Canadian singer, songwriter and producer Devin Townsend spoke to Guitar Interactive about his upcoming album, "The Puzzle", which he recently completed for an early 2021 release. Regarding how the coronavirus crisis has affected the musical and lyrical direction of the LP, Devin said (see video below): "By being as honest with yourself as possible, what's gonna come out of you is gonna be a reflection of your current reality. The current reality we've had this year is a fucking gong show. It's abstract, unpredictable, fearful, chaotic nonsense. And so that's what I made."
He continued: "'The Puzzle' is abstract, stream-of-conscious, super-complicated, complex, ambient nonsense. And it has a movie and a graphic novel. If it was anything other than abstract, chaotic nonsense, I think I would have been full of shit. If I came out of this being, like, 'Hey, man, here's a bunch of songs. This is about everybody needs to get together,' and all this sort of stuff, I'd be, like, 'Well, you're not paying attention then.' Because how I feel is abstract and chaotic and fighting for emotional equilibrium. And so that's what I wrote. And as a result of that, it's exactly what I should have written… It's a narrative about what I perceived as the human condition, but through my own filter… And there's an animator and a graphic artist and this crazy four-dimensional type of artwork that I've been working on. And it's beautiful and so strange, but that's what this year was, man."
According to Devin, "The Puzzle" will be accompanied by an hour-long film that he is currently trying to get on Netflix.
"I took these abstract pieces of art that [Devin's longtime artist collaborator] Travis Smith had done, and I put a filter on them in Premiere [software] that basically fills in all the negative space with colors and shapes," he explained. "And we do massive zooms on parts of it, and that becomes a landscape, and then we make it three-dimensional. And we take these pieces of art and turn them into environments, and then we animate them with stick people, and those stick people are meant to represent really basic, mundane human activities amidst these imposing, terrifying landscapes. And then the music becomes the soundtrack to that."
Unlike most of Devin's recent musical output, which has been made available via Sony's leading progressive music label imprint InsideOut Music, "The Puzzle" will be released through Devin's own label.
"InsideOut, or Sony, or whoever is responsible for it at this point, they said, 'We don't want you to release a record until 2022. So we want you to spend this year writing it,'" Devin said. "And I have been. I've written a ton of songs. It's right yet. But I've been writing songs — good songs, actually, with screams and heavy riffs and whatever. But it's not where I'm at.
"Because I'm not supposed to start recording [the next album for InsideOut] until August [of 2021], 'The Puzzle' was sort of like a sideline. So it's not necessarily like the next record, but it is. So I called up Sony. I said, 'Listen, I'm gonna send you 'The Puzzle', and I think you'll figure out pretty quick that you're not gonna wanna spend a load of money trying to promote this, because it's gonna have a limited throw. But I have to do it. So can I do it on my own?' And they said yes."
Devin's latest release was "Order Of Magnitude - Empath Live Volume 1", which came out in October. The set has been described in a press release as "a document of [Devin's] winter 2019 European tour that saw [Townsend] taking on possibly his most ambitious live show to date."
Recorded in December 2019 in London, U.K. on the penultimate night of the tour in support of his latest album "Empath", this run of shows saw Devin joined by an incredible lineup of musicians. The band was made up of guitarists Mike Kenneally (ex-FRANK ZAPPA) and Markus Reuter (STICK MEN, THE CRIMSON PROJECT), drummer Morgen Agren (KAIPA, MATS & MORGAN, FRANK ZAPPA), bassist Nathan Navarro, HAKEN keyboard player Diego Tejeida, and guitarist/vocalist Ché Aimee Dorval, as well as vocalists Samantha and Anne Preis and Arabella Packford.