Country punks

Oshawa nerds Cuff the Duke get their hick on

CUFF THE DUKE CD release with the Dirty Hearts and DJ Electric Shoes at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Friday (November 15). $5. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN

oshawa twang punks cuff the Duke are threatening to make down-home country cool.I don’t mean cool in the hipster poseur, destined-for-the-next-Gap-ad sense. I’m talkin’ slack-jawed admiration, bust-yer-ass-on-the-floor-and-flash-the-“rawk-on”-sign transcendence.

On their debut album, Life Stories For Minimum Wage (Three Gut), the baby-faced foursome spin tales of gut-wrenching heartbreak, death and destruction into sprawling epics that pit the lush pop landscapes and sweet harmonies of a Pet Sounds against the gritty authenticity of a Hank Williams weeper.

Damn decent. So when they tell me the rough punk kids back in the ‘Shwa totally dug Cuff the Duke’s tunes, I’m not surprised.

“I think punk kids got it the most,” insists frontman, guitarist and harmonica master Wayne Petti, trying to make himself heard over the punk tunes on the Squirly’s stereo.

“Country music is the most honest, pure thing there is. It’s the original. Not to be arrogant or anything, but it’s probably the most punk thing out there. And they’re not supposed to like it, so they dig it, and that’s a good thing.”

When Petti, percussionist Brad Fudge, bass and guitar dude Paul Lowman and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Peers launched their countrified riot a couple of years ago, everyone in their hometown was stuck in one of two ruts.

On the one hand, you had the residue of the early-90s East Coast indie rock revolution — bands who pledged their loyalty to Sloan and Thrush Hermit. The rest of Cuff the Duke’s peers were fascinated by what they dub orgasm rock, the sweeping build-’em-up-and-bring-’em-down orchestral noise-art of folks like Godspeed and Mogwai.

Petti explains, “Everyone else was taking themselves so seriously, writing pop music, and the only way to have fun was to mock them by playing country.”

But it’s not a joke any more. Credit their exhilarating live shows (which they compare to wasabi and glowing minerals), which snagged them rave reviews during CMW and NXNE and caught the attention of people like Three Gut Records’ Lisa Moran and Tyler Clark Burke, who signed the boys last March.

At that point, Cuff the Duke had already laid down an album’s worth of tracks at Umbrella Studios, which soured them on studio recording. But under the auspices of Three Gut they hooked up with indie super-producer Andy Magoffin, whose party ethos won them over.

The memories make Petti laugh.

“He always had a beer in his hand. He’d sit there and it’d be empty, and he’d look at Jeff and say, “Jeff — why don’t I have a beer in my hand?’ And he’d just get up and go.

“You’d never know he’s producing some of the best pop music in Canada.”

“He’s still focused, though,” enthuses Peers. “I’ve never seen a guy get so pissed drunk and still be able to engineer such a great fuckin’ song.”

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