From heavy intensity to ethereal beauty: Devin Townsend’s remarkable career on display in Perth

Devin Townsend, an artist known for his versatility, has consistently pushed the boundaries of music, transitioning effortlessly between heavy intensity and ethereal beauty. From his work with Strapping Young Lad to his more tranquil compositions like Casualties Of Cool, he’s showcased an expansive range of musical styles. On Wednesday, November 8, at Metropolis Fremantle, Townsend, is set to deliver a performance that spans this remarkable career, including fan-favourite songs, surprises, and a glimpse into the multifaceted artist’s creative process. ANDY “ANDO” JONES teamed up with fellow long-time fan, Scott Kay of Voyager, to talk about the tour, his affinity with Australia and more.

DEVIN: Brothers, how you doing?

ANDO: Hey, Devy. Doing well. How’s it going, man?

DEVIN: My day is productive, which is relieving and exhausting.

ANDO: We can relate. It’s a 5.20am here in Perth, Western Australia.

DEVIN: Oh my god. Well, fantastic! Oh and I see you’ve got Ziltoid playing in the background on your TV, that’s great!

SCOTT: We get to claim that we’re being productive before you do.

DEVIN: Yeah, I know it. But I get up at 5, and I’m usually awake by 4.30. I find that morning is when I get my best work done, just because there’s the least amount of distractions.

ANDO: Devy, today I am interviewing you for an entertainment publication here in Perth, Western Australia called X-Press Mag. I have Scott Kay from Voyager with me, who you played with at Euroblast in 2017, and before that, I believe Voyager joined you on the Epicloud album tour back in 2013.

DEVIN: Oh, I remember!

ANDO: Scott, meet Devin. Devin meet Scott.

SCOTT: Pleasure to meet you.

DEVIN: You too, my friend.

ANDO: It’s going to be fantastic to have you back on Australian shores, Devin. Is there anything unique that Australian audiences bring to your tours?

DEVIN: I think it’s the memories for me. There wasn’t a huge influx of musicians and bands that participate in the scene that I dwell in, when we first started touring in Australia. So I remember when we first came to Australia for City, we were in a van travelling, between Melbourne and Wagga Wagga and all of us in one hostel together.

My grandfather and my extended family had lived in Australia, and I remember getting there and thinking, oh, this is going to be cool!

And then when the show, the first show happened, I remember coming to the venue and being like, who the fuck’s playing here tonight? I was thinking, there’s no way that there’d be people that would show up, and my shtick back then with Strapping Young Lad was to yell at the audience!

But it didn’t make sense to do that, because I was just so grateful. I was so used to the audiences that we were playing for just thinking that we were shit, that when the Australian audience didn’t think we were shit, my whole act fell apart. I didn’t know what to say. You know what I mean?

SCOTT: Yeah! I can’t be rude to you. You’re too nice!

DEVIN: Yeah, we had just come off of this run with Testament and Stuck Mojo. We were the opening band in America, and every night was a situation where I’m just like go fuck yourself, fuck you, fuck this place, fuck this, you know, whatever. (laughter)

Everybody’s giving us the finger and all this stuff. I was thinking, well, that must be my thing. Then when we got to Australia and everybody was so psyched that I just didn’t know what to say!

SCOTT: Yeah, it kind of reminds me of when John Petrucci from Dream Theater first came to Australia. It was a long time coming. I went to his guitar clinic and I remember he paused himself playing and said, “Are you guys going to say anything?” because he was surprised that everyone was so quiet, then someone just yells out “We’re awestruck, dude!” (laughter)

DEVIN: Well that’s John though too right? Like it’s easy to be awestruck by John!

I think it’s the memories of Australia that mean so much to me. I had a lot of really cool experiences and colonialism is a hell of a thing, right? So Canada and Australia have a certain shared lineage and therefore, we’ve got similar senses of humour, and similar experiences, and similar social constructs to a degree. So I relate to Australia, and I’ve made a lot of friends there as a result. We recorded Epicloud in Perth and I’ve done so many things in Australia that whenever I go back there, I think, oh, I love this place so much… and fuck, is food ever expensive!(laughter)

SCOTT: Oh, man. Everything is expensive.

DEVIN: That’s it, especially in Perth. Oh, my God, it’s crazy.

SCOTT: Yeah, it’s insane. Rent and property is mental.

DEVIN: It’s insane. We ended up in Fremantle, and I remember getting a can of Coke or something and it was five bucks, and I’m thinking, holy cow, man. This was prior to the pandemic, so you probably have to take out a mortgage now for a can of Coke.

I guess because it’s so isolated where you are, the economy is based on mining, right? So it’s in its own little microcosm.

ANDO: I have a massive affinity for Canada. I’ve been lucky enough to head over to your neck of the woods and I absolutely adore Van City. It’s one of my favourite cities in the whole world. It’s absolutely incredible. British Columbia and Alberta are just phenomenal states.

One of the greatest experiences I’ve had, was driving the Icefields Parkway with a Devy playlist cranking. There was something about the majesty of the song Kingdom, the remake on Epicloud, that brought an ethereal nature to the experience, and I’m wondering if any other fans of your work have had similar experiences?

DEVIN: Well you know it’s interesting, and this could be silly, but the song from Australia that made me feel the same way, because I think we’re similar in the sense that we have a massive land mass, with not a lot of population, right? There’s huge swaths of nothing in Australia and Canada. But, it was Icehouse, man! You know, Great Southern Land. That fucking song meant so much to me when I was a kid. I remember the first time I was there, thinking, oh yeah, it’s the scale. To be able to represent scale, you have to be able to come from a place where you can participate in that.

We were raised so every summer we would take a car trip across Canada, which takes fucking forever to get anywhere in Canada. Same as that first Australian tour, it took 30 hours to get from venue to venue, right? It’s same thing in Canada. I remember going through the Rocky Mountains and just all this stuff and just being like, wow, it’s so big!

And when I was a kid, I would think, how do you make music sound like this feels? How do you capture that, that grandeur? I think so much of that you internalise, just based on where you’re born. You have this innate sense of that scope, that scale, and for me it was always conscious. I was really trying to find ways to capture that feeling of scale, and I think a lot of that has to do with just geography.

SCOTT: That’s awesome and it kind of ties into something that I wanted to ask you because, for me listening to music growing up, it always had this grounding of creating musical imagery, and that, to me, is something that I feel a lot. It’s the thing that kind of draws me to music in the first place – the fact that you can listen to something and it takes you almost physically to another place.

The first time I got that real experience was listening to Deadhead when I was like 14 or something. I was just curious as to whether the origin of that was from the experience of seeing the imagery or whether it was something that you conjured up and wanted to create musically.

DEVIN: I think you internalise the sense and so it becomes intuitive. Deadhead was an interesting song for me because I wrote it in Korea, of all places. I think that it all stems not only from geography like we mentioned, but strangely, and I don’t know if it’s the same with you, but when I was a kid I used to get fucked up flus, it seemed like that was the thing. The flus that you would get when you were a kid, they’re not the same now.

SCOTT: I don’t know about you, I get flus and colds like crazy now. The colds do not go away.

DEVIN: Me too. But they’re not the same. When I was a kid, I would hallucinate. My hands felt huge and my brain was too hot. One of those experiences when I was super-fucking-sick was when I was like 13 or 14, I bought Worldwide Live by Scorpions, and the reverb in the venue that they were playing in, and the state that I was in of just being sick as fuck, just sounded so big. It sounded like, “Man, these guys are playing to millions of people.” Like the echo on the guitar was so big. Then what I remember, what I internalised from that experience is that if you use echo, the way you can make it really musical, is to interact with the past echoes. So your next chord should be in service of the reverb of the prior chord, and by doing that, you can create this kind of atmosphere that’s very immersive, right? So, I thank Matthias Jabs for the lesson! (laughter)

SCOTT: And you have your own range of delay pedals and reverbs.

DEVIN: Yeah, man, yeah!

It’s funny, when we’re kids too, it just seems like life is this impenetrable massive otherness. Then as you get older, it’s like, “Oh, now I know that guy! Now I get my own pedal! Oh shit!”

And then you start thinking “Oh wow, life is so short!” and there’s definitely an interconnectedness not only to, in some esoteric sense, the nature of reality, but also just between people. The more the internet has become ubiquitous in all of our lives, the more I have to remind myself. I met up with a buddy the other day, and I’m like “Oh, I know this guy now. Yes, he’s my friend” but when I was a kid it was like, “Oh, he’s an untouchable entity” you know it’s like, “He’s not even a human!”

SCOTT: Yeah, that is a weird feeling.

DEVIN: It is man. There is a part of it that feels flattering or humbling, and there’s other parts that feel disappointing in a way. Because I think it’s easy to embed the sense of hope in the fact that there is something more. But past that disappointment, I think there’s a real liberation where you’re like, “Well if it’s not, then fuck man, that’s great because you can just do what you want.”

What were we talking about? (laughter)

SCOTT: I feel that immensely. Growing up as a kid, I was massively into video games. You could explore all these massive worlds people had conjured up, like “Why can’t life just be a massive RPG sometimes?” Where you get to level up and you feel these critical moments in life, but then you realise it’s not like that at all, but it has its own joys.

DEVIN: Maybe it is though, man! Maybe it’s like you level up every time you die.

SCOTT: You just have to wait that long.

DEVIN: Yeah man, how many lives you get in one of those RPGs, right? What if that little virtual characters is existentially in a turmoil every time you turn on your computer?

SCOTT: I have to do this again? Oh god.

ANDO: Coming back to the internet, I know that Scott has a question in regards to the pressure that artists feel with regards to creating content on a regular basis. Do you want to guide us there, Scott?

SCOTT: Yeah, I’ve heard in recent interviews with you that for a while you’ve faced the grind of creating mindless, mind-numbing content. I relate to that massively, and I actually find it even inhibits my ability to be creative because I’m spending too much time freaking out about ‘the next piece of content.’ I was just wondering if you had any insights on how to bypass the whole thing, if you have a cheat code or anything of that nature?

DEVIN: I think I might. I think I might.

The internet offers me an opportunity to do something that drives everybody in my professional world mad, and that is, when I have an idea, I just put it up online. That’s what I did for years, and then everybody was like, “Dude! Come on, come on, come on, hold back a bit!” So I stopped up until three days ago, now I’m a menace again. (laughter)

But if you’re just doing that, then what you’re doing is you’re sharing it and you’re using the audience as a way to say, “Hey, if you, if you appreciate what I do, here’s some more of it.”

Like, “You don’t have to buy it. I’m not trying to monetise it.” I’m not saying, “I’ll give you a download code and you can sign up to my stupid fucking newsletter” or whatever. So, if you’re able to do it from the point of view, “I really want to share” then it’s actually so fun for me. Because the only problem then, if I do that constantly and never monetise anything, then you have to come back and ask like a chump.

But the, the difference between doing it that way and creating content is I think as a species, as a society at least, we’re all so aware of the gauche nature of how social media content now gets shared that we’ve all just kind of accepted the fact that it’s as stupid as it is.

SCOTT: The veil’s being lifted.

DEVIN: Like what would happen if Green Day played Pavarotti and some dude in a wig, you know what I mean? I’m just like “I don’t fucking care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t fucking care!” (laughter)

DEVIN: But I’m also still guilty of just looking at it and being like, “Ah, whatever.” Because it’s become such a part of life, for me, every now and then I shake my head and I’m like, “Wait a minute, I hate this. Where am I? I hate this. Go read a book, man!”

So much of it happens when it’s people that you care about, that you see them, and me too, like I have to shill shit all the time. It’s in opposition to the beauty of creating art. Monetising things in general is in opposition to it.

But I’ve got a family, I’ve got to eat, and I put work into it and so I have to monetise the work. But I try to make sure that it’s juxtaposed by effort. So if we do a re-release, then we do something cool with it. If I put out a product, it’s something that I think is valuable to use. It’s not just like an overdrive pedal with my name on it or something, right?

But the only way I can answer your question in a long-winded way, is that it can be bypassed, so to speak, if it can be, is to recognise how irritating it actually is because that makes it a lot easier to police your own content.

Everybody’s as sick of it as I am, but what are the options? No one has TV anymore it’s like movies are all superheroes like “Who gives a shit?” you know what I mean?

SCOTT: What a weird state to be in. We’re all aware that it’s shit but we all feel an obligation to it at the same time! What a weird place to be.

DEVIN: It is, but I think that like anything, when you find yourself in a rut, whether or not it’s writer’s block or anything else, recognition of the problem is a big part of the solution. So knowing that it’s shit is not an ominous thing, I think it’s actually really healthy because it’ll force many of us to say, “Okay, so if we’re gonna participate in this, is there another way?”

And there may not be, maybe you have to be Mr. Beast or whatever, and do these sorts of clickbait things. Maybe that’s what will happen. If that’s the case, then, I’m obsolete and I’m fine with that too, man.

ANDO: Let’s talk about the Australian tour that you’ve got coming up. Caligula’s Horse are supporting you on the eastern side of the country, and you’ve got Chaos Divine supporting you here in Perth. What sneak previews can you give us with the setlist you’re planning for the show?

DEVIN: I’ve toured Australia many times and I think that this is the best representation of the music that I’ve ever been able to put together.  As trying as it was, the pandemic has forced a lot of us to up our game.

I’ve got so many things that I want to represent including Lightwork, Empath, Infinity, Strapping Young Lad, Ocean Machine, all that stuff is a big part of my history and I really wanted to have a band that could do all those things, so I found one.

The front of house is super important to me, so we have a guy that I’ve been working with constantly. This is potentially the best that I’ve been and knowing that I can play these songs, the setlist has been decided by separating it into three parts. Some stuff that’s new, stuff that I know the audience wants to hear, and the things that I want to hear. New or old for all three parts.

To have the latitude to play whatever I want has allowed me to put together a set that I think is I think it’s the best it’s been personally. But that’s that’ll be up to everybody else I guess, but to me it’s how I feel.

ANDO: That’s amazing Dev! As a parting question, if you could put together a super group of Australian musicians that you would invite to collaborate, with who would you choose and why?

DEVIN: King Parrot and Blood Duster with, Icehouse in there! (laughter)

SCOTT: Just, a hint of melody somewhere in the background.

DEVIN: Yeah, man. And Voyager!

SCOTT: Thanks, mate.

DEVIN: There’s so many amazing bands in Australia, man! My God, the amount of bands that are just staggering that throughout my career I’ve listened to, I’d be like, “They gotta be Australian because they’re ferocious!” There’s a ferocity to it and I love Australian music in general.

I’m sorry guys, I’ve got to go.

SCOTT: Too easy.

ANDO: Thank you so much, Devy. All the very best, man.

DEVIN: Cheers guys!

Devin Townsend hits Metropolis Fremantle on Wednesday, November 8, 2023. The last tickets are on sale here.