Creative Ruts & Gravy Delivery Vehicles: A Devin Townsend Interview

DEVIN TOWNSEND: Creative Ruts & Gravy Delivery Vehicles

An interview by Kate Taylor.

Devin Townsend Promotional Image

Due to rock our faces off on May 18th with his highly intellectual and intricate metal offerings, Devin Townsend took some time out to answer questions for Ambient Light on the great frontier of space, creative ruts and his love of eating, especially if gravy and / or hot sauce is involved. You can listen to the full unedited interview below, or read on for some chuckles with the one the only, Devin Townsend.

Ok! So firstly, this might be a little more on the serious side; what’s your favourite part of the creation process?

Umm. The easy bits. {laughing} The part where I’m sitting around and all of a sudden I’m like ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…’ and then you know, you get this great idea and it starts to sort of play itself out in your mind’s eye and then…it’s done. And then you have to do it…you know? So that moment of inspiration is great, you know, if you could bottle that, you’d never do anything else. But I think what defines the people that are willing to do this for a living is the people who are willing to put in the hours to make it happen right? So everything other than that is typically a real drag. Not a real drag but you know what I mean…

For you, what’s more satisfying as a set to play, a fully electrified, huge set, huge band kind of a performance or an acoustic, just you with the guitar, what’s more satisfying?

Well it depends on the frame of mind I wake up in, and then in that way, there’s no way to anticipate it, which kind of sucks right, because there’s been times when I’ve been out on these tours with all sorts of crazy stuff going on, on stage and puppets and lights and dancers and all this stuff and I think to myself, you know I kinda just want to play an acoustic tonight; and then conversely, I’ll be like, ok you wanna play acoustic, cool, book yourself and acoustic tour and then I’ll be out on the acoustic tour and then I’ll be like, one night, Aw I’m really bored now. So, you kind of just have to roll with it as it goes and I think the biggest thing with that is you learn mechanisms to put yourself in the right frame of mind otherwise you’re just going to be sulking onstage and that doesn’t make a lot of sense, right? {Laughs} You know if someone’s paid a lot of money to see you on stage to see a show?

If there was any band or any artist that’s current or even perhaps a historical band that’s perhaps disbanded now, that you could mix or produce, who would that be?

Awww nobody. Thank god I don’t have to do that. It sounds horrible. You know? Like mixing and producing is such a drag…yeah I would not want to…like you know people say I would love to produce Dark Side of the Moon and I was like “Fuuuck that!” I mean how brutal would that be? I mean I can’t imagine the drama that goes into, I mean I know the drama that goes into one of my records, you know I couldn’t imagine something like that! Noo! Thank you very much. However if you said who would you like to have dinner with and depending on the restaurant…yeah there’s quite a few bands {laughs}…I mean, who seems nice? Somebody that’s nice and we could go to a nice restaurant and we couldn’t talk about music, that would be the parameters…

I was reading recently, I’m not sure if this is factual or not, but that you are a vegetarian…

…depends on who’s watching {laughs}…

…so I was going to ask you what your favourite vegetarian recipe is to cook?

Ahh…I’m vegetarian I’d say about 90% of the time, I don’t red meat, but if there’s chicken or fish or something and it’s nice, then you know I’ll have some of that too. It’s weird because I love eating sooo much, oh {makes a happy moan} my god. Like the basic stuff, you know I’m all about it and really, when it comes to vegetarian food as well, like it’s all basically a vehicle for gravy or hot sauce {Laughs} so you know…

{Laughing}…so they’re just a delivery system for those condiments?

…that’s what it is. Some sort of form of protein and those condiments and then I’m good to go. But I like to cook, you know I like to cook, I don’t like to clean it but I mean I like to cook…

With your music, there’s a very intergalactic feel to it, if you had the opportunity to, would you go to space?

Oh I’d just have some existential meltdown as soon as I’d left the atmosphere cause I’d recognise that everything is just eternally void in all directions. I think the romance of it all is great, you know I mean we can go up with Captain Kirk and look at aliens or whatever but I think, the reality of it is, no matter where you are, you’re kinda out in the middle of outer space in some way and I think…it’d be really cold and really lonely. You know, plus the chances of getting good grub would be slim too so you know…{laughing}

Yeah those condiment delivery systems would be scarce…

Yeah I mean like tonight I’m going to get myself some good food, I’ve got a fire going, I’m going to watch some Netflix and play some bass in my jamies I mean…

…this sounds like the perfect evening!

…it’s awesome! You know the families away – perfect! I think if I was in space, I’d probably, you know, none of those things would happen. And I really like those things.

If you were going to write a sitcom, what kind of a crazy sort of set up of a sitcom would you write do you think?

…let me think. I’ve never thought about it before…it’d be something abstract, you know I like the idea of spending huge amounts of capital on things that don’t make any sense {laughs}, you know so, it would be something bizarre with a lot of segues that don’t make any sense but were really expense to produce. And the point of it is you know…maybe just every episode, one of the new main characters just sort of has an existential crisis and just dissolves and then is in the wake of the goo dissolves into, which three more characters are spawned and they think they know it all and then in the next three episodes, they all have some sort of meltdown and they get sent to space or they have to deal with confrontation or something…

…this sounds awesome, I would watch this…

…What would it be called?…{pondering} Gadzukes! {laughing}

That is pretty good! On Transcendence you’ve got that really beautiful Ween cover of Transdermal Celebration, when you were very young, like when you were first playing instruments, was there a cover, that you wanted to attain, was there a cover that you were like, when I play that, I’ve cracked it!

{Laughs} Yeah, there’s two. I guess, it’s funny you ask, Victim of Changes by Judas Priest {laughing in agreement} and Friends by Led Zeppelin. You know I just really liked the atmosphere of Victim of Changes and the live record, but you know I was a kid, I was like 10 or 12 years old so…but you know I think also, there were certain things that really affected me when I got older like I really liked that first Sinead O’Connor album and I really wanna do, Mandinka (from 1987’s Lion and The Cobra) and Exile by Enya was another one that I really liked and Pleiades by Kings X, lots of stuff.

A bit of a question for musicians, as we’ve said you’re pretty prolific and you don’t chain yourself to any idea, I love that you explore your imagination and interpret that through your work; is there any advice you would give to musicians who feel they might be in a bit of a creation rut, like how to break out of that and to just be a little more brave with their choices?

Well I think a creative rut is often misinterpreted as being a problem, when in my experience, a creative rut, appears because it’s not ready to be said yet. And the only way out of it, I believe, is to focus on the things other than your music. To focus on getting your shit together, just in life, take that opportunity to make sure that you, just when you’re back up and running that all those things that take place while you’re in that creative rut or that zone, just to make sure all your cables are done up properly and you know your garage isn’t messy and any of these things, if you do that, and put it out of your mind, I think that it, relegates a creative rut to being more of an evitable part of your process rather than something you prolong by being afraid of it. You know it’s a practical example of you know I can’t pee, if I know anybody is around, like I have to go into the urinal…I can’t do it, but that’s psychological for me, the more I think to myself, I can’t do it, the more I can’t do it. So the only way I can kind of get through that is to just go ‘Well of course I can do it’ and not only that, just do something else, you know? If I’m not thinking about it, it’ll happen you know? And I think it’s the same with creative problems just like, don’t make it a bigger problem than it is, do other things.

When you think of classical art like Reubens, or DaVinci or Caravaggio, they have a very unique brushstroke and you can kind of see that work by sight and kinda say ‘Ok yeah, that is that Master, that is that artist, with your own work, I feel your work is very instantly recognisable as having that you know that Heavy Devy flavour to it, what do you feel is your signature brushstroke with your sound? Or that you hope people would pick up and go, yeah, yeah, that’s Devin, right there.

…I think it’s, a collision between two things, I think that’s why it seems like it has that identity because I’ve always been fascinated, whether or not it’s music or anything else, in a collision between two things that don’t seem to, coexist together, so you know, really heavy things with really romantic lyrics for example or really quiet music with really dark lyrics…or two things working together that you wouldn’t think that would want to be together heavy metal and some sort of existential blah blah blah blah blah blah that’s you know, all this stuff is a dichotomy between two things and I think if there’s anything that duality probably is, what I would say is…a knee jerk reaction to that question {laughs}.

Leaving a laughing Devin to go back to his fireside evening of bass, Netflix and jamies, we eagerly await his May 18th performance at Powerstation to welcome Devy and his heavies to New Zealand for their second ever-visit; even if he’s not thrilled about the gruelling flight to come, as Devin offers: “Yeah I’m close with Fred (Thordendal of Meshuggah) and was talking to him while he was in Auckland actually and he said the same thing; he said it was awesome, but that the flight just beat his ass!” See ya soon Devin, we promise to be kind.

The Devin Townsend Project will be performing live at Auckland’s Powerstation on Thursday, 18th May (With support from ‘sleepmakeswaves’). Tickets are still available from MJRPRESENTS (But get in quick as they are selling FAST)!

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