When it comes time to tell the story of Devin Townsend’s career, from his uproarious collaboration with Steve Vai, through the industrial metal threshing machine of Strapping Young Lad and to the electric guitar frontiersmanship of his solo work, don’t count on it being a feature film.
For a start, John Malkovich is too old to be playing Heavy Devy. And as Townsend himself explains, he does not like biopics. In fact, he hates biopics, with a passion.
In his latest YouTube video diary, Townsend spoke frankly about the self-doubts he has had upon returning to the stage after years of lockdowns and cancelled tours, and argued that the “whole dog and pony show” of the music industry, and the mythology of its stars, is a distraction – and nowhere is this more evident than in the biopic.
“Anyone who has followed me or my work knows my disdain for the pomp and circumstance of the music industry,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of love for the mythos of rock musicians. And I hate biopics. I fucking hate those things, because it’s like, ‘And then they wrote that song…’ It’s like defying it in a way that I just find abhorrent, and it’s my personal opinion.”
Townsend has always been one of metal guitar’s most interesting figures. He sees the world a little bit differently. But maybe, not really that differently from the anyone who chooses to spend their hard-earned to go catch one of his shows.
“Musicians are people, and the hierarchy that we are asked to adhere to, that means that musicians – or actors – are fundamentally higher than their audience just to me seems ridiculous,” he says.
In the past year, Townsend has racked up the air miles with an intensive touring schedule, hitting many stops on the summer’s European festival circuit, pulling a two-night headlining stint at the Royal Albert Hall in April, and 2023 looks to be no quieter as he returns to Europe in February, touring in support of his new solo album, Lightwork.
But he says getting back into the rhythm of touring and performing was not easy after a pandemic spent dealing with everyday, all very human issues.
“Coming out of two years of taking care of my parents, moving house, losing friends, and getting shit out of storage and helping my buddy with a drug addiction, and going through these normal, human things, and then all of a sudden it’s, ‘Okay, so now you have to get onstage, because this is the job,’” he said. “People don’t want to hear that; people want to be entertained, and your job is to entertain them. I remember thinking a couple of times, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know how to get out there and just entertain.’”
Townsend’s approach to tackling those anxieties is more a state of mind. He does not think of it as his music, just as music that’s come to him, that he is a fan of, and that all he has to do is go out there and perform it, and to do the material justice.
“If you can do that then you will feel grateful for being able to play them as opposed to insecurity about representing it,” he said. “I just thought, ‘Listen to these songs. Listen to these songs and play them well.’ And by doing that, I felt a huge sense of gratitude, towards not only the experience but the people, and all that I have been through in the past couple of years – and what we have all been through.”
Lightwork is out now via Inside Out.