“It’s actually my birthday today,” says Devin Cuddy over the phone from Banff after a day on the ski slopes.
Cuddy’s birthday (January 8, if you’re wondering) falls in the midst of the second leg of Blue Rodeo’s We Are Nature tour, for which the Devin Cuddy Band is the supporting act. Of course, Cuddy is no stranger to a Blue Rodeo show, having grown up sitting on equipment cases backstage watching his dad, Jim, and the rest of the band do soundchecks. These days when soundcheck wraps up, it’s Cuddy’s turn to take the stage.
“For me and the band it creates an opening slot setting where you’re very comfortable, because I know everyone in the band,” says Cuddy, who’s been doing after-show club gigs in a few cities on this tour, venues where he says his band is a little more at home in than ones with large stages—at this point at least. Unfortunately, there’s not one in Edmonton, but we’ll still get 25 minutes of Cuddy at the main show. “It’s not that opening slot where you’re worried about stepping on someone’s toes or you’re worried about the temperaments of the opening band or you hide out or you don’t talk to them very much. It’s super comfortable.”
Cuddy adds that his dad has taught him to approach every show with the same intensity, no matter how tired he may be or what’s gone on throughout the day. That and he’s kept Cuddy’s band going at a much more energetic pre-show pace than they would if they were on the road by themselves—lots of “extracurriculars” as Cuddy puts it.
“It’s mostly exercise, to be honest. Like skiing today, and we played a little bit of hockey here and there. He’s a big exercise freak now, so you know, staying in shape on the road is very difficult and this will be the one tour, maybe ever for us, where we have an opportunity to do that stuff,” says Cuddy, noting that while the tour may technically be work, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. “He buzzes around all day whereas maybe we’d sit in the hotel room or walk around town. He’s got lots of friends and hockey games and tennis games and he goes for runs and stuff. It’s good; it’s inspiring to watch a 58-year-old man do that and try to keep up with him.”
It’s difficult to speak of Cuddy’s music career without mentioning his father, but the younger Cuddy has carved out his own path, complete with a sound that deviates from Blue Rodeo’s country-rock vibe. Dixieland jazz and New Orleans blues caught Cuddy’s interest when he was a teenager, and later classic country during his college days. He began playing a Wednesday-night residency at the storied Cameron House in Toronto before releasing his debut album Volume One in 2012. The disc managed to seamlessly blend the three genres into something that set Cuddy apart while showcasing his dexterity on the piano and penchant for storytelling tackling social issues, love and paying homage to his influences.
Right now, Cuddy’s in the midst of getting his second album ready to go, which he recorded the majority of with Blue Rodeo guitarist Greg Keelor (who produced Blue Rodeo’s latest record, In Our Nature) prior to leaving on tour. With eight songs in the bag so far, Cuddy hopes to have the currently untitled album released later this year.
“We tried a different approach: the first record we had played all of these songs for a long time so we knew exactly how they were going to be arranged and sound and we went in and did it all live,” Cuddy explains. “For this record I went to the band without having shown them the songs at all, right into the studio and was like, ‘OK, here’s a song, now what do you guys want to do?’ I tried to have things happen more organically and on the spot in terms of arranging as opposed to prepping and going in and just laying it out. I think there’s a few things that are an evolution from the last record and few that are very much the same.”
That evolution is the continued shaping of the Devin Cuddy Band sound. Cuddy says it’s a matter of creating a style of music, or a blend of styles, that people can relate to and solidify the hybrid genre he works within. But the storytelling aspect has stayed the same.
“Different stories, different experiences, but that’s definitely something I’ve kind of attached myself to. I’m a big fan of a lot of country artists like Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle—who’s a great storyteller—and I’ve also really enjoyed Randy Newman, who’s one of my favourite songwriters and there’s kind of a satirical aspect to what he writes and a lot of third-person songs, and that’s a lot of what I do,” Cuddy explains. “I don’t always write about personal experiences, although, you add it in a bit. For me a lot of the basis of my songwriting is fiction or stories I’ve heard from other people about other people, so that I think is similar to the first record. Hopefully some better rhymes, though.”
Fri, Jan 17 and Sat, Jan 18 (7:30 pm)
With Blue Rodeo
Jubilee Auditorium, $55 – $75.50