Devin Townsend Opens Up on Why He ’Wasn’t Happy’ While Working With Steve Vai and How Music Industry Affected Him Then

While appearing in a recent interview on the “Monsters, Madness and Magic” podcast, Devin Townsend looked back on his beginnings as a professional musician and how, eventually, he landed a gig singing with Steve Vai.

However, despite getting this incredible opportunity that pretty much launched his name in the world of rock music, young Devin wasn’t all that happy with Los Angeles and the state of the entertainment industry. When asked what it was like when he got the gig, Devin replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“You try to play it off nonchalant, but it was crazy, man. And it was also simultaneously really… This sounds weird — but it was actually simultaneously disheartening, because I think there’s a lot of romance that comes with not getting what you want.”

Devin Townsend Savage Days

“There is this sense that, that if it doesn’t happen, then that idealistic image of whatever it is, will always exist. There’s nothing that has proved it otherwise.”

“And so I had fetishized the whole idea of moving to Los Angeles, having an Ibanez guitar, knowing and going to functions with these people you might only see in magazines, without any expectation of it ever happening.”

“And so when it did, it was like, ‘Oh, he’s just a dude. And that guy’s really short, and this guitar that I always wanted actually sort of sucks to play.’ And there’s all this stuff about it that just seems like the illusion was shattered so quickly.”

Steve Vai (feat. Devin Townsend) - Still My Bleeding Heart (Live)

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing in the long run. In fact, I think it worked in my favor, because I got that idealism out of the way quickly enough that, when I started to structure my work and my own creative endeavors later on, it was devoid of that, so my relationships tended to be a little more straight up.”

Nonetheless, things worked out for Devin when he found the right people for what he was doing:

“It took some time for it to settle, but when I started assembling people, and working with people, and working towards my own goals, it was pretty realistic, and I think it remains as such. There’s a few years in the ’90s there that went a little off the rails, but…[laughs]”

Steve Vai - In My Dreams With You

When the interviewer reminded Devin that he managed to stay down to earth, despite dealing with this sudden success, the musician replied:

“Yeah, and I think that the reason why I was able to stay more down to earth is because I was trying to prove a point, in a weird way, to myself. In hindsight, I can see that.”

“So it wasn’t that I was staying down to earth because I thought it was the appropriate move, I just thought, ‘I’m not going to be like other people, I’m going to be like this, and I’m going to remain rooted in this, and that, and the other thing.’”

“But the reality of that as well is that your life has changed, and you’re not the same person anymore, and the people that you were around — not all of them, but a lot of them — are going to perceive you different, and you’re going to be in a different place.”

Steve Vai 1993 11 13 Copenhagen (Vai Band with Devin Townsend)

“And just by the virtue of the work that I had been involved with, I was resisting what I was becoming, and I think I tried to pass that off for a few years as being down to earth. But the lessons that came with that were certain scenarios where I either acted in a way that was inappropriate for the people I was around, or I allowed things to happen to me that I shouldn’t have allowed just because I didn’t want to appear as if I was arrogant, or what have you.”

“And the process of learning is fundamental to the music, so I’m grateful for it, but you know, man, I was 19, I was 20 years old, whatever it was. And now I’m 51. The trial by fire has lasted for 30 years, man!”

Devin Townsend being legendary for 5 minutes straight @ Download 2006

Up next, Devin was asked to clarify how early on he felt that he was affected by all of these issues. And firstly, he clarified that this had nothing to do with Steve Vai:

“Well, to clarify it, it had very little to do with Steve. He’s offered me an incredible opportunity, it changed my life, and has set me up in a scenario here where we’re talking today. So before I answer that further, it’s important that that’s a foregone conclusion there.”

He then added:

“But I wasn’t happy because since the very beginning — well, at least since I started putting together my own musical thoughts — I had always perceived the nature of music to be rooted in something beyond people, divine in a way.”


“And then when I was in LA all of a sudden, it’s a wake-up call. And again, it’s not Steve, it’s not any of the people around him, but it’s Los Angeles, man. It’s the music industry and the acting industry.”

“These are infamous for being populated with people that are trying, right, and maybe their connection to their work. There are people that have that, you know, Steve, of course, being one of them, but there’s a lot of people that are just, it’s a vehicle for validation, or it’s a vehicle for fame.”

“And I found from a very young age, my nature was so awkward, that being famous for me was really difficult, because I was not.”

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“All it does is amplify who you are. And if you’re able to be famous, if you’re a professionally famous person, then you’re probably going to be pretty adept at navigating it. But if you’re already kind of a dorky kid, and then all of a sudden, you’re just a famous dorky kid. It’s like, good luck, right?”

“So I was upset that the vision that I had for music — which, incidentally, is separate from one’s identity, in my opinion — I was having to wait to do. I was like, ‘I want to do this, I want to have orchestras and choirs, and I want to constantly create, and I want to make puppet shows, and I want to make ambient music, and I want to make symphonies, and I want to make pop music, and I want to make brutal death metal.'”

“I was chomping at the bit to do so. But in order to get to the point where I can even start doing that, I had to go to college first, which was Steve Vai. So it’s got very little to do with him or his organization. I mean, there were certain things that I disagreed with, but it was much more that I was really fucking impatient.”

'Forgive Me (Live)' - Empath: Live in America (Devolution Series #3)

Photos: YouTube Screenshot (Headbangers Ball)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.