Over the past two weeks, we gave Mr. Townsend some blog space to explain his straining relationship with new metal and the direction he envisions for himself. Today, we have the opportunity to find out which professional avenues the pop-progger absolutely refuses to follow. Townsend also laments the problems of a repetitive lifestyle and the copy-of-a-copy types of art it tends to create, as well as the unlikelihood that he will ever reach a large percentage of the world’s 15-year-old female population.
Other than playing shows, what have you been doing since you wrapped up Z2?
I went to L.A. two months ago because some people in my world thought, “This [uncertainty] is dangerous for your future, so you need to go write with somebody. So I went to L.A. and I wrote with a team who produced all the Nickelback stuff recently, Daughtry, all the American Idol people who win, and I wrote a song with them. And I hate it in such a way that is hard for me to quantify.
Hate the song or hated the process?
Both. I really like the guys, I think they’re really talented, but I told them yesterday or the day before that I’m not putting it out. There’s no fucking way I’m putting it out. I can’t spend twenty-five years sticking to my guns to try and sell people this. It’s everything I dislike about music, with my voice on it. It’s fucking disgusting. It’s not their fault, but with my voice on it, it’s just not where I’m at.
So I told everybody that I’m not putting it out, and now we have to pay for it, but what are you gonna do? To put that out, all of a sudden you have to pay fifty grand to put it on active rock [radio] and then you have to go and do interview and try and sell something you don’t like. I have honesty Tourette’s, man, and that’s gonna cause me nothing but grief. But I tried it. With that whole scene, you pay to get a Number 1 song. This is how it works: these are the chords you can use in the summer, these are the chords you can use in the winter, here are the topics that sell…
Oh my god, dude, it’s a formula.
I’m sure it is, I just didn’t realize it was that rigid.
Neither did I. We’re talking about, well, U2 had a chord structure off The Joshua Tree that works every time. You go on active rock radio and you see what’s popular, you get the tempos and the chords, and there’s people who make millions off of that. I don’t begrudge it because I actually think it’s fascinating, and I think a lot of the people who are involved with that… it’s brilliant. But for me, music is about expressing the unexpressable, and as I get older, man, what I feel the need to express becomes less and less poignant to others. It’s a shame. When people are like, “Nothing you’ve done is as good as you did when you were younger.” And I’m like, “You may be right.” But what I’m doing now is exactly what I feel like I should be doing. So what do you do? Do you go write a fucking pop song and cash in and then spend the rest of your life thinking, “I could have stuck to my guns but instead I sucked a cock…”
Like the actor who does only indies but once every five years does an X-Men movie.
That’s what it was. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. And that’s what people are saying. “Just do it, and then go write your symphony.” But I won’t be able to forget about it. And the metal scene… I’m looking at some of the metal that’s popular this year, and I don’t know any of it! Because it’s not what I want to hear anymore. And when you’re in the metal scene and you’re making your money off it, it’s amazing how easy it is to offend people when you say, “I’m not listening to it anymore.” I heard a band, Fallujah, that I thought were pretty good, and I heard Xerath, I thought they were pretty good. But, dude, I heard one song from both.
But again, my whole point of view with the audience – and I hope what people take from this interview – I don’t want to fucking lie to you! For my own sake. I see guys older than me who are still like, “I’m fucking hard! This is the heaviest record we’ve ever done!” Really? No offense, but how the hell do you keep the interest in that? And that’s not me being flippant or disrespectful. Just, seriously, how does that work? I’ve got tinnitus, my ears are hissing all the time, shit, dude! I like to go crunch-crunch-crunch, I really do like to play that stuff, but there’s a certain point where I’m tapped in terms of that. Now I’ve gotta find something else.
That’s why, when I say I want to teach or help people or do some volunteer shit, it’s less about me trying to be altruistic and more about how your capacity for inspiration depends entirely on what is in your world. And if it’s Groundhog Day for years and years and years…
You’re inspired by the same things over and over.
Eventually you’re just gonna repeat yourself. There’s elements of my work right now that, as proud of Z2 as I am, I’m like, “You’re repeating yourself. Now you really have to fucking think.” At the same time, how do you not let the well run dry while you’re thinking? I’m not above getting a job if that’s what it took. It’s just really important for me to be honest with people. Cash in on your credibility; that was what they were saying. You’ve got credibility…
So let’s destroy it now.
And you’ll get two hundred grand. And I would buy a bunch of fucking amps and be looking for work again in a year.
What’s funny is that the material on Sky Blue and Epicloud, there are already people who would consider that…
A sellout. Totally. But there’s people, even in my family, who heard this song I did in L.A. and said a lot of the stuff I did on Sky Blue is way more commercial. The difference is I didn’t write it to get a hit song. I wrote it because I felt like writing it. The intention of it, as a result of that, is coming from the same place as everything that I’ve done. And Sky Blue didn’t sell shit! Nothing I do sells shit. I mean, it sells enough, like five thousand copies or whatever. We sold out the Royal Albert Hall in a day and a half. Hooray. But the music doesn’t sell at all.
My reasons for writing things like “Life” on Ocean Machine, or “Sky Blue” or “Stagnant” or “Slow Me Down”… I’ve been writing this pop shit for my entire career. My reason for writing it is because I like pop music. It’s not because I’m trying to get a single. The songs we put out for singles are never the pop shit. That’s just stuff that I do. So the intention that I have when I’m writing that stuff is certainly not to try and convince 15-year-old girls that some 42-year-old guy with shit teeth is their new hero. I write it because I want to hear it. Same reason I wrote “Save Our Now” from Epicloud – because I fucking really like lullaby-based pop music with electronic elements. Love it! This song, from L.A., is not that. It’s more heavy, but it’s coming from a place of, “Fund me! Please give us tons of money!” Not, “Hey, I really want to write something cool.” And that’s just stupid for me at this age. It was worth a shot.
I think it’s healthy to challenge yourself, to be afraid of failing and succeeding, but you have to be really careful with what your intention is. A lot of times after I did that song, people were like, “You’re afraid of success.” Maybe I am. But then I thought, no-no-no… Of course I’m not afraid of success, but the success has to be something I’m comfortable with. I’m not afraid of succeeding doing something that I love. I’m afraid of succeeding doing something that I don’t like.