Finding his own way: an interview with Devin Cuddy

Lynsey Kitching

 

With Blue Rodeo playing their sound check in the background, Devin Cuddy took a few minutes out of his day to chat about the music industry in Canada before his recent show at the Encana Events Centre in Dawson Creek.

Having grown up as the son of Jim Cuddy, one of Canada’s most well known and celebrated musicians, Devin Cuddy didn’t find his musical passion until he discovered the piano is a medium for jazz and the blues at around 17 years old. “I started liking jazz and I was able to play something I liked. It took off from there. I played a little guitar, but not very well. I write easy tunes on it sometimes. The piano, there aren’t many lead piano players out there who aren’t pop singers,” he says.

Now, this tour across Canada marks another milestone, as it is the first time Devin has travelled with his father as a musician and opening act—though he has been hanging around the Blue Rodeo crew since he was a young’un. “It’s cool. They’ve been a band forever, so I’ve known the crew guys. I am having to deal with them in a more formal way now, where as a kid I was like, ‘gimme some passes, gimme some passes’,” says Cuddy with a slightly mischievous smile.

On this tour, Cuddy is warming up the stage and the crowd for Blue Rodeo.

The show at the Encana Centre in Dawson Creek was date number nine on the tour, which had its debut in Vancouver and is now winding through the Maritimes and Ontario. The great Canadian tour will finish off in Montreal in March. “It’s getting more comfortable every day, so it’s great,” says Devin.

Playing alongside Devin and his funky piano riffs is Nichol Robertson on guitar (man this guy can play), Zach Sutton on drums and Devon Richardson on bass. Devin explains he enjoys melding genres together to create their unique sound. “I like blending genres and having lyrical subject matter that is modern and semi-relevant to people. Things people can relate to in a modern world. That is how you create that balance. I think there is a big interest in older music. Though it may not be super evident in popular forms of music now, it is still being listened to by many people. I am discovering that as I play for people and they tell me about how they like the blues and country.”

And in traditional lyrical fashion, Devin enjoys singing about social issues. He says, “I’ve written about finding your way… I have a couple of tunes about soldiers; one song called Afghanistan is about a young man finding his way into the army. It’s not a draft but about someone joining up because it was a great option for him. I have another song called My Son’s a Queer, which is about an old Christian father accepting his son’s sexuality.”

Though Devin brings the characters in his songs to life, he says they exist only in his mind, but the concepts he sings about are very real. “It’s a collection of experiences,” says Devin continuing, “We are working on an album right now, it is going to come out in June. We are doing it with Greg Keelor at his farm, where Blue Rodeo did their latest. We have eight tracks of 12 finished.”

The album will be released through Cameron House Records, an independent label that was born out of the Cameron house bar in Toronto, “which is kinda an artist’s haven,” describes Devin. He has been there since the start. “I was one of the first one’s on it, I was kinda hanging around when they started,” he says with a laugh. You can imagine a young Devin, much like any person with a passion; they are always just hanging around that place where they just might get to play.

“The owners saw all these young unrepresented artists playing there who needed a boost, so they selected a few of them and it started from there. Since then we are now affiliated with Warner, we have booking agents, they have a few more mature artists like Doug Paisley, so it’s expanding quickly,” explains Devin continuing, “The music business is in a tough place right now, so it’s good to have a couple of young fresh faces trying new things and helping out local artists. Grassroots music is what they’re doing.”

So with all of this young raw talent, Cameron House Records has found a place within the industry having formed a partnership with Warner Music Canada, Blue Rodeo’s Record label. “That creates a relationship where they [Warner] give them access, but they [Cameron House] retain ownership of the label and of the context of the artists. Indie labels have big positives and disadvantages. Nowadays as an artist it is good to go with an indie label because we don’t know what’s going to happen with the future. If you have a little bit of say in what the contract says than that’s very important. I don’t know what is going to happen to the industry in the next 10 years because how people consume music is changing so fast. The money’s not there like it was in the 90s,” says Devin.

As much as it changes, it is coming slightly full circle as vinyl has found a place back on the shelves. “We were in a place in Kelowna that only does vinyl because it is getting hip again. They get it and they have a download card so they can put it on their laptop,” tells Devin.

So, he says, “You just have to play more. There are people like Blue Rodeo fans who still buy CDs.”