castle.
She has a castle? I can’t imagine she’s hurting for cash. My lineage is partially Irish. When we were kids, the Clancy Brothers were a huge part of my childhood. My grandfather was over from Ireland and he was banging out tunes on the piano. My Dad’s side of the family were calm folk from England, but the other side just loved to party. Somewhere between those two factions is me.
Enya was a huge deal for me. That kind of woman vocals and how wide those productions were. I always wanted to mix Def Leppard in with Metallica and Venom. It has always been those influences. I’ll take them where I’ll get him.
The Devin Townsend Project plays The Academy on May 4th.