By Carl Begai
As loyal followers of the Devin Townsend Project immerse themselves in the band’s latest opus, Transcendence, there’s plenty of lip service being paid to the musical genius that is Devin Townsend. Standard routine some 20+ years into his career, but even though it’s the man’s name on the marquee Transcendence isn’t a solo affair featuring his long time backing band. This time out Townsend opened up his creative process to input from his Project mates – Dave Young (guitars, keyboards), Brian Waddell (bass), Ryan van Poederooyen (drums) and Mike St. Jean (keyboards) – to create what many fans and critics have said is DTP’s strongest album in years. Together since 2008, this is the Devin Townsend Project’s seventh album to date but only their first working as a unit in building an album from the ground up, perhaps making it seem that Townsend is a late bloomer when it comes to the concept of teamwork. As one might expect of a musical genius…
“The Devin Townsend Project didn’t start with writing together as the intention” says Townsend. “If we had started with that intention and it took me 10 years to finally implement it I’d be an asshole, but it started as the Devin Townsend Project playing all sorts of stuff from different stages of my career live, and everybody was on board for that. The decision to open things up in the way that I did for Transcendence was moreso out of ‘What do we do now?’ I’ve got all these projects that I’m really excited about doing, but DTP had gone pretty okay for us. It’s a healthy environment in a lot of ways; it’s not toxic emotional content, it has an audience, so to not continue it would have been a mistake for me professionally let alone musically. But, in order to make it count in ways I can still get behind I need a theme of some sort, something to sink my teeth into, and collaborating with the other guys became that something. After I wrote the book (Only Half There) and being able to look objectively at these things I’d written down, my objectives musically or otherwise are that I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. It seemed like an interesting thing to do, plus these guys have put in a ton of work and a lot of money into DTP, so it made sense.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Z² from 2014 was the Devin Townsend Project’s ambitíous double album split into two very different sonic entities. Hardly a stretch for the man leading the charge, as Devin Townsend’s 20+ year music career is based on diversity, but for some fans it fell well short of some rather high expectations. Compared to other records in the Townsend / DTP catalogue Z² was a tough listen, never quite digging in, although there are some diehard fans that no doubt absorbed every note (naturally) and have already bagged this review as bullshit (naturally). Transcendence is the Devin Townsend Project’s return to form, putting things back in focus and turning in a rather prog-heavy record, opting for songs both long and short over the space of a comfortable 10 tracks.
In what seems to have become a DTP tradition of covering Townsend material, Transcendence kicks off with an updated version of “Truth” from the Infinity album (released in 1998), following up what they’ve done previously with “Hyperdrive” and “Kingdom”. From there we dive into a record reminiscent of the Epicloud album is spots with a very prominent Ocean Machine vibe all the way through. The guitar riffs and tones on “Stormbending” and “Secret Sciences” are positively fat and gorgeous, drummer Ryan van Poederooyen shines on “Failure” and “Higher” with his percussive groove madness on Transcendence’s two most adventurous tracks. “Higher” also happens to be the album’s prog mad centerpiece loaded with crushing guitars, some welcome metal vocal fireworks from Townsend, huge “Grace”-like melodies (see Epicloud), the song seemingly pulling itself in different directions over its nine minute run but ending things intact. The lone up-tempo song, “Offer Your Light” – Anneke van Giersbergen’s in-your-face guest spot – and the “Transcendence” title track are big on Ocean Machine-ry, the latter recalling the magic of tracks like “Funeral” and “Bastard”, although far more upbeat. Closing song “Transdermal Celebration” is indeed the Ween hit dressed up as a DTP track, and you would swear Townsend & Co. wrote it from scratch judging by how well it fits alongside the rest of the material on the album. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
During his latest interview for BraveWords (found here), Canadian vocalist / guitarist / producer and master puppeteer Devin Townsend discussed his new Z² album. It’s another Devin Townsend Project epic, this one divided into two very different parts. Sky Blue (Part 1) is a somewhat melancholy offshoot of the DTP Epicloud record from 2012, while Dark Matters (Part 2) is the highly anticipated and over-the-top continuation of his Ziltoid The Omniscient record from 2007. As a whole, Townsend sees Z2 as a marker for another transition of his creative process, the previous one having been Ziltoid’s debut.
In the interest of not breaking the internet, this portion of the interview featuring Townsend’s take on his current focus was cut from the BraveWords story….
“I was recently in LA for a week. I was down there for an experiment on behalf of myself, the record label and a bunch of people. There’s a producer in LA who has sold 20 million records in the past 10 years and he offered to write a song with me. I went down there and recorded this song, and dude, I fucking hated the experience. I don’t have to put the song out, but this has been learning experience after learning experience. ‘What’s your motivation? What do you need?’ When we first started talking (back in 1995) I did this completely on my own. I was oblivious to the fact people were listening. Now there’s crowd sourcing and all this stuff; every step of the way carries ramifications for whatever decisions I make that are the majority of the job.”
“It’s not that it’s difficult,” Townsend continues. “It’s just that the process of trying to figure out where I am in the world is being helped in large part by me becoming addicted to making records, or whatever the hell happened in the last seven years. You get to a point where your quality of life is shot because you’re doing this inhuman amount of work. In a lot of ways I’m really glad that it happened and that I’ve made too much music for too long because it’s put me in a position where I have to analyze it. I’m not a total idiot, and as I get older the things that keep rearing their head in terms of problems in my life, I have to take notice of them or they just continue. One of them for me is this fascination with productivity that I’ve had for so long. It’s resulted in a type of exhaustion that’s avoidable.” Continue Reading
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).” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
“In his music he has the perfect symbiotic relationship between heavy and melody and true emotions and feelings. It’s just so pure and so heavy. When I was singing for the Epicloud album I told him I could hear West Side Story in the music. It’s so fairytale-like but so damn heavy.”
The above comment from vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen with regards to the Devin Townsend Project’s new album, Epicloud – offered during a May 2012 interview with yours truly – could have turned out to be a glaring case of too-close-to-the-music enthusiasm. Understandable given the high of her first successful foray into Hevy Devy’s world with the Addicted record in 2009, but from a discerning open-minded Townsend fan’s perspective her words sum up the album perfectly. It plays with his trademark heavy on a canvas of melody, seemingly executed with a musical stage play in mind, and Townsend clearly unafraid of mixing his not entirely hidden pop tendencies with the crushing metal he’s known for. In fact, he doesn’t give a good goddamn what people think in the grand scheme of things if they choose to dismiss Epicloud as worthless. Townsend made the record for himself and anyone else who gets off on being entertained.
“I think for me, because I spent so many years writing records that threw curveballs at people out of a fear of success or failure, I never really allowed myself to make a record that was just straight up,” says Townsend. “I let myself go on autopilot for this one and I was actually surprised by what came out naturally. When I finished it I sat back and listened to it the same way I did with Alien (Strapping Young Lad), and I was thinking ‘What the hell did you make here?’ (laughs). I just allowed myself to write a bunch of stuff that seemed to be appropriate, and when all was said and done my first reaction was that Epicloud was too vulnerable, too exposed. They were going to kick me out of the Chess Club for not being progressive. I thought I was going to get lambasted for doing something like this.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Anneke van Giersbergen is the personification of positive energy.
People that remember her as the vocalist for The Gathering wouldn’t think so given the melancholic nature of the band’s music, but her latest solo album Everything Is Changing is a rock oriented journey fused with generous doses of pop music, light-hearted and almost playful in its execution. It was therefore appropriate that this interview took place on a warm and sunny day outside the venue where she was performing that night, ultimately delivering a show reflecting her upbeat state of mind. It was one of several gigs lined up for the remainder of 2012, and while Anneke refers to her schedule as being “murderous” on occasion, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It looks very busy, and we are very busy, but when I was with The Gathering we toured way more than I do now. Usually I don’t tour more than two weeks at a time. It’s a balancing act. Every Sunday that we’re home, we (Anneke and husband / drummer Rob Snijders) look at this kind of mathematical schedule and try to figure out how the hell we’re going to fit everything we have to do into one week (laughs).”
Although she left The Gathering in 2007 there are plenty of people that only clued into Anneke’s work as a solo artist with the release of Everything Is Changing. She has in fact been quite active since her departure, releasing a total of four albums under the Agua de Annique banner before deciding she wasn’t doing herself any favours using a band name. It turns out that while the group dynamic was a comfort zone for Anneke, it was also something of a crutch and often confusing for the fans.
“That’s exactly why I dropped the band name. Nobody got it. And the thing is, it was only a name because for some reason when I left The Gathering, the first thing I did was come up with a band name even though I was going solo. I think it was just because I was used to being in a band. I hand-picked the people who work with me and it’s my band, but I’m a solo artist, so it’s a curious thing. Maybe it was a case of being a little bit shy at the beginning, because to go out under your own name is tough. I also thought that the name Anneke van Giersbergen would be a tough name for people abroad…” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Devin Townsend has been on and off the road for the past year pushing his “this was me, this is where I’m going” tetralogy, kicked off by the Ki album and yanked into motion with Addicted in 2009. At press time he was gearing up for the release of Deconstruction and Ghost, totalling four very different records that scared the hell out of a large part of his fanbase.
“It’s funny,” laughs Townsend. “I think of the whole process of these four records – and granted, I’m completely self-centered when it comes to why I write because I’m not catering to what people want (laughs) – a lot of it came down to confronting a fear I had of myself and my own process. I remember years ago, I was always second guessing what I did under the assumption of ‘How are people going to perceive this?’ These four records, the whole thing was saying ‘Fuck it.’ If I’m accountable to myself in terms of trying to be the best person I can be, if I let it flow naturally, there’s no more that needs to be said. What I can say about these four records is that there’s nothing on them conceptually or lyrically that I can’t stand behind.”
Which brings Townsend to the point he’s been trying to make since the release of Ki; there won’t be another Strapping Young Lad album. Talk of Deconstruction being the heaviest, craziest music he’d ever written – a claim made by Townsend and several people around him – had fans thinking it would be SYL music under a different name. Turns out it’s anything but that. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
I recently caught up with vocalist / guitarist / producer and fellow Canuck, Devin Townsend, to discuss the release of his long-awaited Deconstruction and Ghost albums; parts three and four of his “this was me” tetralogy. During our chat we discussed the online rumblings about new music he’s working on, currently going under the name Epicloud, and he was remarkably open about the tricks up his sleeve. Perhaps not all that surprising, however, given that he’s been living with the Ki / Addicted / Deconstruction / Ghost foursome for close to four years.
“My wife and the people around me tend to question whether or not it’s in my best interest to just keep writing,” Townsend reveals, “but the writing actually happens regardless of what I do. It’s so automatic at this point that it feels like the process has been integrated so completely into my everyday routine. For example, I wrote a full song yesterday while I wasn’t thinking about it (laughs). I went for a bike ride and I came back with this melody in my head, so while I was thinking about what I was going to do for the rest of the day I spent two hours and just wrote the song. I documented it, made the demo, made the session, so when I come back to actually making a record there are all these songs that just happened alongside my daily routine. Not only do I find that it’s very natural, but it’s also very relaxing for me to write.”
During an interview we did for BW&BK back in 1997, Townsend described a similar music-in-control writing process for his Ocean Machine album, although it doesn’t seem as intense these days.
“I think it’s the same idea, but I’ve definitely learned in my mind not to hold on to it as much as I had before. At the time I was doing Ocean Machine the ideas were so precious to me that I falsely made the assumption that if I didn’t actualize it without that level of intensity that I’d lose it. What I’ve found is that if it’s a good idea it’ll be there. The level of intensity that existed during Ocean Machine also didn’t have the benefit of the control over technology that I’ve managed to acquire over the past 20 years. So now, when it comes to putting an idea down I can get it out really quickly.” Continue Reading