A musician from the Cowichan Valley is set to make an appearance on Saturday Night Live this weekend.
Dan Boeckner, 44, grew up in Lake Cowichan and now finds himself playing keyboards and some guitar for Arcade Fire. His Saturday Night Live appearance with the band is part of a promo tour for their new album, We.
He joined Arcade Fire in November after an invitation from frontman Win Butler who was looking to fill a vacancy. Boeckner was very familiar with the group, as they along with his other group Wolf Parade each came of age in Montreal in the early 2000s. While the two bands were in their infancy, they swapped band members a lot.
“For a while we were sharing a ton of members,” says Boeckner. “But then, essentially when the first Wolf Parade record came out and the first Arcade Fire record came out, we were like, ‘Okay, we can’t share members. It’s not going to work.’”
He stayed close and in contact with the members of Arcade Fire, while his Wolf Parade went on their separate paths. Wolf Parade has produced five albums, with three taking a spot on the Canadian and US charts.
Starting from modest means, Boeckner played guitar and bass with a friend who lived up the street in Lake Cowichan. They got together with a couple of guys in Duncan for his first band. They played their first show in Cobble Hill at a community centre. From there, the gigs kept coming and the venues got bigger.
The band played across the island, playing gigs in Courtenay, Campbell River, and even ended up in Victoria, where Boeckner says they learned maybe they needed a change of costume.
“I remember the audience making fun of what we were wearing,” says Boeckner. “We had no real context for what was cool, growing up in Lake Cowichan and Duncan. And it was pre-internet so we were just dressed like we thought cool, punk rockers dressed, and the Victoria kids weren’t having any of it.”
Wardrobe malfunctions aside, he continued to gig and found his way to the mainland and even further. He says he wouldn’t have been able to do it without such supportive parents.
“I am very privileged in that like, when I was going to high school in Cowichan Lake, my parents were absolutely okay with me spending like an entire weekend sleeping in a pool shed in Duncan to rehearse with my crappy hardcore band. So that helped. I didn’t have any resistance really from my family,” says Boeckner.
While he was on his first big tour of America, opening for Modest Mouse with his old band Atlas Strategic, he lost half of that support system. Shortly after returning from tour, his mother, who had been ill for quite some time, suddenly passed. That personal tragedy sparked the idea of making a big move.
“It all happened very, very quickly,” says Boeckner. “For years I had been on the fence about moving out east […] I made the decision to kind of put everything on music and moved out there.”
So go east he did, to Montreal. He chose the city because of cheaper rents, in combination with its closer proximity to larger markets like New York and Toronto. There he met the likes of Arcade Fire and his Wolf Parade.
When asked if he had any advice for young musicians in the Cowichan Valley hoping to make it big, his advice was short and simple.
“Leave the island. Immediately,” says Boeckner with a chuckle. “Go east as fast as you can.”
Boeckner says the move was tough on his father who remained supportive of his career choices – but of course, made time to head east to visit his son.
Dan’s father, Dave, is a clear example of a proud father. Quick to boast about the successes of his son, Dave shares many stories including about one of the biggest concerts his son ever played – when Wolf Parade opened for Arcade Fire at the Bell Centre, the arena that the Montreal Canadiens call home.
“It was where my hockey gods played. I kept trying to explain to Daniel how big of a deal it was, but he didn’t understand,” laughs Dave. “Too much time touring in America.”
Now with another tour announced, Boeckner is excited to get back on the road playing shows again.
“COVID was so rough on so many people in the arts,” says Boeckner. “When you’re a musician, I’d say 90 percent of your income is from touring, unless you’re selling hundreds of thousands of copies of a record – which nobody really is anymore.”
“So it was hard, but the other thing that was hard was not being able to be on stage. That’s been the main part of my life since my early 20s. So I’m looking forward to being on tour and performing in front of an audience.”
They are set to play a couple of songs on Saturday and if you watch, you’ll see Boeckner as one of the guitar players, but he also manning the synthesizers for the crew.
“I’ve kind of got a Rick Wakeman-esque setup where I’m just like surrounded by synths,” he says, referring to the British progressive rock pioneer who featured in bands like Yes.
As to if there are any nerves to be playing on one of the longest running and most prestigious shows in television history, he says it hasn’t hit him quite yet.
“Not yet. We’re just doing the camera blocking and rehearsals right now, but I’m sure on Saturday night when I get here, and I’m backstage, I’m going to be losing it.”