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This Is How It Should Be: Devin Townsend on Getting Serious for the Royal Albert Hall

Thursday, 14 April 2022 Written by Matt Mills

Devin Townsend has just landed in Ireland. He’s jetlagged and he feels like shit. “If you’re looking at it from a ‘glass half full’ perspective, I always feel like shit,” the prog-metal master tells Stereoboard on a phone call from his Dublin hotel. “It’s just that jetlag is a different flavour of feeling like shit. I guess I welcome the variation.”

As he speaks, Hevy Devy is just hours away from his first concert in eight months: headlining the 1,240-capacity 3Olympia Theatre as the first stop of a European tour. This weekend, he’ll play at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, twice. The two dates are being promoted as “The Greatest Sets of My Life”—no pressure, Dev—and promise “my favourites, your favourites and a bunch of hardly-played songs”.

“The idea of the Royal Albert Hall shows is to play a huge parcel of my catalogue in the best way that I possibly can,” Devin clarifies over the phone. “I want to get back out there and really play this music in a way where I can say, ‘Listen, ladies and gentlemen, this is how it’s supposed to sound. This is how I want to represent it. This is how it should be,’ and focus on the music.”

And what a catalogue London will have to delve into. Devin has long been hailed as the hardest-working man in metal, and even a cursory glance at his discography on Wikipedia supports that superlative. He launched his career as the vocalist for Steve Vai, before his early-’90s tenure as a “musical whore” with Vai and hard rockers the Wildhearts moulded the hyper-pissed-off Strapping Young Lad. For more than a decade, Devin balanced Strapping with a prolific and more melodic solo career.

Not even Strapping’s 2006 implosion lifted the pedal from the metal. Devin rolled along solo, which morphed into the commercially mighty Devin Townsend Project. Eventually, that venture also fell by the wayside to let the man continue following his own muse. So, yeah, there’s a lot to cram in, even in the space of two evenings.

“I’ve got thirty albums’ worth of music,” Devin concurs. “It’s not something that I take lightly. It’s not, like, a component of my work; the music is the fundamental part of what I do. And I want to be able to present myself as a musician who is able to really articulate himself emotionally.”

If it sounds odd for a musician such as Devin to emphasise the importance of, well, presenting themselves as a musician, that’s because he moonlights as someone who’s batshit. At his last concert—headlining Derbyshire’s Bloodstock Festival in August 2021 —he performed with a bass-playing gorilla and two people in an elephant costume. His 2007 solo album ‘Ziltoid the Omniscient’ is about an alien that declares war on humanity because he hates our coffee. Hell, the last time he played the Royal Albert Hall, he did so flanked by human-sized farting ballsacks. However, such insane window dressing will be eschewed this weekend, as Devin wants to exist beyond being “a conglomeration of gimmicks”.

“Maybe there are gonna be people that really want to see the monkeys and the ballsacks, but that’s not what this is about,” he affirms. “What’s funny about me playing with puppets as a middle-aged human being—at the risk of sounding as pretentious as I’m sure this is—is that it was all a metaphor for me being unable to figure out myself emotionally.”

Indeed, when Devin concocted the Ziltoid character and even made a physical puppet of it, he projected all of his demons onto it. His wife had recently given birth, inspiring him to quit drinking and drugs. Plus, burnt out with touring, he’d just dissolved Strapping. So, he created a grouchy and clueless control freak of an alien. He even gave it his old dreadlocks after he shaved his head bald. Ziltoid was an epitaph to Devin’s previous self, albeit not by design.

“I’d love to be able to claim it was intentional,” he continues, “but I couldn’t figure [myself] out. As soon as we had kids, sex was really weird for me. It went from ‘Sex is pornography and fancy underpants’ to, suddenly, ‘A human being comes out of a vagina.’ Here I am, holding a placenta, and nothing makes sense.”

Fifteen years later, Devin’s still struggling to figure it all out. He openly admits that the pandemic sent him into an emotional tailspin: “I’ve portrayed myself publicly as ‘Life’s all funny,’ but, after the last two years have gone by, none of it’s funny.” The throes of seeking reason in a random world, especially after Covid, are the backbone of his impending solo album, ‘Lightwork’. Devin’s 26th studio album (Strapping included) is yet to have a concrete release date, but the maestro reveals that it’s completely finished.

“‘Lightwork’ is the exhaust of the process of trying to figure out how fucking crazy the world is,” he says. Musically, he describes it as “strong, healthy, clean and big,” adding that, right now, “I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to participate in something that’s oppressively heavy. So, it’s a lot more light-hearted. It’s easy listening and it’s innocent.

“I think the diehards may like it in the beginning and then get bored of it quickly,” Devin candidly admits. “I think that the people who are much less invested in what it is that I do will probably like it more than the others. It’s a lot easier to digest.”

With ‘Lightwork’ ready for release, the top of Devin’s to-do list now belongs to ‘The Moth’: a symphonic extravaganza that he’s previously described as being about “dicks and vaginas and death”. He’s asked if he can spill some beans on what more to expect. “Yes, absolutely—in our next interview,” he drily replies. “I'm being told to wrap my shit up and get packed.”

Devin’s still struggling to find certainty amid life’s chaos, but at least we know one thing for sure: the 1,240 ticketholders at the 3Olympia tonight won’t be kept waiting.

In addition to his solo dates, Devin Townsend will join Dream Theater on their upcoming European tour.

Devin Townsend Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu April 14 2022 - GLASGOW O2 Academy Glasgow
Sat April 16 2022 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall
Sun April 17 2022 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall
Tue April 19 2022 - CAMBRIDGE Cambridge Junction
Thu April 21 2022 - HOLMFIRTH Picturedrome
Sat April 23 2022 - CHESTER Live Rooms

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