Jim Cuddy keeps up his solo streakConfession: for me, Blue Rodeo is a source of great national pride. Their songcraft, musicianship and precision make their live shows legendary. And while Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy may share co-frontman duties, I’ve always been a devoted Cuddy-ite. After all, the lean, blue jean-clad, silver-haired singer/songwriter gets first writing credit on my favourite Blue Rodeo songs (“Lost Together”, “Andrea”). This was among the best ways possible to end 2011 and kick off 2012: an interview with the 56-year-old musician in advance of his stop at the Vogue this Saturday night, Jan. 7, supporting his third solo release, Skyscraper Soul, a love letter/apology for his home and native land — yes, Toronto.
I know you’ve done solo albums before, but what inspires you to break away from Blue Rodeo.
Well, I don’t think that’s a good way of characterizing it, “breaking away from Blue Rodeo.” That always sounds like, “Oh my God, you’re leaving Blue Rodeo.” (Laughs) I understand, but I think what we do — years ago we started, Greg started making a solo record, but he was making a solo record ’cause truly he was sick of being in Blue Rodeo. That was terrifying to us all, because we thought, oh, what the hell do we do now? So I did a solo record just out of self preservation. You know, if he’s never gonna come back, what the hell are we going to do? And I really enjoyed it. I thought it was inspiring and great. Ultimately Greg did not want to leave Blue Rodeo, and we all came back and realized we’d had this great experience that had enriched us and brought us back a lot calmer people. (Laughs) And also with a different experience. Bringing back different recording experiences. Since we’d all been doing this recording together, there was nothing that we had not shared and so you do something on your own; figure out how to do something on an acoustic guitar or work some place that nobody else had worked. That has been — not just from a mechanical point of view, but from a maturing point of view — that was a really watershed moment for us. We make solo records because we can and because we allow each other to and it just broadens our experience of music. I really feel like, especially as I get older, the most valuable thing I can do in my professional life is write and record songs. I don’t particularly want to sit around for a season and rest, or play tennis, or take skating lessons. I want to make music.
Let’s talk a little bit about Skyscraper Soul.
I’d been thinking a lot, in the previous couple years, that it’s been an amazing thing that we’ve lived in a city but written so much about rural landscapes and natural landscapes. It’s a little bit in line with the type of music we play, country rock, and city rockers discovering country and being more smitten than country people. (Laughs) But I also realize that a lot of the creative energy comes from living among so many people. Witnessing so many fragments of so many lives and living amongst so many musicians... And I wrote Skycraper Soul as a little bit of an apology for Toronto, because it’s a bit of a maligned city. (Laughs) I get so tired of it. It didn’t bother me for so long, but the last couple of years it’s just bugged my ass. People sayin’ “Where you from? Oh, Toronto? Too bad.” Well, what do you know about Toronto? It’s so silly.
I’m sure a lot of it comes from people here in Vancouver.
Oh, there’s no doubt. Vancouver says we’re a great city, better than Toronto. I think Toronto is a difficult nut to crack. It’s one of those cities, like a lot of great cities in the world, that require you to take a bit more time and look more closely. Once you do crack the code, there’s a lot of beauty in this city. I’ve always found beauty in city landscapes. That’s part of Skycraper Soul. I know it’s tough here and you think it’s ugly, but it’s part of my soul.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the last year who are working hard to rehabilitate Toronto’s image.
That’s a nice thing. Although that “what are you looking at? Stay away” vibe is part of its charm. (Laughs) I used to find that about London, England, when I went. Like, fuck, nobody wants to talk to me. And now I get that! There’s this super friendliness under that veneer. Once you penetrate it, then you’re on the inside looking out and it’s all good.
The Jim Cuddy Band plays Jan. 7 at Vogue, 7pm. $49.50 from Ticketmaster.