Friday, July 7, 2023

DEVIN TOWNSEND chats Lightwork and Dreamsonic Tour 2023: Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, Animals As Leaders

In this episode of The Rock Metal Podcast, we're chatting with Devin Townsend about his new album 'Lightwork' out now via Century Media Records, as well as the Dreamsonic Tour 2023 with Dream Theater, Animals as Leaders, and Devin Townsend.

During our chat we touch on a lot of great tips for musicians, such as what Devin learned working with producer, Garth Richardson and more information about the Dreamsonic Tour 2023.

'Lightwork' was Produced by Garth Richardson, Mastered by Troy Glessner

The band Words That Burn is for fans of: Dream Theater, Animals As Leaders, Spock's Beard, Strapping Young Lad


Guest Resource - Connect with Devin Townsend!

Guest Music Video

3 Heavy Hitters

1. Try working with a producer if you haven’t in the past, as it can help to filter some ideas in forcing you to listen to someone else.

2. Know the kind of person you are, and therefore the kind of people to have around you to ensure a right fit for the team.  A good team goes places further.

3. Document moments in your life as accurately as possible.  People will resonate with the art that you create as a result.


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Show Notes // Transcript

Jon Harris: All right, Devin thank you so much for coming on today to the podcast. Go and say hi to all of our beautiful listeners.
Devin Townsend: Hi, all you beautiful listeners. 

Jon Harris: Looks like you're in home base right now, which is absolutely fantastic. You mentioned you're working on some stuff, especially before the tour. We're talking about the dream. Sonic 2023 Dream Theater Presents It's gonna be the inaugural show. We're gonna be chatting about that towards the end of the interview. But right now let's go ahead and get on to light work, which is your latest record for your release, November 4. I read a lot of really good stuff with regard to this record, and I listened to the record, and, I mean, obviously all of your stuff is great, but this is probably one of my most favorite thus far, I think you mentioned as well. It sort of seems pulled back a little bit, just kind of calming. But it's in the way it sounds epic in its restraint, I guess you could say. 

Devin Townsend: It was an interesting one for me because there were several projects that had. Happened during the course of the pandemic that were completely out of left field for me, unexpected as the pandemic was, I guess. So there was the Puzzle, which is the first thing that I did, and then that got followed by Lightwork. And as is typical with material, if I do something really complicated, inevitably the next project is going to be much more simple. And then if I do something simple, inevitably the next one will be more complicated. If I do one quiet, next one will be loud, blah, blah, blah, blah. So Puzzle was a reaction to the beginning of the pandemic and it's basically a very complicated and chaotic project. And so when it came time to deliver the next record, because Puzzle had been independent and I'm with Sony, the only thing that seemed appropriate for me was something that was more pullback, something that was more linear. And I had been looking for an opportunity to work with Garth Richardson, who'd been a friend of mine for many years, and because he is a producer that has a long history of making things that are more accessible, in a sense, it was an opportunity for us to try it out. And light work became an experiment in several things in trying to see what it would be like to work with somebody else in a coproduction capacity, what it would be like to write something that was a lot more linear. But also, and almost most importantly, how could I create something that for me had a sense of optimism to it in a period that was so rife with the opposite, right? And. I think the record worked out well, but I'm looking forward to the next thing, which, going back to what I said a second ago, is going to be significantly more complex as a result. 

Jon Harris: Beautiful. You mentioned working with Garth Richardson, so we'll chat about that a little bit later. We'll touch base on that. But I was curious with regard to Lightwork specifically, what was the greatest moment for you producing the record? 

Devin Townsend: Well, again, I produced it with Garth, and it was complicated in that sense because I've never done that before, so it forced me to contend with things that I was ill-prepared for. But I think on a production level, the thing about Lightwork that was maybe the most proudest, but also the most complicated was just force them myself to listen to somebody else. And I think that that was really something that was incredibly difficult for me. And I don't know if I'll repeat, to be honest, but what comes from that is a type of self-analysis on your own process that I think, unless challenged, will just continue going in the ways that it has gone for many years. And so I appreciate being challenged by that, regardless of how the record ended up. The whole idea of being forced to fight for your ideas, I guess, in a sense, was simultaneously good for my personal growth, but also very difficult at the time. Right? Yeah, absolutely. Would you say that 
working with Garth was one of the more challenging things on the record, or what was the biggest 
challenge? Well, it wasn't that it was working with Garth because Garth's incredibly talented and he's a good guy. I've tried working with producers in the past, and I hate it. I respond really poorly to it, and so I think there's a certain amount of that that was consistent. I think that still carried through. But fortunately, we'd known each other prior, so although it was difficult for both of us, I think we managed to get through it in a way that was as best as could be expected. Right. But no, he's super talented guy, man. Great guy. 

Jon Harris: Yeah. What went into the decision to work with a producer on this record? You mentioned you've known Garth before, but a challenge to work with a producer. So what went into the decision to work with one? 

Devin Townsend: Well, it's been brandied about for many years by label, by management. You should try to see simply just to see what happens, putting your ideas through the filter of somebody else. And I attempted to do it with a couple of other people, but I guess I didn't respect them in the ways that I needed to in order to listen. My only other time that I had worked with somebody in a coproduction capacity but less so than with light work was with Mike Keneally, with Empath. But that was a little different because Mike plays in the band with me now, and he's much more of a sounding board where he just sort of sit back there and then I could bounce things off him. And it became a much more creative endeavour. And it basically just gave me another brain in the room, which was ideal in a lot of ways. But Garth got a long career of doing things a certain way. And so putting my work through that filter, who knows what it was going to yield? So I think that it's almost light work acted as an opportunity for me just to find out what something like that would yield. And again, I'm proud of the record. I think it's really cool, but it also made me realize as soon as it was done that the next thing I'm going to do is going to be completely uncompromised. Because having people talented as they are, say, I don't like that. No to that. I don't like that. No to that. Yes, that. But more of that double the chorus. Whatever. There's a lot of times I didn't agree, so we would have to kind of find a compromise. But I found that a lot of my personal energy went into that part of the process rather than just creating. And that would have been the same with any producer of Garth's caliber. It's not a situation where it's him. But it was good for me to know, because when it was done, I was like, you know what? I'm happy with how that turned out. But the next thing I do, I want to spend several years writing it and recording it. I want it to be completely uncompromised, and I don't want any of these parameters at all. Right. I did learn a lot, though, so some of those will certainly go into the next thing. But I needed to know. I think that's the long answer to your question. 

Jon Harris: Yeah. You mentioned you learned a lot. Was there something in particular that you took away that blew your mind? 

Devin Townsend: No, I don't know if anything blew my mind, but I think if there's anything I took away from it is the energy that goes into the social aspect of music. Unless I'm careful and I strategically set up my world with people whom the interactions with are effortless, then a significant amount of energy that could potentially have gone into other things goes into navigating the personal side of it. And again, this is not a scenario where it's about Garth or anybody, man. I'm not an easy guy to hang with. 1s I'm like I'm idiosyncratic and highly sensitive, and in my mind, I make a lot of sense. But to the people whom I'm closest to, a lot of people don't think I make any sense. So I have to surround myself with people that are tolerant to a degree of who I am, as long as that comes with a certain amount of accountability on my part, where I'm not just utilizing that as an excuse to be an asshole to somebody, but it's like if I surround myself with people like yeah, that's dev. That's what Dev does. That's where he's at. I'm cool with it. Then I don't have to spend any energy having to rationalize that. Right? And it I think that for somebody who is as closely connected to music as I am and someone who is as sensitive to personal energy. Man. What blew my mind about the process is how much of my energy went into navigating the social aspect of it, which good to know, don't want to do it again. 

Jon Harris: Yeah, that makes sense. 

Devin Townsend: Totally. 

Jon Harris: Yeah, that makes sense. And I read a lot about the themes on the record and we kind of touched a little bit based on that going back into being sensitive to personal energy and kind of the way things went over the last couple of years, needing to be calmed down. But obviously I could read all the all the quotes that have already happened in the past, but I've got you here right now, Devin. 

Devin Townsend: Sure. 

Jon Harris: What went into the themes on this record? 

Devin Townsend: Well, because as I just expressed, the navigation of the social energies that come with working with a team of engineers or producers or whatever took so much effort. I also moved house twice and renovated during this. And the sheer amount of stress. Throw the pandemic on top of that and all these things that went into it and the fact that I had to move, it wasn't a scenario where it was flippant. I was like, oh, I have to move now. Delightful. The combination of all those things created such pandemonium in my life and then also the social things that are happening with the record and little things like we were recording and a tree fell on the studio and knocked all the power out. And I was having to edit things by candlelight. And there's no romance to that. I was just like, I don't want to be doing this right now. I don't want to be editing by candlelight. I'd like to be at home just getting some sleep because this has been too much. And because that intensity people in my life were passing away or like, going fucking bananas or whatever it was. I get so focused on the work, no matter what I'm doing, that. If the material that I was working on compounded that existing stress, it would have been just too much. So I utilized the process of writing for Light Work to make something that was a bomb for that in some way. Like, what could I write, what could I articulate lyrically? That when I'm having to focus on the music for hours and hours at a time, doesn't compound this chaos. So I brought it back down to something more linear, which is why I asked Garth to be involved in many ways, but also kept the subject matter to be not that of optimism, but something that acted as a tether for me that during those moments of chaos, I could say, well, you just got to hang on, man. You got to hang on to this, because above and beyond all this chaos that's going on, you still have the faculties in your body. You can still walk. You're fortunate to have these people in your life that are still alive, and you're fortunate to have these friends that have got your back. You're fortunate to have a roof over your head or what have you. And so the lighthouse theme became prevalent on Lightwork, and that was the album cover. And and it was really a conscious decision to make something that was optimistic in that sense during a period of such relentless opposition to that. Right. 

Jon Harris: Yeah. 

Devin Townsend: It wasn't easy, man. It wasn't easy. But it's funny because now on the other side of it, I realize what I need to do next creatively, and yeah, it's going to be pretty uncompromising, man. 

Jon Harris: Yeah, you mentioned that a couple of times now. 

Devin Townsend: Yeah, I'm still working through it. So my process, regrettably, involves me having to talk about it constantly so I can figure it out. So I apologize for that. 

Jon Harris: No worries there my good man. How would you define success at this stage of your career? 

Devin Townsend: True success for me? Is waking up in the morning and not having to do anything. So I can spend my day doing whatever I want, and that could involve mowing the lawn or making food or making music or whatever. It's like that's true success. I can participate in that once in a while, but I'm still working towards that goal, if you know what I mean. I'm sure you do, but on a practical level, I think I've been successful to a good degree because autonomous, and I can do basically whatever I want musically within certain guidelines. Right? There's a certain amount of tolerance that I still have to have on the part of the label and the management. But it's pretty good though, man. But moving forward, the goal is what I just mentioned, to be able to wake up in the morning and do whatever I want with no obligations. Right. Who knows if that'll happen? But that's true success, I think. 

Jon Harris: There we go, baby. 

Devin Townsend: There we go. 

Jon Harris: Let's go ahead and switch over to Dreamsonic 2023, and I'll open up with the first question, which is, this is supposed to be the inaugural event. Dream Theater wants to to create this yearly thing. How did this happen? How did you get involved?

Devin Townsend: Well, it's interesting because I think that the audiences that Dream Theater and I have had there's been some degree of crossover, but I think they're quite different and I think a lot of that has to do with Dream Theater is such a technically proficient band and intellectually on a musical level. It's very astute and a lot of what I do, it tends to be a lot more primal in a sense. Ah. Not that there isn't technique to what I do, because obviously there is, but it's not learned. I'm not theoretically knowledgeable when it comes to music or what I'm doing and I'm in a different tuning and I didn't study it. I just have been doing it based on an emotional reaction for so many years that for many years it was almost like the scenes or the audiences were mutually exclusive. I really appreciate Dream Theater, but I never listened to them. They were not a band that I had in my past as being like an influence. So I didn't really think about it. And I had known Mike Portnoy, but I didn't really know the other guys and I did John Petrucci's Guitar Camp in New York a couple of years back and I was surprised to, to find out how easy of a hang he was. I was maybe under the assumption that because of the music, maybe he would be more less apt to want to spend time with people or very particular because the music is so particular. But no, John was a great guy, man, and I enjoyed hanging with him. And I think maybe in return, perhaps he had, because he'd known Steve Via, he'd known people who had known me, and maybe he thought I was less together as a person. Maybe he thought I was a banana or something. And so when we spent time, we were both like, it's all right, it's pretty easy. And so it came up as an opportunity to tour together because we're both on the same label with Inside Out, and I think Thomas at Inside Out had told us both it's like, actually, they're really cool guys and actually Dev's a pretty normal cat regardless of what his music comes along as. And so we did gosh, like, seven weeks in Europe last year, and it was just Dream Theater and me. And I think Dream Theater, because they've been doing this for so long, they don't really have patience for taking out people who are divas. And so they took a risk that me and my world would be pretty easy, and I think they were really appreciative of how easy of a band we are tour with or I am to tour with, because the band changes. But like, dude, I don't want any drama. I don't want to step on people's toes. I don't need a lot of stuff on a list that I need to be provided for for the sake of my work. I mean, I just need some water and I need enough money to make it happen, and we'll stay out of your way. And there you go. And I think they were really appreciative of that. And then by the end of it, we ended up hanging out quite a bit, and then I spent a bunch of time with them. We went to Turkey together, and I rode with them and did an acoustic show.  And I think we were both just kind of surprised that although the scenes of colour kind of always been separate, they actually mixed really well on a social level. So when they came to do this, they asked me again and I think it was really a scenario where they're like, oh, God, we're going to have to go out with bands that wasn't dramatic, so that works good for us. And so I said yes, and then had Animals as leaders come out as well. And I've toured with Animals many times and get along with them. So I think it's going to be a great run and it offers something for the Prague fans that are three very distinct vibes, right? 

Jon Harris: Yeah, totally. Speaking of three different distinct vibes and maybe some audience crossover or maybe some not some crossover. Either way, creating the set list can sometimes be a bit daunting. What should we expect from the set list for this show? 

Devin Townsend: Don't know yet. I figured that next week early. I'll start thinking about it. It's the same band as I had just done. The headline runs in Europe with So. Mike Keneally Darby on drums, James on bass. Same sound man who is great. And I think that there was a lot of things that we did on that headline run that were kind of unique. I had not done it before, so there'll be definitely some crossover because I haven't played in North America for so long that it probably makes sense to do some of those same things. But it's a shorter set than it was as a headline run, obviously. So by mid next week, I'll have a much better idea. 

Jon Harris: Okay, very cool. Kind of a silly question. Maybe not. How are you feeling about playing in North America? I know you mentioned it's been a little bit, but how are you feeling about the tour getting out 

Devin Townsend: I haven't thought about it yet. I mean, I'm from North America, so I'm well versed in what it is. I mean, I like touring Europe or Asia or what have you just because it's more I'm not used to as much, so it's got more of a novel thing where you end up in a city that has a new type of food or something, and I really enjoy that. And in North America, it's much less of that. Right? Like. Some places you get a bunch of really novel experiences. But a lot of North America I mean, I grew up here. I know exactly what it is. It's like, there's the store, there's the chain, there's the bus stops at Walmart or whatever. Right. But on the other side of it, I've got so many friends in North America that it's good to hook up with them as well. But you know what, man? It's like tour is a tour in a lot of ways. 

Jon Harris: Very cool. All right, what's the number one thing you would like people listening to the podcast to do? And that could be the drop that you have to make from management or labels. That could be, I don't know, a spiritual message. It could be anything.

Devin Townsend: Oh, worse shit has happened to better people. 

Jon Harris: All right, there you go.

Devin Townsend: Didn't mean that's. Not a drop from a label. And it's not very spiritual, but it's true. I love my job, and I love to be able to continue, and I've got so many plans for the future, but I'm not fantastic at selling it. 

Jon Harris: Right. So. Hey, maybe that's kind of an interesting follow up question. You're not fantastic at selling it, but you have the career that you have built up and obviously it's been long from Steve Vai to The Strapping Young Lad all the way up to this moment now to a couple of appearances on Nail the Mix.

Devin Townsend: I think if I was better at selling it, it would be much bigger than it is. Right. But I also feel that I feel that the things that's important to me, the thing that is most important to me about the output that I have is that it's authentic to the frame of mind that I was in when it was being written. And so in a sense, you're just trying to document those those moments in your life. And if you do it accurately, then I think people tend to resonate with that because there's not a lot really of human emotions, right. You've got twelve and then nuanced versions of each, but it's all pretty simple. So if I do it in a way that is important to me, first and foremost, the chances of other people being able to relate to it are reasonably high. So my objective has always been to keep tabs on myself so that when I am writing. I'm able to call myself out to the extent that I'm able on my own BS as I'm writing it. And the end result of that, I think, is longitivtiy because there's maybe a certain amount of the industry that still feels like the audience is stupid in a way that all you need to do is pull on over on them and then you can sell records. And maybe there's certain genres that are like that. Maybe there is. Maybe I wouldn't dare to make assumptions on which ones are but the one that I'm involved in at least anytime I do anything that kind of veering towards that, they're like, yeah, you're full of shit. We know. So I got to be careful. And that authenticity that gets imposed on the material, I think, is what has created a long career for me. And I'm super grateful for it. 

Jon Harris: Yeah, absolutely. All right, well, everybody go ahead and head over to There you can find the show notes for today, including transcript, videos released for light work and links to connect with Devin, especially for that Dream Sonic Tour 2023. I'll be at the show in Edmonton, so feel free to come by and say Hi because I would love to meet you, you beautiful listeners. And Devin, thank you so much for coming on and to The Rock Metal Podcast today. 

Devin Townsend: You're so welcome and thank you for the support and I hope to see you on tour sometime.


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