Devin Townsend; letting it all hang out.

Retinal Circus is Devin's small penis...

What-ho, Mr Townsend; how the devil are you? Devin is good, pumping out the last few interviews as he pimps Epicloud, his soon to be released project Casualties of Cool, and his upcoming tour of Australia in October. I mention these things at the start of this piece because, as with my previous two Devin interviews, we end up way off topic, rambling like a couple of old men in a nursing home.

So how is Epicloud working out in a live environment? In typical Devin-eqsue fashion, he plays it down. “I think it’s pretty good. How I approached this record is essentially no different to the rest of ‘em, but sonically, and live, I think it comes across pretty good. My impression of it is different to what the audience gets out of it but all signs point to ‘bad-ass’…”

I saw a promo for Grace from the soon-to-be-released Retinal Circus DVD; it looked pretty damned sweet. He thanks me, adding “It’s like watching a high school musical with a bunch of bald guys playing guitars, right?”

So when can we expect Retinal Circus to be released on CD and DVD? “I think in about two months, or something? Honestly, man, the threads on my email for the artwork alone are just thousands deep; it’s so unbelievably annoying! But it underlines the amount of effort that’s gone in to this. It really has been crazy.”

How would you describe it? “I’ll say ‘I think it’s an unbelievably well done example of unbelievably awkward people doing unbelievably weird music,” he breaks off laughing before continuing “with essentially a small budget with people running around in monkey costumes and things blowing up!’ It’s as nerdy as it sounds but for me it’s a great way to purge the fear of being seen as anything but…I gave an analogy in one of the earlier interviews that if you’ve got a small penis and you are ashamed of it, and you try and hide it, you just spend your whole life being ashamed of your penis as opposed to just hanging it out and saying ‘Look! I’ve got a small penis. Deal with it.’ I think Retinal for me…there’s always a sense that ‘Devin does cheesy stuff’ or ‘Devin’s this nerdy cat’ or whatever and I’m like ‘Yeah! Fuckin’ right!’ And here it is with explosions! Eat a bag of shit; I’ve got a bunch more things to do…” He’s off chuckling again. I point out that I can’t really use ‘Retinal Circus is Devin’s small penis’ as a strap line but he insists “Go for it! That can mean two things; I’m hanging it out so I no longer have to be afraid of my small penis, either that or I’m using it as an extension for a small penis…”

But you really need a big, red sports car for that…“That’s next! I’ll get rid of my little shit box and get myself a sports car…”

You said previously that Epicloud was an outlet for your love of cheesy pop; is there any of that on Casualties of Cool? He’s adamant that there isn’t. “No! Casualties is an outlet for my love of creepy horror films and Johnny Cash. I’ve got six of eleven songs mixed, and the last day of the mix is the seventh of August so we’re almost done…”

So Z-Squared (which was originally coming out after Epicloud) will now be coming out now after Casualties? “Z-Squared is a multi-faceted project that includes puppet-shows and movies; TV shows and radio shows, and Rocky Horror Picture Show dance alongs; exploding squids and all sorts of other spacey, high-tech music with sing-along shit and really evil aliens. Dude! It’s so much fun! But before I did that I had to do this Johnny Cash thing.” He’s laughing again. I suspect it’s something to do with the joy of doing whatever the fek he likes…

So you have to do the darkness after the lightness of Epicloud? He debates this. “Well, it’s not even dark…I love listening to artists beat on about how they’re dark or brooding or whatever…dude! I’m just tryin’ to figure shit out…ultimately I’m tryin’ to figure life out, like everybody, and my outlet has always been music. It’s always been my first port of call for my emotional outlet and I’m thrilled to be able to do it. I’m thrilled to be able to talk to people like yourself, or go to play Australia, or get to put on some crazy puppet show, or circus, or whatever – I’m just livin’ it while I’m able to do it! I think it’s great!”

Any plans for more collaborations with vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen? “I don’t know. Annie and I have got a good relationship; it’s like we’ve got this weird heavy metal Sonny and Cher thing going on. We’re the same age, we’ve both got kids, we’ve both been through a lot of similar experiences, but ultimately she’s got her own career, and I can’t afford to have her full-time. So if things turn out that’s what, as hippy as it sounds, the universe wants to have happen, then we’ll know it. Someone will say ‘Hey! We want you and Annie to tour together professionally – here’s a shit-ton of money!’ and I’d be like ‘Fuckin’ right! Here we go…’ but until that time we just have her in when we can afford her and when she’s available. Dude! She’s just so brilliant, right?! (Yes.) She’s just got an awesome career and an awesome band, and I certainly don’t wanna impede on that, so anytime I can have her involved with my world is just a privilege.”

Prior to the interview I was listening to Infinity (1998); it was a heady time for Devin back then, so what’s your view on ‘negativity’ (eg – drugs, toxic relationships etc) as a source of inspiration? Do you ever feel like going back to that for inspiration? He gets very passionate. “Once you’ve learned your lesson, if you go back to the same sorts of things for inspiration, it’s not authentic. If you’re doing a ton of acid and humping a bunch of people that you shouldn’t be humping and then you write music about it then yeah, you’re gonna get a bunch of crazy things, however, once you’ve gone through that and realised ‘OK, maybe I’ve spent my time with psychedelics or whatever' and then you go back to it just to get creative juice? That’s like a martyr-syndrome. That’s like religious shit, man!” He doesn’t see why an artist can’t write about what’s happening now – for Devin, his current life events are just as dramatic and bizarre as they were 15 years ago (albeit in a slightly different way). However “They’re just dealt with in a way that is drawn from experience dealing with things. I don’t have the time or patience to deal with aggression for example, that I did when I was 22 – anybody I see who’s in their early forties screaming and yelling like they’re a 22 year old, I’m like ‘Fuck you! You’re not coming over to my house for coffee! You’re a banana!’ You’re immature and you’re not learning anything from these things. For me, the artistry, if you wanna look at it that way, has never been a motivator for me – I couldn’t give a shit less – for me, I’m just tryin’ to figure shit out – I’m just tryin’ to be happy. I just wanna sit in the back yard and play bass. I just wanna pee in public without thinking about it. I wanna sleep a full night without wakin’ up being a banana or something. These are my motivations, not whether or not my artistry is up to snuff.”

As you point out; you’re getting older (possibly more mature?) – what’s your attitude towards the world? “I’m not indifferent to it, in that I’ve got kids, and that certainly draws you in to things that you would probably much prefer not to have to be drawn into, right? I think for me it’s strictly just energy; I’ve got a certain capacity for tolerance, patience, and whatever, and the pool of energy that I have to draw from to distribute to all these events in my life is half of what it was 15 years ago so I’ve got to be very careful how I spend it. I’m not gonna use that daily ration of energy to lose my shit over getting the wrong coffee at a coffee-shop. I can’t rationalise having tantrums anymore; I remember being 21 years old and thinking it was perfectly acceptable for me to throw myself on the floor, and kick myself in circles, screaming about the injustices of it all, right? But now if I see anybody my age doing that, I’m just like ‘wide berth’, you know?!” The laughter comes rolling down the phone again. “Give that fuckin’ guy a wide berth because he’s still hung up on his relationship with his dad or something. It’s important now that these outbursts of emotion that I have, be they aggression or sadness or whatever, are just delegated to things that are actually worth it, right?! A friend of mine told me something funny the other day; he said when you’re 20 years old and you cry,” at this point he’s sobbing and bawling; “Tears streaming down your face but when you’re 40, crying sounds like this,” He makes a brief ‘thud’ noise, “And then it’s over…I like to think that whatever I do artistically is indicative of me being respectful of how these things change. Shit, if someone said ‘Write about anger now’ it would be quiet and dark, and it wouldn’t be Strapping (Young Lad). The feeling of anger now is different to how I used to feel…”

Bugger! Our time is almost up and we haven’t even pimped your up-coming Australian tour. Do it now, Mr Townsend. Tell me stuff; who will be supporting you? “I have no idea. Here’s me pimping it! I have no idea what’s going on other than I love being there and we know it’s important for us to be there because it’s a long way for us to go and it’s expensive for people to come so we’re gonna try and make it as bad-ass as possible. However if you don’t have the money, don’t go - because I’m not tryin’ to convince you to do it – it’s gonna be great. Love you. Go buy your mother something….I don’t know! I have a small penis!”

And the release date for Casualties of Cool; within the next 6 months? “I hope sooner than that but it depends because it’s not on a label so I’m having to figure out how we’re gonna put it out; the logistics of it are a little wacky, right? But I’d say within six months…”
Maybe just chuck it up on bandcamp or the interwebs? “I might just leave it on a corner of an unnamed street; just have someone put it up on the net…”
Wrapped in brown paper or something?
“Totally! With a CoC on the front – someone will pick it up thinking it’s Corrosion of Conformity and be pissed!”
Mr Townsend, it’s always a pleasure. See you in October.