Ontario alt-country quartet Cuff the Duke are coming to town, opening for Blue Rodeo at Mile One on February 22. Last fall, Cuff the Duke’s album Sidelines of the City was released on Hardwood records.
Elling Lien spoke with the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist Wayne Petti.
So you’re coming out here!
We are, finally.
Will it be your first time?
Yes, it will be. We’ve been ‘out east’ but never to the real east. [laugh]
…Never been to the far east.
Well there’s a first time for everything.
We’re all pretty pumped about it. We have literally saved the best for last, because this is the last capital city that we have yet to get to, and that includes Yellowknife and Whitehorse… Oh! I guess except for Iqaluit. We haven’t been there.
So you’re not as hard core as the White Stripes, say.
Yeah, exactly. They’re rich. But it’s kind of sad that they beat us to it. …But we’re doin’ it!
It’s really neat you guys are touring with Blue Rodeo.
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. It’s pretty surreal. We’re all big fans, and I grew up listening to them. Playing all these huge venues is pretty crazy. [laugh]
How is it to be playing the huge venues?
They’re a lot of fun to play, but they’re kind of different than what we’re used to. When you’re opening for somebody, most of the people in the crowd don’t know who you are, so it’s easier when you do that in smaller venues. But when you’re playing to so many new people, it’s been more of a challenge.
It’s been going over really well though.
It’s funny that you’re touring with Blue Rodeo, because there have been a lot of comparisons between you and them. Search for “the new blue rodeo” in Google and a number of references to Cuff the Duke pop up.
Oh really! That’s funny. I’ll have to tell them that. [laugh] “We’re taking over. Let’s just switch.”
One article actually asked “I wonder if Blue Rodeo knows the guys ready to replace them are the ones they’re chumming around with on this tour?” [laugh]
Playing the bigger venues, is there anything you have to do differently?
It’s harder to guage how well you’re connecting to the audience — how well it’s going over — because it’s just so many people. It’s not as intimate. But I don’t think we do anything different, we just do what we do.
You’re the only opening band, is that right?
Yep, yep. Just us and then them. It’s a good pairing: the old and the new, apparently. [laugh]
According to Google.
Yeah. What does Google know?
Your album, Sidelines of the City: I’ve been reading a couple reviews and a few seem to indicate you’ve made a little bit more of a shift away from a country sound. I’m not sure exactly what they mean, but what do you think…?
Yeah, I don’t know what that means either… To me it felt like a natural continuation. There’s lots of pedal steel in this album, and a lot more acoustic guitar on this album than, say, on the last album. I guess it’s a little more pop… er… not pop but more rockin’…
People putting you in the Country Music box, or the Indie Country box… that’s happened for a number of years… How do you feel about the way people are categorizing you…?
Personally, I’m totally fine with it. I have a hard time describing what we do and what we sound like, so any time anyone else wants to do that for us, I’m fine with it. I don’t really care about the labels and what other people want to call it. Indie-country… to me, we’re just writing songs.
You guys seem to have made the right connections. Cuff the Duke is on Hardwood records [Hayden’s record label] and your solo is on Outside Records (The Sadies, Jill Barber, Billy Bragg) …How did the connection with Hardwood happen?
Hayden was a fan of our first album, and he had seen us play a couple times, and then we ended up being managed by the same company, so we got to know him a little bit. Then the management company split off, but we ended up having the same manager. A few years ago, on his previous album, Elk-Lake Serenade, we backed him on the entire tour, and we also opened. So we would open, then become his backing band. So we really got to know each other then, and he said, “you know, I’d really like to put out your next record.” So that’s how it all came into place.
You’re in excellent company, with Basia Bulat and Hayden himself.
Yeah, totally. I was glad when he [Hayden] decided to put out that album [Oh My Darling]. He was debating it, and then ultimately in the summer, he decided to do it, which is great.
I was just reading the Exclaim! interview you guys did in 2005, and it ends off with a quote from you, “Maybe we’ll be to country what the Arcade Fire are to rock n’ roll right now.” How do you feel about that now?
I don’t know. Being able to have that kind of impact on a type of music would be awesome, but I don’t know if we’re necessarily that yet. Wishful thinking at the time! [laugh]
What did you mean when you said it?
I guess we just meant that we would bring a little bit of fresh air into a genre of music that maybe a lot of people are bored with. Rock music, commercial rock, is pretty boring. I think Arcade Fire brought so much life to it that it would be an amazing accomplishment if we had a similar impact on the genre of country music. I don’t know if we would or not. That’s a pretty bold statement. We tended to be a little more bold in those days. [laugh] Now I’m just happy when there are people that come to the shows.
Well, with Blue Rodeo giving you props and an opening slot on a tour, that’s definitely going to help your cause. Have you been getting more attention because you’ve paired up with them?
Hopefully, in the next couple of months when we start playing some of the cities where we toured with them, maybe. But for now, it’s just a lot of fun to play these types of venues, large shows…
The great thing about their fans is they have really loyal fans, and they genuinely enjoy music. When they come out to a show, they’re not there because it’s a cool place to be, they’re there because they love Blue Rodeo and to see music. So they’re genuinely listening to us, and so far, they seem to be really enjoying it.
Cuff the Duke will be opening for Blue Rodeo at Mile One Centre on Friday, February 22. Tickets $38.50. Tickets available online and through the box office.