Devin Townsend on when to reach for the guitar in songs: “There’s no real formula there.”

“When I write, I never really think, ‘Oh, this doesn’t have enough guitar’ or ‘This is too much guitar.”

Devin Townsend Performing

Image: Katja Ogrin / Getty Images

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Prog-metal guitarist and singer Devin Townsend has opened up about how he decides whether or not the guitar should take the spotlight in his songs.

Discussing the guitar work on his latest solo album, Lightwork, Townsend told Ultimate Guitar, “Well, I never think that the guitar is anything other than a means to an end.”

“When I was a kid, I very much did. I was obsessed with guitar like I’m sure you were and everybody else. That’s all I did. And I was good, and I think I still am good. I learned enough, and I gained enough proficiency at the instrument that I got to the point where I could do whatever I wanted to do.”

“I could play whatever ideas that I had,” Townsend said. “And, honestly, the ideas that I have just don’t include a lot of the techniques that I learned. So, although I still practice, and I still do solos and everything, when I write, I never really think, ‘Oh, this doesn’t have enough guitar’ or ‘This is too much guitar.’”

“It’s just, ‘Does it need guitar there or not?’ If so, I’ve got the capacity to do whatever is asked.”

He added, “If you look at a record like Lightwork, there’s pretty subtle guitar on this album. But then, if you go back to an album like Deconstruction, it’s just constant guitar. And I would say that the only criteria that I use for each composition is ‘What does it need?’ And sometimes, it doesn’t need any guitar. And sometimes it needs nothing but. There’s no real formula there.”

Assembled from a barrage of material written during the pandemic, the ten-tracked Lightwork is a follow up to 2019’s acclaimed Empath. Notably, a song called Honeybunch, which featured guitar legend Nile Rodgers, was scrapped from the album due to a copyright issue.

Townsend explained in an interview with Guitar World, “We had recorded this song called Honeybunch, which has this [melody] taken from Barbie Girl by Aqua. I thought the loophole was that if you re-record the sample, you could use it because it’s not their version. But it turns out that’s not the case!”

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