Interview: Devin Townsend

Devin with Devin Townsend Project live at Powerstation in Auckland, New Zealand May 18 2017. Image via Ambient Light |
Feature Image by Doug Peters via Ambient Light.

For an Ambient Light piece, I interviewed Devin Townsend in April 2017 and was delighted to talk to another person who I genuinely felt like I would have a great time with at a BBQ. Admittedly, going into this Skype phone call, I was a little bit apprehensive. Devin Townsend has a large and very loyal following down here in New Zealand and this was the first time I’d done a bit of phone interviewing in a wee while. While the interview process and end result was great (it’s like getting back on a horse, riding a bike etc); it was Devin’s demeanour, his brightness and his willingness to connect and chat that I feel made this interview such a pleasure and a cool one for me, getting to interact with a formidably talented and highly respected, metal musician.

Before this, I’d spotted Devin around casually at my place of work, Shock Records, in Melbourne, Australia in the early 2000s, when I was around 18 – 21; and when Devin was touring and recording as Strapping Young Lad. ‘Strapping‘ as Aussies affectionately dubbed them, were huge. A work buddy and one of those kind of formative ‘big brother‘ dudes for me at the time, Andrew Haug (now of and drummer of Contrive), was the Century Media label dude and would bring Devin and Strapping through on record label visits and trip through the warehouse to stock up on some CDs for the merch desk when they were touring through Oz.

Rad dude and my old word buddy - Andrew Haug of and Contrive. Image by Adrian Price at |
Rad dude and my old word buddy – Andrew Haug of and Contrive. Image by Adrian Price at |

I’d only ever glimpsed Devin as I peered at him around the shelves in the aisles in the warehouse as I was working and picking CD orders for retail stores; but I could tell from the revered hush from the ‘older dudes that were in bands‘ that I worked in the warehouse with, that Heavy Devy was the real deal. So to follow, read the full transcribe of my first time talking to Devin Townsend, a relaxed chat with a remarkable individual.

Conducted for premium NZ based music and entertainment photography and review website,
Ambient Light and published originally on April 27 2017. Check out the Ambient Light article here:

Creative Ruts & Gravy Delivery Vehicles: A Devin Townsend Interview

or listen to the interview on the Ambient Light SOUNDCLOUD below:

One Take Kate: We’re looking forward to you coming down in May; it’s been a couple of years?

Devin: Yeah we’ve only played there once. I’m quite excited, actually.

OTK: It’s always a big travel from your side of the world to here…

D: Oh my god. I was thinking that the beauty of that part of the world is the payoff for that hellacious flight…

OTK: I hope it’s enough of a pay off!

D: It is, it always is, but man…that’s a soulkiller.

OTK: Oh yeah! We’ve recently had Meshuggah come and play for us and although they’re minimal on their on stage banter they definitely got across, that it was a big flight for them as well…

D:Yeah I’m close with Fred and he was, I was talking to him while he was there actually and they said the same thing, he said it was awesome, but that [the flight] just beat my ass! {laughs}

Devin Townsend with members of Meshuggah. Image via |
Devin Townsend with members of Meshuggah. Image via|

OTK: Well I’ve got a few questions for you, nothing too serious, I think it’s always better to keep things light and fun so…

D:…I appreciate that…

OTK:…Oh good I’m glad to hear that, more kind of like an internet quiz, rather than some heavy type of thing…

D:…Bingo, I’m up for it! I’m ready!

OTK: Ok! So firstly, this might be a little more on the serious side; what’s your favourite part of the creation process?

D: Umm. The easy bits. {we laugh} The part where I’m sitting around and all of a sudden I’m like ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…’ and then you know, you get this great idea and it starts to sort of play itself out in your mind’s eye and then…it’s done. And then you have to do it…you know? So that moment of inspiration is great, you know, if you could bottle that, you’d never do anything else. But I think what defines the people that are willing to do this for a living is the people who are willing to put in the hours to make it happen right? So everything other than that is typically a real drag. Not a real drag but you know what I mean…

OTK: For a creative outlet that’s as prolific as yours, I’m curious to know what you do to take in reference material whether that be books, articles, comics, films, anime, other music…how do you like to relax and take content in?

D: Well my life is the raw material for all this stuff and it’s not, I’ve never had the luxury of thinking {adopts a sarcastic tone} ‘what am I going to take in for raw material now’, it’s, you know, kids and relationships and parents and money and you know, taking the garbage out. All that stuff and how I’ve learned to cope, or not cope with it is what ultimately becomes the raw material for it; and I said it in an interview earlier today and it made a lot of sense to me is that every record almost acts like an exam, and like you finish a grade with, you know? It’s like once you’ve gone through grade six or whatever you know and you do you know infinity or whatever and you hope you get a passing grade on it; but it’s summarised in the albums and the albums are not the goal, the goal is just to try and get and keep moving in in life right? So my inspiration is all the boring stuff that ah {laughs} that we all kind of have to deal with I think…

OTK: Nice. Like making the mundane beautiful?

D: Well I just think I’ve got a pretty high level of sensitivity so even mundane stuff usually strikes me as being pretty intense, so…you know going to soccer practice with the kid will beat my ass more than somebody who loves going to soccer practice you know? {we laugh}

Devin Townsend demonstrating his acoustic style live at St. James Church, London, October 9 2015. Image via |
Devin Townsend demonstrating his acoustic style live at St. James Church, London, October 9 2015. Image via |


OTK: For you, what’s more satisfying as a set to play, a fully electrified, huge set, huge band kind of a performance or an acoustic, just you with the guitar, what’s more satisfying?

D: Well it depends on the frame of mind I wake up in, and then in that way, there’s no way to anticipate it, which kind of sucks right, because there’s been times when I’ve been out on these tours with all sorts of crazy stuff going on, on stage and puppets and lights and dancers and all this stuff and I think to myself, you know I kinda just want to play an acoustic tonight; and then conversely, I’ll be like, ok you wanna play acoustic, cool, book yourself and acoustic tour and then I’ll be out on the acoustic tour and then I’ll be like, one night, Aw I’m really bored now. So, you kind of just have to roll with it as it goes and I think the biggest thing with that is you learn mechanisms to put yourself in the right frame of mind otherwise you’re just going to be sulking onstage and that doesn’t make a lot of sense, right? {Laughs} You know if someone’s paid a lot of money to see you on stage to see a show?

OTK: I suppose if that’s the mood required then that might come quite in hand {cheekily}

D: {Laughs} What to sulk?! I don’t think that my style is rooted in…

OTK: Sulkery? {Laughs}

D: Yeah, no one does public tantrums anymore right? You know I get on stage and I don’t wanna play electric guitar anymore so I just throw myself on my back and kick myself around in a circle until someone brings me an acoustic guitar {Laughs}…just like ‘Don’t Wanna!’

OTK: That probably would be pretty entertaining to see too though, to be fair…

D: Maybe, but it doesn’t sell a lot of shirts though you know? {We Laugh}

OTK: If there was any band or any artist that’s current or even perhaps a historical band that’s perhaps disbanded now, that you could mix or produce, who would that be?

D: Awww nobody. Thank god I don’t have to do that. It sounds horrible. You know? Like mixing and producing is such a drag…yeah I would not want to…like you know people say I would love to produce Dark Side of the Moon and I was like “Fuuuck that!” I mean how brutal would that be? I mean I can’t imagine the drama that goes into, I mean I know the drama that goes into one of my records, you know I couldn’t imagine something like that! Noo! Thank you very much. However if you said who would you like to have dinner with and depending on the restaurant…yeah there’s quite a few bands {laughs}…I mean, who seems nice? Somebody that’s nice and we could go to a nice restaurant and we couldn’t talk about music, that would be the parameters…

One of many iterations of the Devin Townsend Project. Image via |
One of many iterations of the Devin Townsend Project. Image via |

OTK: Yeah, just to hang out. That’s actually a nice segue to this question which is; I was reading recently, I’m not sure if this is factual or not, but that you are a vegetarian…

D:…depends on who’s watching {We laugh}…

OTK:…so I was going to ask you what your favourite vegetarian recipe is to cook?

D: Ahh…I’m vegetarian I’d say about 90% of the time, I don’t red meat, but if there’s chicken or fish or something and it’s nice, then you know I’ll have some of that too. It’s weird because I love eating sooo much, oh {makes a happy moan} my god. Like the basic stuff, you know I’m all about it and really, when it comes to vegetarian food as well, like it’s all basically a vehicle for gravy or hot sauce {Laughs} so you know…

OTK: {Laughing}…so they’re a delivery system for those condiments?

D:…that’s what it is. Some sort of form of protein and those condiments and then I’m good to go. But I like to cook, you know I like to cook, I don’t like to clean it but I mean I like to cook…

A Canadian Treat and Gravy Delivery vehicle that I'm sure Devin Townsend would approve of. Image via |
Poutine Fries. A Canadian Treat and gravy delivery vehicle that I’m sure Devin Townsend would approve of. Image via |

OTK:…that’s the kids job right though? To do the dishes?

D:…Nooot in 2017! It’s like a partnership…

OTK:…Maybe when we were kids…

D:…Yeah when we were kids it was like ‘Do the dishes…or I’ll beat ya’

OTK:…And we did, we’d fall in line.

D: {Laughs}…that’s right! But I like quality food and I like quality in general, and that’s not because I’m uppity about it, it’s just you know, I really like nice things, and not that you’re going to get it all the time I mean, you know I’ll eat a potato if I have to, I mean it doesn’t matter, but you know…give me a choice…

OTK: You’re an appreciator of quality?

D: Yeeah! I mean I love quality things, and it’s like, as I get older, I’d rather not do certain things and wait until I can have something nicer than I once was right?

OTK: Delay that gratification?

D: Yeah! That’s new, too. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe that’s what that is? {We laugh}

OTK: With your music, there’s a very intergalactic feel to it, if you had the opportunity to, would you go to space?

D: Oh I’d just have some existential meltdown as soon as I’d left the atmosphere cause I’d recognise that everything is just eternally void in all directions. I think the romance of it all is great, you know I mean we can go up with Captain Kirk and look at aliens or whatever but I think, the reality of it is, no matter where you are, you’re kinda out in the middle of outer space in some way and I think…it’d be really cold and really lonely. You know, plus the chances of getting good grub would be slim too so you know…{laughing}

OTK: Yeah those condiment delivery systems would be scarce…

D: Yeah I mean like tonight I’m going to get myself some good food, I’ve got a fire going, I’m going to watch some Netflix and play some bass in my jamies I mean…

OTK:…this sounds like the perfect evening!

D:…it’s awesome! You know, the families away – perfect! I think if I was in space, I’d probably, you know, none of those things would happen. And I really like those things.

OTK: What are you watching on Netflix at the moment? Are you watching a series at the moment?

D: What’s the name of this program, I just started it an hour ago…it’s called…let’s just back it up here, In Search of Balance…right? Cause that’s me. {We laugh}…I don’t like fiction particularly. I like documentaries…

OTK: I spotted that you like How Is It Made?

D:…I do. It’s neutral you know? It doesn’t imply anything, I tend to, interpret my environment in ways that are you know impractically emotional so you know ah, so I like things that are kinda like {adopts a quizzical tone} ‘oh isn’t that interesting?’, as opposed to Breaking Bad or Walking Dead or any of that shit, it’s just like naah. At the end of a long day full of drama, I don’t want to watch drama, you know?

Devin Townsend Project live at Powerstation in Auckland, New Zealand on May 18 2017. Image by Doug Peters via Ambient Light |
Devin performing with Devin Townsend Project live at Powerstation in Auckland, New Zealand on May 18 2017. Image by Doug Peters via Ambient Light |

OTK: There’s something really beautiful aesthetically about automation or things like Superfactories and Megafactories, I really like looking at those production lines…

D:…I like biographies as well and I like you know, I like neutral things generally, you know I like comedy too…I’m not a big movie fan or TV fan in general you know so, if I put things on its generally as a background for me to do other things, right?

OTK: If you were going to write a sitcom, what kind of a crazy sort of set up of a sitcom would you write do you think?

D:…let me think. I’ve never thought about it before…it’d be something abstract, you know I like the idea of spending huge amounts of capital on things that don’t make any sense {we laugh}, you know so, it would be something bizarre with a lot of segues that don’t make any sense but were really expense to produce. And the point of it is you know…maybe just every episode, one of the new main characters just sort of has an existential crisis and just dissolves and then is in the wake of the goo dissolves into, three more characters are spawned and they think they know it all and then in the next three episodes, they all have some sort of meltdown and they get sent to space or they have to deal with confrontation or something…

OTK:…this sounds awesome, I would watch this…

D:…What would it be called? {We ponder} Gadzukes!

OTK: That is pretty good! {We laugh}…a Mystery Science Theatre type of thing…

D: I LOVE MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE! However, I was watching it again recently and it doesn’t do as much for me anymore, it’s the skits I really don’t like now…when they got on a roll though…

OTK:…Yeah when it was on Comedy Central ya know early 90s, 1992, 1993, that was when it was cool…

D: Yeah that was Joel. Yeah I really liked those ones. But back then, I remember I was living, me and my buddy we were living in L.A. at the time, and I was still drinking, and we would just drink a bottle of vodka every Tuesday night and watch Mystery Science Theatre and just piss ourselves laughing…

Classic Mystery Science Theatre 3000 from the 90s. Image via |
Classic Mystery Science Theatre 3000 from the 90s. Image via |

OTK: …On Transcendence you’ve got that really beautiful Ween cover or Transdermal Celebration, when you were very young, like when you were first playing instruments, was there a cover, that you wanted to attain, was there a cover that you were like, when I play that, I’ve cracked it!

D: {Laughs} Yeah, there’s two. I guess, it’s funny you ask, Victim of Changes by Judas Priest {we agree and laugh} and Friends by Led Zeppelin. You know I just really liked the atmosphere of Victim of Changes and the live record, but you know I was a kid, I was like 10 or 12 years old so…but you know I think also, there were certain things that really affected me when I got older like I really liked that first Sinead O’Connor album and I really wanna do, Mandinka (from 1987’s Lion and The Cobra) and Exile by Enya was another one that I really liked and Pleiades by Kings X, lots of stuff.

OTK: Which Casualties of Cool are there any country artists that you feel an affinity for or that you have a love for that you wanna interpret with that project?

D: Well I hate modern country music, it’s just…I hate it. But I really like the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack…

OTK:…oh yeah, beautiful…

D:…I really like Johnny Cash so somewhere between those too I was kinda going for but although that…was really inspired by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant doing Raising Sand, I really liked that.

OTK: So maybe a little bit like a Bluegrass lean in terms of stuff that you enjoy?

D:…very much! Yeah that was a big part of my childhood; my parents were really into Bluegrass…

OTK: Nice. Have you heard that Dolly Parton album where she covers a lot of her songs in a Bluegrass style?

D: No. What’s it called?

OTK: I think it is um…Grass is Blue.

D: Well, that is a clever title.

OTK: No fuss, no muss on that one {Laughs}

D: I’ll check it out, actually I’ve got to go out tonight so that’s a good driving choice…

Devin's dark and moody country project, Causalities of Cool. Image via |
Devin’s dark and moody country project, Causalities of Cool. Image via |

OTK:…obviously the Jolene cover on that is just…pretty heart-breaking, and beautiful.

D:…Well even the original, it’s like, it’s pretty funny you know even though Dolly Parton never played too much into my childhood asides to her Christmas album with Kenny Rogers, it was a, you know it’s hard to overlook her authenticity right?

OTK: A bit of a question for musicians, as we’ve said you’re pretty prolific and you don’t chain yourself to any idea, I love that you explore your imagination and interpret that through your work; is there any advice you would give to musicians who feel they might be in a bit of a creation rut, like how to break out of that and to just be a little more brave with their choices?

D: Well I think a creative rut is often misinterpreted as being a problem, when in my experience, a creative rut, appears because it’s not ready to be said yet. And the only way out of it, I believe, is to focus on the things other than your music. To focus on getting your shit together, just in life, take that opportunity to make sure that you, just when you’re back up and running that all those things that take place while you’re in that creative rut or that zone, just to make sure all your cables are done up properly and you know your garage isn’t clean and any of these things, if you do that, and put it out of your mind, I think that it, relegates a creative rut to being more of an evitable part of your process rather than something you prolong by being afraid of it. You know it’s a practical example of you know I can’t pee, if I know anybody is around, like I have to go into the urinal…I can’t do it, but that’s psychological for me, the more I think to myself, I can’t do it, the more I can’t do it. So the only way I can kind of get through that is to just go ‘Well of course I can do it’ and not only that, just do something else, you know? If I’m not thinking about it, it’ll happen you know? And I think it’s the same with creative problems just like, don’t make it a bigger problem than it is, do other things.

OTK: Nice. Nice, that’s good advice. I think I really only have time for one more question, so I’ll make it a good one, which is, some artists, when you think of classical art like Reubens, or DaVinci or Caravaggio, they have a very unique brushstroke and you can kind of see that work by sight and kinda say ‘Ok yeah, that is that Master, that is that artist, with your own work, I feel your work is very instantly recognisable as having that you know that Heavy Devy flavour to it, what do you feel is your signature brushstroke with your sound? Or that you hope people would pick up and go, yeah, yeah, that’s Devin, right there.

D:…I think it’s, a collision between two things, I think that’s why it seems like it has that identity because I’ve always been fascinated, whether or not it’s music or anything else, in a collision between two things that don’t seem to, one exist together, so you know, really heavy things with really romantic lyrics for example or really quiet music with really dark lyrics…or two things working together that you wouldn’t think that would want to be together heavy metal and some sort of existential blah blah blah blah blah blah that’s you know, all this stuff is a dichotomy between two things and I think if there’s anything that duality probably is what I would say is a knee jerk reaction to that question.

Our intergalatic coffee loving overlord and Devin creation, Ziltoid. Image via |
Our intergalatic coffee loving overlord and Devin creation, Ziltoid. Image via |

OTK: Nice. Well I could talk to you all evening, we seem to have very similar outlooks on life and definitely similar mind-sets so I really hope you enjoy your flight over here, I know it will be a long one and I can guarantee you’re going to have a lot of very excited, very smiling, very happy fans when you get here cause we are all very much looking forward to you coming and entertaining us in May 2017.

D: Well I really appreciate it, thank you for the interview and you know have a great night and I’m going to go and do those things I said I was going to go and do, so wish me luck!

OTK: I do wish you luck and all the best and yeah, get on to that Dolly Parton record, that’ll be a nice driving record.

D:…right I’ll do that.


Hit up the comments below and tell me your favourite things about Devin Townsend and his work?

One Take Kate



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Verified by MonsterInsights