The last couple of years have felt quite intense and special for all Devin Townsend’s fans: after 10 years of existence the decision was made to stop what was the Devin Townsend Project. At the same time Townsend announced he was working on various solo projects, including ‘Empath’ that was released earlier this year (29th March), and announced a little later a series of acoustic sets around the globe, including Australia, that would take place before the Empath Tour starts at the end of the year in Europe.

Currently on a short break, it was time to ask Townsend how he feels amidst all that is happening. He shares that he is currently in a really good place, welcoming all the good things, but also all the ups and downs and confusion, especially related to the stream of events the last couple of years has brought. In the light of this statement, giving birth to ‘Empath’ has not been a straightforward process : it has technically been hard to actualise his work and he sees ‘Empath’ as a complicated record. But this is all part of the process, and understanding that dramatic aspect has been a new recognition for him that had long been in denial, mostly through fear of embarrassment, and embracing it has made it much easier to move forward.

The album itself has received mixed reviews; while some will recognise it as the artist’s pinnacle, some will not be as impressed as that, only seeing in it another Devin Townsend album. Townsend agrees that our tendency as music enthusiasts is to get married to a certain period of the artist’s career, and not want their style to change. But he is very clear that for him music has always been a way to progress as a human being, and his albums are like musical essays summing up life experiences that allow him to move past the difficulties of life, the traumas, the anger… to be able to go a next level and move forward. In the case of Townsend, by facing his own fears, ‘Empath’ was a huge step in the direction of actualising himself and his potential to be more in tune with himself.

One natural question that came up then was if there was a particular message with ‘Empath.’ Beyond the fact it is a form of pinnacle of introspection, one would wonder if there is anything in particular Townsend is trying to communicate to his audience. He confesses that over the course of the last several years, his last albums were very much about the importance of positive thinking, and how to be positive would somehow make things okay. But reflecting on that highlighted the fact that much of this, according to him, was a white male way of thinking, and that sadly not all societies have the privilege of thinking this way. Moreover, a trend started to form at shows where people would come to him and ask for answers to their own questions, and it occurred to him how much he didn’t have those answers, only his own transient truth that keeps on morphing year to year as anybody else. And this was an aspect that kicked things off regarding ‘Empath:’ it is an album much more reality-based. Things aren’t necessarily fine, so many of us go through the difficulties of life and traumas, but instead of falling into depression or addictions or even taking our own lives, knowing other people who have either the same, or more in many cases, level of trauma than we do are trying to make it through life as well should allow us to not give up. This message seems more realistic to him, it’s more about the craziness of life and being able to get through it, that it takes a lot of fighting. And his hope regarding ‘Empath’ is that it sort of becomes an anti-suicide type of statement in a way. And that’s the whole reason why it needed to be brutal, crazy, complicated and uncomfortable, because so is life.

Facing and acknowleding all this was a difficult step for him and to consciously do so was healthy and important to him. The whole time he was making ‘Empath,’ he started to really get into meditation, be aware of where he was at, try to sort of let go. Meditation practice offered him the opportunity of really experiencing moments of emotional significance, moments of experiencing his own truth, and during those states he remembered thinking his hope for this record was that people would see through the chaos of it, the beauty… and through him not as a person, but as an artist. He stressed the importance and responsibility that artists have to express with their bias and history something that is true. And then if they do it accurately, then what people hear in it is not the artist, it’s like a reflection of what’s beyond us. And so while making this record he really felt he was in service to that and the whole process was full of just really focusing on that concept. And specifically when it came to going to the darker places like in the heavy tracks Hear Me or Singularity, he was very afraid to do so and wondered if it was right thing to do. But the statement that potentially can make to people is that through this brutality there is still hope, there is still some sort of connection to something true and beautiful.

Devin Townsend will take his acoustic set in September to Australia. And here is what he had to say about it:

“The whole idea of the acoustic show is that as part of sort of tearing down my creative process and building it back up. Before I get to the point where I have a new group of people playing my entire back catalogue, and as I just want to have the best band ever next, before that I want to take it back to nothing. I want to take it back to no backing tracks, to nothing hidden, no guard, nothing, just me on stage with an acoustic guitar playing music from the entire back catalogue in the hopes people recognise that the emotional content of what I do exists in that form just as much as it does with orchestras and drums and all this sort of thing. It’s a really intimate but also effective show and people that have come to it have commented that it’s among the best that they’ve seen of my work. So I hope that Australia will enjoy it and it sets the stage for the next tour that I do, which will be something I have been working towards for years.”