Metal Hammer Interviews Devin
It's not often you meet someone as gifted and prolific as Devin Townsend. Chris Ingham discovers that after the contrasting moods of Strapping Young Lad and Ocean Machine, his new project Infinity almost drove him mad!
Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies a human being can endure is that of suffering a betrayal by one's own mind. Strapping Young Lad mainman Devin Townsend knows this only too well. His head has been to some strange places over the last six months. Work on a new project called Infinity-the last in a trilogy of records which began with last year's 'City' album and continues with the soon to be released Ocean Machine record 'Biomech'-stretched the multi-talented musician beyond the bounds of his mental endurance, and the friendly Canadian was forced to admit himself into a hospital, in order to find some "breathing space."
"I started to see human beings as little lonesome, water based, pink meat, life forms pushing air through themselves and making noises that the other little pieces of meat seemed to understand," sighs a now-healed Devin, calmly sipping an Evian outside a London café. "I was thinking to myself, there's five billion people here but we've never been more isolated. The only result of the aggressive individualism we pursue is that you lose sight of your compassion and we go to bed at night thinking, 'Is this all there is?' because we don't feel fulfilled."
During the short stay in hospital, doctors were able to diagnose that far from being 'mad', what Devin was actually suffering from was a fairly common form of schizophrenia known as bipolar syndrome.
"Bipolar syndrome happens to one in ten people at some point in their lives," explains Devin candidly. "One moment they're really loud, aggressive, high-on-life people willing to take risks, and then the next they feel incredibly low, depressed, verging on suicide and nothing is worth anything. Now I've been doing this since I was a child without realizing that this was a legitimate medical condition. I've been ostracizing my wife, my family, my band and friends. Anything would set it off-a bad review might devastate me for two weeks-but this bipolar thing gave birth to the two extremes that are Strapping's 'City' record and Ocean Machine's 'Biomech'."
Both records were written and recorded together, with material simply being divided between the two depending on the mood of the music.
"Where Strapping is really humourous, Ocean Machine is really serious; where 'City' was so extreme and full-on, 'Biomech' has some complex mood changes. Everything that one is, the other isn't-and yet lyrically they're dealing with the exact same issues."
By SYL and Ocean Machine are not the real reasons Devin checked himself into the nuthouse. That honour belongs squarely to what he terms "the parent project"-namely, Infinity.
"Where Strapping was the darker side of me and Ocean Machine the lighter side, Infinity is the surrounding aura," he explains. "Strapping is red, Ocean Machine is blue and Infinity is the white that surrounds both. Do you follow?"
Not one bit-but pray, do continue.
"I've been waiting to do this Infinity record, to get it out of my system, for so long that I can't even focus on day to day things, and once I've finished this record I honestly feel that I won't have to write anything else again. It's everything I've ever hoped to do."
Since most people haven't even had the chance to hear Ocean Machine yet, you're going to have to explain just what is so special about Infinity-what does an album that caused you to lose your mental grip sound like?
"Take the chaos of the first Strapping record ('Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing') but put it in tune this time, and put that into 'Jesus Christ Superstar'," he gushes, with eyes wider than dinner plates. "I've got massive guitars, trombones, a choir, an orchestra and techno beats, 200 tracks of vocals…it's an organic chaos record.
"It was only after I came out of hospital, when I had a little more focus and self-reflection that I was able to let the music flow out of me. Beforehand it was in my head and I just couldn't unlock it. Then, ka-boom! One day everything just clicked.
"I was so blinded I couldn't even think right. Everyone was crying, my wife and parents thought I'd flipped and I couldn't make anyone understand why I was so delirious, because the feelings I was having were so intense. I'd been struggling for months to get to this point and when it came, I couldn't handle it. The hospital therapy worked out that me finding my answers made me sick, and through that we established that I had this bipolar syndrome. But it's sort of perverted that I was being told that me answering my own questions of spirituality was somehow 'sick'. But I suppose as long as you keep searching for your answers and keep asking questions, society can keep providing you with products that neither offend nor fulfil, because they pass the time. But can you imagine a fulfilled society? Whoa, what would everyone do? So we don't find our answers."
If you're sane enough to realize that you're going mad, are you mad?
"I don't think I was 'mad', I was just confused. We shouldn't be afraid to admit that we get confused, or that we may be weak, or that we show compassion. We are all vulnerable, weak and compassionate and if you cover that up then you're denying your humanity."
But what if Infinity isn't successful? Would that outcome tip you back over the edge, so to speak?
"I don't care if Infinity is successful or not. It was done for me, and if I had enough money I'd press up thousands of copies and give 'em away. It's just one person's interpretation of what we've all got."
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Last updated 2006-10-02 07:50:25 by: Henrik.
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