Juno nominee at Maxwell’s Music House


(Photo by Avery Gales)

Last Wednesday night, The Cord had the opportunity to grab dinner with Juno-nominated singer/songwriter Craig Cardiff.

Meeting at Maxwell’s Music House (where Cardiff was playing later that night) a scheduled  interview became an unexpected, but pleasantly-surprising dinner at the Raintree Cafe.

“One of my first shows was actually here at the Raintree beside Maxwell’s,” he said, “I’m just excited to be out and about.”

Suddenly, the dinner took on a new dimension as the restaurant’s importance to Cardiff’s career became apparent.

He ordered what he knew were some of the restaurant’s specialties, including their signature soup called Licensed to Dill. Excited by the prospect of a delicious and nourishing meal, the conversation began to flow.

Being somewhat unique in his approach to the music industry, Cardiff considers himself an entrepreneur as well as an artist.

“You can’t wait to be asked to play by the bar that’s never heard of you,” he said.

Cardiff insisted that artists need to be proactive in their search for performance venues, rather than just relying on others to “discover” their music or for managers to book shows.

“I’ve had a lot of luck trying to connect with people who are fans and just asking them to help,” he explained.

“So, I don’t care if it happens in their room, in a house or if it happens in a church or in a venue like Maxwell’s or a festival or a theatre; I don’t care. I just want to play for people who are excited to hear music. So that opens up everything and suddenly everything is a venue.”

This somewhat unconventional approach has proven successful for Cardiff, allowing for a tour across the country and beyond. The connection he maintains with his fans is also unique and extends beyond his music.

Cardiff brings a notebook he calls the “Truth Book” with him to every show. Reminiscent of Post Secrets, Cardiff passes the book around while he plays, asking people to write a single truth on its pages.

A quick flip through the book during dinner revealed the several funny, poignant and even tragic messages that fans shared.

Some musicians develop a disconnect with their fans. Fans place musicians up on a pedestal, and love them, but contacting them is nearly impossible.

While social media is helping to break down this discourse, Cardiff added his two cents.

“It’s the same problem that music teachers have. Everyone consumes music passively, but doesn’t connect with the idea that they should and are able to make it, so I think that’s one part of it,” he said.

Cardiff actively uses Facebook and Twitter, posting photos and sharing stories from the road.

However, when it comes to his shows, he’s ardent in putting technology aside and simply enjoying the moment.

“What breaks my heart is being in a crowded room and just seeing a bunch of glowing laps where people are texting and not connecting,” he said.

“They’re missing the whole point. Like, shut the phone off and be here and be with us and open up. For sure, take pictures, do all that stuff, but it’s like being close to a whale passing or seeing a lunar eclipse or something and missing it because your head’s down. So, that’s a heartbreaker.”

Later that evening at his show, Cardiff created an almost indescribable atmosphere. Maxwell’s was filled to capacity. To accommodate the crowd, Cardiff opened up the stage as extra seating.

Cardiff played a lot of his old songs including, “Radio 9,” which speaks about the difficulty of long distance relationships. The live looping at the end makes the song unique.

“Safe Here” includes a sing-a-long portion which had the entire audience involved in the performance.

Another stand-out piece was “The Very Last Night of the End of the World,” which included a live beat boxing part, which emphasized its well-written and though-provoking lyrics.

Cardiff also played pieces he composed for an independent film called In Return.

These songs, set to passionate love-scenes are in the genre of what Cardiff calls “soft-core folk.”

In Return was the second soundtrack composed by Cardiff, as he contributed a piece to Barney’s Version in 2010.

A gifted songwriter and musician, Cardiff’s two shows at Maxwell’s were simple, yet outstanding.

His rapport with the audience was hilarious as he recounted funny nuances and thoughts between each song.

Cardiff’s acoustic-folk style is made more interesting as he incorporates beat boxing and looping into many of his songs.

His lyrics, both tongue-and-cheek and poignant paint stories in the audience’s minds, keeping the room captivated until the very last note.

“The thing I like to think of is that songs that I care about are like trying to untie a heart knot. A complicated knot,” he said.

“And so by refining the words and flushing out the melody, it’s like that’s the figuring out of the knot and then when it all comes undone you have this simple string, and, in untying the knot you’ve likely untied it for other people as well.”

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