But trying to describe the creative talent that flows from this man is near impossible. He can't be categorised into one genre as his music is that varying that every song is different. And when I say every song, I mean each song off of the 17 (yes, 17!!) studio albums he has released under his own name, not to mention those with SYL or Ziltoid.
He is also one of the most genuine and humble men in the music industry today. There is no ego surrounding this pasty awkward Canadian, I don't think he understands the complex capacity of creativity that draws people into him constantly. I know I have sat many times and listened to his songs or even watched his tutorial videos on youtube and wondered how that little tiny unnoticeable guitar note came to be there, but am stunned at the difference it makes when he shows you the sound without it.
Devin has visited Australia quite a few times in the last few years, playing headline shows around the country as well as featuring on the Soundwave Festival line up. He is coming back again, this time to get up close and personal with all of us, and reveal some of his guitar tricks in guitar clinics that he is hosting throughout the end of October.
Interviewing Devin has always been a pleasurable adventure for me, and talking to him about the clinic was no different. I can't bring myself to just take quotes from it as you'd be missing a lot if I did that, so here is the full transcript...
DT - I have no idea (laughs)…. I have been to Australia so many times now that I think my connections with folks there just keep growing. As to how it happened, I think there was a moment on one of the last tours that I did some guitar acoustic clinic and somebody who does this for lets say, real guitar players, took notice and invited me down. I certainly don’t take the opportunity lightly. I’ve got a bunch of things planned that I’m hoping will appeal to people who don’t play guitar too. It’s great.
LMA - Can you let us in on some of that?
DT - Well I think it depends on which direction each night goes specifically but I think that I’ll start with playing along with some stuff and getting into the guitar eccentric elements of the writing process. Ultimately I think that I’m in a pretty neat position as a musician where I have done so many records and I’ve done so many of them on a budget that I’ve managed to find ways around a lot of problems and I honestly look forward to being able to share that with people and also meet people. It’s a great way for me to get to Australia this year and hopefully be able to entertain folks.
LMA - It will be a different context compared to playing in front of a crowd as you’ll be sitting down and interacting a lot more than what you normally would. We like that idea, but how do you feel about it?
DT - Yeah. I like that. I am so socially inept for the most part that using my career as a springboard for some of my social anxieties is really cool. I mean, when you actually interact with people... On the new record I had people sing along and they ended up being made into a choir on the recording, or this pledge campaign that happened recently, or the lucky animals video where people did their own stuff, it allows me to sort of connect with people in ways that I think is important specifically with the internet and how disconnected you tend to get from people in general. It’s really nice to be face to face and have some actual human interaction you know.
LMA - I did see your lucky animals video and it was quite hilarious.
DT - My dad dance? (laughs)
LMA - Its kind of what it looked like actually.
DT - That was a couple years back. Since then it’s got even more tragic! (laughs).
DT - I was just thinking as we were talking… that’s how we will start it! You know, come out and do an improv Lucky Animals dad dance and call it a night. (laughs) yep, there you go! "Thanks so much guys, I’ll be out back".
LMA - Well, it would definitely get rid of any butterflies.
DT - We’ll see. If things are a little standoffish at first we’ll go that road.
LMA - I don’t think that would be possible with you though. The crowd loves you, you know it. (laughs) anyway, besides your peavey guitar, will you be bringing any others?
DT - Well yeah, I use the peavey stuff but I’ve been using Framus for the past couple of years and that stuff is cool. I’m a bit of a slut when it comes to guitars. I mean I work with Sadowski stuff and Fender stuff and Framus a lot, and Peavey, Stromberg gave me a guitar recently but for the most part in my life right now its almost entirely Framus with a Peavey or two. Then when no-one is looking I play Fenders and Sadowski. I’ll bring down a selection of the ones with the fanciest graphics and make it all nonchalant. It's like this, I’ve got an eight year old kid, been married for twenty five years, I’m sober now, so I’ve got to have some toys! C’mon, guitars are way wicked!! (laughs)
LMA - You do post a lot of tutorial and instructional videos on Youtube about your recording processes. Do you think that might be the sort of thing we might get from the guitar clinic?
DT - Um, do you think that would be a good idea?
LMA - I reckon it would be a good idea.
DT - Yeah I think that would be cool to. I mean maybe what I could do is probably bring up the protool sessions and go through them in a similar way in part of the clinic as I do on Youtube. Perhaps I could take some of the stuff from the new record and say 'well look, this is how the process goes'. I did a clinic recently where I wrote a song and it sort of went through the process from beginning to end with people, and I think more than anything I just want to be able to provide some insight for the way that I do things because I want to share it. I want people to learn from my mistakes (laughs), and see if we can go to another level.
LMA - Your new album Z2 comes out very soon here. Can you tell us what to expect from it?
DT - It’s incredibly confusing. It’s a record about how hard it was to make the record. It’s puppets and thousands of people in a choir and a double record and some songs about death and some about farts and aliens and super heroes. It’s a tonne of information. It took me a month after it was finished just to understand what the hell I'd made! So… good luck (laughs)
LMA - Wicked! Bring it on. And obviously referring to aliens you mean our friend zilltoid?
DT - Absolutely. He had a facelift too since the last time he got all pissed off.
LMA - (laughs) That was my next question…. I’m totally digging his new look and was wondering who his plastic surgeon is?
DT - His plastic surgeon is the doctor of life. Its funny coz the first puppet, of course people are going to be nostalgic about the way things were always but 7 years ago when I did the first Zilltoid record, I did it all on my look. I mean everything. We had just had a baby and I had fucked my head up into a lump of clay and started making an alien. Then all of a sudden I heard a theme song, did some stuff on an iMac and it was just me. Only me. I made the puppet, I did everything. Now on this record, literally there is thousands of people, like with the universal choir. It couldn’t be more opposite from that. Of course there is people that say “oh, I like the first puppet”, and I was like 'yeah well I like this one better' (laughs). I always wanted him to look badass. He turned out goofy both times right? But the whole thing, he’s supposed to be a creature…. Me in some way but its not supposed to be Muppet babies. It’s supposed to be somewhere between science theatre and you know, a shitty JJ Abram’s film right? So I think now I’ve got the opportunity to really actualise it, its wicked. I’m working on improving the first episode of the puppet show which comes up in a week or two on the new website and I mean I’m not a great puppeteer, but its wicked! Why would we do that?! Its absurd and along with it is this crazy layout and orchestras and choirs, its so over the top, but ultimately I’m just so happy to finally be in a position where I can do it. What are people going to think about the record? Am I going to tell everybody it’s the best record of all time? I have no idea, its just what happened at this particular period of my life and it's got puppets too so.
DT - Neither do I (laughs). That’s my defence mechanism. I’m like, if I can side swipe people every time, then their expectations are just so low that you’re always going to come up smiling right? People are like… wow, it’s a thing you know, congrats. I mean, the Casualties Of Cool record is one that I really liked! My records are always whatever they are supposed to be and they’re honest and I have a great deal of passion I feel I put into them, but Casualties (Of Cool) is a record that I enjoy listening to and enjoy playing everything. The whole concept of Zilltoid is a battle, and ultimately now that it has finished, like every record, I sit back and listen to it and try to have some kind of perspective on what the hell was going on and its like an internal thing. Its like a battle in myself on some level and carries a personification with it. Why is it so big? Why is it so over the top? Why is it son expensive? All these things I’m sure I will understand more by the time I get down to Australia, I mean I never know. It takes so long to put it into perspective because I’m oblivious to my own trip. You know, after a while you figure it out. Your like 'Oh, of course that’s what it was. Of course you’re fighting yourself, of course you need a tonne of people because of social anxiety or whatever'. It's obvious you know, but at the end of it I put a lot of effort into making my trip the focal point. I wanted it to be escapist in a way. You know, there’s so much dark shit in life, I spent so much of my time making music about “it's just me and this metaphor” and all this crap I mean I’m kinda like… even though that’s going to be the case, that’s just how I function. I put a lot of effort into Z2 trying to keep it so you didn’t have to play along with it, you can just listen to it and its fun. I think its super weird.
LMA - Do you find that you surprise yourself as you're doing your albums?
DT - I don’t think of it in terms of “how did that happen?”, I don’t consider myself a musician or guitar player in a traditional sense. I mean when I hear song writers and singers and guitar players do that, I’m always like “ wow, they’re real musicians!' Me, I’m just trying to figure out how to be functional in life and somewhere along the line I picked up techniques to articulate that in this sort of artistic realm, so when I listen back to it, rarely am I impressed by it, I’m more just like 'ha, ok, I can do that' you know? I get excited about it and I like it but it's never like I’m patting myself on the back about things. More just like it just pisses me off, until it doesn’t. Then it’s done. I go to bed and it's like 'no that’s not it', then I wake up and fuck around some more and I’m like 'no, that’s not it either'. Then I just obsess about the fact that it's wrong until it's right, and then I happily never listen to it again.
LMA - If that’s how you create things, with that along with Zilltoid’s late night visits to tell you how much of a shitty human being you are, how do you actually sleep?
DT - I sleep like shit! I am absolute crap at sleeping and every day that goes by I get worse. I just suck at it. Of my life skills, somewhere along the line I totally ceased to be able to do it properly.
LMA - So we could blame three quarters of your creativity on delirium perhaps?
DT - (laughs) More than that!
LMA - Rumour has it that you’re taking a year off. Do you actually think you’ll last the full 12 months without going crazy?
DT - That’s bullshit. I can’t take a year off. Who could take a year off? It's insane. Not only can I not afford to take a year off, but all the guys would have to come off a salary and I'd go crazy and end up starting some stupid project that would cost a fortune. But what I can do is I can stop making records for a while and just focus on other things. Live performance elements. Now that the Z2 thing is done, and the pledge campaign is done it feels like I’ve done the worlds biggest shit and I feel great. It’s a great feeling, so a year off….it would be nice but I don’t think so.
LMA - There is no way your mind could ever stop.
DT - This is what I said to the management too. He was like "What are you gonna do, take a year off?” and I was like “Dude, I just need to know that you would let me if I wanted to”. He knows I’m not gonna, but tells me I can. He says” You wanna take 10 years off don’t ya” and I’m like "yes" and he says "go ahead" and I’m like "great, so what are we gonna do?"
I’m pretty basic when it comes to my trip but I mean I think knowing your limitations is a big part of it so…. Onward!!
LMA - Well we are looking forward to your guitar clinic and its always a pleasure talking to you.
DT - Thankyou so much. Its great talking to you again too! I’ll see you down there and let’s talk again.
Devin Townsend is hosting his guitar clinic at The Gov on Thursday the 23rd of October. Tickets are available here.
Interview by Melissa Donato