Devin Townsend: 'I Don’t Want To Be A Household Name, That Sounds F*cking Horrible'

2 November 2023 | 11:34 am | Rod Whitfield

"People talk to me about the audience being stupid, but the audience that I have isn’t. Why would I want to attract a bunch of stupid people? The expectation of that would be awful."

Devin Townsend

Devin Townsend (Credit: Paul Harries)

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It’s been quite some time since the great Canadian has been to our shores to play with a band. Hell, it’s been four years since he was here at all, the last time being his fabulous live acoustic performances all the way back, pre-pandemic, in 2019. To find his last loud appearances here, one must peer back to May of 2017 when he came to promote 2016’s Transcendence album. 

Six and a half years is a long time in between loud drinks, but come November, Devin Townsend and his current band will be going all out to ensure it was worth the wait. This month sees him return Down Under, with a newish album, a whole new band and a raft of material stretching back the best part of three decades. 

“I’ve got a great band,” Townsend begins, “and I’ve got a great cross-section of material from over the years. We have had the opportunity to do a lot of touring since the pandemic ended, or since the lockdown ended at least. So, I’ve got a great sound person and a great band that’s capable of playing material from a wide swathe of albums.

“So, my idea is to make up for lost time, essentially, and come down there and do the best show that I can with a great presentation and a great sound. And I hope that the years away from playing louder music in Australia will be worth it for those in attendance.”

The album he is promoting this time around is Lightwork, which came out exactly a year ago. As with virtually every single one of his releases, the album was a whole new sound for a loyal and open-minded audience absolutely accustomed to his profoundly varied output and a whole new experience for himself, one he looks back on with what can only be described as bittersweet feelings. 

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Lightwork was an experiment for me; I’ve never had to work with a producer,” he recalls, “and I wanted to see what would happen. I like it, I think it’s cool, and I’m glad I did it. And I’m really glad I finished it the way I felt it needed to be finished because otherwise, I wouldn’t have been happy with it. But I did, and I am, and the thing that Lightwork needed to be, it was. I needed to make something that was simple and optimistic after all the chaos of the pandemic and all that. So I needed to make Lightwork, and as a result, I’m very satisfied with it.

“What it has also done is provided me the real resolve to make the next thing that I do completely uncompromised, with nobody involved in it, nobody telling me what to do, ever again!”

Like that, was it? “[Laughs] Yeah, it was.”

So, while the experience fills Townsend with mixed emotions, it’s also given him an all-new determination to return to doing things his own way. 

“It served a real practical purpose, and I’m happy with it,” he says. “But now that I’m making the music that I’m making now, I realise how much I missed being completely uncompromised. I’ve spent the last couple of years building a studio and building a scenario for myself that allows me to function without compromise [and] without any limitations. And I wonder if I’d done that had I not made Lightwork, to be honest. 

“In a sense, not only do I think it’s a cool record and I’m happy with it, but it was also really a kick in the ass for me. Once it was finished, I was like, never again will I put myself in a position where there are parameters. I don’t think those parameters are necessarily bad, and everybody who worked on Lightwork did a great job and really worked hard, so it’s not like a negativity that I’ve taken from it, but moreso, I see how more commercially-minded things are put together now. There’s a real art to that, a real science to it. But I find it really claustrophobic, and I don’t want to do that. I want to be free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want, and the way to do that is to create an environment for myself to do that.

“Prior to Lightwork, I wasn’t set up to do that. So now that I am, watch out [laughs]!”

Achieving that level of authenticity in his music and career has always been, and always will be, one of Townsend’s greatest priorities. Attempting to write hit singles, pandering to radio formats and attaining global ‘household name’ status are the very last things on his mind, and if that uncompromising mindset means he remains in a position where he’s known globally within his niche but virtually completely unheard-of outside heavy and progressive music circles, all the better. 

“I love being known and not being known, if you know what I mean,” he says. “That’s the perfect place for me. Because there’s an amount of expectation that comes from the work that I’ve done already, which is, make sure it’s authentic, that’s the parameter. But there’s not so much success that I’m tied to any particular thing. That would make me fuckin’ crazy, man. 

“I remember, when we were doing Lightwork, a lot of the people that were involved with that were saying, ‘This is going to be a really popular record.’ And I’m thinking, ‘That sounds horrible!’ They’re like, ‘You need to reach past your current audience’, and I’m like, ‘Well, let me ask you this, why? Why do I need to do that?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, then you’ll be able to do whatever you want.’ How about I just find a way to do what I want with a minimum of fuss? So that’s what I’ve been doing. I don’t want to be a household name; that sounds fuckin’ horrible.”

He is more than happy to remain in his current position, that is, building his audience slowly but surely by staying true to himself and his current fanbase: “It sounds awful, but the people that I want to service [laughs], those are the people that I feel responsible to. People talk to me about the audience being stupid, but the audience that I have isn’t. Why would I want to attract a bunch of stupid people? The expectation of that would be awful.

“What Lightwork did was allow me to meet people that would help me build the studio and build this network for myself where I’m accountable to no one.”

Australian Devy fans must savour this coming tour. The man has been threatening to scale back his global touring commitments for quite some time now. While this is not something he can realistically contemplate over the rest of his career, in a financial sense, we may continue to have longer gaps between visits. At the same time, he focuses on his unrestrained creativity and getting the music that’s inside of him out into the world. 

“[I can’t scale back] long term, no,” he explains. “But, short term, yes. It allows me to get my teeth back into my creative process and really figure out what it is that, at this age and after all these experiences and after the years that we’ve had recently, where I’m at and what that sounds like.

“I feel the absolute best thing I can do for myself, and hopefully for the audience, long term, is to stand back from touring, stand back from social media, and as we know, two years go by in a heartbeat. So I’m sure I’ll be back on tour, endlessly, before I know it (laughs)!”

Devin Townsend’s Australian tour begins next week. Tickets are on sale now via The Phoenix.



Wed, 8 Nov: Metropolis Fremantle

Fri, 10 Nov: The Forum, Melbourne – SOLD OUT

Sat, 11 Nov: The Metro, Sydney – SOLD OUT

Sun, 12 Nov: The Tivoli, Brisbane