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A Man Of Many Colors: An Exclusive Interview With DEVIN TOWNSEND

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Monday, December 12, 2016 @ 4:29 PM

"I had been doing DTP for so long the sound was getting real stale for me."

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Live Photo By Gnarly Charlie

Over the last 21 years Devin Townsend has released two dozen studio albums through his various musical projects, including STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, CASUALTIES OF COOL, THE DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT, and as a solo artist. While it’s a cliché for an artist to attest that no two albums in their discography are alike, in Townsend’s case this claim is true.

Prior to the September release of the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT’s Transcendence album, Devin Townsend’s musical well had just about run dry: “Before the record I was out of ideas, I think,” Townsend says. “That’s where I was at. I had been doing DTP for so long the sound was getting real stale for me. There’s so many records with this kind of mid-tempo, heavy rock stuff with orchestrated shit, lots of echo, and suspended chords and all that stuff. It’s kind of what I had been doing for so long. I just didn’t have any gas in the tank. So prior to this album I just had no inspiration whatsoever.” He tried to find ways to change that and take it out of the comfort zone. That ultimately led to a fair amount of inspiration and what ultimately became the theme for the record.

Becoming a father radically changed Townsend’s view on life. Around 2006 when his wife Tracy was pregnant with their first child and when he was trying to quit STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, Townsend was besieged with turmoil.

“I look back at some of the images of that time and videos, and I’m just like, God, I don’t remember being that guy. I was trying to quit smoking weed and trying to quit drinking and all these sort of things that were going on. And it was a lot of change at one time, right? But I think that was why it was interesting—is because Tracy got pregnant, because we had a kid, and because we never really wanted kids… all of a sudden we have this other entity in our life. For me, whatever path I guess I’m on, to have another entity in my life that allows me to sort of reflect on the nature of a lot of these things; like your fear of dying or your fear of whatever seems to be rooted in this inability to really commit to people. For a lot of people kids wouldn’t work for them at all. But for me, I think because I was inherently so selfish for so long, being thrust into a situation where I was biologically attached to somebody to the point where I would do anything for them was a paradigm shift in every conceivable way.”

Townsend describes that in order to love somebody, like really love somebody, you have to accept that they’re going to go away. “There’s like an impermanence to it all. Through that I realized that in order to be present for the people I care for, I’ve gotta care of myself. And once you start taking care of yourself I found I started to connect more to the mortality of it and a bit more respect for myself, and then as that starts coming there’s more self-esteem.” For Townsend, it began to snowball to the point where with Transcendence, it was more of a sense of gratitude: “I’m really lucky I got people in my life that are good, and I’m really lucky I get to make music. And that has been probably the most overwhelming thing about this whole process—is just the realization of a whole bunch of stuff I was oblivious to for so long.”

Throughout the new album Townsend’s lyrics allude to his sense of powerlessness and the realm of the spirit.

“It’s coming from a place of ‘I’m surrendering’, I think, to the fact that I don’t understand anything. To commit to something either being unequivocally yes or no just seems like super arrogant (laughs). You know, anything that I’ve experienced in my life points to the fact that I’m a participant in something that is so far beyond my capacity to understand. The only possible hope I have is to like surrender to it all and just try and participate and enjoy my coffee, more than anything else, right? I heard a quote the other day: ‘As opposed to trying to count the drops of water in the ocean, you just go for a swim’, right? I think that’s a good analogy for where my spiritual leanings are at this age.”

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