By Daniela Tesfaie
Devin Townsend is an artist of indescribable musical variety, introspection, and expression. Any byproduct of his creativity is bound to leave a deep impression on you because it is unlike anything you have heard before. His latest album “Z²” is comprised of two parts: the first, “Sky Blue,” is an epic weave of resplendent metal riffs and choral harmonies; the second, “Dark Matters,” is a concept record and a sequel to his earlier album, “Ziltoid the Omniscient,” which tells the story of an extraterrestrial who visits Earth in search of the universe’s utmost cup of coffee. WSN spoke with Devin Townsend to discuss the origins of “Ziltoid,” the connection between the two parts of the record, and Townsend’s goals as a musician.
WSN: It’s been seven years since the release of “Ziltoid the Omniscient.” Where did the idea of Ziltoid come from back then?
DT: My creative process is such that I go on an autopilot. If I don’t second-guess it, then whatever it is, it’s going to be the truth. But if you’re putting things into your body (and mind) that are not a pure expression of who you are, then you have no real understanding of what you end up representing. At that time, I drank, and I smoked marijuana, and did drugs… So for years I made music that I was in awe of rather than in control of. You become infatuated by that because you’re like, ‘Well, look at what I am able to do,’ but it controls you because you have no innate understanding of how that works. So Ziltoid became a metaphor for me to put it somewhere and say, “Well, that’s what it is.” It is an alien part of your own process because it isn’t you. It’s drugs, it’s alcohol, it’s thoughts that are not… you.
WSN: “Z²” is divided across two discs with somewhat divergent atmospheres. In what do they connect?
DT: During the making of “Sky Blue,” I started thinking about death. You’re not supposed to acknowledge that life’s going to end because there is this subconscious fear that propels it. But if you think about it, it gives value to life. The fact that it isn’t going to last forever. That you’re not a vampire. It gave an angle to the record that I put into the theme of this whole Ziltoid thing by making it a battle. You against yourself. Ziltoid, that part of you… and the other part of you.
WSN: In the past, you’ve expressed your love for Tele- and Stratocasters. But I believe on this tour you’ve been spotted with a Flying V with a… fog machine?
DT: Well, you don’t bring it to a blues jam, you know? The only guitars that I think I will ever need are like a Telecaster. I don’t think you need more than just a guitar to be a musician. So anything beyond that is just… silly. But if I have the opportunity to have a silly guitar (well, it’s got fog, lasers, lights — ridiculous, right?), I’ll take it. I’m thinking, “Let’s have some fun. It’s Friday, and life is brutal. There is death, and birth, and life… So here’s a fucking fog machine as well. Enjoy!”
WSN: What are you current creative goals?
DT: My main goal as a musician is to contribute something helpful to the species. And if that means that what I contribute is that other people are inspired and maybe can take it to the next level — then great. Music’s like a rally. First, you have the torch, but then someone comes along, and you’re like, ‘Here, it’s yours now. Go.’
Daniela Tesfaie is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org