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interview: Devin Townsend

By Anthony Garone

Finding comfort in both order and chaos in music and creativity.

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Other Interviews

Looking for the interview segment about Devin’s 2019 release, Empath? Here it is! Or the interview segment about his book on creativity? Here it is!

Q&A

This is the final 15 minutes of our interview with Devin Townsend. We talk about a variety of things:

  • His new Prestige signature acoustic guitar prototype
  • His Framus Stormbender signature electric guitar
  • Questions from MWM commenters
  • New and future work with Steve Vai

Interview video

Interview Audio (Podcast)

(NOTE: hitting the “play” button requires a hefty download of the entire audio file!).

Or, download an mp3 .

Interview Transcript

AG: I want to talk about this instrument briefly, too, because you just got it yesterday and it’s just gorgeous. What is this? Can you hold it up?

DT: Sure, so this is the prototype of this signature acoustic guitar that I’m working on with this Vancouver company, Prestige. I’ve got a very close relationships with the companies that I work with and I’m very loyal to the brands. Same thing that keeps me married for so long. I know what I want and then once I get it, that’s what I want. I don’t want to go look for something else. I’m good!

AG: One and done.

DT: One and done. I started with Peavey and I had an idea for a guitar, but we couldn’t pull it off together for financial and just the logistics. Peavey is a company that has to sell things at a certain price point. We couldn’t produce it for what I wanted. So I went to Framus and they said, “We’ll do exactly what you want and you can take all the time you need.” So I came up with this guitar with them called the Storm Bender, which is exactly the guitar that I want. I got to design the body, I got to design the pickups, I got to design…

AG: This is new? The Storm Bender?

DT: I’ve been working on it for three years, but it was released last year.

AG: Okay, I thought so. All right.

DT: I took it on tour for two years and then refined it. Little things. Like, this cut here is bugging me, the pickup selector needs to be here as opposed to there, the tilt of the neck–because I want it to be a maple top with mahogany and I want it to be a set neck, but I want the cutaway to feel like a thru, but I want it to sound like a set, I want it to be thicker, I want it to be heavier, and when I lay it on the ground, I want the headstock to not touch the ground because I’m gonna step on it. You know what I mean? And they did it!

AG: All the things you design a guitar for. [Laughs.]

DT: The reason it is is it’s like, unless I can get it exactly like that, I’ll just use a guitar that is currently being produced. Some people are saying, “Okay, well, you’re doing a signature guitar so you can make money.” However, the Framus guitar, the list price on those are like 10 grand, so no one’s going to fucking buy it. So I made it because that’s what I want. I had talked to other companies and it was like, “Well if you do it cheaper, if you do it this way, then you’ll make money.” But I was like, “Yeah, but I want the guitar.” You know what I mean? [Laughs.]

AG: You’re not born for this industry.

DT: No I’m not, but luckily my relationships with these people are such that I get what I need. And so I talked to Hans-Peter [Wilfer] at Framus and I was like, “There’s a Vancouver company called Prestige who I met in an elevator at NAMM and they’re just down the street from me and I’d like to do a signature acoustic with them.” I know that Framus does acoustics, but they’re willing to do the same way that you did the Storm Bender. They’re willing to do exactly what I want for an acoustic guitar.

So this guitar here, long story long, is the prototype of it. Don’t have a name for it yet and this isn’t, obviously, exactly right yet, but I’m doing a bunch of acoustic touring this year to sort of not only get out there again, but also use it as an opportunity to do Q&As and sort of talk about the process so that when I do start touring again in November, it’s prefaced. So what I did with this was I wanted a certain thing, like I wanted a folk music type of guitar, like Gordon Lightfoot and all these sorts of things that I grew up with, which is a dreadnought shape.

But little things, like I like the dreadnought shape, but I do like to play up high and so I wanted a cutaway and I wanted the tourified top, which is baked so basically it removed a lot of the moisture and speeds up the aging process. I wanted the ebony fretboard, I wanted these certain type of tuners, and there’s now this guitar. Even as I’m playing it, there’s a few things about it that immediately I know we’re going to change, but they as well have now given me a year. Just like, “Okay, take it on tour and don’t hold back. Tell us exactly what you mean.”

I’m thinking first off I’d like this cut a little more, I’d like this heel to not be as pointy, I might want to change the radius from a 14 to a 12, but it allows me by the end of it to have the acoustic guitar. It’s not at that point, “Well I’ll go into my selection of acoustic guitars and take the one that’s best for the song.” It’s like, “No. That one.” Because my reasons for efficiency in what my instruments are is because the process requires me to move super fucking quick, so I don’t want to think about whether or not this is going to work. It’s gotta be right, it’s gotta be in tune. The Evertune, that’s perfect for me because it’s like I’m always in tune.

AG: This guitar is beautiful. It sounds great. It feels great. I love the texture on the top, too. Like, the feel, the smell, everything. I just loved it.

DT: And it’s indicative of my Vancouver-ness.

AG: With the maple leaves?

DT: Yeah that’s a little thing. We were talking about this. When they release the actual guitar, each one of them–we had this kind of a cool idea. They’re going to have a little tab that sticks up out of the sound hole that I’m going to do a letter, so each one of them is going to have its own letter. So when you pull it, it’ll be like, “Okay, well that’s this one.”

AG: Your little love note to that guitar itself.

DT: Yeah. But I think it’s important, too, because the relationship to an instrument is where the songs are. I worked with ESP, I worked with Peavey, both of which were really great and generous companies to me. But what their objectives were were a lot more based in the commercial side of things where, “If we do it like this, we can make a decent instrument and we can make money.” But for me, I’m like, “I don’t need a lot of money. I just need my place, I need my kid to go to school, and I need the tools for me to do my job. I don’t want more tools than what I need. I don’t want more plugins than what I need. I just want the fastest way for me to do my thing so I can go on vacation.”

AG: Yeah, that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing that. I want to say thank you for playing at the concert at NAMM. I’m a sponsor of the concert with Julie and Rodney Cord.

DT: Oh they’re really nice people.

AG: They’re great people it means a lot to all of us who have worked on or in some way contributed to this show. So I appreciate you doing that.

DT: Absolutely. I hope people come.

AG: I think it’s going to be awesome.

DT: It’s the first–well, I guess the second now because I’ve got the CBC thing, but the first opportunity I’ll have to sort of represent this new phase of my life-slash-career by just doing acoustic on stage with the Fractal [Axe FX II]. I think like attracts like ultimately. Again, I think that’s why intention’s so important because I think you gotta know whether you’re full of shit and it’s really easy, at least for me, to convince myself that I’m not when I actually am.

AG: That’s how we go through every single day, isn’t it?

DT: Right! I’m like, “Oh that’s what I meant! That’s totally what I should be doing!”

AG: I should be making more, I should be doing more, I should be weighing less…

DT: That’s the thing. Just even to finish off that statement. When we were talking about the difference between being a monk and being a father in western Canada, you may have to sacrifice some of your spiritual aspirations just for the fact that you live here. This is what your curriculum is. This is where you’re at. It’s like, I’m not just going to ditch the family because, “Well this way I’ll be able to ascend spiritually.” I’m like, “Get out of here. I’ve got a kid and I’ve got fucking braces,” and your wife’s like, “What happened to the fucking banana boy over there?”

AG: And everyone hates you.

DT: I’m okay with that! [Laughs.] But, I think it’s like you commit to something and you’ve gotta see it through in the most–you know, find a compromise.

AG: That’s right.

DT: That’s what I’m hoping to do with my creative versus my paranoid mind.

AG: I’ll be looking for you at NAMM with a banana.

DT: Haha, Peter caught me twice with a banana…

AG: I saw you with a banana at NAMM a couple years ago.

DT: Really?!

AG: Yeah, we walked right by each other. It was pretty funny.

DT: Maybe I’ve got such a…

AG: It’s a thing! It’s a meme!

DT: [Inaudible.]

AG: All right, I’ve got some quick questions before you go. Who are your favorite female artists?

DT: Musically?

AG: Whatever. A lot of the music that we discuss on the site is male-dominant. Metal, very male dominant. So I want to hear–actually this question comes from someone who submitted the question. So, we want to hear your favorite female artists.

DT: I don’t know if I think about it like that. I mean–sexism is so dumb. It’s like–I don’t know.

AG: We can cut it out.

DT: It’s all right. I think it’s a good question. I listen to this ambient artist, Meg Bowles, all last year. I know nothing about her, but I assume because her name is Meg, she’s a female. I struggle with male artists in the same way.

AG: Do you listen to much? Are you listening to anything now?

DT: It’s all ambient music. I don’t know what it is.

AG: The guy falling asleep on the keyboard.

DT: Just [makes a note]. But I don’t know who does it or what the name of it is. I just put on Spotify ambient stuff and just–you know I’m looking for watercolors in the background rather than something that pulls me in.

AG: Right. Very interesting. Do you have a most surprising song of your own?

DT: That I’ve written?

AG: That you’ve written. Yeah.

DT: I don’t think anything that I’ve written surprises me.

AG: Will there be an Ocean Machine 2?

DT: I doubt it.

AG: Oh, you mentioned Vai is playing on this new record, too. Someone wanted to know what’s next with you and [Steve] Vai.

DT: Steve contacted me. Okay, going back in time, I did vocals on his last record on that last song and he really enjoyed that. So I suggested, because he doesn’t really jam, and I do but not as much as I should. I said, “Oh we should just try writing something. I’ve got a ton of riffs. I’ll send you a riff that I’m not totally married to. You do something to it and send it back. I’ll do something to it and send it back. And we’ll kind of do a chain mail.” And we ended up writing a song called Star Chasm that is a good start. It’s really interesting, but admittedly it sounds like two people who are tag-teaming in terms of writing.

AG: And that’s on Empath?

DT: No it was going to be, but I think it deserves to be something that we pursue together. So we’ve discussed writing together, however long that may take. Five years, ten years.

AG: Excellent.

DT: It’s a good start. And then I sent him–This last song on Empath is called Singularity and it’s 22 minutes long and it’s not nearly as full of shit as that sounds. Actually I think I can say this and I don’t know how it came up, but he asked to hear it, so I sent it to him and he was really taken by it and asked to do a solo on it. It was originally going to be Vernon Reid, who I had met, who’s really a cool guy, but we just couldn’t seem to make that happen. It’s a complicated solo at the end that I was just too lazy or whatever and figuring out what could make it work. Steve offered to do it and he did and he put a brilliant solo at the end of it. I’ve known this guy for thirty years and every now and then I’m like, “Oh Steve Vai’s on my record.” It’s still really cool.

AG: Yeah. He has an effect. It’s him more than us.

DT: I think the name, too. I just remember being so taken by him as a teen.

AG: Same here.

DT: Yeah?

AG: Absolutely.

DT: It’s still that. But, yeah, he did a great solo on it. I really appreciate it.

AG: When we talk on the phone, I get butterflies in the stomach, like when I call him or see his name on the phone, I’m like, “Hahhhhh.” [Laughs.] And it’s like, “Oh yeah, I’ve known this guy for twenty-some years.”

DT: Yeah, I think it’s interesting how we’ve all grown together in a lot of ways.

AG: Absolutely.

DT: He’d be the first to admit that he’s grown in a lot of ways too. He remains one of the most generous people that I’ve worked with in this industry. He’s done more for me than anybody.

AG: I might even say the same about him for myself. He changed my life.

DT: Yeah, me too.

AG: So the album comes out when?

DT: March 27.

AG: Cool.

DT: Yeah.

AG: Thanks so much for taking the time.

DT: Thank you, man.

AG: I really appreciate it.

DT: You’re more than welcome, man. Thank you for the interview. It’s been a pleasure.

AG: Let’s go get some lunch.

DT: Yeah! Where we going to eat?

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