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Devin Townsend

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DEVIN TOWNSEND

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“I think ultimately it played into the emotional components of what it is I was trying to do,” explained Devin Townsend of having two bands – Strapping Young Lad and the Devin Townsend Project – making music at the same time. “There’s the sense I’ve always viewed music with sort of a bipolar arrangement in my mind. On one hand I really feel strongly about peace, love and brotherhood and on the other side I feel really strongly about just ending everything and that’s been an internal thing for me for as long as I can remember and trying to reconcile this meat eater versus vegetarian entity has been a part of my musical career. I think it was no different back then and the most effective way for me to express that at the time was to split my creative output into two distinct bands.”

 

After performing in several bands while still in high school, Townsend was initially noticed by a record label in 1993 and asked to perform vocals on Steve Vai’s album Sex & Religion. After completing that and the accompanying worldwide tour which led to being asked to play with other established bands as a result, Townsend became disillusioned with the industry when his own material – which is where his passion lay – became increasingly shunted in preference to other projects.

 

In a bid to reverse this way of thinking and as a general ‘fuck you’ to the music industry as a whole, Townsend released Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing under the pseudonym Strapping Young Lad which had enough raw aggression and unbridled talent, that it instantly thrust Townsend and his band into the spotlight.

 

In retrospect, making an album that tore strips out of the very industry he was trying to gain a foothold in could have had the reverse effect but Townsend believes the risk versus reward factor was justified.

 

“I don’t know if I was smart enough at the time to be critical of the industry in a way that would truly offend people,” he mused. “I was just a little shit kid, yelling about things that I perceived as an injustice or whatever, but I mean, honestly, if it had been really well thought out and really biting, it may have offended people and caused me problems but I think it was just more me having a tantrum in hindsight. I don’t think too many people were that fussed by it.”

 

With a growing list of things to confuse and anger the impressionable young mind of Devin Townsend it was the general state of the music industry and his misconceptions that came to the forefront. “I think the things that pissed me off as a product of being a kid; twenty years old or whatever –  when I was a teenager, the music world was really seen through rose colored glasses. The idea it was somehow like all of those rock and roll documentaries that you used to watch with the whole sex, drugs and rock and roll thing was nothing like the reality of it. You were given the perception that all you had to do was write a couple of songs and that would be it for the rest of your life but it wasn’t like that and I think that my idealism was challenged at such an early age through the Steve Vai experience that I just didn’t know how to articulate my discontent so I just screamed a lot (laughs). I got four or five records out of so it can’t be that bad.”

Over the years Townsend has experimented markedly within the confines of his music, releasing albums containing elements of everything from hard rock to extreme metal to progressive metal and new age metal and even periods of more ambient material where he gets a chance to actually sing instead of his trademark screaming. However throughout it, he maintains the search for his own musical identity was the ultimate motivational force.

 

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“I don’t think any of it was conscious,” he said of the diversity in his music. “I don’t think I was going into those different styles thinking I wonder if this is who I am. It was just really like a compulsion at the time. It was more like this is everything in my musical vocabulary pointing in this direction currently so if I’m going to maintain a certain level of authenticity with the audience that hopefully they have come to expect it’s gonna require me following these things wherever they lead. I think in hindsight that was me saying screw this I’m just trying to figure out something about myself. It was never a conscious goal more an internal thing that I had to follow.”

 

Throughout these periods of experimentation, Townsend says that while he learnt important things about himself and his craft there is still so many untapped parts of his psyche he has yet to delve into.

 

“It’s a lifelong journey,” he said. “I think that you cycle through identities but to be fair that’s life in general, not just music. I think a big part of finding your identity is allowing yourself to explore wherever you are compelled to go. At the end of my career maybe I can look back or there will be some person somewhere that looks back and sees it was obvious where I was going based on the steps I took. It was never really a part of my equation, I have just always been fascinated my music and followed it because I love it and any of these things that we’re talking about are all just by-products of that.”

 

While acknowledging that the state of the music world and a resurgence of popularity in metal are making the task of keeping your career intact a daily challenge, Townsend believes that in order to maintain your position you also have to be able to embrace the very things that got you there in the first instance.

“It’s hard in the sense that if you have no interest in chasing that then you’re gonna fall,” he stated. “I mean, when I was 24 I was a really relevant character in some ways in the heavy scene but in these past 20 years now there’s a whole new bunch of other people who are now 24 and are kind of the hip new thing and that kinda puts me into a different category. But I think the same thing that drew me to making all these different types of music is the same thing that keeps me relevant in my own mind. I’m happy to be the Granddad of the metal community when it comes to that sort of stuff because with what I’m doing I’m not trying to entice younger listeners to listen to what I do. I do what I do and its bad ass and I think that if you really wanna hear something that’s from the heart I still do that. I think the reason I am able to survive is because I’m coming from a place where I really don’t try to keep up. I don’t try and compete because honestly I’m just happy to be involved with music and I think that any time you get artists who are a little older that are trying to pretend that they’re not, it’s a little pathetic.”

 

 Written by Kris Peters

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Auckland
Powerstation

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Perth
Capitol

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Brisbane
The Triffid

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Sydney
Enmore Theatre

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Melborne
170 Russell

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