Devin Townsend Isn't Interested In Selling People An 'Instagram Version' Of Himself

29 March 2019 | 4:58 pm | Rod Whitfield

Canada's Devin Townsend tells Rod Whitfield about being more honest on his new totally solo album, 'Empath', about the state of the world in 2019.

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The Canadian great Devin Townsend's new album Empath needs to be experienced to be believed. Releasing himself from the constraints of a full band format of the Devin Townsend Project, he has thrown all musical caution to the wind and let his creative imagination run riot. The result is a record that goes into all manner of wild, wonderful and seemingly disparate directions, but at the same time somehow makes perfect sense, and manages to encompass just about everything he’s done previously, and then some.

His response to such praise is typically philosophical. “Well, such is life, is it not?” he poses, speaking from the UK, ahead of a European solo acoustic tour. “I think that if there’s anything that I wanted to represent with this particular record was just the fact that this is life, to me. I think in the past I have been guilty of homogenising my experience to the point where the only things that I participated in were the things that I thought were pleasant on some level.” 

The current state of the world, its politics and its people, has managed to change his position on this in an existential sense. “I think over the past couple of years, politically, the world being in such a crazy place, social media and all this, what goes in is what’s going to come out, in terms of my creative mind.

"I think this record is much more honest than I’ve allowed myself to be in the past, because life is crazy, dude!"

“I think this record is much more honest than I’ve allowed myself to be in the past, because life is crazy, dude! There’s no linear trajectory to anything, personally, politically, so I allowed myself on this one to be more honest about all that, rather than to homogenise it for the sake of trying to sell people an Instagram version of yourself.”

Townsend believes that the need to throw everything including the kitchen sink at Empath, drawing together much of what he has done in the past, was a conscious decision. “I wasn’t necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel here,” he says. “I was trying to analyse where I’ve been and what my creative motivations were, and then observe my relationship with every one of those things.

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“And by doing so, I was surprised to find that I no longer identified with any one of those things, they’re all just parts of your own trip, and I think I needed to learn that, and I needed to come to that conclusion for myself.”

Creatively, Townsend’s career has been a truly evolutionary process, the muso consistently fighting his own demons and emerging victorious. Commercially, it’s been slightly more of a bumpy road at times. However, in the last half-decade or so, his notoriety and profile have taken several large steps forward. The last few years have seen him achieving things, especially in a live sense, that he would not have dreamed of achieving ten or 15 years ago. For example, the last few years have seen him play at the Royal Albert Hall in London and in eastern Europe with a full-blown orchestra and choir.

In typically modest fashion, Townsend gives much of the credit to his management. “When I first met my current management, they were aware that I’ve kind of been moving laterally for 20 years, and to start to build a trajectory where one thing builds on the next has been a big part of Andy [Farrow]’s plan. And, to my surprise, it works!” he laughs.

So what else is that fertile musical mind cooking up at the moment? “I’ve got a number of things, I’ve got an album called Thank You which is a super chilled-out thing, I’ve got a Broadway musical type of thing that’s probably still five years away, and there’s another one sort of burning away in the background which is a mid-tempo romantic hard-rock thing.

“So there’s always plenty of stuff, it’s just a matter of getting all my shit together. I’m getting better at that all the time, and hey, hallelujah!”