Q&A: Animal Collective's Brian Weitz and ex-NHLer Boyd Devereaux on hockey and music

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Saturday February 18th, 2017

Boyd Devereaux is a retired NHL player, originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 1996. In addition to the Oilers, he played for Detroit (where he won a Stanley Cup in 2002), Phoenix and Toronto. And during his NHL career, he and business partner Joe Greenwald also founded Elevation Recordings, a record label devoted to heavy psych rock and experimental metal. 

I first heard about Boyd when he won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings. But it wasn’t until a few years later that someone in the music community asked if I’d heard of a hockey player that supposedly liked the legendary Michigan noise band Wolf Eyes. I hadn’t, so I set out to track the player down. I eventually read about Boyd and Elevation in Arthur magazine and realized it must be him. 

As a big hockey fan, I was excited to find a former player with interests so close to my own. We recently spoke about his parallel experiences as an NHL player and deep music fan, his time running Elevation Recordings, and his new project, Waking Sound Productions, in which he attempts to bring his love of old skateboarding videos to hockey. 

Brian Weitz (BW): Hi Boyd.

Boyd Devereaux (BD): Hey Brian, how’s Calgary?

BW: So far, so good. We just rolled in. It was an all-night drive through the Rockies and Banff National Park, which I’d never seen before. 

BD: Were you actually able to see anything or was it dark?

BW: I woke up at 9:00 AM and saw a good six hours of the Rockies. It was gorgeous.

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BD: Back when I was with the Oilers we used to go to Banff for the All-Star break. Then during the first All-Star break after I went to Detroit, I was homesick for the west, so my girlfriend—now my wife—and I flew to Calgary and drove to Banff for three days. It was an amazing, epic drive. 

BW: A Canadian girl I know used to talk a lot about Canada’s parks and tell me how much Americans were missing when we hiked the Appalachian Trail and stopped at our own border. 

BD: Yeah, it’s a treasure, and it’s important to keep these places protected. They can never be replicated. 

BW: I agree. I didn’t know you were interested in conservation too. That’s actually what I used to do before I was a full time musician. 

BD: I just read an article the other day about a group of scientists and filmmakers devoted to getting people more in touch with the Great Lakes. Edward Burtynsky is involved. He’s a photographer that does amazing eagle eye views of delta basins. There is no other motive beyond getting people in tune with how unique and in need of protection the Great Lakes are. I have a cottage on Lake Huron, so I’m biased. But we take the Great Lakes for granted because they’re so close by and they have that industrial past, but they’re so important.

BW: Where are you now? Are you in Toronto?

BD: I live in Waterloo. It’s an hour west of Toronto. 

BW: I think I’ve heard of it. Looking at the map while on tour in Canada, I see names like Kamloops, Medicine Hat and Red Deer, and I think to myself, “There’s a junior team there, and a junior team there.”

BD: Well it’s Kitchener-Waterloo. 

BW: I know Kitchener. I think Mike Richards played there.

BD: Yeah, the Rangers! That’s where I played junior hockey. My wife’s from here, and we always figured we’d settle here. 

BW: Well junior hockey is where I get curious about your evolution as a music fan. So a lot of adolescents make a choice and decide if they’re going to be into sports or the arts, and it’s often said that professional athletes are monomaniacal about playing their sport and the pursuit of a professional career. I kind of assume you were like that with junior hockey, but was music always there as well? Did you have the Nirvana moment like a lot of people our age?

BD: Yeah, of course. I’ve never actually thought about that decision. This may be stereotyping, but maybe it’s different in the States, where things are more cliquey. My high school experience was never like that, at least from my perspective. Maybe it was different for someone in a different group, but to me it was never broken down into music kids and jocks. It was pretty blurred. I never felt like I had to choose one group or the other.

BW: I had a similar experience actually.

BD: Music was always there. My dad grew up around it and was a guitar player. He loved the blues, and he always had Stevie Ray Vaughan and Cream on the stereo. From a young age, I always had an emotional reaction to songs I liked on the radio. And then coming up into high school was a pretty great time. I mean, Nirvana . . . I remember waiting for the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video to come on TV all the time, back when you had to actually wait for that type of thing. 

BW: Oh yeah, I remember the first time I saw it.

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BD: I remember turning up the TV and losing my mind to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and all the grunge bands. I went to high school and played Junior B in Stratford, Ont., where I was billeting away. I met friends who were really into music, and I’m still buddies with them to this day. I had my hockey teammates, which were some of my best friends, but my friends in high school were music guys. They were athletes too, but they were also guitar players like me. Beyond grunge, we were into Tool, and then The Prodigy, and The Chemical Brothers started to come around. We started going to festivals.

BW: You could do things like that? Now maybe I’m stereotyping, but I always assumed people keep a close eye on junior hockey players, especially if you’re projected to go to the NHL. Hearing you say you went to festivals . . . like I know what I did at festivals when I was a teenager.

BD: Well, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I was only in Junior B in Stratford. The first show I ever saw was a Canadian band called The Tea Party. I remember there was a radio festival called Edge Fest that was more centered on Canadian bands, and I had a blast at that. But once I was on to Major Junior A in Kitchener, it got more serious and reserved, especially once the fall hit. The pressure began and focus had to intensify. You always say, “I want to be an NHL player,” but I was a little naïve, maybe. I was always good for my age, but the NHL? Then all of a sudden in Junior B, I read an article in The Hockey News that projected who might go first overall in two years time. I wasn’t even aware people were watching my games, but this article listed five prospects, and I was one of them. I thought, “Holy cow this is actually closer than I thought.” At that point, when fall hit, it was hockey all the time, and I only went to concerts with my old music buddies in the off-season. 

BW: I follow the Philadelphia Flyers pretty closely and often know where their prospects are playing junior hockey. When we go through a town, I have our manager reach out to the local arena and offer guest spots to people affiliated with the team. I’ve yet to have any takers. I figure there is no way they’re going to come to a show. As you said, whether they’re fans or not, they just seem too busy.

BD: Ha, oh no! So you reach out to the Philly prospects in particular?

BW: It’s actually more of a general thing. I’m basically hoping I’ll catch some Animal Collective fan on the way up and then through the next 20 years of his career, I’ll get free tickets. 

BD: Perfect! That’s a good plan.

BW: Yeah, I think so. So when did you start getting into heavier music? Your record label (Elevation Recordings) has some fairly heavy and obscure artists, and not everyone our age who grew up listening to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden goes on to know about bands like Black Mountain, Nadja and Residual Echoes.

BD: I guess Zeppelin was the base, and like I said, in high school my buddies and I were into Tool. I also liked Prodigy and Wu-Tang Clan, music with aggressive beats. I ran Elevation with my buddy Joe Greenwald, and he turned me onto Dead Meadow. I saw them play when they were touring the Shivering Kings record. That got me on the stoner rock and heavy psych route, and then I got turned onto the band High On Fire.  I remember really going down the rabbit hole during the lockout year in 2004–05 when I was in Phoenix. I got Mastodon’s Leviathan, initially just because the cover art was amazing. I thought that record was so brilliant because all of the imagery and lyrics had to do with Moby Dick. Then doom metal and black metal really got a hold of me. There’s a lot of melody and feeling, and since I’m a guitar player, I love the way they achieve the guitar tones. I read some article that said most of it can be played with just a hammer and a balled up fist, but most of the bands that do it well are able to achieve this heavy tone that separates them from other bands.  My favorite bands are the ones that are able to achieve something special within something that seems kind of limited. Then around the time we started the label, I got into experimental and ambient records. That journey and progression is what I love about music. 

BW: You once mentioned to me you read Arthur. That was a great magazine.

BD: Yeah, Arthur and Skyscraper, which are now defunct. I also read Mojo for a lot of years. I love Rock and Rolla out of the UK. It’s probably my favorite magazine. So I got led from one thing into the next. I got really into post-rock, even before the heavier stuff. Bands like Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Ros and Godspeed You Black Emperor. Then I found Neurosis and Mono and bands with heavier instrumental passages that could really take your mind on a journey. I definitely remember the first time I heard Nadja, and it was just layers upon layers of heaviness. There was so much going on underneath. He would build these symphonies out of processed guitars. I was a big fan right from the get-go, and he was our first release for Elevation.

BW: Did you introduce yourself as an NHL player? When we first toured Canada in 2003 I was super excited because in America, hockey fans aren’t very common. So we came up here and I was excited to get nerdy with people and do things like visit the Hockey Hall of Fame. We would play these DIY shows and crash on someone’s floor at the end of the night, and I would ask if they liked hockey. I remember one guy in Montreal said, “No man. Hockey players are the jocks up here. They beat us up.” So when you approached people about putting out the records, how did they react?

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BD: Well Joe reached out to Nadja and Residual Echoes, which were our first two releases. I didn’t really know a lot of working musicians, so I never went into a situation assuming they were hockey fans. It wasn’t something I immediately put out on the table. It would come along in the conversation eventually, like when someone would ask me, “So what do you do otherwise?” For the most part, it was a surprising thing to a lot of the bands. A lot of people were almost apologetic like, “Sorry, I don’t watch hockey,” and I’d say, “Whatever, that’s fine.” But having said that, a lot of guys were really into it and excited to ask me about the game. You know this yourself. You’re traveling, you’re in arenas, you’re killing time, etc. It always seemed to be quite easy to strike up conversations and have things in common with musicians.

BW: When we have a lot of time to kill, we go find a record store, or if we have a night off, we might see if another band we know is playing in town. When you were traveling, was music part of your daily experience?

BD: Yeah, I always bought a lot of CDs, but then I started buying a lot of vinyl during the lockout year, so in the latter part of my career, I discovered some great record shops. If we got into town the day before a game, I’d jump in a cab after practice and hit up a record store. I went to Reckless Records in Chicago, and Relapse in Philly. And it was rare, but if I was on the road, and there was a show, I would go catch a bit of it. The thing is you have to get to bed at a decent time. I saw Roni Size and Represent in Vancouver once. I was there in my suit at a drum and bass show! Again, there was a lot of downtime, so I would always have a couple music magazines and CDs I was saving for a road trip. I just loved that time, staring out the window with the headphones on. I still love any sort of road trip where I can drive for a while and put the tunes on. To find that much time to just listen to music . . . It’s harder to come by now.

BW: Would you bring teammates with you to the record shops? How much of your music world did you share with people? I’ve heard the stereotype that hockey players—and this might not apply to your playing days—just like Drake and country music, and that’s kind of it.

BD: I’d be curious to see what plays in the locker room nowadays. Back when I played we definitely used music to pump us up, so it was often heavier stuff. That would’ve been consistent with the times because alternative rock was more popular. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, though I love Drake. Anyway, I knew the music I liked was strange, or that it might seem strange to my teammates. Sometimes they would ask what I was listening to, and I would explain it to anyone who was curious. I wasn’t embarrassed about it by any means. I think there were plenty of guys who had an interest in music, but maybe just didn’t delve into it as deeply as I did. 

BW: It’s like the flipside of my life where I’m the strange hockey loner on tour. We were in Vancouver and I watched the Canada-Europe World Cup game on a TV underneath the stage with the local guys who worked at the venue. I don’t think my band saw me for three hours. 

BD: Ha, that’s great! Everyone knew it was an interest of mine, but I didn’t have a desire to say, “Hey, check this out,” unless I had a real idea that someone might be interested. Sometimes I made mixes for guys. Stevie Yzerman had a beautiful cottage up in the Muskokahs, so I made him an Americana mix that I thought he’d enjoy out on his deck. Artists like Drive By Truckers and Ryan Adams. Sean Avery loved music, too, so we had some good times. 

BW: He came to an Animal Collective show once.

BD: Aves did?

BW: Yeah, he knew a friend of ours, and they came backstage. My friend jokingly came into the room first to ask my permission, and I said, “No way he’s on the Rangers!” I was 100% kidding, but by the time I opened the door to say it was a joke, Avery had taken off. I honestly don’t know how much he wanted to say hi because the amount of time in between saying no and saying I was kidding was about 10 seconds. But if you’re still friends with him, and he even remembers, tell him I’m sorry. When you played in Detroit, did you get into the noise scene around Michigan? Is it true you’re a Wolf Eyes fan?

BD: I totally got into Wolf Eyes. They had the best track names. The time when I played in Detroit was amazing. That was the garage rock revival when bands like The White Stripes and The Strokes were getting popular. I remember there was this great little venue called the Lager House in Detroit, and that’s where we saw that Dead Meadow show. I also saw Constantines and The Hives. I saw The Strokes around the time they put out Is This It, at St. Andrews Hall. I spent a lot of time in places like Magic Stick, St. Andrews Hall and the Lager House. It’s just a great music town. It was special to me to play hockey in Detroit during that time while going to these great, grimy holes in the wall and seeing so many great bands. And the people in Detroit really clued you into the local music history and bands like MC5 and The Stooges.

BW: Did you ever hear SRC? They’re a Detroit band from the late 60’s, and not as well known as The Stooges or MC5, but they’re amazing. I think I like them more actually.

BD: Oh wow. SRC?

BW: It’s a different thing than The Stooges, but it’s great.

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BD: Cool. Yeah I saw a ton of great shows in Detroit. Once The Strokes and The White Stripes were on tour and played in Detroit. The shows were happening at bigger venues and The Strokes usually headlined, but they did a secret show in Detroit, where they switched the order. When The Strokes opened the show that night, the crowd went crazy. I had seen them before, but I hadn’t seen The White Stripes at that point and thought, “Jeez, I’d be a little nervous if I was Jack and had to follow this.” Then Jack stepped out there and absolutely slayed. That was a big first impression of The White Stripes. I came to love that band Death from Detroit too. Do you know them?

BW: Yeah we listen to a Death song every night in the dressing room before we go on stage.

BD: Nice! Detroit just treated me so well. I met so many cool people and saw so many great shows. I love that town.

BW: Did you do anything music-related with the Stanley Cup when you won it in 2002?

BD: We had a great team in Detroit back then. It was a really special time in my life—being able to play with such amazing guys. It takes a lot to win a Cup, but we had luck, and we stayed healthy. The parties afterwards were amazing. Bob—you know, Kid Rock—was around a lot. Say what you will, but he was always great to me personally. He knew I played guitar, so if we were at a bar, he would always go up on stage and try to get me up there with him, even if it was just an open mic night. After we won the Cup, he rented out a small bar and had a party for our family and friends. He was dating Pam Anderson at the time so she was there too. It was a bizarre and crazy night. Champagne was flying everywhere. Kid Rock’s 11-piece band was on stage, and I got up there on guitar and played Black Sabbath. I launched into “Paranoid” and the band jumped right in with me, which I thought was pretty cool. But that was it as far as anything music-related in the immediate aftermath of winning it. When I had the Cup to myself for a couple days, I had my high school buddy’s band play a couple of the parties.

Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images/NHLI

BW: My son will want me to ask, did you eat cereal out of the Cup?

BD: Oh, yeah, I definitely did cereal. You gotta. That’s the fun part. We had the Cup for a full 48 hours and barely slept a wink. I handed it off to the Cup keeper at 4 a.m., and as he left for the airport I let my imagination run wild about what band I would get to play a party the next time I won the Cup. But nope, it doesn’t happen like that, right? It never happened again. 

BW: If it had happened again, what band would have played?

BD: I remember having ideas about My Morning Jacket playing because they were into an old hockey video game. 

BW: Like Blades of Steel

BD: Yeah, some super old game like that. It was on their website back then. Anyway, you think these outrageous ideas, but I was lucky to get the Cup once. It was an amazing experience. Not a lot of guys get to experience it, so I definitely count my lucky stars to have won it, and in such a cool town like Detroit too.

BW: Let’s talk about what you’re doing now. I know you’re doing something with film. Is Elevation on hiatus or still going?

BD: The label is on hiatus. It was a creative outlet and a labor of love for us. Joe was working for Capitol Records when we started Elevation. He wanted to put out records that were more in tune with his own interests. Eventually his work got too crazy, and I went to play hockey in Europe, so we called it off back in 2009 or ’10. I always think I’ll bring it out of hiatus and drop a 7”, but it’s basically done. I’m very proud of what we accomplished, and all of it was a thrill—working with bands on artwork; sending materials to the plant; putting the ads together; writing up the one sheets; sending CDs to magazines and being nervous to read the review, and then being so psyched when the records got great reviews. It was an exciting ride. Then when I retired, I had this idea inspired by a lot of the post-rock I was listening to. I skateboarded when I was a kid and was very much into skateboard and snowboard films.

BW: Animal Collective talked about classic skate videos on the bus just last night. We’ve given our music to skaters that want to use it in their video parts.

BD: Oh, right on. The music is such a huge part of it. It adds to the emotional content of that skater’s part, and I always loved that aspect. I had ideas about trying to use music to translate the aesthetic of skate and snowboard videos to hockey videos in order to highlight the skill of the players. I wanted to show the beauty of the game in a different way. I naively charged ahead, formed a production company and started learning. Soon I was flying to New York to pitch ideas to the NHL. It’s kept me busy and kept me in the rinks while talking to hockey guys in a different way. We actually did some skateboard work for Dickies, and we’ve done some work for Hockey Canada, the NHLPA and the Maple Leafs. 

BW: Do you pick the music if you’re focusing on a part for a player, or do you consult the player?

BD: Oh no, I do it (laughs). It’s all about the music, and that’s always up to me. I reach out to the bands and publishers to license the songs. All the projects we’ve done are very different in nature, but the music is the core. That was the main purpose behind the whole idea. We’ve used some great music, and I’m proud of the body of work and what we’ve managed to accomplish so far. I don’t think the overall grand vision has been achieved, but hopefully we’ll get there someday.

BW: Well keep going. If you need an Animal Collective song, let me know.

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