Canadian musician/producer Devin Townsend recently spoke with The Prog Report. The full conversation can be streamed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On his current priorities:
Devin: "Currently, my priorities are shifted to basically trying to plan the next decade of my life musically, so I've been writing a huge amount and collaborating with a bunch of really interesting and unlikely characters, and just trying to put together all these sort of creative impulses that I find myself with now and seeing if I can form some sort of clear objective for it. Currently, where I'm at with that is, I've demoed about forty songs. It's in four or five different directions, and unfortunately, up to this point, there's been no solid identity that has taken place. Usually, in the past, what happens is by this point, I've been able to say, 'Okay, this one or two songs that I've come up with here really tick all the boxes and clearly identify subconsciously where I think I've been at.' This time, every day I wake up, I write something different, and that has been great for productivity, but not so great in terms of saying, 'Okay, this is where I'm at right now.' My days are full of writing, and ultimately, what may end up sort of ironically coming to light is the fact that this period is all of those things together, as opposed to maybe the [DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT] — in the past, it was very compartmentalized. Now, I wonder if what I'm searching for doesn't actually exist, and really where I'm at is just all those things at once."
On deciding to disband the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT:
Devin: "I only struggled with it because of the personal implications. I hate hurting people that I care about, and everybody in the band obviously would have been happy for it to continue indefinitely, but I'm more happy with that decision than I've been with a decision I've made in many, many years. It was exactly what I needed to do. It was such a good situation in a lot of ways, but every band has a shelf life in my estimation, and a lot of how I write is sort of taking inspiration from the people and the things that I found myself surrounded by. With DTP, we toured so much, and it was the same people over and over and over again that the social ramifications of being around those people, it degrades over time. But it also for me, as a writer, it ends up being something that you're writing about a vacuum in a way. You're writing about being in a band, and in line with everything I've done in the past that has been of significance to the audience, it's not because I was writing about just being a musician. It was about everything that was surrounding my life. Everything that was in my path on the way to the next age is what the music ends up being inspired by, and I just found that with DTP, by the end, all I had as a frame of reference was being on planes and playing shows. I just kind of ran out interest, if I'm being honest. Now I'm in a situation where there's a whole new cast of characters in my world. Whether or not we're in bands together, it's just new people as a result of having made this decision, and those people are inspiring me to do things that I'm really happy with. It was a great decision for me."
On whether the music industry's shift toward streaming has affected him personally:
Devin: "Not as much as one would expect, I don't think. Ultimately, I'm paying my bills, and I don't have aspirations for more than I've got in a way. I don't want a different house or a different car, or more of this, that and the other thing. Like any of us, the dream is to get to a point where you're financially secure enough that you just didn't have to think about money anymore — you didn't have to say no to the guacamole when you go out for a burrito. But ultimately, that's not a huge motivation for me. Staying afloat financially is a huge motivation for me, with family and everything, but I don't aspire to be the CEO of Kraft or some massive conglomerate that just keeps growing and growing. I just want to be able to do what I do comfortably and accurately, and the fact that I'm able to do that now, Spotify and downloading and all those things, it's just another way that people can hear it. I've had to diversify and find different ways to make income, be it through doing these online academies or selling t-shirts or box sets, but I also think I've put enough energy into those things, and they're worth it for people. Luckily, the label that I'm with and the management that I'm with, I can always say, 'Let me help — let me add something to this, like a new song or liner notes or a remaster.' Something about it that, if I was into it as a listener who purchases stuff, it would be something that would be worth it for me. I think the audience that I have really respects that, so they keep purchasing it, and as a result of that, I'm able to stay afloat, even in this new industry."
On stardom and social media:
Devin: "Something that I've never been interested is the 'rock star' thing. Even now, you'll meet people in bands that are even smaller than the band I'm in, yet they have this internal drive to be viewed as a star. It's always been super-confusing to me. I think the idea of being a star is akin to a mental illness in a lot of ways, where you're so in need of people to think of you as being superior to other people that you play into it — sunglasses inside at night, and 'These are my techs' and 'This is my fans.' It's so fucking stupid to me, so I think social media to me has been really good because I think you can be really open with people, and they're going to get a pretty good idea of where you're at as a person. I'm a mess like everybody else, and the fact that the work that I've done has put me in a position to be fortunate enough to do this doesn't relegate me to a different social class or a different social standing. Truth comes out with social media. I think you can tell pretty quick if somebody's a douche. Although I've had douchey moments, as we all have, I think overwhelmingly, I'm a fairly solid dude, and I think people being able to communicate with me has helped me not only to establish a fan base, but also it's helped me on the creative side as well to sort of get a real practical gauge about what they like and don't like about what we do."
On whether he believes musical artists have a responsibility to express their non-musical opinions:
Devin: "As an artist, it's like a minefield. You don't want to say anything, but then again, you don't want to say nothing. I think that really, the responsibility of artists [is] to educate themselves... I've been analyzing it within myself to say, 'Is it unwise because you just don't want to offend anybody, or is it unwise because there are no absolutes to this?' I think that really, when I look at my role, I think it's fine for me to have opinions. That's just part of being a rational human being. However, it's also important for me to realize what my value is to this situation. What I can bring to this is, I can work on myself, speak about how I feel, and then hopefully provide a soundtrack to people that can help in these times. That doesn't mean that my opinions need to be suppressed; it doesn't mean that my opinions are of no value. It just means that no one wants to be told shit, and when I open up the timeline and I see people angrily and vacuously stating angry opinions, it just galvanizes it even more. The people that don't want to be told what to do are on both sides, and neither of them want to listen. Therefore, a political position from me works a lot more efficiently if I'm able to do the legwork on my own front, and then try to make music that represents me growing, changing and learning to be empathetic and compassionate in an environment that that is viewed as a weakness, because if I have any statement I'd like to stand on a soapbox and be able to proclaim, [it's], 'Look, I don't know enough about any of this stuff. No one does, really.' It's very easy to say 'That's wrong' or 'This is right' depending on your biases, but the one thing that I think is unequivocal is that the lack of a support network for people to really cultivate compassion for each other and to cultivate empathy for other points of view that might be fundamentally opposed to what you believe, I think that is worth standing up for. I think that's a real practical way to help, and to make music that underlines that, it doesn't piss fuel on the fire."
On September 22, 2017, DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT played a special show at the Ancient Roman Theatre in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Devin's landmark "Ocean Machine" album in full, as well as a set of fan-requested tracks alongside the Orchestra of Plovdiv State Opera. This concert was filmed and was released on July 6 as "Ocean Machine - Live at the Ancient Roman Theatre Plovdiv".
"Ocean Machine - Live at the Ancient Roman Theatre Plovdiv" is available as a limited deluxe 3CD/2DVD/Blu-ray artbook (with liner notes from Devin and a special documentary dubbed "Reflecting The Chaos" on the second DVD and Blu-Ray), special edition 3CD/DVD digipak, standalone Blu-ray and as digital audio download.