'City' is the second chapter
of Devin Townsend's project named Strapping Young Lad. It comes
out two years after the debut and leaves you psyched like few
albums did before. Moreover, this time we find in the line-up
no less than Gene Hoglan. In the end, Stefano Pera has interviewed
Townsend and Hoglan, getting a very good impression from them,
who'd ever say that?
Some people are more difficult
to meet than others. It's not due to them, but to the "human"
interviewers, who are kind of spellbound in front of talented
persons. Gene Hoglan and Devin Townsend are without any doubt
two "geniuses", of course not absolutely but in their
field, and while the world of metal is living in a state of transition
unsure if it's able to go onward (to the unknown) or backward
(to the Eighties), this duo surely represents a strong point -
that shouldn't go unnoticed.
The interview we did is not
the kind you would expect. Hoglan and Townsend are in Milan to
promote the new Strapping Young Lad record, 'City', but because
the two of them are involved in so many projects, we couldn't
avoid going inside out through their career. Devin is only 24,
but his references are awesome. At just 20, he was requested by
Steve Vai, then he made some performances every now and then with
people like James Murphy (the singer is the main reason why Murphy's
solo album has been so well received), took part in many tributes
and formed Strapping Young Lad, one of the most difficult and
powerful bands of the planet. On the other hand, Hoglan was the
mastermind of the still-sadly-missed Dark Angel, the right hand
of Chuck Schuldiner in Death's period of maturity ('Individual
Thought Patterns' and 'Symbolic' are fundamental), has won Metal
Hammer '96 Readers' Poll without releasing anything in that year
and many drummers (Lombardo, Bostaph, Ulrich...just to mention
some unknown ones of them believe him to be a true monster.
And now let's come to this album:
ok, I've been wrong in the review, 'City' is fantastic, but I
kind of needed to listen to it fifteen times to dig it, and there's
something not clear yet to me. So, let me correct, giving it a
5,5 out of 6 instead of 3, but beware if you think that going
into 'City' is like going into the usual CD...forget it, compared
to it, Coroner's records are easy listening.
Am I right, Devin?
"Yes, perfectly. I've always had a
certain idea to get and 'City' is the fulfillment of my dream.
I wanted a very hard, modern, technological record...but at the
same time it had to be metal, raw, sharp..."
Hoglan steps in:
"Yes, the purpose was to massacre the listener, to kill him...Musically,
of course. We wanted 'City' to sound more violent and harder than
anything else. It had to be different from all the rest and so
Well, don't you think
that repressing the rock side of the album with tons of effects
and samples, with the vocals being almost a background ....is
a bit too much?
"(Devin) Yes, but we meant it to be
like this. It's been our own choice. When we were done with the
mixing the tech came to me and told me 'you have to do it again,
the samples are too high and the songs are confused', on the contrary,
we absolutely changed nothing, I wanted the album to exactly sound
Good, many bands get wrong mixes
because of incompetent technicians and don't have a cent to redo
the mixing...if it was your choice it's ok to me, but why? Why
stifling guitars, drums, vocals for this incredible violence?
"(Devin) I played so many stuff, in
my life I had the chance to do every kind of music, but Strapping
Young Lad is my project and I wanted it to be this: a sonic hell.
I've always been into the technological dimension of modern music
and one of the things that I would like to do the most has always
been pushing boundaries, to go beyond, experiment something new.
That's why I wanted this type of record."
Could you explain to me why I needed
to listen to it ten times to do a bad review, and four or five
more to realize I madea blunder and every time I hear it I found
something different and new coming out?
"(Devin) 'City' is like those fruit
juice tins. You buy them and they are as big as the normal tins,
you add water and make liters and liters to drink out of it. This
album is the same thing, with all we put it in, we'd have done
fifteen disks. I'm not exaggerating. Every song is full of ideas...we
dared and we have no regrets, really."
"(Gene) You can never know what people think about a record
and to make a CD for the audience would be a stupid thing. Every
musician will tell you the same thing, he plays for himself, the
first fan he wants to satisfy is himself, and that's why albums
like this exist. We are here because we tried to satisfy our need,
we tried to put our idea in practice. When we started working
on it, we got so involved that everything that came out had to
be in 'City'. We never thought we could not put some part or simplify
something...why? Why should we have done it? Devin, who wrote
all the music of the record, had his ideas and we were here because
we shared them, all we put into the CD is the faithful picture
of what we feel inside and it was a great experience."
Oh goddamn boy!!! How did you end
up working together and how would you describe this experience
between two high personalities like yours?
"(Gene) He works for an express mail-van
and gave me a package...he recognized me and asked me an autograph...Ha,
"(Devin) Then I fell to his knees and I was like 'play with
me please!' hahahahah, haha, hahaha!"
I don't know why I have the strange
feeling you're pulling my leg!
"(Gene) No...this was a joke...The
truth is we have mutual friends who made us meet and pushed us
to start doing something together. These persons, who know us
well, have realized before we did that we had strong common views
and so when the opportunity to do something together came...it
came out of the blue, but it worked."
"(Devin) Yes...so it happened and at that time 'City' was
just a sort of idea, there was nothing to work on. When we met
we went to a studio and honestly we really had no idea of what
to play. So we jammed and a cool feeling was born, as the record
proves very well."
Sorry Gene, but first with Chuck
in Death and now with Devin in Strapping Young Lad you are in
a situation in which there's already a leader, a mastermind of
the project... how do you feel personally and artistically about
your position as an extra value in this kind of affair?
"(Gene) It doesn't cause me troubles.
If I have to be honest, I like to play the human drum machine.
At a personal level, I get greatly satisfied giving the songwriter
the chance to obtain certain things. I see it in their eyes...they
have the plan in mind, the idea, that is the most important thing
in the songwriting, but it's pretty rare they're drummers or know
how to get certain results, so come to me and tell me: 'I want
this', 'I'd like it to sound this way'...and when I do they've
found the key to fulfill their idea. In this kind of music the
dynamic of the rhythm section is basic, a song can have it all
or be none if the rhythm section is not ok."
Do you mean this situation already
"(Gene) Oh, yeah! With Death, for example.
Chuck used to write all the songs and then came to the studio
and let me hear them...we started to work...he never told me 'do
this' or 'do that', I was completely free to be myself in what
I was playing, but I was sure he wanted to have a certain thing
for what he wrote and when he saw that my parts perfectly matched
with what he had in mind he was always very happy. And me too!"
But after all, you were the mastermind
in Dark Angel? Do you mean you're happy being just a kind of session
"(Gene) It's not exact. It's true by
taking part of projects born from others' ideas I often have to
comply with the instructions of a writer who's not me, but this
is not a limitation, I put of lot of myself in what I do, after
all I'd never do a record I didn't really like".
About participation, collaborations
and stuff, you're the drummer on the new Testament, aren't you?
"(Gene) Yes, I recorded the drums for
the new Testament."
What's your role inside the band?
"(Gene) I have no role 'cause I'm not
part of it. My work is about what I've just told you. They needed
a drummer for the album and I was free and so I participated,
but I'm not 'the new Testament drummer'. There too, I went to
the studio to help them to achieve what they wanted. The main
songwriter, Eric Peterson, explained to me what he wished and
I did it. That's all."
What are your future plans?
"(Gene) Now my main commitment is Strapping
Young Lad. We'll be soon on tour, and I think we'll come to Italy
too. Then we'll see. With Devin and the other guys we'll be busy
for about three of four months, after that I don't know yet what
I'm gonna do."
Devin, coming again on Strapping
Young Lad and touring, what's the future of the band?
"(Devin) Strapping Young Lad is not
a band like others, with a constant life...it's more of a project
I need when I want to do this kind of things. I don't like to
keep doing the same thing for a while, it's restrictive, I like
to explore and so I need more dimensions to move in."
The band is made of four. What's
the share of the other guys in the album?
"(Devin) Though it seems a temporary
act, Strapping Young Lad is a real band, what you hear on the
CD is the work of four musicians, each one with his own perspectives
and identities. It's true the idea is mine, but without them I
couldn't ever get this offspring."
About working with other musicians,
you collaborated with Vai and Murphy, etc. and everywhere not
only you left a mark, but showed your unusual qualities. How did
you feel with these artists, regarded as very top-notch...
"(Devin) Never had any problem. Although
I'm quite young I have already a lot of experience behind me and
this allows me to deal every situation with serenity. I never
felt embarrassed or scared by such persons. If I was there , there
should have been a reason. A bit immodestly, I'm sure enough of
Don't worry, we all think you have
lots of talent!
"(Gene, to Devin) No doubt on it, he
owns a huge load of talent!!!"
At this moment something curious
happens, Devin starts to blush and so, first to me and then to
his mate, tell us:
"(Devin) Thank you, thank you very
much, this means a lot to me."
So Gene smiles happy, while I start
feeling embarrassed. The singer wants to finish his discourse
and helps me:
"(Devin) Collaborating with Vai was
a sort of prostitution...I wasn't really happy with the genre
or the record, but I was asked to sing and this was a big chance
for my career, but I believe I was just a singer 'for rent'. About
Murphy, I didn't even realized I participated...I came, listened
to tracks, recorded my stuff and after an hour I was already out."
Sorry??? What??? An hour?
"(Devin)Yes, I recorded the two songs
in an hour, but it's not my best... to do the vocals on the Rush
tribute I was done in less than fifteen minutes."
That's real talent. How many can
say to have done a recording this fast and marked the final product
so much? Only a big artist can impose his identity in big things
as well as in little.
"(Devin, blushes again) Thank you once
Devin, you're not only a singer,
but you are able to play many instruments. How much does this
influence your songwriting?
"(Devin) I don't know, it's quite natural
to me. When I start writing a song or I have an idea, I use every
instrument that can help me to achieve my goal."
"(Gene) It's true, I can play by myself the tracks I wrote
with a guitar, it's very important doing things from different
views...it helps to have the ideas clearer and get a better outcome."
Being here, Gene, I told you that
you have won the Metal Hammer Readers' Poll as best drummer...and
that's strange, there's been nothing with you on out in 1996.
"(Gene) Great! I'm very happy, I didn't
release anything in '96. I just recorded something with Testament
and Strapping Young Lad, but it's gonna be out in '97. I'm really
happy, I didn't expect...who's left behind (smiling with pleasure)?"
Cavalera, Portnoy, Ulrich and Lombardo...
"(Gene) Lombardo??? Portnoy??? Jeez,
you really gave me a kinda big present!"
Evidently people didn't forget
you, since Dark Angel time to now, through Death, the Italian
audience has kept praising you...me too, when I want to listen
to "the (metal) word made flesh" I brush up 'Time Does
"(Gene) 'Time Does Not Heal'? It's
crazy, that record was the ruin of Dark Angel."
What? There are a lot of people
over here (Italy), who think it to be a cornerstone.
"(Gene) Yes, but in the rest of the
world it wasn't understood, unluckily. The most I'm sorry about
is that we couldn't release the next record, that would have marked
a new turning point, a new frontier. The album after 'Time Does
Not Heal' should have made by more in-your-face, short, but still
very powerful songs. It's a shame"
You're telling me!