Cardiff goes green with technology

Folk-rocker sells new album digitially to USB-toting fans

One of Ontario’s hardest working independent musicians, Cardiff has released 10 albums in the past 10 years.
One of Ontario’s hardest working independent musicians, Cardiff has released 10 albums in the past 10 years.

Unlike most musicians, Craig Cardiff won’t only be hawking plastic-wrapped, jewel-cased editions of his new album Goodnight (Go Home) on his upcoming 60-date tour.

Instead, the Waterloo native wants fans to bring in USB keys to buy a digital download of the album for $10. “The green focus for us is just in reducing the amount of plastic we were using in CDs,” Cardiff said.

Though old-fashioned CDs and jewel cases will be sold at the show for $5 more, Cardiff said the new USB program has an edge—along with the music, purchasers will still get an album insert and art.

“I just think [music] is like physical,” he said. “At shows where I really enjoy myself, you’re involved with it, so to get an ethereal sound thing that sits on your computer doesn’t connect.”

The new album is Cardiff’s 10th in as many years. His prolific discography is representative of Cardiff’s career philosophy to gain fans and musical respect through grassroots initiatives such as performing in living rooms and relying on word-of-mouth referrals.

“I’m a songwriter who relies on touring as a way to reach fans, not radio or video, and so I think it’s important to have something new each time,” he said. “I think it’s weird for an artist to write an album and tour that album for five years. You live new things and experience things and music is about that.”

This album is different from his past albums in its recording process. Produced by Les Cooper, who has produced albums for Jill Barber and Andy Stochansky, the album came together over a longer period than any of Cardiff’s others, taking about a year and a half to finish.

“I think what I learned on this album is that it’s good to capture everything and eavesdrop a lot and be like a bird building a nest, taking in little parts of everything—and then to walk away from that,” he said.

Cardiff had little choice when it came to walking away from the material, as he was laying down tracks in Toronto between tour dates in living rooms and at music festivals and summer camps.

“They would be sending me mixes when I was down in the United States or whatever. It was giving up a bit of the responsibility and control.”

The involvement of other hands on the album has created a more polished result, something Cardiff said he has wanted to do for a while.

“I’ve got this wonderful grab bag of a discography in terms of size and diversity,” he said. “ But I’ve just gotten feedback from so many people saying ‘Yeah this is brilliant, but I can’t play this on the radio,’ or ‘Yeah this is good but I wish there were drums.’ ”

On the other hand, Cardiff was reluctant to sound over-polished after establishing his career through a collection of raw, independently produced recordings. Even his live shows rely on a certain amount of spontaneous raw material.

“One thing I get criticized for by bandmates is coming up with material on stage that’s half-finshed and saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to try it out,’ ” Cardiff said. “I believe that pressure can finish things and distill things down into something that works.”

Case in point: Cardiff’s 2005 album, Bombshelter Living Room, was recorded live at the Bombshelter Pub at the University of Waterloo. The material on the album was rehearsed for the first time on the morning of the recording, with sheet music to all the songs being distributed to the band over breakfast before the sound check.

“The end result is so spontaneous and full of energy,” Cardiff said. “That’s one of my hesitations going into the studio, is that I would lose that chaos and some of the elements of jazz.”

The Goodnight (Go Home) tour, which will hit up 60 dates in nearly as many cities across Canada, begins this Thursday at Alfie’s. Though Cardiff’s career has led him away from day jobs and into what he calls a “slippery slope” of frequent shows, he said he’s kicking off the tour here to recognize the early days of his career.

“One of my first shows on tour was in Kingston at the QP,” he said. “I just really loved the town and the listeners are pretty rabid and pretty diehard, so it’s just a neat place to start out.”

Craig Cardiff plays this Thursday at Alfie’s. Tickets are $11 and are available at Destinations.

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