A day after Ash Wednesday, Jeff Cancade took to the stage at Vancouver’s Static Jupiter donning an inverted cross on his forehead as he ushered in the release of his new album, Iconoclast.
With his sophomore release, the defiantly queer indie synth-pop artist, who performs under the name Devours, confronts insecurities, expectations around masculinity and, yes, his split from religion.
“These songs are songs that I felt like I needed to write when I was a teenager and I never did,” Cancade says.
Now 34, he was slow to both the music scene and the queer community – a delayed emergence from his shell he first addressed on his 2016 debut Late Bloomer. While that release included references to coming out, it was more of a joyous, dance-oriented affair. Cancade had performed with glittered eyebrows, a rainbow blouse, a silver, shoulder-padded jacket and Umbro shorts.
Iconoclast, released March 8 on Artoffact Records, is darker, and his religious garb, including a thrift-shop black and white gown, reflects that.
“No man will ever tame me, no god will ever break me, no drug will ever claim me, no scene will ever change me, no god will ever shame me,” he sings on the title track.
“As a gay person we grow up hearing straight love songs. … This was an active push away from the mainstream and me being like, you know what, I’m going to write really, really gay songs and that’s it and it’s fine.”
Behind it all is a punk, DIY aesthetic. But in a city dominated by guitar groups such as Jock Tears, Douse and Swim Team, his electronic-pop style is an anomaly. “I don’t fit in the scene at all. It’s totally insane to me that I’ve gotten anywhere in Vancouver,” Cancade says. Still, he often finds himself sharing billing with those very same bands as he carves out his niche.
He brushes aside eighties pop comparisons, saying he’s influenced by all things nineties: He points to artists including Korn, Trent Reznor and Britney Spears; the beats bring to mind Nintendo games; there’s even a nod on opening track Curmudgeon to finding a man “who’s willing to watch Basic Instinct and Candyman on VHS.”
Cancade also felt that, in the current moment, it was necessary to explore the place of masculinity in society. “I think it’s important to be open and vulnerable and to try and have a progressive mindset moving forward of what is being a man?”
In the lead-up to the album’s release, he addressed his own struggles with his body image, sharing a photo on social media of his hairy back and recalling a period when he “pretended that I didn't like swimming so that I wouldn't have to show my body in public.”
It’s something he never thought he’d reveal so publicly: “That post was 34 years in the making,” he says. Cancade soon heard from a few friends who said they were also struggling with their body image. “Guys don’t talk about it and I want that to change.”
Over the past few years, Cancade has seen what he calls Vancouver’s “very straight music scene” slowly moving the needle toward inclusivity and representation.
His hand-picked all-LGBTQ lineup for the Iconoclast release show featured such fellow solo acts as Kellarissa.
After the Vancouver show, Cancade hit the road for a handful of dates. The first stop was his hometown of Nanaimo; his parents and some of their religious family friends were in attendance. “I had to dig deep,” Cancade says, adding that he wasn’t sure how they would react to him singing about gay sex and not-so-subtly addressing his departure from religion.
“They didn’t buy the album,” he says with a chuckle, “but they were supportive.”
Devours plays Red Gate Arts Society in Vancouver on April 13.