No longer the angry, skullet-wearing front man of Strapping Young Lad, Devin Townsend has come to grips about who he wants to be as a musician and a person. His newest group, the Devin Townsend Project, shows a different side of Townsend. The Canuck is using this project as a way to express numerous musical styles, and each record will feature different musicians. Ki, the first Devin Townsend Project recording, has a laid back progressive feel. It has the requisite heavy parts, but also features surprise tracks like the Elvis-inspired ďTrainfire.Ē
Devin Townsend had an honest discussion with Blistering.com about the reasons for disbanding Strapping Young Lad and explained how his newest group represents Devin Townsend the person, and not a persona created by Strapping Young Lad. Although no longer content to play only angry, maniacal music, Townsend explained exactly where he is at now in his career and what the future holds.
Blistering.com: Lately, Iíve talked to a lot of friends who didnít know you folded up Strapping Young Lad. Why did you disband?
Devin Townsend:Strapping Young Lad started when I was 23 years-old, and Iím closing in on 40 now. I love Strapping Young Lad. Iím incredibly proud of that band; Iím incredibly proud of everything we did. The reason Strapping Young Lad was such a good band was we were honest about what we were doing. There is no way Iíll ever write an album for Avril Lavigne or Christina Aguilera. I just couldnít do it. There is no way I could ever do it because my musical process is about being directly involved with whatever Iím going through in life. What made Strapping Young Lad important, at least to me, was I was being honest about whatever was important to me at that time. In many ways, that musical process is there to resolve those issues, if you will. Iím over, in a lot of ways, the things that I was passionate about when I was 24. In order for me to go back and do that, no matter how much money is involved, there is no way that I can. The thing that I like about heavy music, when done well, it comes from the heart. You can always tell heavy music that comes from the heart and the balls.
If I were to go back to something that was based upon a 24 year-old mindset that has been resolved in way or another, not only would I be a discredit to what Strapping Young Lad was in the past, it would also be a parody. I think any Strapping Young Lad fan would see that. That being said, I signed a five-album deal for Strapping Young Lad, and in all honesty, the last two records were very hard for me to do because I was trying to reconnect to what it was like to be Strapping Young Lad. By doing that, I did a lot of drugs, I did a lot of drinkingóI did a lot of things that werenít emotionally healthy for me. The original energy that was like a middle finger to the music industry slowly shifted towards a sense of paranoia. I was able to hang onto it to the very endóthrough Ozzfest, through Download. To summarize this conversation, the thing that made Strapping Young Lad a vital musical entity is the same thing that makes Ki vitals is that Iím being honest about who I am right now!
Blistering.com: Why did you name this group the Devin Townsend Project when you already had a Devin Townsend Band?
Townsend: The Devin Townsend Band is now defunct, as well. There is no Devin Townsend Band. Because that was kind of like the antithesis to Strapping Young Lad, when I quit Strapping Young Lad, I had to quit Devin Townsend Band as well. There was no way I could have chosen one side over the other. They were both important to me, so if one goes they both go. The Devin Townsend Project is not a band. The Devin Townsend Band was just that. It was me, Mike [Young], Dave [Young], Ryan [Van Poederooyen] and Beav [Brian Waddell]. Each record of the project is essentially a group of different individuals that contribute to what the energy is supposed to be on that record.
Ki, the first record, is a peculiar record. People are used to a certain thing from meÖ.this crazy, wall of sound type of thing. Honestly, I quit smoking pot and drinking years ago, three years ago, and as a result, my perception of what I do is no longer based in that paranoia. There is no self-imposed craziness anymore. You realize how much of that was based on you doing drugs. Once I removed that from my reality scheme I found that not only do I have a lot to say from a different perspective, I have a lot to clarify. With this first record I have a drummer in his 60ís who has never played metal, a bass player in his 50ís who has never played metal and I gave them a bunch of riffs to play on clean guitar, which if interpreted by heavy metal players, it would have been a really heavy record. My whole idea with Ki is that people expect a certain thing from me, and the next two records are incredibly heavy, but before we get to that just get comfortable: here is a record.
Blistering.com: Ki has a definite prog rock feel. Did you hand-pick each musician because you felt they would be perfect for expressing the style of this album?
Townsend: Yeah, I think so, and in terms of it being proggy, my prog tendencies have been thinly veiled. If you put it into a Strapping Young Lad context it takes on a different aesthetic, but yes, Iíve been interested in prog music since I was a kid. Iíve been into New Age music since I was a kid. I remember in high school that I was just as much into Enya as I was into W.A.S.P. or Grim Reaper. It was just a whole lot cooler to show up at school with a W.A.S.P. tape than say ďDude, have you heard the new Enya record?Ē Once I got off the drugs, cut my hair and had a kid, I started realizing maybe I hadnít been perfectly honest with myself. Thatís maybe why I didnít know how to react to what was going on with Strapping, I didnít know how to answer certain questions in an interview because I just wasnít being honest with my motivations. To make this perfectly clear, the second, which Iím just finishing now, and third record in the Devin Townsend Project are incredibly heavy records. Those records are like much heavier versions of the Devin Townsend Band without such personal lyrics. The third record, Deconstruction, hang onto your hat because itís a ball crusher! The fourth record is going to be a New Age record. I donít feel embarrassed about the breadth of what Iím willing and able to express at this point, where as I have felt embarrassed in the past. Yeah, this is what I do.
Blistering.com: You cut your hair off, so no more bullet/forced skullet anymore?
Townsend: No, no, my head looks like a Macadamian Nut now. I kept the hair, though, itís in a box somewhere. I could sell it by the ounce on eBay, maybe make enough to buy myself lunch. After a while, I thought to myself ďWhat am I projecting? What am I trying to represent? Iíve done a lot of things, and do I want to spend the rest of my life as this clown from Strapping Young Lad?Ē Again, I really love Strapping Young Lad, but in the end, it became just that. I remember watching live footage of Strapping and thinking ďDude, is that me?Ē Itís not like I get off stage with Strapping, put on [Morbid Angelís] Altars of Madness, thrash around and do some lines. My whole world is based in that kind of dynamic. That kind of Strapping energy, which Iím capable and enjoy doing, that shit requires a certain dynamic in my musical scope, as opposed to doing everything else. Once it does exclude doing everything else, I become very dissatisfied. All these other things that I want to represent, and if I feel, I need to represent, are becoming overshadowed by this ironic, angry thing. In a way, the fact that Strapping got so popular was almost to its detriment, and it became very difficult for me to continue it. Everytime I did anything with that band; I was gone for 11 months telling people to fuck off. I had other music that I wanted to work on, but that was the one that made everybody money, so go for it. To me, that whole irony became preposterous toward the end.
I love this band, I love this energy, I love what we do, but right now, because itís eating by its own nature everything else that Iím capable of expressing, Iím starting to resent it. I think with these four records in the project, people will hear the third record and say, ďI remember that, thatís the Strapping sound.Ē I think there are people in my reality scheme that only want that. In a lot of ways, that is all they are willing to except from me. Iíll provide it for them, sure. I think that is why I started with Ki. I thought, ďIíll provide that you, but this is how we start. If you donít like it, thatís totally fine.Ē