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Craig Cardiff



A truly independent musician, Craig Cardiff has been writing, recording and performing over the past 10 years from coast to coast (Canada's coasts, that is). Ever evolving his live performance, Cardiff added digital looping to his solo acoustic shows and has never looked back. Dipping his toe into the American heartland, Cardiff recently wrapped his first tour "down under." WayCoolMusic sat down to chat with him about getting inspired, the importance of his audience, and performing in fans' living rooms.



Way Cool: 

Tell us about your background in music.
Craig Cardiff:

Basically, I fell into the coffeehouse circuit when I was going to university in Waterloo, Ontario (Canada). Recently, in the last year and a half, I started working with Fleming Artists who specialize in singer/songwriters. Theyíve taken over all of my North American booking. So, Iíve been getting out in a more and more concerted way. A lot of my touring has been living room shows and church shows with people who have heard my music in the strangest of ways.  They contact me to do a show, which has been awesome to have shows for the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday portion of the schedule.


Have you always been interested in music?



I come from a very musical family. We all play instruments. It definitely comes from my mom. Music provides such a wonderful community.  I started playing piano badly, and clarinet worse, and settled on guitar as many people do. You get a little ego and realize you could be musician.




And, pianos arenít really portable!




Itís funny you say that because there is a fellow in Toronto named Mike Evin, that Iím a big fan of, who has a portable piano.  He carts it to gigs. I asked, ďHow do you do that? Do you know how to tune?Ē And, he said, ďNo, Iím just really careful.Ē So, there are actually people doing acoustic piano tours.

WC: Tell us about getting into living room shows.

I started doing it out of frustration. It never made sense to me that people would go to bars that they normally wouldnít go to.  It would be based on the whim of a promoter who happened to be booked that month.  Where Iíve any success has been from word-of-mouth. House concerts are unmediated. When people want art to happen, they make it happen. The first person to book a house show for me was Mike Johnson at a university in Ontario. He had gotten a mix tape with one of my songs on it, but he didnít know who the artist was. He tracked me down and called saying ďThis is going to sound really weird, and Iím not a stalker, but do you sing a song called ĎGrandmaí?Ē




WC: Are living room shows popular in Canada?




Not really. I got teased a lot, initially, by friends in the industry.  I think whatever way you can make music happen, itís great. It gets you really close to the artist. I have a lot of friends who are underemployed or working 2 jobs to be able to play music. So, in an environment like a house concert, it helps so I can actually play music.




When did you start looping?




About four years ago. Thereís a fellow named Scott Merritt who worked with analog tape looping. I donít know the whole history, but Robert Fripp used actual tape loops on stage during a guitar solo. He put tape machines on two chairs to record and play back the music. Scott Merrit built a foot box that was the size of a suitcase that he used. I saw it and was blown away.  So, when the technology came out I gave it a try.  My focus was always on songwriting so I thought this was something I could add to my performance. And, itís something different.




Do you ever tour with a band?




No, Iím always solo. I bring out friends for some shows. I play with Paul Mathews. Heís in a band called The Hidden Cameras. I play with a fellow named Les Cooper who is a producer and singer/songwriter from Toronto, Ontario.  Itís all about entertaining the audience. To me, itís really important to find ways to get better and offer something new.


What role does the audience play for you?

CC: Itís the difference between a live recording and a static recording. Thereís so much more energy with live shows. I think they are hugely important. They push and challenge me. I feel like what element I bring to (live show) is innovation.  I prefer most of my live recordings. I sound so much more genuine.




Do you notice a difference between a seated or standing show?




Yeah, part of the reason I sit down at shows is because of my wooden legÖI donít have a wooden leg (laughing). Seriously, it focuses the attention. I think it discourages people milling about at seated shows.




As a songwriter, how do you move beyond the typical angsty love song?

I think there is so much to write about. Itís sort of an evolution. I try to find songs that will have a place 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now; writing about broader things. The storytelling aspect of my songs has evolved with quieter audiences.




What is the most surprising place/idea youíve gotten inspiration for a song?




My song ĎSmallest, Winglessí came about from having our daughter. We have all these wonderful baby pictures of our 8-month-old. We have all these pictures and records of her arrival. Unfortunately, there are families on the other side who only have a day or week with their baby. I talked with a friend who is a professional photographer who takes pictures for those families to celebrate the short time they have together (NowILayMeDownToSleep.org). Iím trying to give a voice to this experience. I try to be really clear in the story because I think if people arenít paying attention, they think, ďOh my God, his daughter died.Ē I say, ďNo, sheís wonderful.Ē Thatís one example.

On this trip, Iíve been playing around with ideas to capture the experience of being a complete outsider. Having never been to Minneapolis or Chicago, how do you capture this feeling? So, Iím working on ĎGo Packers, Go Packers.í


You mentioned that people tell you stories that work there way into songs.

Absolutely. I think when you put yourself out there, people feel more comfortable sharing. Thereís a natural hesitation, especially in North American culture, not to talk to people at the next table. So, to break that down and get people to start talking, itís amazing what gets shared.


You have a lot of CDs. Where would you recommend a new listener start?




I would go on iTunes and build your own album. Because a lot of the material is live, you can get an evolution of what Iíve been trying to do as a songwriter. I got ribbed a lot with people saying, ďYouíve got too many albums. You are going to run out of colors.Ē I actually have 4 more in the works. I have a storytelling album Iím working on with a guy out of Toronto.  Iím recording these shows (with Glen Phillips) to make an album out of, but I donít think itís in the cards. Iíve got another studio album in the plans as well. Lots more to come.


Now, we'd like to play a game we call "7 Questions."






7 Questions




What's the worst job you've ever had? 

Cleaning up vomit from a nightclub at The Twist in Waterloo, Ontario.  They gave me kitty litter, a bucket, and a broom. Iíd get the vomit call, ďVomit behind the plant, behind the DJ booth.Ē



What's your favorite movie or lyric quote? 

I love the idea of Scott Merritís song ĎRadio Homeí about Neil Armstrong coming back. I was thinking about Apollo and the Last Frontier.



Who would you want to star in the movie of your life? 

Itís gonna be the guy who played Rudy; Sean Austin.



What's your favorite TV theme song? 

The theme song to House.



If you were a superhero, what would your name be? 

Can I say my power instead? I always wanted to be like Cyclops. I actually have designs I came up with that have different beams of light shooting from his eyeÖI was eight.



What do you want to do/be when you grow up? 

I want to be a good person, a great partner and a good father.



Finally, why are there so many songs about rainbows? 

I think there was a strong coalition in the past made up of people with a vested interest in rainbows, a number of songwriters that pushed rainbows to the fore. Somebodyís got to look into this.




To find out more information about Craig Cardiff, visit his website at www.craigcardiff.org/loveofmusic.