Industrial metal singer/guitarist Devin Townsend was born May 5, 1972 in Vancouver, BC; after picking up the banjo at age five, at 12 he moved to guitar, and within a few years was leading the band Grey Skies, later known as Noisescapes.
Latest Activity: Nov 14, 2012
Devin Garret Townsend (born May 5, 1972) is a Canadian musician and record producer. He was the founder, songwriter, vocalist, andguitarist in extreme metal band Strapping Young Lad from 1994 to 2007 and has had an extensive career as a solo artist.
After performing in a number of metal bands in high school, Townsend was discovered by a record label in 1993 and was asked to perform lead vocals on Steve Vai's album Sex & Religion. After recording and touring with Vai, Townsend was discouraged by what he found in the music industry, and vented his anger on a solo album released under the pseudonym Strapping Young Lad. He soon assembled a band under the name, and released the critically acclaimed City in 1997. Since then, he has released three more studio albums with Strapping Young Lad, along with solo material released under his own independent record label, HevyDevy Records. Townsend's solo albums, a diverse mix of hard rock and progressive metal, have featured a varying lineup of supporting musicians. In 2002 he formed The Devin Townsend Band, a dedicated lineup which recorded and toured for two of his solo releases.
In 2007, Townsend disbanded both Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band, taking a break from touring to spend more time with his family. After a two-year hiatus, he began work on a four-album series called The Devin Townsend Project, with each album written in a different style. The first two entries in the series, Ki and Addicted, were released in 2009. Townsend scheduled tours throughout Australia andNorth America in 2010 in support of the albums, and released the next two, Deconstruction and Ghost, in 2011.
Overall, in his career and including all his bands and projects, Townsend has released nineteen studio albums and two live albums. Townsend's trademark production style, featuring a heavily multitracked wall of sound, has been compared to the styles of Phil Spector and Frank Zappa. His versatile vocal delivery ranges from screaming to an opera-esque singing, and his songwriting is similarly diverse. Townsend's musical style is rooted in metal, and his albums are written to express different aspects of his personality.
Devin Townsend was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, on May 5, 1972. Townsend picked up the banjo when he was five, and began playing guitar when he was 12. He participated in several metal bands while he was in high school, and founded Grey Skies at the age of 19. Around the same time he joined a popular local group called Caustic Thought, replacing Jed Simon on guitar and playing alongsidebassist Byron Stroud, both of whom would later become members of Townsend's flagship band, Strapping Young Lad. In 1993, Townsend began writing material under the name Noisescapes, a project he later described as "just as violent as Strapping Young Lad".
Townsend recorded a Noisescapes demo and sent copies to various record labels. Relativity Records responded to Townsend with a record deal and Townsend began work on what was to be the first Noisescapes album, Promise. Shortly afterward, the label introduced him to musician Steve Vai. Impressed with Townsend's vocal work, Vai offered him the role of the lead vocalist on his new album Sex and Religion. Townsend took the offer, unfamiliar with Vai's work and unaware of his acclaim in the music world. After recording Sex and Religion, Townsend accompanied Vai on a world tour in support of the album. Townsend soon landed a second touring gig, this time with the opening band of Vai's tour, The Wildhearts. He played live with the band throughout half of 1994 in Europe, and appeared as a guest musician on their single Urge. Ginger, the band's frontman, remained close friends with Townsend, later co-writing several songs on Infinity and the Christeen + 4 Demos EP.
While on tour with The Wildhearts, Townsend formed a short-lived thrash metal project with Metallica's then-bassist Jason Newsted. The band, known as IR8, featured Newsted on vocals and bass, Townsend on guitar, and Tom Hunting of Exodus on drums. The group recorded a few songs together, although Townsend says that they never intended to go further than that. "People heard about it and thought we wanted to put out a CD, which is absolutely not true," he explains. "People took this project way too seriously." A demo tape was put together, but the material was not released until 2002, when Newsted published the IR8 vs. Sexoturica compilation.
Though Townsend was proud of what he had accomplished so early in his career, he was discouraged by his experience with the music industry. "I was becoming a product of somebody else's imagination, and it was mixing with my own personality," he later reflected. "This combination was appalling." He pushed to get his own projects off the ground. Despite getting notable touring gigs with other musicians, however, Townsend continued to face rejection of his own music. Relativity Records dropped Noisescapes from their label shortly after Townsend accepted Vai's offer, seeing no commercial appeal in Townsend's music. "I have a hunch only offered me a deal to get me to sing with Steve," he mused. While touring with The Wildhearts, Townsend received a phone call from an A&R representative for Roadrunner Records, expressing an interest in his demos and an intention to sign him. The offer was ultimately rescinded by the head of Roadrunner, who regarded Townsend's recordings as "just noise".
In 1994, Century Media Records offered Townsend a contract to make "some extreme albums". He agreed to a five-album deal with the record label, and also provided much of the guitar work on the 1994 album Millennium and the 1995 album Hard Wired by Vancouver industrial band Front Line Assembly. Townsend began to record material under the pseudonymStrapping Young Lad. He avoided using his real name at this point in career, looking for a fresh start after his high-profile Vai gig. "At the beginning, I wanted to avoid at all cost to use my name because I was known as the singer for Steve Vai and it wasn't the best publicity to have," he later explained. "I was playing somebody else's music and I was judged in respect to that music." Townsend produced and performed nearly all the instruments on the debut studio album, Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing, which was released in April 1995.
Following the release of the record, Townsend and several other musician friends he knew in Vancouver recorded his first solo album in 1996 entitled Punky Brüster – Cooked on Phonics. Written and recorded in under a month, the album was produced as a parody of punk rock bands and documents the act of selling out for mainstream success. Townsend founded his own independent record label, HevyDevy Records, to release the album. Townsend assembled a permanent lineup of Strapping Young Lad to record City, including prolific metal drummer Gene Hoglan, along with Townsend's former bandmates Jed Simon on guitar and Byron Stroud on bass. The industrial-influenced album was released in 1997. To this day, the album is widely considered Strapping Young Lad's best work, with Metal Maniacs calling it "groundbreaking" and Revolver naming it "one of the greatest metal albums of all time". Townsend himself considers it the band's "ultimate" album. Later that year, Townsend released his second solo album, Ocean Machine: Biomech. The album featured a mix of hard rock, ambient, and progressive rock.
After the completion of City and Ocean Machine: Biomech, Townsend began to approach a mental breakdown. "I started to see human beings as little lonesome, water based, pink meat," he explained, "life forms pushing air through themselves and making noises that the other little pieces of meat seemed to understand." In 1997, he checked himself into a mental-health hospital, where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis helped him understand where the two sides of his music were coming from; he felt his disorder "gave birth to the two extremes that are Strapping's City record and Ocean Machine: Biomech." After being discharged from the hospital, Townsend found that "everything just clicked" and he was able to write his third solo album, Infinity, which he described as "the parent project" of City and Ocean Machine: Biomech, with music influenced by Broadway. Townsend returned to the studio, accompanied by Hoglan, to work on the album, on which Townsend played most of the instruments. Infinity was released in October 1998. Later in his career, Townsend has citedInfinity as his favorite solo record.
With Infinity, Townsend began to label all albums outside of Strapping Young Lad under his own name, dropping the Ocean Machine moniker, to reduce confusion. He wanted to show that despite the highly varied nature of his projects, they are all simply aspects of his identity. The album Biomech was relabeled and redistributed as Ocean Machine: Biomech, under Townsend's name, to reflect the new arrangement. Townsend's bandmates began to play two sets at their shows, one as Strapping Young Lad, and one as The Devin Townsend Band, playing songs from Townsend's solo albums.
Townsend's next project took several years to come to fruition. After the creation of the IR8 demo tape, Townsend and Jason Newsted had begun work on a new project called Fizzicist, which they described as "heavier than Strapping Young Lad". When the IR8 tape was leaked, Newsted's Metallica bandmates James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich learned of the project. Hetfield was "fucking pissed" that Newsted was playing outside the band, and Newsted was prevented by his bandmates from working on any more side projects. With the project stalled, Townsend instead wrote the album himself, entitling it Physicist. Townsend assembled his Strapping Young Lad bandmates to record it, the only time this lineup was featured on a Devin Townsend album.The thrash-influenced Physicist was released in June 2000, and is generally considered a low point in Townsend's career. Hoglan and the rest of the band were dissatisfied with the way the sound was mixed, and Townsend considers it his worst album to date.
Feeling he had "ostracized a bunch of fans" with Physicist, Townsend felt he had the chance to make a more personal and honest record. Townsend was inspired one morning while driving across Canada with his band, and looked to write an "introspective" album dedicated to his homeland. He produced and recorded Terria, a "highly illustrated stream-of-consciousness" album, with Gene Hoglan on drums, Craig McFarland on bass and Jamie Meyer on keyboards. Townsend cited Ween's White Pepper as an inspiration for the album. Terria was released in November 2001.
Townsend's solo run lasted until 2002. After a five-year break from recording, Strapping Young Lad reunited to record a new album. Townsend credits the album, Strapping Young Lad, as an emotional response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States. "If the world's about to blow up," said Townsend, "let's write the soundtrack for it." The album's lyrics were based more around fear and insecurity than the "hostile" lyrics of City.Musically, Strapping Young Lad was less industrial than City, and more reminiscent of death metal, with a "larger-than-life" rock production style.Townsend cited Front Line Assembly, Grotus, and Samael's Passage as influences. The self-titled album was released in February 2003. It received lukewarm reviews, with critics finding it inferior to City, but it was the band's first charting album, entering at 97th place on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart.
While Strapping Young Lad was being reunited, Townsend formed a new, permanent band "on par with Strapping" to record and tour for his solo releases. The Devin Townsend Band consisted of Brian Waddell on guitar, Mike Young on bass, Ryan Van Poederooyen on drums, and Dave Young on keyboards. Townsend performed guitar, vocals, and production, as he did in Strapping Young Lad. Townsend worked on the band's first album, Accelerated Evolution, at the same time he was working on Strapping Young Lad, spending half the week on one and half on the other. Accelerated Evolution, named for the pace of putting a new band together in under a year, was released a month after Strapping Young Lad. G. of Metal Maniacs called it "the album of the year", praising it for "the hard-to-accomplish trick of being extreme yet accessible, simultaneously heavy 'n' rockin' yet majestic and beautiful." Prior to the formation of The Devin Townsend Band, Townsend had represented his solo releases live with the Strapping Young Lad lineup; the band would play one set of Strapping Young Lad songs and one set of Devin Townsend songs.After the release of Accelerated Evolution, Townsend's two bands toured separately for their separate albums.
Strapping Young Lad began working on their next album, Alien, in March 2004. Feeling that the band's previous album did not live up to expectations, Townsend decided to take his music to a new extreme. To prepare for the new album, Townsend stopped taking the medication prescribed to treat his bipolar disorder. "I think that as an artist, in order for me to get to the next plateau, I kind of feel the need to explore things and sometimes that exploration leads you to places that are a little crazy," he explains. "And Alien was no exception with that." Although Townsend considered the album an "impenetrable mass of technicality", it was well received on its release, selling 3,697 copies in its first week and appearing on several Billboardcharts.
Shortly thereafter Townsend began putting together the next Devin Townsend Band record, with the working title Human. Townsend intended the album as the more "pleasant" counterpart to Alien. "It's basically a record about coming back down to earth after being in space with Alien for a while." The album ended up being renamed Synchestra and was released in January 2006. Townsend showcased a wide variety of musical styles in Synchestra, blending his trademark "pop metal" with influences from folk, polka, and Middle Eastern music. The final Strapping Young Lad album, The New Black, was released later in 2006.
Townsend's wife, Tracy Turner, gave birth to their first son, Reyner Liam Johnstan Townsend, on October 4, 2006. Around this time, Townsend withdrew from touring to spend time with his family. From home, Townsend completed his second solo ambient album, The Hummer, releasing it exclusively on his website in November 2006.
In May 2007, Townsend released Ziltoid the Omniscient, a tongue-in-cheek rock opera about the eponymous fictional alien. This was truly a solo album; he programmed the drums usingDrumkit from Hell, a software drum machine that uses MIDI samples recorded by Tomas Haake of Meshuggah and played all other instruments himself. Shortly after the album's release, Townsend announced that he no longer planned to tour or make albums with Strapping Young Lad or The Devin Townsend Band. He explained that he was "burnt out on travelling, touring, and self promotion" and wished to do production work, write albums, and spend time with his family without the stress of interviews or touring.
In 2008, Townsend lent his voice to characters in several episodes of the Adult Swim cartoon Metalocalypse (see Musician cameos in Metalocalypse for more). The original character design for Pickles the Drummer, one of the series' main characters, bore a striking resemblance to Townsend. The series' co-creator Brendon Small acknowledged the similarity, and altered the design before the series began. "We made sure he didn't look like Devin Townsend. We gave him the goatee and the dreadover so he wouldn't look like that."
After removing himself from the music industry, Townsend cut his trademark hair off and gave up drinking and smoking. Townsend found it "disconcerting" that he had difficulty writing music without drugs, and that he had trouble identifying his purpose as a musician. He spent a year producing albums in absence of writing, but found it unrewarding and decided to "pick up the guitar and just write". This began a period of "self discovery" where he learned "how to create without drugs".
Over two years, Townsend wrote over 60 songs, and found that they fit into "four distinct styles". In March 2009, Townsend announced his plans for a four-album series called The Devin Townsend Project, with the goal of clarifying his musical identity and being "accountable" for the persona he projects to the public. The project's concept includes a different "theme" and a different group of musicians on each album.
Ki, the first album of The Devin Townsend Project, was written to "set the stage" for the subsequent albums. Townsend channeled his newfound control and sobriety into Ki, a "tense, quiet" album that contrasts with much of the music he had been known for. Ki was released in May 2009. The second entry, a "commercial, yet heavy" album called Addicted, was released in November 2009.
Townsend returned to the stage in January 2010, touring North America with headliner Between the Buried and Me as well as Cynic and Scale the Summit. This was followed by a headlining tour in Australia and a series of high-profile shows in Europe (for example co-headlining the Brutal Assault festival in Czech Republic). He headlined a North American tour with UK label mates TesseracT supporting, which began in October 2010, and toured in Europe with support from Aeon Zen and Anneke van Giersbergen.
The final albums in The Devin Townsend Project series, Deconstruction and Ghost, were released on June 21, 2011. Townsend performed all four of The Devin Townsend Project albums in the UK and recorded them for a DVD called By a Thread – Live in London 2011 that was released on June 18, 2012. The first three shows were held at the University of London Union, November 10–12, 2011. Ki, Addicted, and Deconstruction were each performed on one night, respectively. The show for Ghost was held at the Union Chapel, Islington on November 13, 2011. These four shows were each entitled "An Evening with the Devin Townsend Project".
Since 2009, Townsend has discussed plans to expand the Ziltoid the Omniscient franchise. His ideas included a sequel album, a "full blown musical" with the title Z2, but the album appeared to have been scrapped, as Townsend stated in mid-June 2011, "I’m very rapidly realizing that humor and metal... it doesn’t really work." However, as of July 2011, he has stated on his Twitter account that the album was still in the works, but was "vying for pole-position" as he works on other projects. He has expressed possible plans to begin a series of online videos, a series titled ZTV, instead, in which a Ziltoid hand puppet conducts interviews with various bands. A graphic novel based on the Ziltoid character, and possibly performing theZiltoid album as a staged musical, at least as a one-off, have also been considered.
Townsend has stated on his Twitter that he is working on a new album, entitled Epicloud. He described the album as "Big, heavy, romantic kind of melodic stuff. Pretty, ethereal and simple." Anneke Van Giersbergen will take part in the album. Townsend also announced on his Facebook that the album would be released under The Devin Townsend Project name. As part of Australia's Soundwave Festival, Townsend announced on Soundwave TV that he would begin recording Epicloud in Perth after the festival.
Townsend designed his two main projects, the aggressive Strapping Young Lad and his more melodic solo material, as counterparts.Strapping Young Lad's music was a diverse mix of extreme metal genres; death metal, thrash metal, black metal and industrial metal. Townsend's solo material blends many genres and influences, with elements of atmospheric ambient music, hard rock andprogressive rock, along with pop metal and arena rock. Despite Strapping Young Lad's greater mainstream acceptance, Townsend identifies more with his solo material, and has never intended Strapping Young Lad to be the focus of his music.
As a self-proclaimed "fan of multitracking", Townsend has developed a trademark production style featuring an atmospheric, layered "wall of sound". Townsend has drawn critical praise for his productions, which "are always marked by a sense of adventure, intrigue, chaotic atmospherics and overall aural pyrotechnics", according to Mike G. of Metal Maniacs. Townsend mainly uses Pro Tools to produce his music, alongside other software suites such as Steinberg Cubase, Ableton Live, and Logic Pro. Townsend's musical ideas and production style have drawn comparisons to Phil Spector and Frank Zappa. Townsend has carried out the mixing and mastering for most of his solo work himself. He has also mixed and remixed work for other artists such as Rammstein, August Burns Red and Misery Signals.
This was actually a double-concert and the other act was Fear Factory. I don't want to say much about that band, other than they were really heavy, and practically all of the songs sounded the same…Continue
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