DEVIN TOWNSEND: 'To Deny That Things Are Ugly Or Bad Or Negative Is Not Particularly Helpful'

DEVIN TOWNSEND: 'To Deny That Things Are Ugly Or Bad Or Negative Is Not Particularly Helpful'

The Prog Report recently conducted an interview with Canadian producer/musician Devin Townsend. You can listen to the entire chat below. A few excerpts follow (transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).

On whether he considers his latest studio album, "Empath", to be an "achievement":

Devin: "First off, I never try to do that, which I think is a misconception as well. I actually dread changing it up, because as soon as you do, you have to rationalize it to people, right? The whole process of doing what I do is heavily rooted in following where things lead. That always seems to go in a direction that I'm not expecting. Then, once it becomes clear to me what it is I need to do, I feel like I need to follow it until it's as accurate as it can be. I think a lot of the work that went into 'Empath' that was so challenging was the fear of, for example, the past few records, I've been on sort of an uphill trajectory, but they've all had an element of… 'safety' might not be the right word, but I was comfortable in that style. To shake that up, I was just, like, 'Oh, shit. What's going to happen now?' But because it was so clear to me that this is what needed to be done, I just had to go with it and keep my fingers crossed that people would respond favorably to it and they have. They really have."

On the moment or song he realized the path he was taking with "Empath" was the right one:

Devin: "There was a lot of experimentation and I went down a lot of rabbit holes that ended up being fruitless. I would take stabs in the dark. Usually by six months into the process of a record, you've found, like you had mentioned, that one song that defines [the album], or you got a style you keep going back to. Maybe you are in a rock and roll frame of mind or in a jazzy frame of mind, or something sort of defines that particular period for you. The experimentation with this record was unnerving because nothing seemed to get me traction in one direction. I was just writing all sorts of things. What I started dreading or fearing was that there was just no single thing that was going to appear, and at that point, I just started saying, 'Maybe it's all these things.' Which is ultimately what it ended up being, but the song 'Genesis' was the first one… By the time I finished it, I remember sitting back and listening to it and going, 'Oh, okay. It's everything. It's all of this stuff in one place.' 'Genesis' can act as a very convenient opening track because it's the one song, or one of the songs, that seemed to comprise a lot of different things within one piece of music. After 'Genesis', I felt I had a much clearer vision."

On the critical reception to "Empath" and the idea that it is creative "madness":

Devin: "Some of the comments I had heard about it — I agree with you — it's 'madness'. It's not madness from the point of view of a lack of control. I think the point that needed to be made or I needed to make not only to myself but artistically in general, was that life is madness and in order to be able to cope with that madness, you need to have some sort of tether throughout it that makes the madness just a reflection of a mad world as opposed to an unhealthy creative process. That tether is, well, empathy on one level, where in order to understand other people, I mean, it's a prerequisite for that is to be willing to understand that each person is different and that lends credence to the stylistic differences between songs, for one. But I think the most predominant tether is the point that I was hoping to make that as crazy as life is and the dynamism is meant to represent that craziness of life, what is the common thread throughout is we all have to participate in that. There's something that I think I was guilty of in the past couple of years of consciously denying some of the craziness, consciously denying some of the negativity, in hopes that I could make statements that were uplifting. As I participate with friends or family who deal with depression, one thing that has become shockingly clear to me, to deny that things are ugly or bad or negative is not particularly helpful. I think what's more helpful is to acknowledge these things exist, but also acknowledge that through it all, we're participating in it and one person's ability to get through it can help another person make the same choices."

On his touring plans for "Empath":

Devin: "Every tour is potentially going to be different people and different vibes. The reason why is ultimately, in 2021, I want to play the album in its entirety and each one of these experiences that I do live, provides me with an opportunity to learn how to do a different aspect of my work. The past few years have been so busy, but also busy doing a real certain type of live performance and that's one with click tracks, backing tracks. Everybody's in in-ears, nobody's really playing with each other. We're all playing the songs, but it's not playing the music, in a sense. Even though it sounded really cool, that's where I was dissatisfied with it. It sounded great, but it's a fine line between playing the songs and playing music. I wanted to get back to a more traditional sort of interaction with musicians and get a bunch of really high-level players that I can improvise with onstage and not have the tether and the sort of safety wheels of 'This song goes into this one every night. This is the amount of time we got between these songs every night.' I really appreciate that sort of improvisational thing that more in the '70s as well, [LED] ZEPPELIN and [PINK] FLOYD and all that sort of thing. I want to incorporate that into what I do with this, but prior to that, I wanted to do this acoustic tour because what it does, is strip away everything. It puts me on a stage. [Laughs] Under a white light. It's as naked as you can be. Starting from nothing with this acoustic tour, then the next thing, building it up to a more improvisational thing, then maybe I'll do a heavier tour, then an orchestral thing. The ultimate goal of this being, by the time I get to play 'Empath' in its entirety, I'll have ticked off all these boxes of performance techniques that I feel are important to really get it right."

"Empath" was released March 29 via InsideOut Music.


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