Craig Cardiff: The Man Behind the Music
by: Care Humphries
For two years, I’ve spoken with Craig Cardiff on the phone; through emails and other various means of social media. I’ve scanned through his Facebook photo albums, and appreciated our long-distance, virtual relationship. His younger sister, Liz, and I even went to school together in Waterloo. I felt, essentially, that I knew Craig. With sites such as Facebook making these relationships attainable, it’s hard to imagine that you may not actually know a person.
While Craig is about as open as his Book of Truths (a travelling notebook he encourages audiences to jot thoughts in during his shows), he revealed his true personality during the one-on-one, in-person interview we shared last week at Kitchener’s Little Bean Coffee Bar. Knowing the Little Bean is a space with friendly staff, and a room that’s taken up as more of a lounge (with its bean bag chairs, round tables and inviting atmosphere), I encouraged Craig to come down for lunch and we would discuss who he was behind the song writing.
During our loose conversation about music, life, the weather and performing in the region, Craig and I dined on chili and sandwiches before we settled into our interview on the park benches outside of the coffee bar.
What struck me first about Craig was his openness. He has a certain readiness to make conversation about his life and his career (both personal and professional), peppered with just the right amount of cussing to make you feel at ease. When I attempted to introduce him to the venue owner, he was quick to say he was just a guy; not a guy with a guitar, or a song writer, but simply just a guy. “It feels pretentious,” he explains later. “You could have introduced me as the King of Spain. But at the end of the day, I’m just a guy.”
The fact remains that Craig is not just a guy, or a guy with a guitar for that matter. He’s a father, a teacher, a brother, and a song writer who has scaled the mountain of touring over his career. His repertoire includes sixteen albums released, and most recently a nod at the 2012 Junos (Floods and Fires was nominated for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year: Solo). As the interview chugs along, Craig is both philosophical and down-to-earth. He speaks as frankly about eating Beaver Tails in his home of Ottawa with his daughter, Rowan, as he does about being interviewed at CBC.
Craig’s music is a conglomerate of roots, folk and a splash of rock. What I’ve found to be the essential key in his songs is versatility between the tracks. It’s Craig’s soft demure in vocals that tells the story; the melody that keeps you hooked. When you finish listening to a track or one of his albums as a whole, listeners realize that they and Craig speak the same language. It’s that truth that keeps Craig’s fans hungry for his next release.
Our interview sways between the industry and keeping an eye on Craig’s car, which he is using to cart around equipment after performing the night before in Toronto. During one question, Craig looks up suddenly at a group of teenage boys who do not break into his car, but have no hesitation about spitting four feet away from it. “I don’t getting spitting,” Craig says and I couldn’t agree more. The conversation quickly moves to skoal, and chewing tobacco. “Your readers might find this part more interesting,” he chuckles.
We go on to talk about touring. “I’ve been lucky to see most cities,” Craig reveals, telling me that he’s performed in nearly all of our major cities in Canada save for the Northwest Territories and the Yukon (a journey he hopes to take later this year). He also confesses that he’s not yet been to Newfoundland, but that this part of the East coast should be able to find its way to schedule sometime in 2012. “Newfoundland is like the sticking point,” he says, “but I have fans that are requesting a show. For me, I have to entertain getting a hundred people into a show. It’s more about bums and ears in seats. If people buy enough advanced tickets to pay for my air fare, then everything else is just gravy.”
From Halifax, to Vancouver, Craig has released one album after another telling me that some albums are recorded live from the show and then edited in a way of fundraising for the next album. “People will ask me, ‘well, which album should I buy?’ I’ll tell them to pick up Songs for Lucy (released 2010) which essentially funded Floods and Fires,” he says adding that the ethic behind putting out albums quickly is not unheard of, and he has no issue with the method. “I’m not opposed to creating a ‘live off the floor’ over the course of the weekend.”
However, Floods and Fires would be a new wave of recording for Craig as he explains spending over a year and half putting the album together in his home. “It’s not unlike something you would do, Care,” he tells me. “There’s something to be said about knowing when to put a project down, and then picking it up again later. You begin reworking some of the lyrics that don’t match the core idea that goes with the song, and that can also include the melodies or any other part.” Floods and Fires would strike Juno attention, as Craig was recognized alongside Bruce Cockburn for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year: Solo. “The Junos are a splash in the face for people to remind them that music is important,” he says. “Some people may get offended and think of the Junos as a dog and pony show, but if that’s how you feel then don’t watch it. At the end of the day, it says that music is important.”
Joining him for parts of his Juno adventure was Craig’s five-year-old daughter, Rowan, who was with Dad to meet the Mayor of Ottawa and later invited to join him during a CBC radio interview. “I wanted her to see what I do,” Craig smiles. “When we were in the CBC interview she was fascinated by the sounds she could make while wearing the headphones. I thought the sound engineer might actually kick us out,” he laughs. (The CBC interview will be posted online, soon.)
Beyond the interviews and the recognition, Craig is a song writer who is fascinated by stories. His Book of Truths offer tidbits of human experiences that Craig intends to recreate as an audio documentary. Sometimes Craig will even find himself influenced by the themes he reads as they eventually find their way to his lyrics. “People sometimes think that telling the truth is like telling a secret,” Craig says. “The (Book of Truths) was an idea to connect with the audience. I play all of these rooms, and I can never meet everyone who attends the show. That’s where it started, people began reading what other’s had written and it snowballed.”
We’ve now been sitting on the bench for close to an hour, when Craig’s sisters arrive to remind him that he’s late. I had been asking Craig whether he thought it were surreal to come home to Waterloo and find his face on posters, flagged as ‘Juno nominated’. “I think I’ll let my sisters take this,” he laughs.
“It’s neat,” Liz Cardiff agrees, her sister, Susan, nodding beside her. “I once took a photo of Craig in Florida with his legs buried, and made a caption that said, ‘Craig’s new album: Buried Alive, coming soon!’ but I didn’t tack the ‘lol’ on it so people believed it were real.”
“I had a lot of people ask me about that record,” Craig retorts jokingly annoyed.
“We don’t fight,” Liz and Susan reassure me, laughing.
Craig smiles and sighs, “Family.”
Wrapping up the interview, I thanked Craig for his time, and he gets ready to head out for some house concerts his planning to play before returning back to Ottawa. Later, I scan Facebook to see if I can find Liz’s photo, but I’m distracted by the numerous people who write on his wall to thank him for his live music. One woman takes a photo of herself and the Book of Truths where she’s written a note to a friend, thanking her for introducing her to his music.
I smile. I remember that earlier in my interview with Craig, he revealed what advice he has offered to children in his musical workshops: If you’re going to listen to Nickleback, perhaps you should also listen to some Craig Cardiff.
Well put, friend.