Jim Cuddy On His New Album, Upcoming Induction, And The Impact Of Playing Music | Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame
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Jim Cuddy On His New Album, Upcoming Induction, And The Impact Of Playing Music

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By Karen Bliss

Blue Rodeo co-frontman and co-writer Jim Cuddy will pause his solo tour for his new album, All the World Fades Away, in late September to receive his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, Sept. 28, at Toronto’s Massey Hall, alongside his friend of 45 years, Greg Keelor, his partner in treasured Canadian roots band Blue Rodeo.

From their 1985 debut album, Outskirts, featuring the enduring ballad “Try,” “Rose-Coloured Glasses” and first-ever single, “Outskirts,” through 15 more studio albums, most recently 2021’s Many A Mile, the pair kept producing hit that became a part of our lives: “5 Days in May,” “Bad Timing,” “Til I Am Myself Again,” “After the Rain” and countless more. The band has 13 JUNO Awards and is both in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.

Cuddy started writing his new album during the pandemic but put it aside when Keelor phoned and said they should make a Blue Rodeo record. “I immediately stopped and started writing for Blue Rodeo,” he says. Then he got back to it, finishing up the songs that have “a lot of reference to personal stories in my life.”

Cuddy talked to Karen Bliss about his upcoming induction, finding inspiration all around him, and why he just doesn’t take time off to chill.

Blue Rodeo is in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. How is the recognition by the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame different for you?
The recognition is different. It’s one of the only ones that Greg and I have actually congratulated each other on. The other ones are, they’re very shared: they’re about the group, and they’re about the collective effort that’s been put in over the last 40 years, and celebrates everything we’ve done as a band. The Songwriters [Hall of Fame], it’s the heart of the matter. There’s the songs we work on, and the songs we write in our private time alone, or work on with each other. I think that for Greg and I, it’s historic because it goes back to our origins, just playing guitar together, and writing songs, and playing them for each other. And so, it’s really an honour to be celebrated for something that is essentially a personal accomplishment.

You and Greg have been working together in Blue Rodeo for 40 years.
We started our first band was in ’78 [The HiFi’s], so that’s a lot longer.

And you still find things to write about in little three-minute capsules.
It’s never occurred to me that it’s difficult to find subjects. When [short story writer] Mavis Gallant died, [I read] she was interviewed once, and somebody said, “How is it that you find so many stories writing about ordinary people?” and she said, “I’ve never met an ordinary person.” And I think it’s the same with everybody. We have all these life experiences every day, meeting people, talking to people, things around us, so there’s never a lack of things to write about. There’s never a lack of things that occur to me to write about.

Are there themes, even words, you notice you tend to use? If we put your name into ChatGPT, what do you think would come up?
Absolutely. I have established over the years a certain perspective on life. I’m very aware of it in my solo record. I’m very aware of a certain level of fatalism. I’m aware of a certain dismissal [laughs] of certain sensitivities. I’m certainly aware of images I use all the time. I mean, I remember for one of my birthdays, somebody made a lyric chart to roast me and it had “rain” in almost all of the categories. I definitely do that. And I certainly have a structure to a song that I think is common. So, I’m aware of those things and they suit me. I think that they suit me because they allow my voice to do certain things. They allow me to tell stories in a certain way.

And so, and with this one [All the World Fades Away], there’s a song on my new record called “Everyday Angels,” and it’s a call and response song. The call is about somebody waking up to how beautiful life is, but being unsure of how to accept it. And the responses are slightly sarcastic and they’re not always kind [laughs] and reassuring. And that’s the kind of humour I share with Greg all the time. And so, I did get Greg to sing those parts [laughs] and it seems so fitting. You know, it’s the way we talk to each other all the time anyway. He’s the Greek chorus to my Innocent. And so, I am aware of putting into songs my perspective.

The song “Impossible,” you wrote it for John Mann’s wife, Jill Dunn [Mann is the late frontman for the band Spirit of the West who died at 57, in 2019, from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease]. The bio for the album mentions their son “struggled with mental health and lived on the street for a while.” Do feel a responsibility to ask them if it’s okay to be so specific?
Well, first of all, I was just thinking nobody ever sent the bio to me to be read, but, yes, when I wrote the song and started to talk about it a little bit, I realized that it wasn’t my story. And so, I sent the song to Jill and told her what it was about and asked her permission and she said she would have to run it by her son. And so, she ran it by her son and then he sent me a note saying that he understood that it was about a parent’s undying love for their child and, thus, I guess, giving his approval.

There are many bands where the members don’t do solo projects. Fans lose their minds. They think you’re leaving the band. Did you go through that when you released your first solo album?
Yeah. The very first solo record was made by Greg [1996’s Gone] and it was at a low point in relations and Greg went off to make the record, with [producer] Pierre Marchand and he didn’t really talk to us about it. He just kind of went. So, I kind of made my record in self-defence. I thought, “I don’t know that he’s coming back and I should figure it out if I can do this by myself.” I didn’t know. I’d worked in a partnership since I started doing music professionally, so I had no idea whether I could do it on my own. And, of course, that was a stupid thing to think because I was doing that anyway, but in a collective, so it was easy to make a solo record. And then that spurred on other solo records in the band.

The good part of it was everybody felt like they had another release. It can be very dictatorial in bands that whoever writes the song or whoever’s guiding it can be not as sensitive as maybe they need to be about offerings, ideas, and just say, “This is the way it goes.” And so, that gets frustrating for people. But to go make their own record, they can do it exactly how they want. Plus, they understand that kind of crushing responsibility of doing it all yourself. And so, everybody comes back just a little bit more comfortable about working in a collective. The problem is you come back with five, six producers and everybody knows how to produce records, and then you have a whole other area of potential conflict [laughs].

But I think that it’s been very good for us over the years to have for us all to have other musical outlets. You start a band with a very youthful framework. You think, “We’re all for one, one for all. We’re going to do this together. We’re going to really manage all this together.” And it’s very difficult to grow up in a band and be mature and independent.

And the solo records help that. I think now everybody feels comfortable playing with other people, doing their solo work, and singing on it, maybe helping each other with their solo records. At this point, that doesn’t hurt the heart of the collective. It’s actually good; it strengthens it.

From what I can see, you never rest. It’s not like, “Oh, this cycle’s over for Blue Rodeo. I’m just going to chill for three months.” You are all off doing other things, solo projects or playing with other people for fun. Could be at the Horseshoe, the Rivoli or the Dakota. Much smaller than you’re used to.
Well, I think, to varying degrees in the band, we are motivated by activity. I mean, some need more rest than others [laughs] and we’ve accepted that. I’m personally not interested in three months of rest. It’s just not appealing to me. It’s not the way my motor works. Sometimes people look at a schedule and, I think, the moving around is difficult, but the actual act of doing whatever we do, playing an hour and a half or two hours or whatever, it’s not grueling. Music generally, 90% of the time, is extremely rejuvenating. You feel very good afterwards. So, I’m happy that everybody’s playing so much. It keeps everybody’s skills up, keeps our minds sharp and we’re not golfers and we’re not “holidayers,” so, I think it’s the right balance.

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