An Interview with Devin Nelson, a True Superstar with an Electric Guitar


Devin Nelson (top right) as lead guitarist in his band The Y Axes

Near the end of summer, I excitedly checked my PowerSchool portal to see who my teachers for the next semester would be. I opened the web page to find out that someone by the name Devin Nelson would be my advanced placement chemistry teacher. Having never met this individual before, I did not know what to expect in that upcoming course. After completing almost three-quarters of advanced placement chemistry with Mr. Nelson, I can safely say that he is one of the most interesting people you will ever meet. Mr. Nelson teaches chemistry during the day but makes music at night. He is the guitarist and one of the vocalists for the band he started: The Y Axes. I think Mr. Nelson is quite awesome, so I decided to share this interview I had with him.


Patrick Pan: Why did you decide to come to SHC and teach chemistry?


Devin Nelson: I heard really good things about it through my graduate advisor at SF state because he is friends with Joan O’Neil, the principal of academics. I was looking for a new school to teach at.


PP: Why were you interested in chemistry?


DN: I was always really interested in science and I’m interested in what things are made of and how they work.


PP: What is it like, being a first-year teacher here?


DN: I like it a lot. This is a cool school. There are lots of interesting people, like you Patrick. There are lots of great resources here. I like how ambitious the students are. I think all my students are ambitious and creative.


PP: What gives you the passion to teach?


DN: When I was in grad school, I kind of learned that I’m more of a science communicator than a scientist. When I reflected on my interest in science, all my science idols were people like Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Bill Nye, and Isaac Asimov who all communicated science to the public, and that made me want to teach.


PP: Would you ever consider teaching a music course here at SHC?


DN: I don’t think I would teach music. I don’t think I am qualified to teach music. I am completely self-taught, so it’s kind of hard to teach my understanding of music to others.


PP: Do you plan to join the Guitar Club anytime soon?


DN: I do want to get involved in SHC music when I’m less overwhelmed by being a new teacher.


PP: Since music is your biggest passion, why did you decide to study and teach chemistry rather than study and teach music?


DN: As you might know, the music industry is not really a good way to make a living. I have not given up on my dream of making it big, but I have to be realistic and logical. I like science and I like young people, so helping young people become more science literate seemed like a suitable profession. And at the end of the day, music and science really aren’t that different, as they both involve math, patterns, and creativity.


PP: When did you found the Y Axes?


DN: 2011


PP: How often do you practice a week for your music?


DN: Twice a week.


PP: Is it a lot of work to put on shows for your band?


DN: Yeah, we usually practice a lot to make sure we sound and we have visuals and stuff. We have pretty detailed live performances.


PP: What is your favorite song that you’ve performed.


DN: Umbra. It’s the title song of our new album and kind of an epic closer.


PP: My favorite song from your band is Neon Street, what do you think about this song?


DN: I guess the interesting thing about that song was that it was one of the songs where I tried to write a really standard pop song, but I failed and it got all weird in the middle.


PP:  What are you plans for the future of your band?


DN: Hard to say, depends on what happens. We’re going to be touring a little bit this summer, and seeing where that takes us.


PP: How do you keep pursuing a master’s degree in chemistry, teaching at SHC, and being a part of your band?


DN: I am extremely busy and extremely stressed out. Playing music is a big stress reliever, even though it can be very busy sometimes. Besides those things, I don’t really have much of a life.


PP: Do you have other activities you like to do?


DN: I like to play tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. I like to play as the dungeon master, and send all my friends on perilous adventures.


PP:  I heard that you are a great muay Thai fighter. Tell me the story about that.


DN: The story with that is that I used to do muay Thai at a local gym called World Team USA. I only had 2 fights, but the 2nd fight I got my nose broken really badly and it’s still crooked today. Also, I was doing it the same time I was in college, and full-contact martial arts is not good for a chemistry major because you can get concussions. But I had good reach while I was fighting.


PP: Do you give second chances?


DN: Yeah, everyone gets one quiz retake.


PP: How do you feel about being a superstar?


DN: I was not aware that I am a superstar.


The next time you see Mr. Nelson around school, you should wave and say hi. After all, he is more than just a chemistry teacher. Mr. Nelson is a true superstar with an electric guitar!


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