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Strapping Young Lad interview (10/2003)

With: Devin Townsend [vocals, guitars, programming]
Conducted by: Justin
Published: 02.10.2003

Band profile:

Strapping Young Lad

Vancouver [Canada] doesn't exactly boast a metal scene that compares to the likes of its American counterparts, but it did spawn one of the metal scenes musical chameleons known as Devin Townsend. After playing in bands such as Caustic Thought and Grey Skies, he started submitting numerous demos to prospective labels for his own band Noisecape in 1992. It was the Relativity label that suggested to Steve Vai that Devin would be the perfect candidate for his new project, which led to Devin's major label recording debut on Steve Vai's 1993 album 'Sex & Religion'.

The resulting tour with Steve Vai, followed by a helping hand as touring guitarist with The Wildhearts gave Devin both the experience and exposure to establish a band of his own. A five day recording session in 1994 with Jason Newsted [Ex Metallica] and Tom Hunting [Exodus] under the name IR8 was captured in Jason's Chophouse recording studio, while the following year saw a guest appearance on guitars for Front Line Assemby's 'Hard Wired' and 'Millennium', T.M. Steven's 'Out Of Control' and another four day session in Chophouse under the name of Tree Of The Sun. The band featured Devin on guitar and vocals, with Jason Newsted [Bass and vocals], Scott Reeder [Ex Kyuss on bass and vocals] and Dale Clover [Melvins on drums and vocals].

But it was Devin's own Strapping Young Lad debut 'Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing' that confused, excited and appalled both critics and newcomers alike. Co-production on Stuck Mojo's 'Pigwalk', contributions to tribute albums to Rush and Judas Priest, a vocal appearance on James Murphy's 'Convergence' album and the hilarious concept album by Punky Brüster called 'Cooked On Phonics' filled the gap, but it wasn't till 1997 that Strapping Young Lad finally released the critically acclaimed second album 'City'.
A slew of production work followed, as well as Devin's decidedly atmospheric group Ocean Machine. The album 'Biomech' brought with it tags such as 'genius' and 'guitar prodigy', for good reasons. An E.P. featuring shows recorded in Melbourne [Australia] during the 'City' tour surfaced in 1998 called 'No Sleep 'Till Bedtime'.

Devin's prolific and diverse nature was soon unleashed with releases such as the manic chaos of 'Infinity' in 1998, the lightweight version of Strapping Young Lad of 'Physicist' in 2000 and the progressive feel of 'Terria'.

While each of the projects have shown different sides of Devin's many personalities, it wasn't till the events of September 11 that Devin felt the need to portray his angry destructive side. It's taken some six years, but Strapping Young Lad has finally thrashed out their fourth album, the appropriately titled 'SYL'.

- Prior to going out on the road with Napalm Death, The Bezerker and Nile, I managed to catch up with Devin and find out more on the current state of all things Strapping Young Lad wise.

It's been a very strange time for me lately because I've just finished recording two albums at the same time. I tried to make each of the albums at opposing directions as the other as much as I could. With Strapping Young Lad, we ended up writing as a band, which changed the sound considerably. But I think it still turned out really heavy. On the other end of the spectrum, I have The Devin Townsend Band, which is quite the opposite of that. It's pretty laid back. Every project I do just sounds like it does. Every project sounds completely different. It's a different set of circumstances. These are just two different ones that will be out soon.

- Unlike the previous Strapping Young Lad albums, Devin decided that it was time to delegate responsibilities, and relinquished the tight reign of control he has over the songwriting side of matters, and allow the band to write as a group. While 'SYL' is very much the follow up to 'City' that we all hoped for, there's also a distinct organic sound rather than a reliance on the technological sound that dominated 'City'.

I guess you could say that. I wouldn't say 'City' suffered too much because of it, but there is certainly a little bit less on 'SYL'. [After much consideration] I guess the simpler sound is also reflected in the title of the album. I think 'III' was an album title option, but then Soulfly did that. And we thought, wow! [Laughs] Bumba! Strapping Young Lad to me now is my heavy metal band. I sing in a heavy metal band, and this is the one. I guess you could say the album sounds more what we are like live. I don't know. When I put it on in the car, I simply think that the album sounds killer. I really like it. Jed's actually played all his guitar parts on the new album! I still played a lot of the stuff that sounds like keyboards and all the hellish noises. I'm still wounding my guitars on there for the lead guitar stuff. On The Devin Townsend Band album, I play all the guitars, so I kind of got my ya-ya's out that way. So when it came to doing the Strapping Young Lad guitar parts, I thought to myself, 'What's the obvious choice?' Jed is simply a better heavy metal rhythm guitar player than me. So I let him do it. There will probably some people that miss the sound of the old Strapping albums, but that's fine. Fucking miss it, I don't give a shit. Honestly, what we set out to accomplish, we did, and if somebody doesn't understand that, I can understand that. But at the same time, you're missing out. Even though it's still pretty new to me, 'Rape Song' stands out as a particular favorite. I think it's really cool. I'm obviously against rape; so don't get me wrong there. The music is really, really angry as a result of that. I kind of like that because it's an explosion of emotion.

- With the classic line up on 'City' intact [Devin Townsend on vocals, guitars and keyboards, Byron Stroud on bass, Jed Simon on guitars, Gene Hoglan on drums], 'SYL' does boast of newcomer Will Campagne who now filling in on keyboards, bringing number count somewhere around 154. Or so it seems

Will was our new keyboardist, but then he left. So we're on the look out for another one! [Laughs] He was actually a guitar player, and his other band got signed. Man, keyboardist number 154 was way back in 1998! [Laughs] It's fucking crazy! Fuck keyboard players! It's like; 'Have lots of gear, shut up, play the parts and don't leave!' [Laughs] Drummers are what people usually complain about, but I've had good luck with drummers! Keyboard players all suck! They really do. I haven't had too many experiences where I've actually sat back and said; 'Now that guy is cool!' It's just been keyboard player after keyboard player. The best keyboard players we've had in Strapping Young Lad are like Will who are not necessarily keyboard players, but drummers or guitarists. The actual honest to god keyboard players we've had in Strapping Young Lad have just blown the moron-o-meter!

- As mentioned before, the anger and lyrical theme on 'SYL' has obvious associations to the events of September 11, and the current climate of imminent world war.

I don't know if the lyrics so much see a disagreement with war, as much as exaltation. There's something to be said about that final realization of coming to terms of the fact that we are currently living in war times. We've never been in this situation before. When we were younger, the shenanigans of Motley Crue used to entertain us. Now they're just a bunch of fucking pathetic men. It's a case of the whole sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, anarchy and all that shit becomes so unimportant. To me, the whole idea behind Strapping Young Lad was anger on the last record, but now the new one is about fear. I have a particular fear about the whole war scenario in general.

- While claims that there were to be no more Strapping Young Lad albums left in him, Devin's wife Tracy was quick to point out the reasons for Devin's change of mind.

I change my mind about everything. I might even change my mind about that. Even the information on my website can be wrong sometimes. I just happen to change my mind everyday. A lot of the time the information you do have is probably from an interview I did when I was 24! Now I'm 31, I feel very different. Don't believe anything I say. Interviews with me should hopefully be entertaining, because they're usually not very informational or informative. It's usually just me babbling a lot. The reason this album was done is because it was time to do it. Was it done for all the right reasons? Probably not! Nothing ever really is I guess. We just did it because we felt like doing it. Century Media also agreed that the time was right, and is one hundred percent behind this album, even more so that the other ones. Which is really cool, it's great. That means we get things like Strapping Young Lad stickers! [Laughs] I always wanted cool stickers. I think they'll be limited edition ones too!

- As most devoted Devin Townsend would know, Devin is not averse to delving into numerous side projects at the same time. Some are an ongoing process, while others are simply ideas that have yet to be committed to tape.

I really only have two projects on the go at the moment. That's Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band. But you're right. I do have a million side projects. But it's likefor no reason at all, we're just making metal. I'll tell you dude, I play music, and I like hanging out drinking beers, smoking weed, talking to people, listening to heavy metal, playing pointy guitars and that's it. In terms of how it's sold, how much attention the media puts into it, what people's reaction to it is. Honestly man, I'll take it or leave it. I'll take what I can get, and I know it's quality, so I'm cool with that. However big or small it is. It's totally fine with me.

- While playing music is one side of the music business for Devin, production is the other. His resume for production work has increased with every year, and his work with recent acts such as Soilwork, FryGirl and December has certainly kept his talents in demand.

I've had some fun doing production work lately, and I intended on doing more as I get older. I've got some six offers in the last week alone. And they've come from signed bands, as opposed to unsigned bands, which used to be the case before. Things are actually starting to look really good. I'm really subjective to what I take. I just want to have fun. I just want to party. But a party for me means a lot of work, with all the trappings of a party, but in a studio.

- As mentioned before, Devin will also release his other band The Devin Townsend Band some four weeks [Through Roadrunner] after the Strapping Young Lad album.

[Devin is cheering to himself over the announcement] I really like that record. It's a killer record. It's my favourite one I've done in a while. As you know, the new Strapping Young Lad album sounds likewell Strapping Young Lad! This is more like an updated Ocean Machine, except it's heavier and more modern. If you're familiar with Ocean Machine, which I know you are. The first four or five songs are almost pop like. That's sort of what The Devin Townsend Band are like. I tried to make it so there's no filler on the record. It's full of really good songs. It's like song, song, song, song, song, as opposed to, stream of conscious, part, stream of conscious, song, stream of conscious, ambient bit, song! I think most fans out there believe the next best think to Strapping Young Lad from me is the Ocean Machine album. I really believe that. This will certainly be up there with those albums.

- Contrary to popular belief, Devin is far from insane, and in high spirits these days.

People think that I'm insane! [Laughs] I would say that's a pretty big misconception. People think I've been insane in the past, but that's not the case. I've freaked out though. I had a religious, nospiritual epiphany back in around 1998. And that freaked me out. I ended up trying to internalise all these emotions that I was feeling, and I ended going off into a complex. When I went to the doctor, they realised I was bi-polar, which is manic-depressive, and they put me in a hospital. But essentially what the hospital did was put me on a schedule, and they got me onto a bunch of medication and just cleared it right up. And the bottom line is, there's something like twenty per cent of the population that suffers from it too. It's really nothing much. It's not like schizophrenia or anything. But a lot of times people need a niche to put the product in, so the crazy professor came out! But to a certain extent, I let my hair grow too. I thought to myself, 'You want me to be crazy, well here you go!'

- And playing the part is something Devin is good at, like the 'Mad Professor' image associated with the 'Physicist' album.

Yeah, that's funny because I didn't even think of that at the time. I was just trying to make my hair look nice. It wasn't till after the fact that everyone said to me, 'Fuck, you look like a moron! You look freaky dude!' I didn't know what they were talking about. I thought I looked all right! [Laughs]

- While toward the end of conversation exhaustion has set into Devin's voice, there's no denying the enthusiasm of heading out on tour in support of the new album.

[There's a sigh and a burst of laughter] I'm looking forward to it, honestly! It's just that I've done three records in a row, and I'm a little tired I guess. But the tour should be fantastic. We'll be playing quite a bit of the new album. The set list will be pretty much split up with the best songs from the three albums. We're hoping to be playing down there in Australia sometimes toward the end of the year. It will probably be the Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band tour. We'll probably do one after the other. I hope that in some form or another, anyone who gives a shit will come down to see us.

With one of the most anticipated and important releases due to be released this year, I can attest that it's been well worth the wait. And when they're due to come down at the end of the year, I think there will be quite a few that do 'Give a shit' about Devin and Strapping Young Lad!

I would like to thank Devin Townsend for his generous time, and for Andrew Haug for making the interview possible.

The album 'SYL' is out now on Century Media/Shock Records.


Comments: 2   [ 1 ignored ]   Visited by: 49 users
18.07.2006 - 20:39
Pretty cool interview. Just read it while listening to 'The New Black.' I think Devin is becoming on of my new favorite musicians. Great stuff.
The force will be with you, always.
25.04.2009 - 02:04

I want devin to record my band he is the man

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