With his An Evening With Devin Townsend Australian Tour just around the corner, we got our mate Higgo on the phone with the man himself, Devin Townsend, to discuss the acoustic show and also chat a bit about his new record Empath. Read the entire interview below, and don't forget to get your hands on tickets to the acoustic tour, which kicks off in Adelaide on September 10!
I saw your post when Empath came out and you shared its chart positions around the world. Were you expecting the reception of Empath to be so positive?
Frankly, no. but the other side of the coin is it kicked my ass so much to make that record that when the chart positions were revealed it was bittersweet in a strange way, because I felt I was just so spent from making it I was just like "ahhh I don’t even wanna think about it,’"(laughs) you know what I mean? But the acoustic tour has been a way for me to be out there and be present with people and to be more intimate and be more one on one with the audience, while I’m sorting all these pieces out.
There was so much work on a psychological level that went into achieving [Empath] that, I was like "right, the next thing that I do with bands has to be a quantum leap beyond where it’s been". And I don’t want to be flippant about that, I don’t want to be rushed with that, so the idea of going out there and touring with acoustic, and on my own, thankfully, has been something that’s been really cool.
I was watching the documentary series you made for Empath, and one thing stood out to me was that you said each of your albums has a different colour attached to it in your mind and that Empath was all of the colours. For me, listening to Empath, it felt like this was an absolute extension of who you are. If someone was to ask me "who is Devin Townsend?" despite all the work that you’ve done, I would say listen to Empath and you’ll get every nook and cranny of what makes him be, it’s like a soundtrack to the movie of you..
You know what, I appreciate that, and to a large degree. I think… the only thing about Empath that maybe is worth noting is that it might be more about who I was.
The analogy that I use is that you’re writing an essay on a particular time in your life. Empath acted in a way, like I was trying to write a best-of album of my entire career and say "ok, what is it with Strapping that you resonated with? So write something heavy again that is like that". But use it so you can understand your relationship with it.
The way the record ended up functioning was, ya know I had heard they had made chocolate milk by…. Ya know chocolate milk is almost a by-product of them needing to clean the pipes. They make milk and all the tubes get full of all this milk fat and shit that happens in the pipes, in order to clean the pipes they just blast the pipes with cocoa and voila - there’s chocolate milk.
It a lot of ways I view Empath in the same way, it’s like over the past 25 years, the past couple of decades, all the pipes have got full of shit, so I’m just gonna blast it out with all sorts of crap, and then what ends up happening at the ends of it, is like a summary of the career to date.
The shows you’re doing soon in Australia have been selling exceptionally well, as they always do when you come down here, but for someone thinking about seeing THIS kind of acoustic show that you’re doing, how does it differ for them?
I’m trying to use all the tours that I’m doing on the Empath touring cycle as part of a whole. So every tour that I’m going to do is going to be a different thing for this album cycle, and each one plays into what it is that I’m trying to do ultimately. I guess it’s like Pokemon. You gotta collect them all, right?
I think that what’s interesting about the acoustic stuff for me is, these shows, when people hear "acoustic" I think they think of it as being like, like a folky thing, but it’s a little different than that. I’ve got a small rig and I can make a lot of moods with and I think that what a lot of people overlook with the music that I write is that because it has orchestral parts or because it has so many layers, people think "ok well I don’t know how this is going to translate" to an acoustic guitar, however, this music was ALL written, with just me and a guitar.
No matter how in-depth the orchestrations end up being, the emotional content of these things is the same, whether or not it’s me with an acoustic guitar, or, with a massive choir and elephants and all this shit.
So when people have come to see this show, they leave typically saying it wasn’t that far removed from going to one of the electric shows. The benefit of the acoustic shows for me is that it’s a much more intimate environment and moving forward into the next thing where I will be playing my entire catalogue, ya know, Strapping included, I needed to, be able to talk, and I needed to be able to answer questions, and I needed to be able to present the material in a way that the people who are the most ardent supporters of what I do are able to see that this is all connected to the same goal.
I see in your social media presence, especially on twitter, you actually care what your fans have to say and it seems like because you are the man behind the music, rather than a band, you can talk more freely to your fans.
I do, but I have stepped back from social media a little over the past couple of months because it became unhealthy for me in a way. Not in a dramatic way, but it’s one thing to interact with people. It’s another thing to let the negativity or the opinions of people affect what I do to the point where I’m second-guessing myself.
The audience means a huge amount to me. People’s opinions are very important to me and what the audience likes and dislikes about what I do also plays a roll in what I do, however, the reason the music exists in the form that it does is, oftentimes because I am pigheaded about who I am, what my goals are and what the vision entails.
There’s definitely that fine line you can cross where it becomes an addiction for validation
Ain't that the truth! And that’s what I started noticing, and I know it’s not just me. Your self-worth becomes dependent upon your twitter following or your Instagram following. Although it never really veered too far in that direction for me, I did find myself unreasonably interested or upset about certain things over the past year that I was like "dude, all ya gotta do is fuckin' turn it off’. This is not something that you should allow this level of influence over your life.
It seems like this is a bit cathartic for you. Cleaning out the pipes so to speak. The essay on your career that is Empath, the acoustic shows, it’s getting all this out of the way for the next adventure.
Exactly. And I think that’s why if you were to ask me "why should people come to this acoustic tour?" it’s part of the creative process for me, and I think if you really enjoy, not just the music, but why the music exists, this is just a really important step for me, to go out on my own, no backing tracks, no visuals, no band to hide behind. It allows me to really state my case for what I’m going to be doing next to the people who care about it the most.
These venues that we play are typically a little more intimate and the people that come are usually full bore into it, and all I can say is that it’s been a great reaction.
An Evening With Devin Townsend Australian Tour Dates
Tickets for An Evening With Devin Townsend plus an after show fan Q&A are on sale now. Get tickets here.
Tuesday September 10 - Governor Hindmarsh, Adelaide
Wednesday September 11 - Old Museum, Brisbane
Friday September 13 - York Theatre, Sydney
Saturday September 14 - Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne
Sunday September 15- Freo Social, Perth