Strapping Young Lad
Devin Townsend is known for both his solo material, The Devin Townsend Band, and his heavier suite as frontman of Strapping Young Lad. Being an artists as well as a producer (for other bands’ albums and his solo work) certainly makes him a very active and busy musician.
Interview with: Devin Townsend from Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band
With the release of a new Strapping Young Lad album “The New Black” and another release for The Devin Townsend Band, titled “Synchestra”, earlier this year – we had the chance to dig into the mind of this strapping young lad.
First of all, A late Happy Birthday, I heard you had a birthday a couple of months ago, how did you celebrate you 34th birthday?
I slept it. *laughs* I slept in and had food.
Let’s talk about some recent events, you’re doing the Ozzfest soon, how did a band like SYL turn up to perform there where it’s mostly nu-metal?
I have no idea, it just seems to happened, so... we’ll do it and do a good job and hopefully it will go over ok.
I’m happy to do it and I think it’ll be fun, but its 20 minutes a day for two months… so it’s a pretty hard tour I think.
Is it the most intensive one you did with SYL?
Ah, no, no, we’ve done some really brutal ones but this one is just definitely different.
Would you say it’s more commercialized in a way?
I think so, I don’t know enough about the festival to really know how much out of the loop we actually are… I don’t know what to expect, I’m just gonna go up there and do my best.
I don’t know quite how we’ll go over, but again, the only thing we can do is just go over there and do out best.
About your new album, “The new black”, how did you come up with the name and what does it stand for?
Gene (Hoglan, Drummer) named it, so I don’t know… I liked the name, I thought it was cool…it’s a phrase that means the new cool thing. The album cover is white – so maybe the new black is white.
For the fans who haven’t heard it yet, how would you describe it?
It’s less chaotic then the last record and it’s definitely more melodic, but it’s still Strapping and every Strapping record is unique, so it sounds unlike the other ones. This one is no different, it’s the next Strapping record, it represents this year as opposed to last year; this year is just a different set of circumstances, I guess in the bottom line, like I said, the music is being more melodic and less chaotic.
How was the recording process?
It was good, it took about a month and a half, and I produced it. We did it at three studios- the drums in one place, everything else in another, and mixed it in another; a guy named Mike Fraser (worked with Aerosmith
and others) helped us mix it and he was really good. I did it all on ProTools – It was a really good experience overall.
I heard there are some surprising guests on the album
Yeah, there’s the guy from Gwar
(Oderus Urungus), he sings on one song (“Far Beyond Metal”), and a pop-singer from Canada named Bif Naked
that sings on another (“Fucker”). They contributed parts of one song each and did a good job.
How did this co-operation come to be?
I’ve known Bif Naked for years, she’s from the same town as we, and Gwar.. I produced Gwar’s newest record, so I just asked him if he’d be interested in doing it and he agreed – it was a simple as that.
You’ve also released a Devin Townsend Band album, “Synchestra”, this year – did you work on both albums simultaneously?
No, I started the Strapping record right after the Devin Townsend Band record, but it’s been so much work lately that I’m just absolutely exhausted now, I’ve got a cold and I’m just very very very tired but I’m just trying to make sure that I get done all the work I need to get done, between interview, tours and records so I’m just trying to make sure I do it well.
“Synchestra” is a more accessible album then former albums from DTB, almost like “Infinity” and I think “Synchestra” is a bit more accessible compared to it and to the others
I think as I get older I start to like melody a little more, maybe as I get older I just like accessible things in a way that I didn’t before. I also stopped smoking marijuana so maybe that has something to do with it *laughs*.
Did you except it go be more accessible? Did you expect it to reach a wider audience?
Not really, there’s lots of accessible music that never reaches anybody. I’m certainly not trying to be more accessible for the sake of the audience; it’s just what I choose to do now and what I enjoy.
What does the title of “Synchestra” mean?
Like an orchestra that is synchronized with itself, like life... you know, life is many different things that in some strange way kinda co-exist.
Does it have a concept?
Yeah, I think every record I do is conceptual, it’s like getting from one point to another, finding out certain parts about yourself of about your personality. You need to take that journey in life and “Synchestra” is the transition from one way of thinking to another. I think “The new black” is kinda like the transition from one way of acting to another. Everything has a concept but I try to keep the lyrics vague so they can apply to multiple people and situations. There’s really nothing too specific.
As a father, what made you write a song like "The baby song"?
Well, no, I’m not a father yet…my wife is pregnant right now with our first child.
A lot of the ways I figure things out for myself is by writing songs about it, so “The Baby song” is just like that decision needed to be made about whether or not we’re gonna have a child so maybe that song helped me making my decision.
Which artists influenced you while writing “Synchestra” and which on “The new black”?
With “Synchestra”- there’s an ambient band called Lemon Jelly
that was influential, and on “The new black” it’s a lot of metal, like Meshuggah
, also some of the old Metallica
stuff and more traditional metal.
Many artists release politically related albums these days (Ministry, Neil Young…), do you see yourself making an album that is much more politically acclaimed?
Ah, no. Frankly I don’t see it in me to write about religion or politics, I’m just trying to stay out of both of them.
It’s not that I’m not interested in them, it’s just that I don’t know enough about them to comment, so it would be irresponsible of me to make music discussing this when I don’t know what I’m talking about. I mean, I have opinions, but I don’t feel like I need to impose those opinions on the audience.
What do you think about today’s music in general?
There’s not a lot of music I like right now, I have to say… there’s so many bands, everybody’s got a home studio, everybody’s got a Myspace account – there’s so many bands that it’s hard to find things that are good because it’s clogged up by all the stuff that’s terrible.
There’s probably really good stuff out there, but it’s hard to find now.
How would you like to define your music? Because you can’t avoid being defined these days…how would you genre your music?
Experimental. It uses heavy metal as its root… in a more easy way you could say Strapping Young Lad is heavy metal and Devin Townsend Band is progressive.
But I think they’re both kinda experimental in their own ways.
You’re the frontman of both Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band - how is the writing process different in each of them?
In SYL, for example on “The New Black”, Jed (Simon, Guitarist) wrote the main riffs in the song “The New Black” and Gene Hoglan (drummer) wrote the rhythm and the first couple of riffs on “Monument”; for the most part I write it all at home, free to rehearse in the studio and then everybody writes their parts around the song, and on my other stuff I tend to sort of tell everybody what I want them to play so I give the loose guidelines to work with, but it’s still more specific.
What instruments do you play? And did you have any official musical training?
Guitar, keyboards, vocals, computer.
Oh, yeah, quite a bit actually… lots at school, lots of private lessons, I had a lot of teachers… I think I started at when I was 5 or 6.
Where do you feel more comfortable – as a writer/band member or as a producer?
It depends on what I’ve been doing more of… but at the most part, at this point, I feel more comfortable in the role of a producer. Although doing my own music is satisfying in a lot of ways too – so I’m happy doing either, but as this point I’d really like to focus on production.
What are you future plan regarding production?
Well, I have no bands lined up yet but I hope to offer myself as a producer for good bands that I can work with, so we’ll have to wait and see… I’m confident that I’ll be able to do a good job for those people.
What bands would you like to help as a producer? Is there any band (existing or non-existing) that you would have liked to work with?
Maybe King’s X
. But I have no plans to help anybody at this point; it’s just “first come-first serve”.
How will your fantasy band sound like? Who is your ultimate supergroup?
I don’t have an ultimate supergroup… I like bands throughout certain periods of time, and I think they’re good but I never thought about what a supergroup would be; that concept is not something I find spending my time on a priority. I think it’s better to have one really good player and a couple of people who support that, as opposed to 15 good players that all have ideas that are conflicting.
On the cover of the “Infinity” album – is that you in the photograph? How did you decide on that cover?
Yes. I was just putting some clothes on one day and I though “ah, I good cover would be me naked”… I don’t know how good of an idea it was on my side, but at the time it seems a certainly good idea.
There’s a stigma about metal bands relating them closely to alcohol and wild behavior – would you say Strapping Young Lad fit this one?
Maybe not me, I’m not big into alcohol and I don’t do drugs… I don’t sleep with groupies or anything but I think in general SYL definitely has some of those things going on.
What is your idea of a good time?
You’ve done many albums and projects – which one would you consider your favorite one and which one would you consider your worst?
My favorite one would be “Infinity” and my worst one would probably be “Physicist”.
You’ve worked with Steve Vai in your early days, and now you’ve worked with him again in “Synchestra” (Vai participated on the song “Triumph”) – what was it like to be reunited?
We talked throughout the years, so it’s not as much reunited but it is reunited musically, and I was really happy with the work that he did… I found it to be a really good addition to that record, I’m very proud to have him involved.
How was the work process with him? Did you meet to record it at your studio?
I sent him the files, and he recorded it while he was on tour.
Do you find this sort of work method comfortable or would you rather record with a live band?
Oh, it doesn’t make a difference. As long as you get your ideas done it doesn’t matter how you do it. Sometimes it’s good with a live band and sometimes it’s not…
You participated on two songs, “Pain” and “Loser”, from Ayreon’s album “The Human Equation” – how did Arjen Lucassen get in touch with you? How was the work/recording process?
He sent me an email and asked me if I wanted to be involved, at first I said no…I said I don’t like doing things that I don’t get to write lyrics and do my own parts on, so he said that he wanted me to be a part of it and said “you can do whatever you want” – I agreed, and he sent me the tapes, which sat on my shelf for about three-four months, I didn’t even look at them, and then after awhile was going “I need the tapes, I need the tapes”, so I just put them into my computer and did a bunch of crazy stuff on it – I think it turned out well.
Do you like those couple of songs? Do you think they’re among your better ones?
It’s a couple of songs, you know… it’s a part of the catalog but it’s different for me.
How do you see as a part of your discography?
Just a guest appearance.
If you were offered doing a beer commercial, which beer would you have liked it to be?
Oh, gosh *laughs*…I don’t know if I’d wanna do a beer commercial, maybe… gosh! I really hope I don’t get offered a beer commercial…’cause they’re all the same, it wouldn’t matter what type of beer.
What advice would you give young musicians who want to grow up and make their own music?
Don’t do drugs and stay in school.
Just do what makes you feel good, express yourself, don’t worry about “becoming” anything that anybody wants you to be.
How did you decide that you want to be a musician?
It was kinda decided for me, I sent out a demo and Steve Vai heard it, so I ended up in L.A. and I’ve been working ever since…there was never really a vision to do it, it just kinda fell into my lap, it’s been 15 years of doing it and I’m still doing it.
What is your opinion about the following bands?
The Beach Boys
- love ‘em.
- Don’t like the vocals.
- ah, they’re ok… I liked them when I was younger.
Do you think you’ll continue making music when you’re even older?
Oh, yeah, of course. I’ll be making music forever; I just need to take a break here and there.
Since this is an Israeli-based magazine, I have to ask you, do you ever think about performing here? Is there a chance you guys will perform here? What do you think about Israel in general?
I’ve got some good friends from Israel, but I don’t think there’s any touring plan in the near future for Israel. But I have no real definite opinion on it because I’ve never been there, but the people that I know from Israel are very cool.
And Finally, Do you have any last words for everyone?
Enjoy yourself and peace!
Thank you very much for the interview
Roy Povarchik & Ofer Vayner