ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Mr Devin Garret Townsend
It is rare that you come across a successful solo artist who has explored every angle of the Metal world. Born May 1972 in Canada, Devin has worked his way up to become one of, if not the most diverse artist on the planet.
He played guitar and bass throughout his high school days, performing in a fair few metal bands, most notable was ‘Caustic Thought, playing alongside Bassist Byron Stroud, who went on to become a permanent member of Strapping Young Lad, he was discovered in 1993 by Record Label Sony Music Entertainment / Relativity Records, he was asked to perform and play with world renowned guitarist, Steve Vai, on Vai’s album ‘Sex and Religion’, and then Devin went on to tour with Steve Vai, soon landing a second touring gig, playing with ‘The Wild hearts’ in 94 in Europe. but during this time, Devin was very annoyed by what he found out about the music industry as a whole while he was with Vai, and that was directed and very apparent in his first Extreme Metal solo album under the name of Strapping young lad, called, ‘Heavy as a really Heavy thing’ in April 1995. soon after assembling band members to record a further 4 albums, City February 97, Self Titled Strapping young lad February 2003, Alien March 2005 and The New Black July 2006. all under Century Media Records. During this time, Devin started his own solo project in 2002, The Devin Townsend Band under his own Label HevyDevy Records.
Accumulating a handful of friends he knew in Vancouver, he recorded his first solo album, Punky Bruster – Cooked on Phonics, in 96. written within one month, the album was a collection of punk rock bands and lets out all the shit of selling out, mainstream shit he hates. At this time HevyDevy Records was born to release the album, to which he financed himself so he could have total control. Non of this mainstream sell out wank you find with most other labels.
His second solo album ‘Ocean Machine: Biomech’ was released in late 97, again under his own label, mixing a lot of ambiance and progressive metal.
After the release of City (SYL) and Ocean Machine (DTB) Devin was unfortunate and was vastly approaching a Mental Breakdown…
“I started to see human beings as little lonesome, water based, pink meat,” he explained, “life forms pushing air through themselves and making noises that the other little pieces of meat seemed to understand.” and soon after checking himself into a Mental Health Hospital where he was diagnosed in 97 with Bipola Disorder. And this was a revelation to him. Understanding the 2
sides of the music he plays. From Extreme metal with Strapping Young Lad (SYL) and the softer proggressiveness of his own solo work, Devin Townsend Band (DTB), he was able to understand what he needed, wanted and clicked, giving him the passion to continue and write his third solo album, ‘Infinity’.
Infinity explored what was going on inhis own head, Accompanied by Gene Hoglan, to play drums for the entire album, while Devin did the rest, releasing Infinity in late 98. and to this date, states it as his faverite album, as it was the starting point for him to help move forward.
Each following album that he wrote and released explored different aspects of his life/mind. What he was feeling at the time… some of the albums, including his more recent work was written years in advance, but shelved until he had the right state of mind to work more on each of the songs.
Albums such as….. Physicist, Terria, Devlab, The Hummer, Ziltoid the Omniscient, Accelerated Evolution and Synchestra. Each of which vary a lot in style and sound.
In 2008 he started work on yet another project, The Devin Townsend Project (DTP), removing himself from the music industry altogether after dropping and disbanding Strapping young Lad, he went to work on self discovery without the influence of any drugs which he used to consider the only way he was able to write any material. And he announced at this time he had a 4 album series which he called ‘The Devin Townsend Project.
‘Ki’ was the first album to come out of the Dev Lab in 2009, “This album is gonna set the stage for all the future albums I have planed”, and it did, Ki bar far was one of the most memorable for me me and my wife, as it was released at the same time we got together, but aside from this, it had raving reviews, and was way ahead of its time, mixing just about every instrument he could find and mix it in the Metal genre. It worked brilliantly. Followed up by Addicted later that year which explored the more ‘poppy’ side of metal, but with that distinct heavy Devy sound.
The other 2 albums, were released as a double set, Deconstruction and Ghost, 2 completely different styles to anything he has done in the past, Deconstruction explored the super melodic, progressive, large orchestras and choirs mixed with metal, while on the other side, Ghost was very mellow, soft and ambient. These 2 albums caused an up roar in the world of reviewers, some disliked it so much they wrote direct to Devin in annoyance at how he could call it music, (supposedly) while others like myself, loved it,
Devin’s production style is very different to a lot of other producers out there. He loves multi-tracking, making a wall of sound. Primarily using Pro tools, though he does on occasion use, albaton, logic and cubase. As well as doing pretty much everything for his own solo and project work, his mastery with mixing also got him work mixing and mastering for other artist such as Rammstein, August Burns Red and Misery Signals.
We all hear about bands changing their guitar tuning, it sounds better, deeper, easier to play, drop D is the mainstream for most bands now, but Devin (like myself and my son) play in open C Major, he got the tuning from an old Led Zepplin song called friends, who used the C major tuning just for this song. And since listening, playing this song, Devin stuck with the tuning, going even further in more recent years, by dropping it to B Major and B Flat. He does this for a couple of different reasons, first is his playing style melds well with this. Hitting an assortment of power chords, major and flat, poly chords, sweeping, finger picking, but some of the methods and patterns he uses are more at home on a standard tuned guitar, but his tuning gives him ‘more variety’ he can wank all day long, shedding the hell out of a guitar, but in his albums, the songs, riffs and lead, have more feeling and emotion, which is extremely rare in metal. Non of this “I can hit a million notes a second” to Devin, this isn’t music, and doesn’t appeal to him. Unless a solo is in complete context with the song its meant for, there is no point in playing it. And as a guitarist and a review writer, I totally agree.
In 2011, Devin got an endorsement from Peavey guitars, and with the help of Devin, they created his first ‘Signature’ guitar. Peavey PXD Vicious Devin Townsend 7-String Baritone. Which is a monster, yet as simple as you like, with one vol, one 3 way switch, and humbucker in the bridge and a single coil in the neck. Still using his standard tuning but with the added, G/A/Aflat string. (similar to my guitar I built actually). Only a limited number of these guitars will be made and compared to some of the other signatures out there. Steve Vai’s jem at £2’500, Hammett’s Ouija at a staggering £3k. Devin’s comes in at only £1’250. and only 6 will be available in the UK (and I have 1… so fuck you and I ain’t selling for no amount of cash, tho you can have my wraith which is the same). This guitar gives Devin a wider range to play with and adds that extra clean crunch thanks to the longer scale.
To sum up Devin Townsend. He is possibly the best multi talented artist out there. Producing some of the best songs in the Metal industry. And always producing something new. Never repeating himself and consistently evolving his style.
By Stuart Marsland
Sources: None, I know him better than my wife.