Cuff the Duke mellow out

For most bands, recording in a secluded Ontario cottage would be adream come true, but for Cuff the Duke it was a frightening experience.


For most bands, recording in a secluded Ontario cottage would be a dream come true, but for Cuff the Duke it was a frightening experience.

“It was completely petrifying,” says Wayne Petti, lead singer of the Toronto-based alt-country foursome. “We were in the middle of a farm in heart of winter, there were several storms and we were like what the hell are we doing, we can’t record mono drums the whole way!”

As you may have inferred, it wasn’t actually the relaxing cabin, which belongs to Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor that scared the band, it was the way they created their fourth album Way Down Here. Instead of recording each instrument, layering it with other sounds and meticulously plotting each song like they would in the past, they made this record in 13 days and without previously working on any tracks.

“None of us had heard each other’s songs,” says Petti. “I’d show a song in the morning, then we’d talk about it and arrange it. Greg (Keelor produced the disc) would come downstairs and he’d say play me the track. He’d give us suggestions if he had any then we’d go upstairs and lay it down.”

While the band found the experience a bit bewildering, it was also the freest they’ve felt in a long time.

“It was so liberating,” Petti reveals. “This is how CCR did it and those were great records. It was so refreshing as a musician. This separates the men from the boys — either we got or we don’t.”

Fortunately, the new approach worked. Way Down Here is easily the band’s best album since their 2002 debut. It’s also their quietest disc, with their songs sounding more like laid back CSNY than the rollicking country pop they’ve mastered in the past.

The softer sound wasn’t planned. If anything, Petti thought Cuff the Duke’s last disc was their mellow record.

“I thought Sidelines of the City was a chilled out album,” he says. “I was playing a ton of acoustic on it, but people said it was a real rocker. I never thought of it that way, but in retrospect it really was.

“With this we just went with what came naturally,” he adds. “It was first thought best thought and we didn’t overanalyze anything.”

The music wasn’t the only change for the band, they’ve left Hardwood Records, Hayden’s label, to form their own imprint with fellow Toronto songwriter Basia Bulat.

Petti explains that Hayden, who became a new dad, was taking some time off so the band was forced to find a new label. They set up a deal with Universal Records for distribution and marketing.

“We eliminated the middle man, and that middle was Hayden,” Petti jokes. “We got him out of the equation.”

Cuff The Duke play
• Toronto:
The Horseshoe Tavern on Oct. 16.

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