By Carl Begai
Within 24 hours of the metal press being given advance access to the Devin Townsend Project’s new album, Z², reviews started popping up online. They invariably heralded the highly anticipated double album – split into Sky Blue and Dark Matters – as trademark Townsend musical genius existing on multiple levels of godlike awesomeness. With all due respect to my peers – many of whom are much better review writers than I am – you might want to go back and re-evaluate Townsend’s work and then your own. There’s simply no bloody way anyone gets the Z² album after only a few listens; it’s far too adventurous, emotional, chaotic and occasionally scatterbrained to be able to embrace it as a whole so easily. And indeed, some fans have voiced their disappointment since Z²’s official release. The simple fact is Sky Blue (Part 1) is not the thundering sequel to DTP’s Epicloud album from 2012 it was expected to be, although it does follow some similar lines. Likewise, Dark Matters (Part 2) is a different beast from the original Ziltoid The Omniscient that reared his bug-eyed head in 2007.
For one thing, Dark Matters seems almost kid-oriented as a target audience rather than being metaphorically driven as the Ziltoid The Omniscient album was.
“I think there’s a part of it that’s kid-oriented, but there’s another part to it,” says Townsend. “I’ve demanded a lot of my audience for years. I drew them in with heavy metal and gave them country, new age and ambient music. There’s a part of me that, when the support came, I decided that I did my artsy-fartsy movie (Sky Blue) so I needed to do my Michael Bay-type movie (Dark Matters) and then reconsider what I want to do musically. It’s not that the well is dry, it’s just that it’s been an intense amount of work for an intense amount of time. By finishing up with the Ziltoid thing, in one way it was a conclusion to what started seven years ago. Sure, it’s still metaphor because that’s how I write, but the surface of this is much different. It’s for people to enjoy. I think the Sky Blue element of it is where the emotional aspects of it went because I was frustrated by it, and because some heavy things happened during the making of the record. I listen back to Z² and I’m proud of it, but at the same time there’s a part of me saying ‘Okay, next!’ (laughs).”
It sounds like Townsend is going through another transition, the way he did when he killed Strapping Young Lad dead in 2007.
“Oh shit yeah, I’m sure I am. Every time I read an interview I’ve done I think ‘There’s that dramatic singer talking about all this stuff…’ but again, it’s the way I’m wired. Things seems to change every seven years dramatically for most people, especially for me it seems. The way I view it is people say to me ‘When are going to put Strapping back together?’ Well, not only is Strapping not getting back together, eventually people are going to be saying goodbye to Ziltoid and DTP, too. It’s all indicative of certain phases of my trip, and to be honest the music is just a byproduct of that. The people that are hanging on to Ziltoid and DTP, enjoy it while it lasts.”
That sounds fatalistic to some degree, but the diehard Townsend fans have come to expect him to change gears with regards to his focus as he moves forward.
“I remember when we were talking about the first Ziltoid record and I got all pissy pants because you didn’t dig it,” Townsend recalls. “In hindsight, it’s important to me to also understand there’s a difference between listening to music for the sake of it being music, and listening to music for the sake of being an accurate representation of where I’m at. Everything I’ve done is an accurate representation of where I’m at, but does that mean it’s any good? (laughs).”
Z² finds Townsend constructing huge vocal-based soundscapes once again, a process that started with singer Anneke van Giersbergen on the Addicted record in 2009 which has progressively gotten more complex. The new album features multiple vocalists and epic choir arrangements seemingly at every turn.
“I love choirs, and that goes back to high school,” Townsend reveals. “The other part of it is that I hate singing. To get other people singing it’s like… ‘Please, others sing…’ (laughs). I feel like such a charlatan with my voice in so many ways that my production style… thankfully I learned how to produce music and bend my voice to my will, but I don’t enjoy it. My propensity for having more and more voices on my stuff has more to do with that than anything.”
With all the touring the Devin Townsend Project has been doing over the last few years, saying that he doesn’t enjoying singing is sort of like Townsend shooting himself in foot given he’s signing up for a seat on the tour bus.
“Either that or my manager is shooting my foot for me (laughs). The thing is, would you agree that the given the current state of the musical economy, touring isn’t something you can avoid?”
You have to tour or you’re dead, unless you’re making a gazillion dollars off an album release.
“That’s it. That’s the answer right there regardless of whether or not I enjoy singing. I really enjoy the opportunity to do the things that I do. I love it. As much as I’m a little beat right now, all these peripheral things that I may have issues with, I still love doing what I do. I’m in a position in my career as a musician where I’m astounded that I get to do this shit. The way I’m going to be able to continue and actualizing my idea is by touring every now and then. That’s part of the trip.”
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Check out ‘March Of The Poozers’ from Z² here.