Craig Cardiff: finding hope in Floods and Fires
Are floods and fires always painful, destructive things?
Craig Cardiff doesn’t think so.
With his latest album, Floods and Fires, the singer-songwriter explores the idea that opportunity, love and happiness can come from being open and letting go of fear.
Filled with rich, beautiful upbeat songs, Cardiff’s Floods and Fires sends a message of hope, a hope that he says comes from shifting his thinking and being open.
This shift was inspired by Cardiff’s Book of Truths. During his shows, Cardiff passes around a notebook in which audience members write small, anonymous “secrety things,” and one of those notes that changed Cardiff’s thinking.
Someone had written, “Fear rents the cheapest room in the house. I wish for you better quarters.”
“That solidified that the things that hold us back — for me, in my writing and in my approach to music — were all things we were responsible for and were able to change,” Cardiff says, phoning from his home outside of Ottawa. “It’s a shift … that it wasn’t somebody else’s fault or somebody else’s responsibility. Everything feels very liberated and makes sense for me. It was that idea that I could then connect in songs.
“I feel like everybody talks about writing a great song, and I feel like everybody is trying to write the same song, which is tying all the knots and fitting all the puzzle pieces. That’s why all great songs are songs everybody can connect to and identify with. For me, all the work that went into the album … choosing to be awake when it’s easier to be asleep, that’s where it all started. Within the framework of choosing to be happy instead of fear, everything becomes clear, and all the songs connect.”
The positive in Cardiff’s songs plays against the album’s title, Floods and Fires.
“I love any writing that’s playful, whether it’s poetry, songs or books,” he says. “By calling it Floods and Fires, it feels very serious, or it has that potential. The songs are very joyful. That was the playoff — these very joyful songs and this Biblical, serious title. Beyond that, floods and fires are these things we all associate with terrible things … but they can also clear out things that needed to be cleared out and reset for us, and I know that’s not always easy to see, but that is one idea within it.”
Floods and Fires, which was nominated for “Roots and Traditional Album of the Year: Solo” Juno Award this year, is Cardiff’s sixteenth release in the past 15 years.
While most of his releases have been recorded live or off the floor, Cardiff chose to take his time with this album. He and producer/engineer Ben Leggett recorded the album in a studio they built in Cardiff’s Arnprior farmhouse. They worked on the album over the course of 18 months, with Leggett — who shares writing credit on the album — coming to live with Cardiff and his five-year-old daughter, Rowan, so that work on Floods and Fires could fit into the normal course of Cardiff’s life.
“For me, it was about wanting to not wonder what a song could’ve sounded like if more time had been given to it,” says Cardiff. “That was a huge part of it. The other piece was finding ways to record that work for me as opposed to work for other people.”
Connecting with people has always been important to Cardiff, and during the course of recording Floods and Fires, he turned to his friends and fans many times.
“It’s always been about connecting directly with people, whether fans or players,” he said. “This was a project needing openness.”
Cardiff also turned to his fans when he needed funding to complete the album, offering incentives to those who ordered the album in advance. Fans helped Cardiff finish the album, and Floods and Fires became the only crowd-funded album nominated for a Juno this year.
It’s this desire to connect with people that led Cardiff to start passing around the Book of Truths in January 2011. He can’t always talk to every person at each show, and he finds these little notebooks give him another way to connect with audience members.
“I feel like I’ve had this one-way conversation for the past 15 years that I’ve been performing with so many audience members,” he said. “Part of it is I just felt egotistical that I’d been having this long-winded one-way conversation for so long and to sort of invite people to share themselves a little bit, because that’s what I feel you do when you perform.”
Cardiff has found that the Book of Truths shows how much people have in common.
“I feel like everybody’s a little bit broken, and everybody has the same capacity and range of terribleness and beautifulness and light,” he said.
Photographs by Lindsay Chung.