As one of the headlining bands at this weekend’s LOLA festival, Oshawa’s Cuff The Duke aims to impress the crowd with its potent country, folk, and punk-rock sound.
Hardly a newcomer to the festival scene, Cuff the Duke put on a stunning performance this summer at Guelph’s annual hipster celebration, the Hillside Festival.
Cuff The Duke has toured with Hayden, the Hylozoists, and some of Canada’s biggest independent rock acts, including the Constantines and The Sadies.
“When you get into the Canadian music scene, it really shrinks so you get to know everybody, indirectly, directly, some bands better than others,” says Wayne Petti, Cuff The Duke’s lead singer and guitarist. “Fundamentally, you know everybody in the end.”
The band looks forward to LOLA.
“You hang out with everybody and get to know them backstage,” Petti says. “You see your friends play [whom] you haven’t seen in a while because you’re touring one way, and they’re touring in the opposite direction. Personally, I love [festivals].”
Petti has double duties at LOLA; he’s also in the Hylozoists.
“[Saying Hylozoists] gives some people trouble,” Petti says with a laugh. “It’s the Hy-lo-zo-ists. I had to learn to say it two letters at a time. When they first told me the name of the band, I was like, what the hell?”
Petti says he doesn’t mind pulling double duty.
“We did it when Cuff The Duke backed Hayden on a tour,” he says. “We did that for a while, actually. I like it because it keeps you busy. If you go back to doing regular shows, you get sort of antsy waiting for your turn. It keeps you focused.”
Cuff The Duke has two critically acclaimed albums under its belt, 2002’s Life Stories for Minimum Wage and a 2004 self-titled release. Cuff The Duke is currently working on its next release, an album Petti has big plans for.
“We have a whole idea, but we aren’t really making a ‘concept record,’” Petti says. “More than ever on this [new] record, there is a certain vision and a certain idea we are trying to accomplish.
“We are recording three songs at a time, which will make sense when the record comes out. That is, if we complete this vision. I mean it all might get kai-boshed, but for now it’s going well.”
Petti’s songwriting is inspired by various sources, including his hometown.
“[My songs] come from experiences, living [in Oshawa], and so on,” Petti says. “Like ‘Take My Money and Run’ is a real blue collar song, a real working man’s song. You don’t make a lot of money, but you get by.
“It’s all about bitchin’ about the man, in the spirit of Oshawa.”
Cuff The Duke is well-known for its ballads, and Petti says its upcoming release will have more.
“We were always going to make it a theme on every album, to have a ballad. The first time, it was just the name of the song, ‘The Ballad of the Lonely Construction Worker,’” Petti says.
“The second time we had the title of the song [‘Poor John Henry’], and I just asked if we could change the title. I wouldn’t mind having one on every album.”
Though the band is heavily indebted to its country/folk roots, Petti didn’t start listening to country until he was about 18 years old.
“A friend of mine was the designated driver that night, and I was sitting in his car,” Petti says. “He put on some Hank Williams and it blew my mind. I was just floored.
“To me, it was punk-rock, it was three chords and really raw-sounding. It was low-fi and simple, and I just really, really related to it. I started getting into Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, John Horton — anything I could get my hands on.”
However, Petti says country “wasn’t the easiest thing to do.”
“We kind of realized that all my friends and I had grown up playing Ramones songs, and we weren’t good enough to play country,” he says. “We kind of did the best we could. We just loved country music and [its] feel. Eventually people started telling us about bands like Wilco, Camper Van Beethoven, and The Band, and I realized there is a lot of music out there. We don’t need to be country all the time, but we can have a country feel.
“Wilco is like The Beatles for Cuff the Duke. That’s the one band you can put on in the van and everyone just shuts up and listens.”