When I connect with Cuff The Duke vocalist Wayne Petti over the phone, he is sounding incredibly relaxed and content. Could the atmosphere surrounding the Toronto band’s excellent new record Way Down Here be carrying over to the band member’s lives even outside the band? Possibly so.
Over the past seven years, Cuff The Duke has been forging a dedicated fan base throughout the country with their roots-rock sound. And though you might be quicker to lump them in with a band such as Blue Rodeo (with whom they have toured in the past), they are equally at home on concert bills with other Canadian bands such as Sloan and The Weakerthans. The group’s sound is versatile and rather powerful in the live setting which is ultimately what affords them the opportunity to play with such a wide swath of bands.
For Way Down Here, their fourth record, the group decamped to the “middle of nowhere” to the surroundings of Blue Rodeo guitarist-vocalist Greg Keelor’s camp. With Keelor in the producer’s chair, Petti notes that his involvement in the record was a relaxed but comfortable experience.
“Greg’s approach was really suited to how we wanted to make the record,” Petti explains. “The making of this record was more about capturing a vibe, having fun and not overanalyzing anything.”
Petti acknowledges that Keelor’s studio is an all-analogue studio which meant the group recorded straight to one-inch tape and not onto a computer’s hard drive.
“The record was the most organic record it could have been. There are a few imperfections with the final product but in the end, we were fine with them. Getting the vibe of our surroundings was a far more important feature than capturing the perfect take of a track.”
A first for the band during the creation of their new record was the fact that they skirted pre-production altogether, a process most bands use to bring forward song ideas for refinement prior to starting the actual recording process.
“We didn’t play any of these songs until we got to Greg’s farm,” Petti says. “We would more or less hang out, share song ideas and Greg would pop in and see how we were doing and contribute his ideas to the song arrangements where he felt they were needed.”
Petti admits that the laid-back atmosphere of Keelor’s farm indirectly influenced the overall finished product:
“We made this record in the middle of winter when most people are hibernating. While I think there is still a fair amount of rocking moments on this new record, being on his farm really allowed us to explore a more chilled-out vibe than what we had done in the past.
“Our rehearsal space in Toronto is a shared space so when we would work out song ideas there, the songs would almost inherently be on the louder end of the spectrum because we had to compete with three heavy metal bands playing in adjacent rooms just to hear ourselves.
“Being on Greg’s farm removed that need for us to create loud songs,” says Petti.
Petti admits that it’s tough to step back and see how the band had grown over the course of their four records but admits that signs of growth are definitely there. “Sometimes I think we can’t always see the forest for the trees. Being in the thick of the band, I would say that our band and life experiences have changed us as people and that it is probably being reflected in our songs.
“As basic as it sounds, we would like to think that we’re continuing to grow and will continue to get better as time passes.”
Catch Cuff The Duke live when they play in Fredericton on Halloween Night Saturday October 31 at the Capital.