Devin Townsend on the “turbo naïvety” he felt when he joined Steve Vai’s band as a teenager

“I became so angry when I realised that this thing I held so sacred was nothing more than this commodity.”

Devin Townsend on stage

Image: Mariano Regidor / Getty

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Devin Townsend  has reminisced upon the intense naivety he felt when he was first thrust into the music business at just 19 years old touring with Steve Vai.

At the start of his career, the Canadian polymath joined Vai’s band, taking him from rural Canada to arena tours with Aerosmith and slots on The Tonight Show. Though it might seem like the stuff of dreams, it opened his eyes to the ugly realities of the music industry and how music had been commodified.

“When I moved to Los Angeles and joined Steve Vai’s band, it was with a type of turbo naïvety,” Townsend explains in an interview with PROG. “I became so angry when I realised that this thing I held so sacred was nothing more than this commodity. From that point, I was like, ‘I want to use whatever musical talent I have just to make things explode.’ Then, Strapping!”

Townsend then began playing in Strapping Young Lad, whose early albums – 1995’s Heavy Is A Really Heavy Thing and 1997’s City – were coloured by his rage. After he began taking psychedelic drugs and felt unsure of the ways to handle how he was feeling, he began to think of himself as fitting the trope of the tortured, yet genius, artist.

“I ended up going down this avenue of thinking that I knew it all,” he remembers, “and that it was my responsibility to tell everybody in my life what they were doing wrong. If I was smarter, it could have ended up being something like trying to start a cult. But fortunately, I’m a dumbass, so everybody was like, ‘Oh, fuck you, man!’”

Townsend previously said that this realisation after becoming Vai’s vocalist had positives to it as well. “I think it worked in my favour, because I got that idealism out of the way quickly enough that, when I started to structure my work and my own creative endeavours later on, it was devoid of that, so my relationships tended to be a little more straight up.”


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