Devin Townsend’s Magnum Opus
The Canadian prog metal artist likens working on the sequel to his 2007 space alien concept album ‘Ziltoid The Omniscient’ to raising a child
Early on a thursday morning in Canada, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Devin Townsend had some bad news for us. His India show this month just got cancelled. Says Townsend over the phone, “It’s like half of my band already got shots and everything but it fell through today. We would’ve been there in three weeks essentially.”
Townsend, who started out as a guitarist for rock guitarist Steve Vai, has had a prolific career releasing over 20 albums that cover everything from prog metal and extreme metal to electronica and country. It’s his work with metal band Strapping Young Lad and his solo project that gained him fans worldwide. Although lined up to tour Australia, Canada and the U.S. following the release of his new album Z2 in October, Townsend is still hopeful about an India gig. Says Townsend, “I think the shows could be really interesting and it’s a place I can’t wait to go.”
Best likened to a mad scientist , Townsend, has rarely slowed down the number of albums he releases or the kind of sound he wants to project. In October 2012, he performed and recorded an all-encompassing three-hour concert comprising his musical career called The Retinal Circus in London. Townsend and his band performed songs from his best work across genres, ranging from his prog rock 2012 album Epicloud to 2003’s prog metal Accelerated Evolution and his experimental 2011 album Ghost. Even before The Retinal Circus is out of public memory, Townsend is all set to release his new multimedia album, Z2, which is the sequel to his 2007 comedy concept album Ziltoid the Omnisicent.
Award-winning film maker Steven Spielberg would approve of Ziltoid’s title character. He’s an extraterrestrial. But no ordinary one. Ziltoid travels to Earth in search of the ultimate cup of coffee, as an alter ego of himself. Townsend, who needed a cup of coffee and bong hits to get his creative juices f lowing in the past, is through with drugs, but still sticks to one cup of coffee day. Ziltoid, of course, comes across as a coffee connoisseur and a regular album release won’t do to impress upon his audience the joys of caffeine. The new solo album is a double-disc affair which extends to radio shows, A TV series and the grand finale Ziltoid show in April 2015 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The artist spent six months planning everything out — from songwriting and recording to radio scripts and hiring designers and puppet artists to design a remarkable Ziltoid puppet, which has only so far been used in promo videos for the Albert Hall show. Says Townsend, “I pulled through the same way we pulled through when we had children, y’know. I think it’s just force of will. I think you get to a point where that’s a great motivator.” Townsend says he was encouraged on pulling out all stops for Ziltoid after crowdfunding for his country rock album Casualties of Cool, which released earlier this year. Says Townsend about the massive undertaking, “I have so many things I try and do and I just have a great disdain for repeating myself over and over again. I think the Ziltoid project and the Devin Townsend Project and things like that were something I wanted to make happen for years.”
Unlike the three-hour The Retinal Circus, Townsend is still unsure whether the Albert Hall Ziltoid show will be filmed and released on DVD. He feels a move like that makes him feel that he’s forcing fans into buying every one of his products. Says Townsend, “I’m always a proponent of ‘Look, if you have no money, just download it or go on YouTube’. I write it because I want people to hear it, rather than I write it because I want to make millions of dollars.” After the 2015 run of touring however, Townsend has another thing planned — a hiatus. That might be just what the doctor ordered. A year-long break. “It’s going to be more of a refining process than a vacation. What I’m hoping to achieve is a way to streamline the workload so it doesn’t put me in a position where I’m stretched beyond my capacity. Maybe not as many records need to be done at one time.” He also assures that the music will be just as diverse, even if some people prefer his prog rock work or his country rock work over anything else. Says Townsend, “I find that each step in life brings different inspiration. I hope that when I’m 80, I’ll be writing about what it’s like to be an 80-year-old. Not trying to be 25 again, you know?”
This article appeared in the October 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.