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.”
“I’ve also learned, either through having a family or a mortgage or real life problems – and good things as well – that when the song is out, at that point there’s no need to think about it. So, when I wrote this song yesterday, it happened automatically, and after it was done it was finished and I didn’t have to stress about it or go to bed with it. And, with Ocean Machine it was about just getting from Point A to Point B back then (laughs),”
“What I’m doing now, and this is how it’s evolved, I’m doing the same thing in terms of writing the stuff the way I did four years ago by just letting it all out, but what I’m finding is that because I’ve been so prolific with this project, my natural tendencies are leading me to one place. So, over the past month I’ve written 12 songs, but six of them are very specifically one style. The others might be split up into some weird techno thing, and acoustic thing, a dub bass part, but six of them are very specifically this ethereal, melodic, sort of heavy hard rock-ish thing that pulls everything together. And now, as opposed to four years ago, there’s no need for me to try and represent anything than what’s coming most naturally.”
Anything Townsend turns out is bound to be a surprise in the end regardless of pre-release hints and descriptions, and Epicloud is no exception. He does his best to illustrate his intentions, and lets fly with one totally unexpected revelation guaranteed to get jaws flapping once they’ve been yanked off the floor; Epicloud will feature the star of his Addicted record, Agua de Annique vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen.
“This next thing I’m writing, I’m writing for her. The next bout of material… the drama, the metaphors, the complications and all the heavy shit that went along with the past four or five records have been worked out as far as I can see. Even when I was making Deconstruction and Ghost, I remember thinking that I didn’t really need on an artistic level to make it so dense and so challenging to listen to. So, the stuff that I’ve written now is highly melodic and has very simple structures. I’m finding that what’s coming out naturally now, the guitars are still heavy and it’s still got that epic sound, but it’s very different for me vocally. There’s no screaming; it’s melodic and ethereal-sounding vocals.”
“When it comes to playing live, I think I’ve got a really strong voice for what I want to put across. Specifically in the studio; I can do what I need to do, but my voice isn’t very resilient when it comes to performing live. So I find that after two or three weeks of touring most of my daily struggle is to make my voice not sound like it’s completely bagged. With the new stuff, hopefully I’m going to write all the heavy and hard singing parts for Anneke (laughs). Maybe that way, if it ends up being something financially viable to do long term, after three weeks I can still focus in making a good show as opposed to running in tight circles thinking I’m not going to get the high notes.”
“Four years ago, dude, with having a kid, Strapping ending, cutting my hair, the drugs and all this other shit, there were so many things I felt the need to express that I felt split into these four parts. Now, I think I’ve gotten most of that, if not all of it, out of my system, so what I’m writing now – other than a few stragglers – is very relaxed in comparison.”
Watch for the full interview on Deconstruction and Ghost, coming to the BW&BK website soon.