Cuff the Duke announced that their upcoming album, Union, would veer from their acoustic tradition, we were admittedly wary. And boy, is it heavy. Rife with electric hooks that, at times, have elements of psychedelia, frontman Wayne Petti (Toronto’s answer to Jeff Tweedy) ventures into rock territory while keeping the band’s alt-country bones.">

Band of the Week: Cuff the Duke


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As fans, it’s always a toss-up when our best-loved artists explore unknown sonic realms. So when folk outfit Cuff the Duke announced that their upcoming album, Union, would veer from their acoustic tradition, we were admittedly wary. And boy, is it heavy. Rife with electric hooks that, at times, have elements of psychedelia, frontman Wayne Petti (Toronto’s answer to Jeff Tweedy) ventures into rock territory while keeping the band’s alt-country bones.  

We caught up with Petti ahead of their weekend gig at Yonge-Dundas Square to talk Greg Keelor, the folk-psych-rock scene and why WestJest owes him an acoustic guitar.

I heard WestJet broke your guitar recently. What happened?
We flew out to some festivals out west, and when I got on stage, I unpacked my acoustic right before we’re about to play and it had been smashed. I ended up being able to borrow one, but after the show I was frustrated and I took photos and I tweeted about it, calling them out on it. I was just talking to them today, they’re paying for the repairs and they’re renting me a replacement and they’re replacing my case. They’ve actually [laughs] been amazing about it. All things aside, I mean, they did ruin my guitar, but at the same time, they’re stepping up and taking responsibility for that.

So tell me about Union. How is it the continuation of Morning Comes?
Yeah, it is the continuation in many respects, and some of the songs on there are continuations, literally continuations of other songs from Morning Comes. This one is more looking forward, lyrically. Everything in the last one was really retrospective — looking back, questioning the paths and choices that were made, and this one is more looking forward and optimistic, in some ways there’s a level of acceptance in those decisions. It’s more optimistic than doubtful. Musically, there are definitely not typical Cuff the Duke songs. We’re trying to move forward sonically.

The new album sounds heavier, even influenced by classic rock. You’ve come a long way since “The Ballad of Poor John Henry.”
Right, yeah, totally. I think this record is more electric-based. Our last two records were very much acoustic-based, so it’s just another avenue, like, I wanted to play more electric guitar [laughs].

Is that a natural progression for the band?
For us, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. To us it feels very natural and it doesn’t seem like that much of a difference, but for an outsider looking in, when you compare "Poor John Henry" to “Open Your Mind” on the new record, or “Where Did We Go Wrong,” which is a television-inspired song — but yeah, to us, it feels natural.

So if we were to get a hold of your iPod, who would be on the Most Played list?
The War on Drugs, big time. And likewise Kurt Vile, whose in that Philadelphia-folk-psych-rock scene. I don’t really think you hear too much of that on the record, but I think it’s electric-based and sonically more interesting than your typical rock albums.

Did Greg Keelor have anything to do with this record?
Oh yeah, well he loves the psych-rock [laughs]. Sometimes when we were trying to describe what we’re thinking, he’ll just go down and he has a crazy record collection, and he’ll just pull out an old psych record and put it on and say, ‘Is this the kind of thing you’re talking about?’ and we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s the sound!’ He’s totally good at helping us find that vision, and also help it make sense. Sometimes when you’re trying new sounds, you can get lost in that process.

What can we expect from the show at Yonge-Dundas Square this weekend?
You’re going to hear a mix of music from all six of our albums,  cause we’ll be playing some new songs, some Morning Comes, we kind of touch on every album in the set.

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