In a world of increasing conformity and musical banality, Devin Townsend is among the few real personalities who have character, charisma and surprising innovative creativity. As a solo artist and producer, a member of the (by now disbanded) STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, and vocalist on Steve Vai’s album, Sex and Religion, – Townsend has always inspired fans and critics alike. The latest chapter of his extremely diverse career is entitled Ki and will be out in May/June 2009.
“Ki is the first in a series of four albums under the moniker ‘DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT.’ Each album is essentially a different band or collection of session musicians playing my music,” Townsend explains. “They were chosen based on what the theme of the album is and the vibe that the album is trying to project. The album Ki is very specific in this quartet of albums in that it controls its anger throughout, barring one song – ‘Heaven Send‘ – and really is an exercise in having little to prove.”
The most renowned project member on Ki is drummer Duris Maxwell (62), who has played with many acts, such as HEART, JEFFERSON AIRPLANE, THE POWDER BLUES, TOMMY CHONG and THE TEMPTATIONS. Maxwell even jammed with Hendrix. “I am very conscious of drummers and the energy they bring to the bands,” Townsend says. “I went to a blues club way up in the North of Canada and watched Duris. He has the vibe I wanted for the drums here: nothing to prove, but strong and a bit angry. Duris is an older cat but he’s heavy.” He is supported by bassist Jean Savoie. “Jean plays in a BEATLES cover band and spent years playing the cruise ships all over the world. Name a style and he can jam it for hours. His technique is accomplished, and the fact that he had never played heavy music made him and Duris perfect for the project.” Dave Young is the keyboardist, and Townsend has been working with him for years: “He’s the most schooled musician out of all of us and can play any instrument. Keyboard players typically annoy the hell out of me, but Dave is more of an ambient musician and fills the spaces with fitting but unusual note choices simply by watching where I am on my fretboard.”
After an extremely difficult phase (“I quit many bad habits in my life after SYL ended. I felt depressed, angry and unhealthy and was not satisfied with living that way for the rest of my life. I quit all drugs, alcohol and a host of other addictions that were controlling me and my world”), Ki now sees him embark on an unmistakably new path. Although not overly aggressive, the album oozes a haunting intensity, a vitality which hides below a seemingly smooth surface. “Ki is a subtle, severe album, a challenge in some ways. The point to the music is that the whisper is louder than the roar in many ways. Ki is – on the surface – quiet and unassuming. Whenever it begins to lose its temper, it stops and doesn’t let go. It is avoiding that temptation, as that sort of anger is really gratifying but ultimately just leaves me unhappy.”
In perfect unison with this thoroughly unusual, gripping and intelligent album, Townsend presents a three-dimensional cover artwork. As the music on Ki, the graphic design is also consciously multilayered. Townsend: “I live in the North of Canada and I believe that the native cultures of the world have it really down in terms of spirituality. Nature is ‘God,’ in all its subtlety and terror. And we are all a part of it, whether or not we want to be. The mask on the cover is based on native North American and Chinese paintings. It is not authentic and is just meant to be two faces in one.”
And what will the future bring? “When all four records in the DTP series are done and the ultimate box set is released at the end (eight records plus a DVD), I will play selected shows throughout the world. I will not climb into a van and play clubs in the middle of nowhere, though, I am going to assemble a sober team of incredible musicians to play ALL the records, perfectly, to many people. You will see me soon, and get ready for the next three records in the series; Ki is a subtle introduction to a sprawling theme. Please enjoy, it’s good to be back.”