Jeff Cancade has explored many musical paths on a winding journey towards self-discovery. Whether singing painfully relatable lyrics with their solo project Devours, or channelling a glamorous, hyper-confident persona with The Golden Age of Wrestling, embodying these characters allows the Vancouver-based artist to express their true feelings. They describe their 2021 album, Escape from Planet Devours, fusing nostalgic pop culture references with pitch black humour and forward thinking electronic production, as “hyperpop with humanity.”
“When I lost my hair and went bald, I realised that I looked like an alien,” says Cancade. “I created this character of Devours as a ‘gaylien,’ and Planet Devours as a gay utopia where men can feel free to act feminine and be themselves. PC Music had gained a lot of traction, so I wanted to combine its elements of overtly queer, extreme sounding pop with lyrics about self-loathing, body dysmorphia and my honest experiences as a gay man.”
Growing up in Nanaimo, B.C., Cancade wrote their first songs as a MuchMusic obsessed pre-teen, taking lessons with the synthesizer that they still use today. After moving to Montreal in the early 2010s, they began blogging about music before their classical piano training led to jobs composing soundtracks for documentaries, podcasts and indie video games. However, it wasn’t until Cancade returned to Vancouver that they came out of the closet, writing about their experiences on Devours’ debut album, Late Bloomer.
“In 2014, I hit 30 and had this huge crisis moment,” Cancade says. “I hadn’t gotten anywhere with music, but clearly still cared a lot about it.” Haunted by their experiences in Montreal, where none of their former projects had found an audience, they decided to reinvent themselves. “I don’t think I was seen as cool because I didn’t look the part and my music wasn’t there yet,” Cancade says. “It was an amazing time, but also really painful to learn what it was like to be outside of what people care about.”
This vulnerable admission of weakness is precisely what makes Cancade stand out in a sea of social media influencers projecting happiness and success at all times. Looking back to their childhood, they recall the formative experience of discovering fitness DVDs at their local video store. “I grew up really skinny and physically small,” they explain. “Back then, I couldn’t tell if I was sexually attracted to these muscular men, or if I just wanted to be them.” Sadly, after dressing in flamboyant women’s clothing in grades 6 and 7, Cancade became scared of physical retaliation from their peers and attempted to blend in with their high school classmates instead.
“I’ve been rewatching a lot of movies from the ’90s lately, and almost every single one of them has the f-slur,” Cancade says. “That’s why I hated myself so much growing up. Being gay was the butt of all jokes and this huge insult thrown at people, so I was terrified.” When they think about the differences for queer kids today, Cancade sees a lot of power in young people’s openness of expression through speech and clothing. “I wish I could have had that experience, because who knows what my life would be like if I had that many years to develop myself. I was trying to go in the opposite direction. Denial is powerful as fuck!”
During a recent Devours performance at Vancouver venue The Lido, Cancade brought a crowd onto the dancefloor, despite the fact that it was a Tuesday. Looking like a beefy Bob Hoskins in corpse paint, they performed the intricate arrangements of their recordings with a jolt of energy and infectious charisma. After hiding on the sidelines for so many years, Cancade describes the sense of release they experienced during early live shows as feeling “like a tiger that had been locked in a cage.”
However, despite landing on the cover of Vancouver alt-monthly Discorder in 2019 and being booked to play the indie music and culture festival Music Waste, they knew their work to establish themselves was far from over. “Vancouver is the type of city where you need to engage with the community, know the history and collaborate with other musicians,” says Cancade. “No one here is dazzled if you’ve been in a magazine. Like any big city, you need some sort of roots, and nothing happens overnight.”
After playing nearly 150 local shows since 2015, Cancade has put in their 10,000 hours to become a beloved cult figure in Western Canada. This fall alone, they have released three collaborative singles including a “dark S&M club banger” remix for Edmonton’s Wares, plus songs with Vancouver’s Total Chroma and veteran Mint Records artist Kellarissa. “Larissa and I have a long history,” explains Cancade. “She wrote the lyrics and the verse melodies, and I produced the song and came up with the chorus. It felt like a real 50/50 collaboration.”
Even with these successes under their belt, Cancade admits to feeling challenged by the Vancouver music scene. They describe the attitude of many local artists and audience members as “superficial, especially for people getting into it at an older age.” In a typically heartfelt post on Facebook, Cancade wrote about how this affected them during the release of their latest album: “With Escape from Planet Devours, I am facing my biggest battle of all—depression, isolation and the hopelessness that comes from plateauing in Vancouver and realising that the grind never really ends for independent artists.”
“The whole concept of that album was a world that I created that was also destroying me,” they explain. “I was so obsessed with Devours that it became kind of toxic, and that’s why I created The Golden Age of Wrestling. I needed another project to remind myself how much I love making music.” Hiding their face behind a golden veil, Cancade’s “glambient” alter-ego adds “flair and ego” to the typically faceless instrumental genre. “For people who watch wrestling, I’m definitely a heel,” they laugh.
As the Planet Devours era comes to an end and they prepare for their next otherworldly reinvention, Cancade continues to ask themselves the important existential questions. “Do I want to travel? Do I want to record music for other people? Do I want it to be a hobby or a profession?” they ponder. “At this point in my life it feels like everything is a passion project because I can’t really make money with anything. But I’m still doing it, so I clearly love it!”