Some artists are in a league of their own, but when it comes to prog maniac Devin Townsend, he’s in a complete other universe. With a discography that spans over 25 years, 20+ studio records, a plethora of live records and other collaborations, Devin has covered a lot of bases and proven himself to be one of the dynamic and versatile musicians heavy music has ever seen.
After disbanding the Devin Townsend Project at the beginning of 2018 to focus on other projects, Devin teamed up with producer Mike Keneally to embark on creating Empath, his most ambitious solo record to date. With Empath, Devin has somehow managed to squeeze in a wide array of the aforementioned bases to create a body of work that could very well be his crowning achievement. He explains that whilst he knew the record would be a huge project, he also knew he was up for the challenge.
“It was daunting, but I mean every record is daunting,” he says. “I think that if there's like some sort of tether of consistency that goes through all of my work it’s that each period that I enter creatively requires me to analyse my current frame of mind in a way that results in new puzzles and new technical, personal and compositional challenges.”
“In that regard, Empath is not technically much different than going back to Ocean Machine. There was a certain amount of fear that went along with this recording that is hard for me to understate because it's mixed in with leaving behind a situation that was successful and changing my career arc at a point in my life where it would seem foolhardy to do so. It took a leap of faith and a certain amount of testicular fortitude that was hard to sum but ultimately, I had no choice.”
Devin has never been afraid to take risks and get weird with his music. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for him to go from a section of blast beats straight into circus music just to spice things up. Ultimately, his open minded and genre defying approach to creating music has ensured that every record in his discography is unique and that he’s never treading over old ground. Devin explains what drew him towards theatrical music.
“It was soundtracks or things that maybe were more musical theatre or even classical music to a certain extent. I loved Star Wars when I was a kid. Aspects of the record that I didn't realise at the time were kind of leaning towards Stravinsky or sort of Avant Garde tonalities. 20th Century sort of classical competition was something that I had no idea about. However, I did know that that's what the Sand People sound like. Then there was something about that juxtaposition between simple stories being illustrated by complex kind of music.”
Devin is the first person to admit that he’s a control freak and as neurotic as they come, but that neurosis simply comes from being hyper creative and always churning out ideas. The man’s phone is full of voice memos containing melodies and concepts that seem to come from out of nowhere at the weirdest of times. He admits that all he’s ever trying to do is refine the chaos that rolls around his head.
“As a musician, I've got a big ego. There's a certain amount of narcissism that comes with being in my world and my work and all these sorts of things,” Townsend testifies. “I think that until such time that that leaves there's always going to be this mad scramble to try and articulate the chaos and these thoughts.”
“Perhaps what is most important about this process in the long run is the recognition that ultimately it's a fool's game to try and capture it. Where I think it leads often for me is this desire to make this as beautiful as I can, recognising that it's always just going to be an approximation of something that's larger than I, and then pulling it back to something that's a little more practical on some level. I'm happy to take that journey because as I said in the beginning, it seems unavoidable. So, you know, you might as well be happy with it”