CUFF THE DUKE with LULLABYE ARKESTRA , the DOWNBELOWS and GUITAR WOLF as part of CMW at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday, March 3). $10-$12. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Despite critical praise for the fusion of old-time country, indie rock and art-prog experimentation on their debut disc, Cuff the Duke did not release a string of hastily made discs to capitalize on the hype.
Good call, but what the hell have they been doing in the almost two and a half years since Life Stories For Minimum Wage (Three Gut) first graced record store racks?
Logging over 100,000 kilometres on their van over the course of some exhausting cross-Canada tours, for starters. As singer/guitarist Wayne Petti explains, Cuff the Duke couldn't be happier about life on the road.
"We're in a lull right now between records, which is a tough time for any band," he says over the phone on a lazy Sunday afternoon. "But our shows are bigger and better than ever."
This week's gig with Japanese guitar rippers Guitar Wolf is just one in a chain of wacky and weird warm-up experiences that include shaking hands with a charming Nick Cave and watching Zwan's Billy Corgan lose his shit on a rock club underling over wardrobe.
One of their most fortuitous gigs was with Hayden, who offered to put out their upcoming disc on his own Hardwood label.
"Hayden said he liked our stuff and mentioned something about releasing our next record to Skinny (William Tenn, who manages both Hayden and Cuff the Duke)," explains Petti. "But people say things like that all the time. The fact that it actually panned out is awesome, and it's so flattering to be the only other band on Hardwood."
An early listen to the as-yet-untitled record reveals a lusher and more polished Cuff the Duke. Paul Aucoin has replaced Miracle-worker Andy Magoffin behind the console, and the band's invested in a high-quality keyboard. As a result, the disc leans more heavily on piano-drenched epics than on the ragged country-punk of Life Stories.
There's even a track that sounds strikingly like early Elton John, with piano bashing, soaring strings and an appropriately bent theme.
"Paul (bassist Paul Lowman) came from a religious family. He was sitting at the piano one day after talking to his dad and realized that on two separate occasions his mom and dad had asked him if he was gay.
"When he showed up at practice with this song that had a chorus of 'I'm not gay,' we all kinda laughed, but our response was quite emotional since we realized all of us in the band had had the same experience.
"Paul decided to let me sing it, cuz he didn't really want the first song he sings for Cuff the Duke to be him announcing that he's not gay."