Interview Outtakes: Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy on Elusive American Success, Being D.I.Y. and Proving Thom Yorke Wrong
Canadian rockers Blue Rodeo are playing at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room tonight as part of Twangfest. Magnolia Summer, These United States and Ray Wylie Hubbard are also on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m. and it's $20. BR hasn't been in St. Louis for many moons, as Jim Cuddy recalls in this week's feature. Outtakes from that interview are below.
Blue Rodeo, basking in the sun
Matt Wardlaw: At the time that I purchased my first Blue Rodeo album [Casino] in 1990, I didn't realize the gap between the amount of success that you have in Canada, and the amount of popularity that you were working to build in the United States. Is it kind of nice to go back to basics a bit with the U.S. shows, playing club-sized shows that you don't get an opportunity to play at home in Canada?
Jim Cuddy: You know, I think that we long ago reconciled ourselves to the fact that it was going to be different in the United States and it was a totally different country. Whatever you did in Canada had no effect on the marketing in the States, you just started again
So long ago, we started to get comfortable with that. Playing on a small stage forces you to listen to each other in a way that you don't have to listen to each other on a big stage. The bigger the stage, the more you're connected by monitors, the less you're connected by your actual sound. So there's always a bit of an adjustment period for us, [a time] that everyone's accusing each other of playing too loud, or too much. And then we always end up the United States tours just simply being a better, cohesive band.
We like it because it's comfortable and we don't have the same kind of pressures that we have in Canada. We just do whatever songs we want, and we're usually seeing the audience for the first time in a long time. It's just a little bit more in travel, so it's enjoyable for us, [but] Greg [Keelor, vocalist/gutiarist]'s ears are pretty bad, so we have to be careful not to play too loud. There just are physical parameters that we have to work out, and those are just not as easy as they should be. You go from an arena stage or a big theater stage, you need a certain amount of gear and you play in a certain way [for those gigs], and you just can't play that way anymore [in clubs.] So it's part of the fun, and it's part of the struggle.
As I've gotten to know more about the band through the years, I've realized that Blue Rodeo really is a machine with a lot of working pieces and parts. Blue Rodeo was one of the first bands that I saw, taking the DIY approach, particularly with your website [in the early '90s] at a time that a lot of bands didn't know what to do with their website.
I think that we also learned all of those lessons by going the completely normal route with a U.S manager and getting burned at every stage. Certainly, our Canadian manager when we started was great, but he went bankrupt and tried to take us with him. We had Danny Goldberg in the States, and it just wasn't for us. We immediately thought, "We'd better learn all of this stuff." So when you're in that position where you're willing to learn from people that are just learning themselves...the Internet company that came to us, a Canada company called Indimension, they were just starting. They wanted to create a model that they could use to sell themselves. So they put incredible resources into our website in the very early days so that they could say, "Well, look at what we can do." That relationship has lasted, and especially for us, with such a disparate audience in the States, it tied everybody together. It was really important for us.
It stuck out to me, because unlike a lot of bands that you see doing the similar thing these days because they're getting "screwed by the record company," it seemed like your perspective was, "Why wouldn't we want to do these things for ourselves?" -- or at least have an idea of what's going on?
There's no doubt. Look at bands you like and try to figure out they do things - normally, the bands that I like, the band themselves has a hand in everything they do. They co-produce themselves, they somehow co-manage, and you can tell at those points where they've let other people do stuff for them. It just becomes a little bit distant artistically from what they usually do. R.E.M. I think is the perfect example - the more they participate in their records, the better those records are. There's lots of examples up in Canada, because we're a different type of market. Of course that's become the model now - Broken Social Scene and those bands have taken full ownership of what they do - they have their own record companies too.
The vinyl release of the new album is interesting to me, particularly learning that as an album, you had envisioned it as four sides during the process of recording, with vinyl specifically in mind. How did you come around to that idea?
Well there's a couple of factors, and it's beautiful, coincidental kind of information. We started thinking about it because when we travel around, I go into stores to buy records, and there's all this vinyl in the front racks, and I'm like, "What's going on?" Most of the vinyl that we heard contained a CD, because everybody knows now that CDs cost nothing to make - you can toss it in, and it costs you 10 cents. I thought it was brilliant.
Greg has never left the vinyl world. I left it and I've come back to it in the past five years -- my kids and I are so into it. There's all kinds of new records being put out on [vinyl], there's all kinds of reissues of records on heavier weight vinyl, really nice packaging and artists that are putting a lot of thought into it. A lot of the artists that I like - I saw the Bright Eyes album and thought, "I love this band, it's got the CD in it, this is perfect." So we started talking about it, and when we were discussing it, was just at the point when Thom Yorke said the album is dead - not just vinyl, the album itself is dead, we'll never do another album, we're just going to do singles. Every so often, some British star will say something so inflated and so stupid - they always say the stupid things, but now all of the sudden it was Thom Yorke. It couldn't have been a better time now to run cross-current to what this pompous ass says, and say, "Well, let's not only do an album, let's do a double album - let's really run it the other way."
And then of course you find that any statement that's mounted in pop culture has so many counter-culture people that say, "I'm not finished with the album, I love albums, I like that collection of songs, and I like the way an artist puts that collection of songs together." That's the way we felt, so it was a very easy sort of stance to take, and the little counter-culture stance was fun. Then it actually became real aesthetic, because we had this collection of songs that were best separated into groups. Nobody in their right mind would sit and listen to all sixteen songs at one time. Maybe one side, maybe side one and three, maybe just listen to one record or the other - or even it's on the CD and you split it into two CDs. You don't feel compelled to listen to it all at once, and you also don't have to discover it all at once, which I like about records. I like that there's the chance to go through it, like what you like to begin with, and then gradually start to find out about other things on the record.