Devin Townsend Blames Record Label Issues for Feeling “Dissatisfied” with Strapping Young Lad
As a musician, Devin Townsend has always led two lives. On one hand, you have the eclectic sound of his solo works, while on the other you have the insanely heavy works of Strapping Young Lad. Ever since dropping the latter, he’s been pretty vocal about how happy he is to have moved on from that part of his career, yet motherfuckers won’t stop asking him about it.
So during a recent conversation with Monsters, Madness, and Magic (transcribed by Ultimate Guitar), arguably Canada’s best export explained the weird dichotomy that existed early on with Strapping Young Lad’s debut album Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing and his solo album Ocean Machine. When asked if SYL was a “big creative exhale” for the musician, he simply answered “no” before elaborating a little further.
“That one was like a booby prize in a weird way. Because I had been making demos for so many years trying to get signed. And the demos… When I first got signed to Relativity Records, it was before I worked with Steve [Vai]. But because they were on the same label, that’s how I met Steve.
“But when they had signed me, it was based on the strength of the demos that eventually became both Ocean Machine and Strapping [Young Lad]. And at that time, I had both of them in one place. So it would go from song like ‘Skin Me’ to a song like ‘Funeral.’
“And Relativity Records deemed it to be a schizophrenic-sounding output. So they dropped me. But fortunately, they didn’t charge me for the recordings that they had pitched in for, which was great of them, actually. And they let me go free and clear.
“And so I had to try and shop the stuff. And so I kept shopping, I got signed to Roadrunner Records. And they signed me and they brought me out to New York and gave me back rubs and crab dinners. And then when I came home, I was recording for them. And then I found out later that they had dropped me.
“So I, again, was out without a label. So I kept trying to shop Ocean Machine and trying to shop are Strapping and as one thing. But Century Media contacted me and said, ‘We don’t want the Ocean Machine stuff but we want the heavy stuff.’ And I was thinking ‘Yeah, but they go together.’ And they said, ‘We only want the heavy stuff.’”
Despite feeling like both styles belonged on the same album, Townsend said he eventually relented and split the two up. What resulted was Heavy As A Heavy Thing and Ocean Machine. Yet when the final product came out, he said he wasn’t exactly thrilled.
“So I just bashed together a bunch of demos that have been in my world for years. And that became the first Strapping record. And I remember when it came out, it was just like, ‘No, that’s not right.’ You know, I don’t want my trip to be, like, brutal metal. I mean, that’s only a part of what I do.””And I think that probably played into why I became increasingly more dissatisfied with the success that Strapping had. I was like, ‘Yeah, but that’s just that stuff. I’ve got all this stuff too. And they’re meant to go together.’ It’s like one thing.”
Yet once Sony in Japan signed Devin for his Ocean Machine material, it was under the condition that he create a label. Thus, HevyDevy Records was born and both projects were able to exist at the same time.
Unfortunately for Townsend, that split resulted in resentment that eventually led to the end of Strapping Young Lad.
“My whole career from that point has been this-and-that, this-and-that, this-and-that, this-and-that… For every City, there was an Ocean Machine, for every Alien, there was a Synchestra. Deconstruction, there was a Ghost… Even to this day, it’s that sort of binary split. Now, is like I’m working on the Moth; and I’ve got DreamPeace. Maybe I internalized that to some degree, but it works for me now. So it’s all good.”
If you’d like to check out the full interview, be sure to hit play on the video below.