By Carl Begai
Ryan Van Poederooyen made his mark in recent years as the drummer for an array of Devin Townsend projects and bright ideas. Fans of the former Strapping Young Lad will recognize Ryan’s name from the Accelerated Evolution, Synchestra and Addicted albums, while those that get out to the live shows or spend time perusing YouTube will spot his evil-Dev-twin haircut behind the kit and the hammer-meets-groove playing style. It wasn’t Ryan’s work with Townsend that fuelled this interview, however. Instead, the focus was put on his long suffering side-project Terror Syndrome thanks to a recent encounter with Annihilator frontman Dave Padden, who became the voice of the band in 2008 following the release of the self-titled debut.
Ryan offers a look into the how and why of Terror Syndrome, and assures his fanbase that in spite of how busy he may be at the moment there will indeed be a second album. Eventually.
“Devin broke up Strapping Young Lad and the Devin Townsend Band in 2007 because he was at a point in his career where all he wanted to do was production work,” he begins, summing up Townsend’s completely unexpected but short-lived hiatus from music. “He was having a kid, and as far as he was concerned he was done with making music. We always kept in touch with him and told him that if he ever got fired up again, we’d be around. In the meantime I wanted to do a project, which was a solo album, really. I just wanted to write music and offer my take on metal. I wrote a bunch of songs, talked to several very cool musicians about guesting on it, and ended up recording the album. I paid for everything, I co-wrote some songs with people, I drummed on it, I produced it – there was no label, no management, nothing like that at all – and I got an overwhelming response. It was crazy seeing the number of people coming to our MySpace page.”
In spite of the initial buzz – back when MySpace wasn’t the digital swamp it is now – Terror Syndrome seemed to fall off the map before Padden joined the band. In fact, news that he’d come on board was the last real spike on the chart.
“Things were still going well when Dave started to get in there,” Ryan insists. “It was a little bit after that where Terror Syndrome kind of fell off the map. One of the reasons for that is, from Day 1 there’s never been any promotion other than through my website. Even with the sales we’ve had through iTunes and stuff like that, it was really surprising to get such a huge reaction because there was no promo. I made a lot of the money that I put into it back, which got me to thinking that if I did that with zero promotion, imagine the damage that could be done with proper management in place.”
Adding Padden to the Terror Syndrome line-up only sweetens the possibilities. Once considered to be a lame successor to vocalist Joe Comeau, Padden has become an integral part of Annihilator guitarist / founder Jeff Waters’ creative process.
“It’s an amazing line-up,” Ryan says of the current Annihilator roster . “I know Annihilator has had a lot of great singers in the past, but I’m sorry, Dave Padden is the champ. He’s the diamond in the rough. Whenever they’re on tour I check out the YouTube footage, and those guys are amazing. Dave and Jeff gel perfectly together and it’s an awesome combination. That’s how I feel about Dave being in Terror Syndrome. I have a great connection with Denton, the original singer who did the first record. We have a long history and our chemistry was incredible. What he laid down on the album was perfect; it was exactly how I’d imagined it. When Dave came in the chemistry didn’t change all that much. Their styles are a little bit different but they have a lot of the same approaches as well. It was a seamless transition because Dave is very easy to work with and a complete professional.”
Talk is cheap, of course, and folks are waiting to hear the “new” Terror Syndrome in action.
“As far as that goes, Dave and I were supposed to get some writing done a couple months ago,” Ryan reveals, “but things have just blown up in the Devin camp (laughs). It was really hard for us to get together, but the plan is for us to write an album’s worth of material in 2011. The thing is, the Devin Townsend Project is my bread and butter just like Annihilator is for Dave; it obviously takes priority over anything I do. When I’m called upon to do the Devin stuff, I have to put everything else down, but ultimately I’d love to start recording the new Terror Syndrome album this year. We’ll be doing it all ourselves again, but I kind of like it that way because if you get label interest or distribution deals, you still own your product.”
Which addresses a major obstacle for unproven acts these days; small record labels who are more likely to take them on can’t really offer any real support beyond a limited run of promotion. Ryan would much rather take the plunge and keep Terror Syndrome a do-it-himself project.
“No they can’t, you’re right. We were contacted by a lot of labels for the first Terror Syndrome album, and we got in touch with a couple, but it’s not worth it to go with a smaller label. What can they really do? How can they promote you and get you on the bigger tours? There were a couple times where I was thinking about it and had my lawyers look at what was being offered, but in the end I’m really happy that I didn’t pull the trigger. Looking at some of the smaller labels that contacted us, some of them don’t even exist anymore. There was some interest from a couple majors, but they were either offering to have us going out on the road and starving, or offering nothing at all because they wanted to see if it was going to fly or not, which you can’t blame them for. It’s brutal out there. Devin did it right. He’s super busy and a really smart guy. He’s got licensing deals and distribution deals in place, and he’s not just going to give everything away.”
Up to his ears in the Devin Townsend Project – having recorded the Addicted album, touring for the record, and laying down drum tracks for the forthcoming wallop, Deconstruction – Ryan offers a unique look inside the Townsend-run playground.
“I’ve known Devin going on about 10 years now. The first gig I ever played live with him was in 2002, but 2003 was when I started touring with him. It was as frequent as it is now, though, and it’s always been for his solo stuff, so I saw him when he was in the middle of smoking tons of weed and drinking and all that, and now I see him when he’s completely stone cold sober. He eats right, he takes care of himself, so all these people that say Dev is crazy… he’s as normal as you and I. He’s a private dude, and a lot of people get this craziness idea back from the Infinity record or Strapping Young Lad’s City era, where things were really nuts for him.”
Reference to the City album strikes a personal note, as that record, the Ocean Machine album, and Addicted stand – in my opinion – head and shoulders above everything else in Townsend’s considerable catalogue. To this day those albums are still listenable from top to bottom for these ears.
“You know, it’s funny, a lot of people say the exact same thing,” laughs Ryan. “It’s always those three records. For me, the best record he’s ever done is Ocean Machine. I don’t know if anything could ever touch it. From start to finish, it’s amazing. I love playing stuff from that record.”
My opinion may change, of course, as Townsend is due to release Deconstruction and its flipside, Ghost, this summer, completing the back half of his Devin Townsend Project tetralogy.
“I’m very proud of it,” Ryan says of Deconstruction. “Devin decided that he was going to have different musicians play on each of the four records because they’re so different from each other. I think Dave Young and I are the only guys to appear on more than one; Dave played on every frickin’ record (laughs). It’s funny because he played keyboards, but he’s on tour he’s the guitarist. He’s so talented, it’s unbelievable. I got the Addicted record, and when Deconstruction came up Devin was looking for some crazy heavy hitters. He asked Dirk van Beuren from Soilwork, who’s a monster and a sweetheart of a guy. He’s very inspiring to watch. Devin approached me as well to play on half the record, which was awesome.”
“I think Deconstruction is hands down the most creative, the most versatile, the heaviest and best piece of work Devin has ever done. I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to top the craziness of Deconstruction. It’s out of control but in control. Every instrument is on fire; it’s crazy musicianship on the record, but very creative. Everyone knows that Dirk can blastbeat like a madman – like he did with Scarve – but this albums shows off how fast and insane Dirk can be. I go to do some fast stuff, too, which is cool because with Devin I’m known as a groove drummer.”
Ryan is following in the footsteps of Strapping Young Lad drummer Gene Hoglan, who has a long history as Townsend’s skinbasher of choice on projects outside the SYL framework. During preparation for the Addicted touring cycle, Ryan made mention of having to go back and learn numerous Hoglan-piloted tracks, which tightened up his playing.
“Gene and I are different players but our approach to drumming is very similar when it comes to Devin’s music. We know what he’s looking for. Gene… fuck, the guy’s a legend (laughs). He’s masterblasting his way through the stuff, he’s got his kick down. It’s more progressive groove type stuff that I do, like on Accelerated Evolution and Synchestra, so when it came to learning stuff like ‘Kingdom’ or ‘Namaste’ (from the Physicist album) – the faster double bass stuff – it was inspiring. It challenged me and I met it. Learning Gene’s stuff made me a better player.”
“Another huge thing about that tour that really upped my game in a big way was learning the whole Ziltoid record. It was all programmed by Devin, who doesn’t know how to play drums, but he has a fantastic mindset about how drums are played. About 95% of it was playable, and then there was the 5% which consisted of kicks, high hat and ride cymbals with 40 different toms. It’s was like ‘Dude, you can’t do that!’ (laughs). There’s only a couple points on the record where that happens.”
Given the time spent working with Townsend, it’s fair to assume that some of the lessons learned have or will influence the Terror Syndrome sound for the future.
“To be honest, when we did the first Terror Syndrome album I’d only done the Accelerated Evolution and Synchestra albums with Devin. If anything, the way I wrote Terror Syndrome material was the exact opposite to what Devin did with his music. I look at Terror Syndrome as a continuation of my band God Awakens Petrified, but with me doing all the writing.”
“As far as producing an album goes, you can’t help but realize how incredibly awesome Devin is at it. I think that if there are going to be any similarities at all, where people might hear something familiar, I think it would be more in the production end of things. I watch Devin work in the studio and I’m amazed. When the new Terror Syndrome does happen I think it’s going to be a little crazier, and even though we had really good songs last time out, I think the new stuff will be even better.”
Ryan reaffirms that a new Terror Syndrome record is still a long way off. Things are busy in the Townsend realm and guaranteed to pick up speed as the year moves forward.
“I definitely won’t complain,” he says. “When you’re doing this for a living and it’s been your dream from the time you were a little kid, it’s awesome.”
– Dave Padden live photo by Carl Begai
– RVP studio photo by Jay Van Poederooyen
– Devin Townsend photos by Erich Saide
– RVP live photo by Rory Moran