Strapping Young Lad – Devin Townsend
Interviewed by Duke
Live pics by Lord of the Wasteland
Yoúre doing a tour of some of the big mainstream festivals of Europé right now. How does that work for a pretty extreme band like Strapping Young Lad?
It exposes us to more people, but I dońt think it́s gonna make our music any less extreme or make us any more commercially acceptable. I mean, wéve been doing what wéve been doing for ten years and I think if the mainstream was gonna catch on to us, they would have done so by now.
The gig last week in Hultsfred, was that the first time you played in Sweden?
Second. We played Hultsfred once before.
How did it go? You must have been an odd one out there.
It was ok. It was a very strange gig with weird energy for us. It sounded very strange on stage, just one of those shows, you know. But you do your best and hope that enough people enjoyed it to make it worthwhile. But there was a lot of mosquitos and it was a strange show. It was ok, Íll give it 6.5 out of 10.
Is this it for Europe or will there be a headlining tour for “The New Black”?
I dońt think so, not for a while. Ím taking a break, coming up after the Ozzfest. I wońt be doing much music for a while, so…
Really? I heard that you were going to be a father, congratulations!
Thanks. You know, Ím really tired of music. Íve been doing it for so long and Ím just kinda like, not discouraged, but kinda like… fed up with the whole process, right?
With making music or the business?
The business, pretty much, having to be away so much and all the bullshit that comes with touring. Wére gonna do the Ozzfest and then Ím gonna take a break.
Do you have any idea how long a break it will be?
It could be six months, could be five years.
It seems like most of the album “The New Black” is poking fun at the music business.
Oh yeah, definitely, definitely! Strapping started out as being a big middle finger, right? Now that the music business is paying attention to us on a small scale I want to give that big middle finger to the music industry.
What do you dislike about it so much?
Rock and roll is a fallacy, you know. People considering themselves rock stars, being in the industry, lots of drugs, lots of violence, lots of lies, lots of bullshit that has nothing to do with art. But it gets imposed on you just by being a musician. So Ím just like “Fuck you and fuck the industry and fuck music!” Really, “You suck”.
I was thinking about that song, is it directed to anyone in particular?
Oh, everyone! Me, you, everybody! (laughs) Ím sure yoúre a pretty nice guy and so am I, but I suck too!
The album itself is a bit more direct and accessible compared to “Alien”, which was really brutal. Was that a conscious decision or did it just happen that way?
It kinda just happened. I had a very short amount of time to put this album together and I figured that the most honest thing you could do was write what comes naturally. And natural means more direct. Ím sure it had something to do with us doing all these mainstream festivals, wére doing Ozzfest and everything. So I wanted a more direct way of saying the same thing Íve been saying for a long time and then just leave. Say it and get out!
Have you really been that much part of the business? You have your own record label and yoúve stuck to Century Media for quite a few years.
Yeah, but it́s all connected in some way or another. Everybody knows everybody. Mainstream or underground it́s like everybody is in touch with everybody else. The deeper I get into it, the uglier it gets. I just dońt care. You cańt convince me to care! (laughs)
You mean everything is sales over art?
Oh yeah, for sure! So I figured that with this record wéd just make the same thing but on the surface make it seem like wére a pop band.
I dońt think yoúre fooling anyone.
I know, I know!
As usual you have a lot of samples of sounds on the album. How do you work with those, there must be layers upon layers of them?
Oh yeah. You know, computers, ProTools, all that sort of stuff, theýre instrument in the same way that a guitar is in my opinion. I think that if you know how to use the programs efficiently, you can basically do whatever you want. My vision has always included lots of noises so I just keep doing it.
Do you start out with organic noises or is it stuff you just make up on your computer?
A little bit of both. Sometimes it́s really organic and at other times it́s just little squeaks and boops and things like that. For the most part it́s anything I can find.
What does “The New Black” mean anyway?
Gene titled it, so I’m sure he’d know.
Didn’t he explain it to you?
Well, “The New Black” is an expression like when something is the new black it́s the new version of the same old sauce. So this is the new version of Strapping I guess.
The band has been extremely active for the last few years after a five year rest. I was going to ask you if you consider it your main project, but it sounds like nothing is your main project for a while.
Yeah, nothing is. I wanna focus in on family, friends, you know, just get away from this stupid shit for a while. When it becomes your main focus you have nothing else to do and you realize what a waste of time a lot of it is.
What about Devin Townsend Band?
Íve got a ton of music, I always have a ton of music. But music isńt the only thing in life, so…
The “Synchestra” album, did you work on that and “The New Black” at the same time?
No, I had a break for like two months in between crazy Strapping tours and in those two months I did “Synchestra” really quickly.
You were going to tour on that, wereńt you?
I was, but then we had to do “The New Black” so I just figured Íd do it and get it finished.
How do you split yourself between two so different bands?
I’m pretty good at hearing different extremes in emotions. Having the opportunity to record both of them has been a blessing so I just go with it. It just takes effort and Ím willing to put the effort out.
When you’re writing songs, are you writing for a specific project or does that take care of itself after a while?
I think it takes care of itself. It́s very obvious to me that this goes here and this goes there. You just put yourself in the position for writing and then let the pieces fall where they may. I just let it figure itself out.
Is there a limit for what can be Strapping and what can be Devin Townsend Band and whatever?
Yes and no. As long as the energy is correct it doesńt really matter what the music is. It just comes down to whether or not it́s coming from the right place energy-wise. Strapping is very cynical. Even if you write a pop song, if it́s cynical, then it’s still Strapping. Devin Townsend Band is very peaceful and even if it́s a heavy, heavy song, as long as it’s peaceful, it́s fine. That’s what I mean with the vibe, cynical or peaceful, it doesńt really matter as long as it́s got that root to it. It́s basically at the very beginning of the writing process. I dońt know how it works really, I just do it! (laughs)
How did your other project like Ocean Machine work out? Were they just one-offs?
I dońt know. I just write songs and therés a chance that there might be another Ocean Machine but I never have any plans. I dońt know what́s going on, I just pick up a guitar and write and whatever comes out, comes out. I dońt really know until Ím doing it what it́s gonna be.
You were going to sing with Steve Vai again and he would play on one of your records, what happened with that?
He played on “Synchestra”, on the song “Triumph”. As far as me playing on his stuff, no plans yet. It might happen, it might not. Ím not too concerned, at least wére talking and hés a cool guy so wéll just leave it at that.
Do you have anything upcoming as a producer or are you done with that as well?
No, Íll be doing producing. I just produced a band called Gwar. Íve known them for so many years and I just thought it would be fun to hook up with them and do a record. And it turned out well. I’ll probably keep producing.
Don’t you get a bit schizo with all these different roles?
I think I’m a bit schizo to begin with so it doesńt really make that much of a difference. I just wake up and work. Sometimes the work is producing and sometimes it́s writing. I don’t really pay too much attention to how and why, I just do it.
How do you pick the bands you produce?
I dońt know. It just kinda happens. All of a sudden I find myself producing a band and I’m just thinking “Ok, so Ím working with these guys now”. Sometimes they send me an e-mail, sometimes I meet them on tour, therés no plan or rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes they contact me, sometimes I contact them. Therés no procedure that I go through, it’s just different every time.
You did Soilwork, the Swedish band, the other year. How did that come about?
They phoned me. It was good, I enjoyed that. Good record.
Most people do an album every two or three years and you’ve done a couple per year and tours. How the hell have you found the time for that?
Oh… by having no personal life.
That sounds sad.
Yeah, it’s fucking retarded. That’s another reason why I’m gonna take a break. I’ve just done too much and Ím sick of it. I’ve worked myself too much and now I don’t wanna do it anymore.
Of all the albums that you’ve made, do you have any favourites?
I like “Infinity”.
The EP or the album?
Both of them. I intend on re-recording it, doing it properly. Ím not a hundred percent satisfied with the record. I like them all, I like “Terria”, I like “Synchestra”, I like “City”… I like Ocean Machine. I like most of them.
In the re-release of “Heavy as a really heavy thing” you didńt sound very happy about it in the booklet.
It’s ok. It is what it is, the beginning of Strapping. The one record I really like with Strapping is “City” so I guess that it got me to the point where I was able to do “City” and for that it’s good. As a record on itself it’s ok, it’s funny.
On the other hand, are there any albums that you wish you had done differently or not at all?
“SYL”, the red record, is shitty. “Physicist” is kinda shitty. Some records are better than others, I dońt hate any of them. But I definitely dońt think those two are good.
Most people seem to think that their new album is the best one, when do you get a feeling of your own work?
I just don’t care. I just do it and some records are better than others. New Strapping is good, people who like Strapping might like it or they might hate it, but the best Strapping record is still “City”. It’s not that I like or don’t like the new one, it’s just the truth. Slayer is never going to be able to do “Reign in blood” again, right? So why fight it? It doesńt mean that you have to not do records, but you have to be honest with yourself.
What do you listen to yourself for inspiration or relaxation?
Oh, I listen to lots of things. For metal I like Meshuggah, but I don’t like much other metal. I like ambient music, I like Sigur Ros, I like ABBA, I like everything. There’s nothing I really dońt like so I just get a bunch of new records and listen to whatever is new.
Have you considered working with Meshuggah?
Maybe, but I don’t think I can offer them much. They’re perfect as it is so they certainly don’t need me.
To steal a question from Frank Zappa: “Does humor belong in music?”
Does humor belong in music? Sure. Why not? Same reason why hatred or love or anything, music is just music, you wanna put humor in there, feel free!