Toronto Maple Leafs’ center and Elevation label honcho Boyd Devereaux talks to Jay Somerset about adding more heaviness to the soundtrack at your local hockey rink.
Professional hockey players can usually be to divided into two groups when it comes to music: There’s the good ol’ boys, usually from small-town Canada, who pump Toby Keith in their Sirius-installed Ford F150 pickups; and then there’s the classic rawkers who never tire of the arena anthems that spark to life between referee whistles—“Get Ready for This” by 2 Unlimited, Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and, unfortunately, Glenn Frey’s “The Heat is On.”
And then there’s Boyd Devereaux: “Slow-motion, epic sounds get me going—the heavier, the better,” says Devereaux, 30, a clean-cut father of two who, after 10 years in the National Hockey League, has played more than 600 games, scored 61 goals and made 107 assists for teams including the Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, Detroit Red Wings—where he helped win the Stanley Cup, in 2002—and, most recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Last season, I was pumping Boris a lot, especially right before a game, on my way to the rink.”
Devereaux’s taste in music goes beyond appreciation; he also runs Elevation Recordings (company tagline: “Exploring the Outer Reaches of Your Inner Mind”), alongside ex-Dirtbomb and Third Gear Records founder, Joe Greenwald. The two-man, small-press label has released limited runs of albums including the doom/drone Nadja EP Guilted By The Sun, Residual Echoes’ Firsts EP, Blood Meridian’s Liquidate Paris and Yes Maybe No by Aussie post-rockers Laura.
Most recently, Elevation put out what Devereaux is billing “our heaviest record to date” by Toronto unknowns Orn: a three-piece that recently opened for Boris in Toronto. “The record’s very low and slow, reaching into parts where it’s almost hypnotic, where it’s the same repetitive riff but with a crescendo within the same riff,” he says, sounding nothing like the typical between-period athlete-speak on TV. “Of course you still end up banging your head for 10 minutes.”
Devereaux first met Greenwald backstage at a Pearl Jam show in Detroit after signing with the Red Wings. “[Red Wings defenseman] Chris Chelios is good friends with Eddie Vedder, so we got to chat with the band in their dressing room,” says Devereaux, almost sheepishly—after all, he was meeting Pearl Jam, not Boris. “It was Greenwald who set up the band-team meeting.”
“I was waiting outside the dressing room and less than a minute later, out walks this guy who looked 14 years old,” says Greenwald, who is now artist services director at Capitol Records. “I asked him if he was a Pearl Jam fan and he said, ‘Sorta.’ We ended up chatting about other music and realized we were into further-reaching sounds.”
While both Greenwald and Devereaux had well-paying day jobs, they both yearned for a creative outlet; in this case, releasing limited-edition recordings by (mainly) heavy, underground artists. “We’re not a full-service label that develops bands, does radio promotions, advertising,” says Greenwald. “We work project to project, always pushing boundaries, so that people will see our logo and just buy the record because they know it will be interesting. That’s the greatest testament of a company: your logo stands for quality.”
Elevation’s artist-trumps-all philosophy lured in Nadja, which could have released their album on a more established label—larger distribution; more cash—but, explains Nadja’s Aidan Baker, there seemed to be “a desire to be ‘truer’ to the music and the musicians,” he says.
Baker’s working on a new project for the label, called Whisper Room: a trio featuring Baker on guitar, Neil Wiernik on laptop and bass and Jakob Thiesen (of the Airfields) on drums. Unlike Nadja records, this “is more electronic and ambient; a mix of Kranky bands like Pan American and Labraford and dubby, krautrock-ish rhythms like Can and Neu!,” says Baker.
Elevation Recordings operates “under the touch-and-go philosophy,” says Greenwald. “Boyd and I put up the money to press and distribute the record, and then once we break even, we split the profits evenly with the band. Not that we’ve seen a single penny yet, but Elevation is more a labour of love.” Of course, Devereaux’s $600,000 hockey salary helps relieve any financial tension.
Growing up in tiny Seaforth, Ontario, Devereaux was like any other Ontario kid, in love with hockey and classic rock. “Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the older sounds,” he says. Then the flannel-clad ’90s hit and Devereaux changed chords to grunge music and the Ontario Hockey League. In 1997, he helped Team Canada win the World Junior Hockey Championships—a tournament that saw two Devereaux game-winning goals, including one in the final match against the U.S.
A year earlier, Devereaux entered the NHL as Edmonton Oilers’ first draft pick, sixth overall. The next four years were a bit of a struggle as he shifted back and forth from the NHL to the Ontario Hockey League before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings in 2000. Things finally clicked and in 2002, the left-shooting centre helped the Wings win the Stanley Cup, setting career highs in games played (79) and goals (nine). After four seasons with the Wings, Devereaux was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, in 2005. After one year he was traded to the Leafs. This season, after playing a few games with the Leafs, Devereaux was traded down to farm club Toronto Marlies, with the possibility of being traded to another NHL team.
“It’s a little odd,” says Devereaux sheepishly, seemingly uncomfortable talking about his sports stardom. “I don’t come out and say, ‘Hey, I play hockey in the NHL. It might come up in conversation, and they might think it’s cool but they can also see that I’m excited about the music.”
“Experimental music and hockey is not something one usually thinks of together,” adds Baker.
Back in 2005, when Devereaux was playing for Phoenix, he caught an intimate record store gig by Black Mountain. The band’s hotel plans had fallen through, so they asked the crowd of 10 if anyone could put them up for the night. Ever the polite Canadian boy, Devereaux stepped forward and offered up his pad. “It was a nice place in the hills, with a pool,” recounts Black Mountain bassist and Blood Meridian frontman, Matt Camirand. “Then Stephen noticed a picture of Devereaux standing with the Stanley Cup and asked, ‘Do you play hockey?’”
Just as he keeps his day job quiet when out watching bands, Devereaux doesn’t push his music in the locker room. “It might alarm someone who hasn’t heard anything like it; their reaction would likely be, ‘What the hell is this!?’” he says. That said, Devereaux would like to take a stab at getting the fans going with some intense music. “The NHL could do a better job when it comes to game-time music and promotion,” he adds. “I’d like a hand in that, actually.”
In the meantime, Devereaux and Greenwald are busy putting out records, including upcoming albums from Michigan’s His Name is Alive, Montreal’s This Quiet Army and Whisper Room. There’s also talk of a possible Elevation release from those prolific Finns, Circle. And then there’s Devereaux himself playing a single organ chord on “Time Can Be Overcome” on the Constantines’ new album Kensington Heights recorded “on the night of a 60 home-ice loss,” recounts Constantines bassist Dallas Wehrle. “He was really revved up.”
Forget “We are the Champions.” Here’s Boyd Devereaux’s get-pumped playlist.
Torche — “Across the Shields”
“Heavy and melodic, the perfect three-minute banger.”
Cheap Time — “People Talk”
“Super catchy, amazing chorus; my daughters love dancing around to this one.”
Boris — “Akuma No Uta”
“So heavy and punishing, this song never fails to fire me up.”
Constantines — “Working Fulltime”
“Chugging riffs and a great shout-along chorus.”
Agalloch — “Not Unlike the Waves”
“The beginning of this song is so epic; usually the last thing I play pulling into the rink on game day.”