Vancouver's Devours Surviving the Game with new record label venture
BY GREGORY ADAMS
It’s hard to make it in the music industry. Jeff Cancade, the Vancouver visionary behind Devours and the Golden Age of Wrestling, knows this well, having spent the last several years plugging experimental, yet hooks-heavy electronic pop both independently and with the help of a label. Now, on the cusp of releasing the next Devours LP, Jeff’s officially becoming his own label boss via the launch of his Surviving the Game imprint.
Backing up slightly, a few Devours singles popped up this year before the announcement: “Two Kids” floats along pastel waves of New Age synth; “Dick Disciple” is “Orinoco Flow” by-way-of hardened electronic trance, Jeff’s coy cry of “I’m only half the man you need” perhaps a cheeky nod to the dramaturgical dyad he maintains as both the vulnerable Devours and sequined bruiser the Golden Age of Wrestling. Then again, Devours’ most recent drop, “Yoshi’s Revenge,” flips the script, with the traditionally gentler persona going cutthroat on a misogynist ex above panicked beats, jarring synth-guitar, and Mario Paint noises.
“I think that Devours has crossed over to the dark side this past year! This new album is really dark, kind of brutal, but I think Devours has developed a thicker skin [because of it].”
At present, the Surviving the Game roster officially consists of just Devours and the Golden Age of Wrestling, but Jeff is also hyped to use his platform to boost the Vancouver artists around him through curated playlists, Instagram stories, and more—As of press time, this includes plugging producer/singer Lu6d. Anything to help spread artistic awareness during the pandemic, and beyond.
“There’s so much more that can be done that doesn’t involve playing shows, and doesn’t involve money. Just make anything! Create a new channel, some playlists. The community needs to support each other...that’s how it survives.”
Speaking with Gut Feeling, Jeff got into the reasons for starting the new imprint, Devours’ new action flick-inspired album, and what it means to be surviving the game in 2021.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Just before launching Surviving the Game, you had posted through the Devours channel that you had been approached by multiple labels to release your next album. Despite going through this last year of the pandemic—really financially precarious times, in and outside of the arts community—how did you come to the decision that you’d rather release music on your own?
Jeff Cancade: I’ll have to answer this carefully. Basically, these past few years I’ve been going through a process of disillusionment with the music industry— I’ve been through some ups and downs. I don’t think that labels are evil, or anything; this isn’t necessarily me trying to make a punk statement of, like, ‘labels suck! d.i.y. forever!’ Labels can be great if you have a good relationship and they listen to your ideas, but I do think that I’m a pretty headstrong person with very specific ideas about how I want to roll things out. I have my fingers in everything. In terms of marketing, taking pictures, choosing album singles, making artwork, I do it all. I think that a lot of it was [me] wanting [more] creative control.
This is a double album that I’m about to put out for Devours, and I had some really specific ideas about how I wanted to release it, and on what format. With Iconoclast, which was my last Devours album, I wasn’t allowed to put it on vinyl. I had to play a lot of shows and have people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, why don’t you put it on vinyl? Why is it on CD?’ I had to politely answer each time that I wasn’t legally allowed to. This time around I want to do my thing; it’s about taking matters into my own hands. The label offers weren’t necessarily Interscope, or anything huge like that, [but] financially it would have been helpful. I was pretty freaked out over [starting the label], but I’ve got a job.
Maybe that fits with “Yoshi’s Revenge,” where you sing that “you need to adapt.” What have all the accumulated experiences you’ve had with labels given you up to now?
J: Honestly, a bunch of songs on my upcoming Devours album are pretty bitter. There’s a lot of angst on it. Part of it is just the disillusionment around the music industry, and feeling totally hopeless in Vancouver. That’s a major theme, and maybe that’s leaked into “Yoshi’s Revenge,” but that song, specifically, is about a mainstream guy that I dated who was a huge asshole [laughs]. That doesn’t necessarily have to do with my stance on the music industry, but, yeah, I think the name of the game is adapting. I’m not 22 anymore. I’ve been in this for a really long time.
Trends come and go. Every four or five years there’s a new generation of cool musicians coming up. If you’re trying to be a careerist, then you need to play along with the trends; I think I’ve let go of that. I’m still passionate about making music, and always will be, but in terms of opportunities— or lack of opportunities—I think that I’m in a different headspace now.
From an idyllic point of view, there’s never been a better time to self-release or start up your own label, with so many streaming options available for people to discover, but, likewise, the amount of music out there is only increasing. What does it mean for you to survive the game through this aptly named imprint?
J: Have you seen the movie Surviving the Game, with Ice-T? It’s from the mid ‘90s. It’s an action B-movie about a bunch of guys who are hunting Ice-T in the woods. I love it so much. I was inspired by it! My new Devours album is based off of mid ‘90s action blockbusters; the album is sequenced like an action movie.
As for surviving the game, I think that it’s about putting your heart into something, being vulnerable, and not giving into trends. I’m trying to focus on my strengths, and on doing it because I love it. For anyone in the arts in Canada, everything is ultimately a passion project. There isn’t really money for people outside of Grimes and Drake. It’s really hard to survive the game! I think you need to stay true to yourself, keep your head screwed on straight, and be a part of a community that supports each other.
Surviving the Game is starting up as a vanity imprint for Devours and Golden Age of Wrestling, but are you actively seeking out anyone in your community that you hope to bolster through the label?
J: My whole stance is that most of Canada doesn’t care about the Vancouver music scene— Most of Vancouver doesn’t care about the Vancouver music scene! It’s a music community where about 95 per cent of it is completely underground. There are so many musicians here, and not very many labels.
I’ve had ideas for a few years about gathering a bunch of really talented, underground artists that I believe in, and assembling a label. The big question is how ambitious do I want to be, in terms of making this a big, you know, venture...launching a big business. At this point in time, I don’t think that financially I can do it. I’m struggling to pay for my own vinyl record.
In terms of the new Devours, it’s your first album since Iconoclast, though it also follows last year’s Golden Age of Wrestling release. When we’d spoken last year, you said you were having fun doing the heel turn as the Golden Age of Wrestling: aesthetically cocky, “a little bit of a villain”. You’d also called Devours the “Mr. Nice Guy” project. Did working out that other side through the Golden Age of Wrestling rub off on this latest Devours release, or rather amplify what you’d already known about this project?
J: I think that Devours has crossed over to the dark side this past year! This new album is really dark, kind of brutal, but I think Devours has developed a thicker skin [because of it]. That’s sort of the angle for this new era that Devours is in: He’s battered, bruised, and jaded. He’s been through some shit! It’s about survivalism, and fighting for what you believe in. That’s the theme, moving forward. Who knows, maybe the Golden Age of Wrestling is a secret softie and will do a baby face turn next. It’s really fun having two different projects, and coming up with concepts for them.
If the upcoming Devours album is paced like an old action flick, have you been re-watching the classics to pump yourself up?
J: I’m just a big nostalgia guy, I can’t help it. I love the ‘90s! I re-watched Speed last summer, and that was a really lovely experience. It was the first R-rated movie I ever saw in the theatre. I was just a kid, maybe ten years old. I re-watched it with my parents, and they were pretty into it.
So that was the first R-rated movie you’d ever seen in the theatres, but what do your parents think of “Yoshi’s Revenge” being your first R-rated project? Like, you’ve literally got the Restricted bar warning across the single art.
J: My mom tends to like the ballads, but my dad listened to it and he thought it was kind of catchy. I was thrilled by that positive feedback!
Devours’ new double album arrives later this year through Surviving the Game.
Maryze “Too Late” (Bandcamp)
Though spring’s just a few hours away, let’s take a second to highlight Montreal-by-way-of-Vancouver alt-pop artist Maryze’s wild winter. Earlier this year, Maryze blew up on TikTok while humorously reviewing a frankly frightening selection of Montreal’s “deadliest icicles”, clocking a million-plus views in the process. On the musical front, she’s now unveiled a chilled synth-pop single called “Too Late”.
The new music video is fittingly snow-capped, with the singer performing some slippery footwork across bleachers and public park spaces; producer Solomon K-I pauses between, assumedly, a few double lutzes to perform slick synth lines atop a frozen pond. “Too Late” works an ‘80s inspired groove of twitchy, vintage drum machine kicks and neon keys, likewise sounding something like an early Solange/Dev Hynes experiment. Lyrically, Maryze’s lines hint at feeling frozen by circumstance, yet anticipating the eventual thaw.
“I wrote this song when I was feeling both frustrated about wasting time, and also completely unable to motivate myself in the pandemic,” Maryze explains in a statement. “I was kicking myself while I was down, which obviously isn’t helpful to get back up. For some reason, even if the lyrics are pretty depressing, the song came out upbeat and dancey.”
“Too Late” follows last fall’s “Squelettes” collaboration with Backxwash and Margo, and precedes a to-be-detailed full-length release coming later this year through Hot Tramp.