DEVIN TOWNSEND Says It's 'Liberating' To Perform Without Backing Tracks
March 10, 2020
Alex Haber of Heavy New York recently conducted an interview with Canadian musician/producer Devin Townsend before his February 29 concert at Warsaw in Brooklyn, New York. You can watch the entire chat below. A few excerpts follow (transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On whether each studio album he releases is representative of where he currently is as an artist:
Devin: "I think so. Yes. I think a lot of what has been interesting is that my work is put into categories because it needs to be categorized, I suppose, but what ends up happening ultimately is referred to as a certain type of genre, like 'prog metal' or 'thrash' or whatever. But I'm just reacting to trying to figure out how to be a more functional human. [Laughs] In just trying to react to the process of being myself, it just results in me…I don't know maybe just music was a convenient way for me to express myself as a child who didn't find himself openly expressive. So, yes is my answer. [Laughs]"
On where he finds inspiration:
Devin: "I prefer it when there's a good environment. Being born and raised in Vancouver, a lot of my process is, I think, directly involved with nature or weather specifically, rain and the mountains and what have you. There's this dramaticism that comes with that always implied a type of size. A couple of times that I've attempted to live in Los Angeles, whatever comes out of me is not something I feel particularly able to relate to, I guess. I think so, yeah. But then again, sometimes inspiration hits you in the middle of the night. I'll just hum a melody into my phone and mail it to me in the four in the morning. Wake up with a text message from myself with just a bunch of mumbled melodies. But I think as artists you're just antennas for sound and certain combinations of events and certain combinations of personalities and circumstance just resonate in ways that I think you're able to pick melodies out of. Wherever it is, I'm happy to take it."
On whether his mind frame changes for each project he works on:
Devin: "The aesthetics of each environment and each circumstance is very different but that also has a lot to do with the age that I'm at. The person I'm at 25 is much different than the person I am at 48. The process in opposition of that statement has almost been identical since the beginning. I guess the way to describe it as a child, in my family, we weren't actively encouraged to express ourselves emotionally. Yet it was almost viewed as uncouth in a sense, yet music was something that we could get away with. It was like a loophole. Being somebody who is wired to be very sensitive, I guess, to my environment and just in general, emotional, it became an avenue that I hardwired everything to. By the end of my trip, it was like everything was just able to come out in that way. I have found that since the beginning, since STRAPPING [YOUNG LAD], PUNKY BRÜSTER, any of this stuff, the process is the same, but the aesthetic is different."
On whether there is a different energy for him when it comes to playing live and recording in the studio:
Devin: "It's a separate art, for sure. However, this particular show that you're about to see is new for me. Typically, what I've done in the past is because I'm such a perfectionist with my work, I strive for that live, but the older I get, the more I am aware of just how imperfect I am as an artist, as a singer, as a performer. I'm trying to embrace that on this run. There's no real setlists. There's no production. There's no video walls. There's no lighting designer. There's nothing. There's just highly proficient musicians and a bevy of songs that I kind of choose from once I'm up there. There's a fair amount of improvisation that goes along with it, too. That has been hand-in-hand with the process as well because by allowing myself to be without a safety net allows me to recognize psychologically that I'm capable of handling that. I think that my insecurity in the past tends to dictate certain psychological processes: 'You're incapable of that. You can't do this. There's no possible way you'll be able to rise to this occasion.' Forcibly putting myself in a situation that doesn't have a safety net has yielded some really interesting results and that's what you're going to see tonight."
On whether "safety" can be an enemy in terms of creativity:
Devin: "Specifically nowadays where concerts are meant to be and perceived to be, from what I can tell, very much about the spectacle. Everything is to backing tracks; everything is to click tracks; everything has the choreography. As much as I like that and as much as I've tried to do that in the past to a certain extent, it's really liberating for me to not have to do that this time. It becomes human beings playing music. I think that's really important."
Townsend's latest solo album, "Empath", was released in March 2019 via InsideOut Music. Joining Devin on this album is Frank Zappa alumni Mike Keneally as music director, as well as Morgan Ågren (MATS AND MORGAN, FRANK ZAPPA, FREDRIK THORDENDAL),Anup Sastry (MONUMENTS, PERIPHERY),Samus Paulicelli (DECREPIT BIRTH, ABIGAIL WILLIAMS),Nathan Navarro, Elliot Desagnes, Steve Vai, Chad Kroeger, Anneke Van Giersbergen, Ché Aimee Dorval, Ryan Dhale and the Elektra Women's Choir.