The DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT brought their Transcendence Tour through Finland back in February, but alas, Devin Townsend was only given two interviews per show and we were too late to the game to be among them this time around. Fortunately for us, he did have a little spare time at Tuska Open Air though, so we whipped up a few questions (and trust me, in 10 minutes, a few is all you need) to ask while he was around for the festival.
So “Transcendence“ has been out for nearly a year now and you’ve done some touring for it – how are you feeling about the album at this point, now that it’s been out and getting familiar?
It’s okay. I mean, it’s been so many records now that I don’t necessarily think of one over the other at all. It’s like a thing that I did last year that was accurate, so… hurray.
Especially with the band collaboration and all, do you think that went well? Will you keep doing it?
Yeah, for sure. I think a lot of what makes this whole thing work is that you get a bunch of people together in this fundamentally chaotic environment – which this is – and then you try and work your way through the social engineering of it all, and it’s really challenging, right? My role in this has become inadvertently… I have to lead it and that involves a lot of talking to everybody and trying to get everybody else to talk to each other and it’s a healthy situation, but I think with that sort of constant influx of learning to communicate, that sort of collaboration, artistically, is just inevitable.
You’ve spoken about needing to have a reaction to a song before it makes it onto an album. I’m curious then, do you have any examples you’re willing to share of reactions you had to songs on “Transcedence“?
“Transcendence,” yeah. The song “From the Heart,” I was in a yoga class. A yin-yoga class. The last move, they were playing that song, basically. It was written by [??] and then it was redone by a husband and wife team, and they were playing that during the last [pose]… and it’s like stretching is really hard for me in general, so that pose when you have to put the block on your back and you’re lying up, it was like… a lot of things were released, in a weird way. It was painful and there was a lot of release to it, and I remember thinking, “God, I’ve got to figure out who this is, because I just want to hear it again.” I asked the person at the front desk and they gave me the information, and I found it, and I was like, “I’d like to try doing that.” So we contacted the [??] Foundation in Australia, I think it is, and we said, “Here’s the song, here’s what I’m doing with it, would you allow us to redo it?” and he said, “Yes,” so there’s a real tangible example of that.
I was curious, because you did the WEEN cover on the album, and I know you don’t like to loan your voice to other people’s work, so how do you feel about covers; I’m also curious about how you ended up doing the Frank Sinatra “New York, New York” cover (because it’s amazing)?
Well, I mean… thank you. The “New York, New York” thing was something that, I think in hindsight, I wouldn’t have done again because I didn’t know the guy. I get asked so often and I predicate my involvement with people on my relationships with them, and without a relationship with them it seems like such a farce, which in a lot of ways, it was for me, and I’ve taken the piss out of it as a result. But it’s cool.
Ween’s a little different because it’s a cover tune. I didn’t get asked to do it. It’s just, I remember when I first heard that song, I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s probably one of the best songs I’ve ever heard,” and I don’t think that the version I did is anywhere near as cool as the one they did, but the statement of it meant a lot to me in the scope of the record, because it takes the control away from it again. It’s like ending it with something that you didn’t write… it’s healthy for that process.
That’s really interesting. I remember listening to the album and seeing the cover, and then I thought, “Okay, I have to listen to the original,” and I did, and I thought, “That sounds a bit like a DTP song, but in a different style,” so it was a really cool bit of movement there.
I’ve heard you talking about firsts and how there are fewer and fewer of them as life goes on, so I’m curious if you’ve had any firsts recently and what excites you still, if there aren’t so many firsts left in life?
I think you’re excited by what you choose to be excited about, in a way. Well, to answer that, I think the easiest way to say it is, the things I get excited about are less and less novel and so that’s really convenient, because I can be really excited about a cup of coffee now in ways that [it] would’ve taken heavy experiences for me to be excited about when I was younger. So the long and short of it is, I’m happy and I think that I’m not as reliant on firsts to get a kick now.
That’s an interesting take on it. You don’t need a first of something to still be excited by it anymore.
Yeah, it’s great! And the more subtle it gets, the better it gets too. It can go one of two ways, but the fact that I’m interested in subtlety makes it interesting because any one of those firsts contains a lot of subtlety that you haven’t explored, right?
Fair enough. Do you ever feel as though you can get away with anything? Like recording an hour of…
Yeah, exactly… and sell it?
Musically, I could, but I think the thing I can’t get away with is twofold: one would be doing things for reasons other than authentically being compelled to do it, because I think the audience would pick up on it; and number two, I think accountability is a big thing for me. I think, when it comes to what sounds I create or what style of music, sure, I can get away with whatever, but in terms of life, I can’t get away with shit! Like nothing, because it’s so public now. Everything I do, is like…
Everyone is watching, all the time.
All the time! You have a drink or you have a piece of chicken or whatever, and you’re going to have people up your ass for the next 2 months, right [laughter]? You can’t get away with anything. But it’s okay.
You’re doing the OCEAN MACHINE show in Bulgaria in September – was the only reason you or whoever chose Bulgaria because the orchestras are cheaper there, or were there any other reasons?
I think that’s a significant part of it, but I think it’s also convenient, because the venue’s amazing and they’ve done a lot of shows there, so there are not a lot of places that we could (1) afford, and (2) they’d know how to handle a situation like that. So for me, it doesn’t matter why, it’s just as long as I can do it and get cannons, I’m good.
Well, we’ll be there, so we’re looking forward to it!
I think this is a good place to stop then – have a great gig today and we’ll see you again next time!
Interview by Bear Wiseman