Devin Townsend: The Point at Which I Stopped Caring About Guitar Technique

"When my interest became more based on trying to put across emotions, I ceased to be interested in technique."

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Devin Townsend: The Point at Which I Stopped Caring About Guitar Technique
23

Devin Townsend was asked by E-Gitarzysta on how he approaches the guitar in terms of songwriting, to which he replied (via Blabbermouth):

"I love guitar. I have played guitar for 35 years.

"When I was a teen, like probably you and probably like most of us, I practiced 20 hours a day, arpeggios and scales and all that. I accumulated a certain amount of technique and I still retain a lot of that.

"But I stopped at a certain point, when I began to become more interested in making a song that inspired me to feel a certain way.

"For example, I used to - on a rainy day, I would like to turn on the echo and try to find a selection of notes that reminded me of this experience.

"And typically those experiences - even if it becomes more abstract, like love or hate or whatever - it doesn't require much technique. You can play them with very simple chords.

"So, I think when my interest became more based on trying to put across emotions, I ceased to be interested in technique.

"And then when I got the Steve Vai gig [in 1993]. He was so much better than me. I was like, 'I don't need to do that. I don't need to learn to do that.'

"Because what he does and the function of the guitar within his world, was much more to be 'lead-voice.'

"As a singer, I didn't need to do that. I didn't desire to do it after that point. I found that guitar now, serves a functional purpose as a tool for me."

Devy continued:

"The way I look at music is because I think I'm emotionally stunted in real life, I feel like I've always been unable to really participate in emotion.

"Ever since a young age, music was a loophole for me. Through that, I felt like I had a release and an avenue to express things that were really visceral.

"Like, when I made angry music, it was horrible music. When I make beautiful music, it's really pretty. When I make complicated music, it's really complicated.

"My objective is I'm not trying to make it complicated or pretty, I'm just trying to react to things I think in my normal life, I'm not adapt at expressing authentically.

"When it comes to music, I don't give a shit if people like what I do, but I think the only litmus test for whether or not what I'm doing is any use is whether or not I feel something from it.

"I think that requires getting to know yourself and as you age, being prepared to accept your weaknesses and allow yourself to be vulnerable because I think at that point, what you're participating in emotionally with your music is something that is going to resonate with others.

"Ultimately that's what this is - we're trying to communicate with other people. It isn't a contest. There's only one of you; there's only one of him; there's only one of her; there's only one of me. It's like we all got the ability to dig deep to say something that is primal."

Asked on how he approaches his career as a professional musician, Townsend replied:

"What you have to do, is you have to learn to compartmentalize all aspects of what it takes to do a professional job as a musician.

"That means a number of things. Being creative, you have to find ways to compartmentalize your creativity so when you have time to do it, you can bring up those ideas, which involves a lot of documenting ideas that may come to you in periods of your life when you're not able to articulate that sort of creativity.

"All those sorts of things that come with the artistry of it. You have to be able to put it into a box because the time has come and gone where you can rationalize just being an artist. It just doesn't work.

"You also have to be a businessman. You have to be the CEO of your own world. Above and beyond that, you have to take care of your mental health. And your mental health in an environment which is fundamentally absurd.

"Like to be in a position where you are the focus of such attention and a lot of that attention is emotional attention, whether or not it's bad or good, but it's usually projected.

"You become essentially, the focal point of something that is not something that people are usually trained or there's much of a support network to do. So your mental health is a huge part of it.

"A lot of that comes down to, for me, having relationships, working on relationships, having people in my life that I've had for a long time. Kids, wife, friends, family.

"Ultimately at the end of this job, I just want to make sure if it ended tomorrow, my buddies would still help me move. [Laughs] And they would."

22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    flexiblemile
     "When I was a teen, like probably you and probably like most of us, I practiced 20 hours a day, arpeggios and scales and all that. I accumulated a certain amount of technique and I still retain a lot of that. " uh..... yeah
    HimitsuUK
    Then along came Facebook and automatron pop music. What a fulfilling life! #blessed
    HugoPan
    Although I agree with him to some extent, learning technique is not only for fast players. Knowing technique and combining it with music theory helps you to convey every emotion you might want to transmit with your music. You want a sad emotion, you use chords and scales that have this sound. You want some dreamy feel, you use chords and scales to do that. And of course, without proper technique all your ideas can sound sloppy and fail to deliver the emotions you are trying do express with your music. So technique is important, as long as it serves your purposes and help you express yourself effortlessly.
    Pikka Bird
    He's said before that even though he doesn't develop his technique any more and doesn't really see the point of super shred, he does appreciate that his past obsession has granted him enough skill to the point that he's going to be able to play whatever he can think of in his head.
    Dynamight
    "The point I stopped caring about guitar technique: when I'd already learned it"
    peppersghost08
    Devy is one of the few who I've really felt get across genuine emotion. City, Alien and Deconstruction are some of the only albums I've felt get across genuine aggression and intensity. His production, playing style/technique and songwriting tells are what allow him to that....and his ridiculously dynamic voice
    jmaraisdown
    What is the best place to start with this chap? Best heavy album + and best soft album. Always been interested in giving him a listen, but I never knew where to go
    ThomatoForce
    Give Ocean Machine and Terria a listen, and for some heavy shit SYL's City or Alien. If you want some really soft stuff, check out Ghost.
    *Stranger*
    not a huge fan of dev, but these two are absolutely fantastic. So happy I got to attend London gig earlier this year where he played Ocean Machine in full because iI found transcendence boring beyond redemption.
    Funnyname99
    Like all art, even the best techniques in the world are useless unless you can express yourself and resonate with others. Similarly, the best expressive intent can be horrible and boring, so it's nice to widen your horizons. Get a ballance... But don't forget the emotion... Without that you'll just be dream theater; technically amazing nothings.
    CurlOfTheBurl
    I sometimes think this, but then I listen to players like Guthrie and see how insanely good technique can help convey something else entirely, but also something that is still pure emotion. Trying to do so with "simple" chords as Devin puts it, isn't possible, at least in my eyes.  Generally I agree though, I see so many bands around now who are technically great, but they're just tapping through modal scales with fast passages in the same two keys (A and E minor), and sometimes with 7th chords so that people in YouTube comments call them "jazzy". 
    OriginOfFeces
    "For example, I used to - on a rainy day, I would like to turn on the echo and try to find a selection of notes that reminded me of this experience. " - Been doing that too ever since I started! I have one recording that both captures some melancholic noodling AND the falling rain and the wind outside.