On September 22nd, The Devin Townsend Project played Philadelphia’s famed Theatre of Living Arts, and I was fortunate enough to speak with the man himself backstage before the show. For my review of the performance, please click here. Also, check back soon for my review of the deluxe edition of his newest album, ‘Epicloud.’
Hey, Devin. It’s a pleasure to be able to speak with you. I’m a major fan.
Thanks, man. No problem.
So the deluxe version of ‘Epicloud’ comes with a bonus disc called ‘Epiclouder.’ How did you decide what songs would go on which disc? I know that you say that ‘Epiclouder’ features demos, but many people agree that the pieces on it are just as good as the ones of the actual album.
I write so much music that—well, it’s even the case with this new one I’m working on, ‘Causalities of Cool.’ Some people are going to like the bonus disc much more than ‘Casualties,’ right? My way of writing usually just revolves around finding a theme that I like and trying to create that atmosphere on the record. The atmosphere I was trying to achieve with ‘Epicloud’ is what the first record is, regardless of if it’s better or more well produced or whatever.
That’s what it was supposed to be, and the same goes for ‘Casualties.’ ‘Casualties’ is supposed to be background music, and so the stuff that’s gonna end up on the bonus disc is probably going to be more engaging for people. People will wonder, you know, “why isn’t that part of it?” And it’s simply because what I want to say is a very specific thing, right? So the ‘Epicloud’ vs. the ‘Epiclouder’ stuff is the same thing. The statement I was trying to make with ‘Epicloud’ is just that. It’s very commercial and slick and there isn’t a lot of filler to it, at least in my mind. With the ‘Epiclouder’ stuff, every time I tried to add one of those songs to the actual disc, it would detract from what I was trying to say.
Production-wise, on a personal level, I think the production on ‘Epicloud’ is much better, and it’s not that the ‘Epiclouder’ stuff sounds worse—it’s just that I spent a lot more time on attention to detail on the main disc. But I’m also at the level of production now where I think it’s kind of six of one, half dozen of the other. The choice between it being a demo and being on the actual album depends on a lot of things that maybe the casual listener wouldn’t really notice.
I think the bonus disc is a bit more acoustic and loose, whereas ‘Epicloud’ features your token “wall of sound,” which is incredible as always.
Thanks, dude. Yeah, it’s all over the place. I think the ‘Epicloud’ stuff says something direct; it goes somewhere, and the other disc does, too, in its own way, but it’s not the same.
It’s not as conceptually tied.
Going along with that, the new record begins and ends with “Effervescent.” I love conceptual continuity, so I love that. What made you decide to do that?
Cool, man. Um, the beginning was a really solid idea that I had one night, and I went and recorded that whole “everyone into forever” thing. A good friend of mine at Inside Out kept saying that he heard the album end with the choir thing, too. So I kept moving the songs around; I was originally going to end it was “The Mind Wasp” and it just didn’t work with me. Then I was gonna end it with the song “Epicloud,” which ended on up the vinyl edition. “Angel” ended up being the last song, which, at one point, was going to be the opening track. I thought, “Hey, I’ll just write something like a tag at the end to summarize it,” and his idea about the choir at the end made me write that little choral tag at the end.
The way I write is very much a response to my environment, and that can be what’s going on around me, my friends, influence from labels, my wife, etc. Whatever it is. I tend to work on instinct and massage it, so there’s not a lot of premeditated anything.
Yeah, you do seem to have this perspective that each album is created organically. Whatever style you’re in the mood for, whatever emotion, etc.
Yeah, it can change halfway through.
‘Epicloud,’ more than your other albums (with the exception of ‘Synchestra’), seems to flow as one piece. Am I correct in assessing it that way?
Yeah, except that ‘Synchestra’ was really written with that in mind, whereas I just wrote about twenty-five songs for ‘Epicloud’ and then tried to hammer away a flow between the ones that ended up on the album. So yeah, it ended up being that way, but it was based off of songs that ended up having nothing to do with each other. With ‘Synchestra,’ I would write a part and then say, “Okay, now it goes to this and then this.” The thing with that album is that it’s not all songs, per say; it’s more like pieces. “Judgement,” for example, is definitely an odd statement onto itself, but in the context of the record, it works, whereas with the new album, you can take any of the songs and they’re all stand alone.
‘Synchestra’ was the first one I heard, and I still rank it pretty highly.
So continuing with the idea of conceptual continuity, I’ve noticed that you not only reprise melodies and lyrics within albums, but you do it across albums. A part from one album may be appear slightly altered on another album. It’s very clever. How do you decided to do these things?
Yeah, I wish I was clever enough to say that I’m doing that on purpose, but I’m really not. At the same time, I’ve been writing blurbs for the albums on the new website, you know, to summarize how I feel about them. And I’ve been put in the position to look at everything I’ve done and I see that it’s all really one big thing, you know? From SYL [Strapping Young Lad] to ‘Epicloud’ to ‘Casualties of Cool.” It’s all part of a theme that’s essentially my artistic process laid out there. It’s just the way that I do things, so on that front, I’m proud of it, but in terms of it being, again, like a conscious things, like a big statement, it’s really not that. It’s just kind of happened that way.
That makes sense.
There’s some people who I’ve done interviews with recently and they’ve analyzed what I’ve done to a point where I’m like, “Oh, sh-t. Let me think about that, right? [Laughs] but really, the reality of it is that I don’t think about it, ever, so the continuity and the way the records go together has more to do with the fact that I’ve been reacting to myself than any sort of statement or story. It’s not that; it’s just my life represented in these periods that have music attached to them. If it continues and has a thread, it’s just that it’s the same person trying to figure out what the f-ck is going on.
I’ve often thought of you as a modern day Frank Zappa, and I have several reasons why. For one, it’s your band and you change your band around whenever you want; also, you put a lot of humor on top of brilliant, complex compositions. Those are just a couple of the reasons. Zappa is often referred to as simply a satirist by those who don’t know any better, and I’ve seen the same reaction in reference to you, unfortunately.
Wow, thanks, man. Yeah, I usually get the “clown” tag, which is fine, I guess.
Well, I mean, there’s a lot of silliness with stuff like ‘Ziltoid’ and ‘Deconstruction.’
Sure, sure. I’m trying to make a point with all of that, I guess, in my own way. I think that between me and Zappa—the main difference is that he knew what he was doing [laughs]. He was really skilled technically, and he was able to understand theory and write music and all that. That’s not my trip, right? The things that I love about Zappa are his mind and his control over himself and his musical discipline. If I were bold enough to equate anything I’ve done to what he’s done, it would be the work ethic, maybe. But to be honest, it’s like I don’t think I’m like him in any ways other than work ethic and satire because he’s on a much different level, at least in my opinion.
However, the one thing that I would say is that I was never really emotionally engaged in his music. It never made me feel anything. He’s got a very mathematical way of doing things and the note chooses that he was interested in were very much like Los Angeles style jazz. Whatever modes he chose just never really affected me. For me, it was more about Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I like things that are really intense emotionally and intellectually, it doesn’t appeal to me, right? The elements of ‘Deconstruction’ that were more intellectualized were done to make a point about that, and so it wasn’t as much of an emotional connection. That was the whole point of that record. So my connection to Zappa has always been that I’ve been in awe of his intellect and his brilliance, but in terms of note choice and music, it never really got to me.
I think you’re being a bit too humble about your work.
I appreciate that, man. Thank you. I think there’s also the sense that I’m in a bubble more now than ever, right? My connection to what I do is like I’ve got this little world that I work in, and how that affects other people and what the ramifications are and how what I do compares to other people – I’ve made conscious to not think about whatever that is because I don’t want to get caught up thinking about my stuff in all these different ways other than I always have, which is just like “I’m confused or I’m happy or upset and here’s a song about it.”
I think that’s one of the most respectable things about you as an artist. It seems that the most popular artists are often the most pretentious and undeserving, whereas you’re arguably one of the most important musicians around today in terms of artistic integrity and upholding your vision. You create whatever you want to and if your fans like it, great! If not, screw them, right?
Totally, but at the same time—I was out to dinner with someone last night and we were talking about what I do versus what other musicians do and all that. My connection to music, as much of a center point in my life as it is—it’s not the most important thing in my life, you know? It’s very much tenth or eleventh on the list, but it’s a reaction to what is important in my life, like relationships and family and all that.
I’ve always gotten that feeling. Well, whatever it is that does inspire you, keep it up because you’re only getting better and better as the years go by. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me about all of this, and have a great show.
Thanks, man. It’s been cool. I hope you enjoy what we do out there.