Former DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT, STRAPPING YOUNG LAD and VAI front man Devin Townsend recently spoke with Australia’s Heavy magazine about his new solo album, “Empath”. The full conversation can be streamed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
Devin: “If I had any business sense whatsoever, and if I had any agenda when it comes to what I do professionally that was separate from a compulsion to do what I feel is necessary for me to do, I would imagine that my back catalog would be half as much as what it is. The reality of the work that I do is [that] it is hand-in-hand, intrisically tied to where I find myself as a person in life, and that identity shifts from year to year. I have no choice in my mind but to follow these things where they lead. When you have an environment that encapsulates not only middle age, which I’m at at this point, but also the sheer chaotic insanity that is the world lately, when you write from the vantage point that I just described, you’re just sort of at the behest of what wants to come out. ‘Empath’ was a period of my life that required me to, I think, not only interpret the information I feel I absorb from the media and my own midlife predicament, but also with age in mind, I think I needed to analyze my relationship with my past to a certain degree, and sort of take all these disparate albums I’ve made in the past – everything from STRAPPING or ‘Ziltoid [The Magnificent]’ or ‘Ghost’ or ‘Addicted’ or whatever — and just sort of analyze my relationship with all of this. That ended up with this record, which acts in a lot of ways like a crossroads for me — not only creatively, but life in general.”
On his stated goal of trying to capture the “experience of being alive”:
Devin: “The experience of being alive clearly includes not only the beautiful parts of life, but also the fact that life is fundamentally full of the unknown, and the chaos that comes from trying to make any sort of peace between being a single human in this herd of humanity versus the fact that we’re all sort of cursed with these egos that force us to interpret our environment as hostile or beautiful, as the case may be. I’ve realized over the past ten years that because STRAPPING YOUNG LAD was a period of my life that ended in a way that was unhealthy for me, that I’ve just neglected to think about anything — or consciously made decisions not to write anything — that had anything to do with the darker parts of my humanity. But I think that upon the decision to analyze myself — and that, again, comes quite heavily with this kind of middle-age period, I think, for a lot of us — I felt like it was unavoidable. You have to make peace, at least, with that side of you, because to fear yourself and to fear your anger and even your fear is something that leads you to avoiding thoughts about intrinsic parts of your nature. You just end up chasing your tail creatively or personally or professionally. Ultimately, my goals in life are to get closer to whatever it is that my truth is, and an album like ‘Empath’, to try and make something that represents my life, includes all sorts of things, and some of the things that maybe I wasn’t particularly comfortable with, and maybe the fact that I had spent so long pushing back on myself has resulted in a certain amount of personal suffering that is avoidable if you can just kind of surrender to it in a sense. I guess that’s what ‘Empath’ ultimately, in a long, wordy way, was meant to represent in terms of representing life.”
On the diverse nature of “Empath”:
Devin: “If there’s anything that I think I’ve been standing on top of a tiny little knoll yelling since the beginning of my work has been that what I do is maybe not going to fall into the same category as AC/DC or SLAYER, where it’s an identity that gets developed over time, that has a certain group of characteristics and an identity that is salable. For me, music is a byproduct of this process — the human process — and the fact that I’ve managed to eke out a career with it is a happy accident more than any strategy.”
On his initial impression of the album after hearing it on its completion:
Devin: “Frightening, I think, is the best way to describe it. We make images of ourselves in our mind’s eye, and also publicly. Instagram is a great example of this, where you’re able to sort of sculpt what it is that people are able to see of you. You’re able to gloss over the wrinkles and the fact that maybe your life isn’t perfect all the time. It ends up being a lot of this hashtag-grateful pictures of me in a cabana holding up a drink, life-is-swell kind of thing. I think that when you see yourself for what you really are — your warts and all — and then you’re forced to not only contend with that, but forgive yourself and learn to accept yourself for who you are, it’s often a very blunt experience. It’s not a sexy thing, and I think when I hear something like ‘Empath’ and I recognize that that level of intensity emotionally is within me and is something that I’ve been trying to represent from my experiences with moments that are greater than I for my entire career… I guess it was two-fold — it was this sense of, ‘Wow, that’s truly you,’ but also there’s a sense of depression where it’s like, ‘It will never be what you want it to be.’ It’s like the beauty of what it is that I’m trying to achieve is filtered through my own trip – it’s filtered through my own bias and my own ego and my own insecurities and everything. I think it’s a very healthy experience for me, and ultimately, what I was trying to make this record resonate with with its intention from the very beginning, is through the chaos and through the fear and through the storm and all this, there’s profound beauty to the experience of being a human and being alive, and that doesn’t come without the juxtaposition of profound fear and ugliness and all these things. I don’t know — I felt totally overwhelmed by it, and then ten minutes later, I was thinking about dinner. I think that was almost when I realized that it was a success in my mind — like, ‘Holy fuck, this is so intense. Oh my god. I can’t put this out… Anyway, so what’s next?’ I think that’s ultimately what I hope people interpret it as – it’s a hopeful statement. You get through this thing that you think you can’t get through, and on the other side of it is dinner. [Laughs]”
“Empath” will be released on March 29 via InsideOut Music. Joining Devin on the album is Frank Zappa alumni Mike Keneally as music director, as well as Morgan Ågren (MATS AND MORGAN, FRANK ZAPPA, FREDRIK THORDENDAL), Anup Sastry (MONUMENTS, PERIPHERY), Samus Paulicelli (DECREPIT BIRTH, ABIGAIL WILLIAMS), Nathan Navarro, Elliot Desagnes, Steve Vai, Chad Kroeger, Anneke Van Giersbergen, Ché Aimee Dorval, Ryan Dhale and the Elektra Women’s Choir.