The Curious Case of Devin Townsend and Hevy Devy

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Devin Townsend left Steve Vai’s band in 1994 scarred and dejected by his experiences in the music industry. He had always been popular as a session and touring musician, but his own projects had never kicked off – constantly being rejected by label after label. He had collaborated with others and played music that they told him to play, but he had never been allowed to express himself musically till then. Then Century Media Records offered him a contract “to make some extreme albums.” And the rest, as they say (they being the 5 dimensional future beings who help Cooper save humanity), is history.

In over 20 years since the release of Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing, the first album by Townsend fronted Strapping Young Lad, he has gone on to release over 23 albums. While he started out as a singer for Steve Vai and provided vocals on Sex and Religion, Devin Townsend has gone on to carve out a name for himself in metal with his various projects. A multi-instrumentalist, he was the guitarist and vocalist for Strapping Young Lad, an extreme/death metal band. He has released 2 albums through his project The Devin Townsend Band and a further 6 more through Devin Townsend Project. He has also released 9 albums under his own name. Other musicians have their main project, and one or two side projects. Devin Townsend, on the other hand, has 4 projects ongoing at the same time and a score of side projects and collaborations simultaneously.

In 2014 itself, he released the double album Z2 (short for Ziltoid 2) which consisted of Sky Blue, a Devin Towsend Project album, and Dark Matters, a sequel to his 2007 solo album Ziltoid the Omniscient. And he released the self-titled debut of Casualties of Cool, a country rock collaboration between him and Ché Aimee Dorval. That’s 3 full-length albums, all completely different from each other, released in a year. And he has collaborated with some of the biggest bands in metal over the years including Gwar, Gojira, Rammstein, Soilwork, Lamb of God etc.

But these are all just things that you can get to know by reading up about him on Wikipedia (like I did). Devin Townsend is one of the few people whose aim is not to be a rockstar or make albums that sell, but who lives and breathes to create music. His life has been a constant cycle of recording and touring. And he’s the first to tell you that it is not an easy life. Startlingly frank, sometimes to his own detriment, Townsend is the first to admit his mistakes. He disbanded both Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band in 2006 after admitting that he had felt burnt out. He recently wrote a song with Nickelback and Daughtry’s production team, but was the first to admit that he “hated it in such a way that it is hard for me to quantify that.” It is rare that a musician, especially one involved with metal, admits so openly that he did something solely for financial gains and is mature enough to call himself out over it. He has, by his own admission, “Honesty Tourette’s.”

But this is all about Devy as a person. What about Devy the musician? It would not be an understatement to say that he has changed the way people in the industry think about recording, mixing and producing music. He was one of the first people to start using Pro Tools (a DAW or Digital Audio Workstation). His use of a heavily layered, multitracked, wall-of-sound aural atmosphere has been praised by fans and critics alike. But what stands out most is his versatility. He has played genres ranging from death metal to progressive metal to arena rock to country.

Casualties of Cool was one of my favourite albums of 2014 – I have never heard anything quite like it. The atmosphere is still there, but instead of tearing your face off, it soothes you and lulls you in; it invites you to explore its complexities. The layers of sounds are still there, but instead of being used as a brute force to knock your socks off, they have instead been used to hide subtle complexities within the sound. This is one of his main strengths – the awareness to know when to dominate the music and when to let the music dominate you. By contrast, the Z2 double album is more classic Devin Townsend. But even there, Hevy Devy shows his penchant for all things weird in the lyric video of “March of the Poozers”- the aforementioned Poozers resemble very closely to, umm, gentlemen huevos. You can take Hevy Devy out of the weird but you can’t take the weird out of Hevy Devy.

While bands keep breaking up and reforming, Devin Townsend will keep his head won and will keep making music. And if he doesn’t like what he has made, he’ll tell you. Because that’s who he is – an honest musician. You will find metal musicians who are concerned about their face paint, and their AXE-FX, and other random reasons for why they can’t make music. But not Devin Townsend. Because the introspective musician that he is, he always looks to see what he can do better. And his fans love him for it. His crowdfunding campaigns regularly reach their targets a day after the campaign opens and sometimes even reach 800% of their goal. And Devin Townsend is usually the first person to say “Holy shit, why are they giving me so much money.” Honest Tourette’s, you know.