Devin Townsend says he gave up shredding after working with Steve Vai

“I was watching him play and I was like, ‘Nah, I’m good. I’ll play rhythm.’”

Steve Vai and Devin Townsend

Image: Scott Dudelson / Sergione Infuso – Corbis / Getty Images

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Prog legend Devin Townsend recently revealed that working with Steve Vai when he was younger made him give up being a shredder.

Speaking to Ultimate Guitar, Townsend shared that his decision to move away from the virtuosic shredder style he was known for came after he “got a gig singing for Steve Vai”.

“I was watching him play and I was like, ‘Nah, I’m good. I’ll play rhythm.’ [laughs] I mean, my style has developed and I really like how I play now. It’s kind of a combination of fingers and pick and there’s a lot of echo and a lot of chords. And I really like it.”

“But when I was a kid, I remember learning how to sweep and tap and all this. Then I moved to LA, I was 19 years old, 20 years old, and I was sitting beside Steve Vai in his studio. I was so fortunate. And I was watching him play and I was like, you know, it’s like you’re in a wrestling match and you have to tap out.”

“I was like, ‘You know what? I think I’m gonna write my songs. He can be the guitar God.’ Because he is.”

The musician explained that watching Vai and seeing the level of discipline he had to put into being “that guitar player” made him realise that wasn’t his goal.

“And it took being with him for me to recognise that,” Townsend said. “When I was a kid, I was like, that’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to be on Shrapnel Records and, you know, play like Vinnie Moore and Tony MacAlpine, Yngwie, Steve and Van Halen.”

“But then, as I got older, I started realising that my way of writing, you know, writing with the weather, writing with the environment, is much more in line with my truth, than woodshedding and being faster than everybody else.”

He continued: “When I was a kid, if I’d seen some of these dudes that are playing now, I would’ve been like, ‘Holy shit, man.’ But that being said, I don’t want to play like that. It doesn’t interest me musically.”

“Some of it does, but musically, it doesn’t speak to me. I’ve got a certain amount of capacity for technique, and I think I’m a good guitar player. But I’m happy to say that my style sounds like me. And that’s, I guess, what I needed to learn through all these experiences.”

As for how much he practises the guitar at this point in his career, Townsend admits, “I don’t practise, I just play. I never practise, but I always play. I love playing guitar. But no, the days of me practising are long gone, unless I have to tour and have to learn the shit, right?”


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