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DEVIN TOWNSEND Loving The Alien

Devin Townsend
Devin Townsend

The extremely weird and extremely beloved Devin Townsend is not only releasing a new album, the hotly anticipated Z², but holding a series of intimate guitar clinics across Australia. Perth fans who wish to learn at the knee of the Strapping Young Lad can do so at Hale School’s John Inverarity Theatre on Saturday, October 25. To tide you over until then, though, we got Karnivool’s DREW GODDARD to pose a few questions.

So how’ve you been?

I think I’m good, I think I’m good… It’s hard to be accurate with an answer like that because I feel so compulsed that to do what I’m supposed to do that I follow it to the point of becoming unhealthy and I got a single minded sense of purpose with everything I do and today it’s interviews. Today, and I had an hour to go to the beach so I packed up and I went to the beach and I didn’t see it at all because I was so worked up about everything else in my world. I’m good though – I got to go to the beach.

In the meantime you’ve decided to head over and do some guitar clinics. Why did you decide to do this?

Well I got asked and I’m always up for a new experience and this one seems like something I can get myself around. Because as much as it seems I do all the crap that I do, the foundation that I do is always guitar and I love it. I love playing guitar, I love playing bass and I love the instruments and I think after 30 records full of material I’ve got a perspective on these things that could be really helpful to folks and I guess the biggest thing, even thinking about it, I’m just so bad at selling myself. I have a hard time not trying to sound like you’re buying a used car. But it’s going to be great and it’s really going to be an opportunity not only for me to play music and discuss gear and play guitar and hopefully some new material but I’ve done 30 records full of stuff, man. I’ve got a ton of things I think I can offer in terms of successes and failures and it’s an opportunity to do it on my own. So I’m certainly not going to fuck it up.

Do you think you’re still learning things about the guitar even after 30 records?

Oh dude, I know two per cent of the guitar after 30 records. I’ve learnt two things in the past hour about not only about my guitar playing but about my personality, all sorts of stuff. This whole mirror that gets held up by doing what I’m doing publicly, it’s a hell of a thing, dude, because you have to fight with self-loathing every step of the way because you’re just confronted with your own neurosis.

Tell me about your relationship with the guitar; have you ever fallen out of love with it?

Every month.

How do you rekindle that?

Bass. I kind of flip-flop between the two instruments.I play guitar and I’ll become just fascinated by guitar again and then I get sick of it for whatever reason.

Well I can tell you I make a terrible bass player. I joined Karnivool originally as a bass player and I got off of that.

Did you get off or did they help you off?

Yeah I think I kind of weened myself off,. I’m sure you’re a better bass player than I am.

Well I think I’m really good. I think I’m a better bass player than I am a guitar player and I think that’s the reason why I enjoy it so much because I understand its role. After making so many records and working with so many bass players, some of them good, some of them terrible, as a producer I’m always just like, ‘Just give me the bass, just give me the bass…’ So when it comes to functioning as a musical component in my world I really think I can get behind the instrument in ways that are not super common.

I’ve just heard an interview recently where they said you don’t enjoy singing…

I think that’s a little inaccurate. I hate it.

Why is that, did you just start singing out of pure necessity?

Yeah, the singers that I worked with as a kid were always douche-y so as opposed to putting up with that, I started doing it. By necessity I ended up being able to articulate my emotional crap through my voice in a way that sounds appropriate. So when I hear my voice and I’ve done it properly and I’ve got it all jizzed up in the studio, I don’t think anybody else could do it. But still you set a precedent for yourself by writing music that is out of your range for 25 years.

When you do this clinic are you going to be focusing on this sort of stuff, the reasons why you play and what you try and get out of guitar?

Well it’s left brain/right brain in so many ways and I think that’s a part of it and that needs to be explained technically as well. How do I sing that way? How do I play that way? How do I hold my pick? How do I set up my microphone? What kind of compression do I use, how do I achieve certain effects? Its really left brain/right brain for me and the motivation behind it is a huge part of my process but without any sort of any practical application its just words. So I’ll probably make up pamphlets with settings like that people can use and my axe effects and settings, things like that. You come and I’ll show you what I do. I’ve got nothing invested in hiding it, especially in this day and age; hopefully people can take over and win the lottery. I’ll provide a pen.

Moving away from the guitar, you’re very much the DIY guy and it amazes me how much you manage to do on top of business and create. To me I have a lot of trouble switching mindsets and even sitting down to write music… it sort of feels like play but its work at the same time. How do you differentiate that sort of stuff?

Well five per cent of my professional stuff gets done when I’m doing the things that I love, which is writing and playing. Like five per cent. The rest of it is reams of emails and interpersonal management and money and fighting for the ability to do what I want to do and arguing about every element of it. It’s left brain/right brain for sure, but its not that it’s a proclivity that I have, it’s just turned into something that I have had to do. There’s no option. By necessity I’ve had to learn to do a lot of things that I never expected myself to do. There’s ways to technically do that. How do I do it? I wake up early and function in a certain way and it’s technique-based more than anything else. And it’s the same thing with my production skill and my guitar skill – it’s all based on repetition of certain techniques that allow me to be present with my creative mind in a way that isn’t second guessing it.

The issue of mental health, I personally deal with myself. It seems to be an issue with people that have creative minds and, like I said before, I read somewhere you’ve learnt to differentiate between legitimate drama and artistic gratification.

Well I like to think I have at least, that sounds mighty noble when it might just be me saying out loud, hoping it will actualise. I think being an artist in general is an indicator of mental health. Not issues, but concerns. Because the way I have been able to articulate these visions for so many years is by a type of compulsion to finish and to make sure it’s correct, that is incredibly unhealthy and I haven’t learned how to deal with that efficiently yet.

But on the flip side of the coin, the whole purpose of me making music is based around me trying to be functional and decent in ways that, prior to the lessons you learn as a result of this, I wasn’t, in my mind. So it’s a dual-edged sword in that the objective is to become functional but on the way to that objective it’s a constant awareness that you’re dysfunctional as a result of your art and finding ways to rationalise things is very easy.

But ultimately man, like you say, it’s about breathing, it really is, I went down to the beach earlier today and I just couldn’t do it and I’m trying to figure out why. Is my compulsion to do what I do so strong that it can prevent me from being functional? Or am I just afraid on some level of letting go of the drama, letting go of the comfort of being afraid, all these things.

The lyric of ‘the comfort of being sad’ – I think that’s one of those things with writing the darker side of music where you find yourself asking, did I bring myself here or…

Absolutely, everything I find in my own world that’s been problems is self-imposed. But I think you have two choices just as this interview wraps up here, I think you’ve got two choices, you can either revel in it or recognise that it’s causing you problems and it’s within your power to find methods not solve it, but to cope with it.

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