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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

Anurag Tagat Oct 10, 2014
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(center) Townsend with his band | Photo Credit: Tom Barnes

(center) Townsend with his band | Photo Credit: Tom Barnes


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.”

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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?”

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This article appeared in the October 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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