At the age of 22, Christian Cuff was living under the 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan. He had 200 bucks and a guitar to his name. Ostensibly in New York City to try to make a break as a songwriter, he discovered things didn’t quite work out as planned.
“It was really cliché. I was playing shows and then sleeping under a bridge,” said Cuff, now 24 and living back in his hometown, Bath. “Things definitely don’t always work out the way you plan.”
Fortunately, when things don’t work out according to plan, something else happens. Case in point: While playing the open mic circuit in New York, Cuff met a friend who eventually gave him a spot on her apartment floor to crash. The friend in turn introduced him to Gustav Haggren and Helena Arlock, a Swedish songwriting duo. Long story short, Cuff’s heading off to Europe on Monday to tour with them for the next month.
Let this be a lesson to you, kids: One day, you might be living in a cardboard box. The next, you’re playing music in Ireland with your friends. Life is funny that way.
Before he goes abroad, though, Cuff will play a show with his older brother, Jacob, at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor at 8 tonight.
The younger brother came to music later than the rest of his siblings.
“Coming from a musical family, and being the youngest of five, everybody played an instrument. We all played guitar,” Cuff said. “But the funny thing is, I kind of rebelled against that. I didn’t really start playing music seriously until I was 20.”
Cuff, ever the world-wanderer, became inspired to compose songs while he was studying at Murdoch University, outside Perth, Australia. A bad breakup with a girlfriend made him pour his emotions into his songs — 10 of which are available on his debut album, “Silo.” While Cuff is a fine guitarist and vocalist, for him the focus is on the lyrics.
“It’s always going to be all about the lyrics for me. That’s where it all starts,” he said. “It’s very much an outlet for me.”
“Silo” brings to mind the slow-burning, complex music of Nick Drake, Damien Rice or Ray LaMontagne. Laced with evocative cello and upright bass, with very little drum accompaniment, the simplicity of the arrangements is in stark contrast to the heady lyrical content.
The stripped-down nature of his music makes it easy for him to pick up and tour, though, and that’s why he’s been across North America and Europe several times over. You could call him a wandering troubadour, but Cuff’s happy to just drive around in a van and play music with his friends.
“There’s been a lot of serendipity in the things that have happened to me, and the friends I’ve made,” he said. “Being able to travel and play music is really wild. It’s been an amazing ride so far.”
Though don’t let that fool you — he’s spend most of the past year on the road, but his heart belongs to Maine.
“I’m never in one place for too long, but Maine is home,” he said. “Why go live in New York City, where it’s so expensive and so competitive that you’ll end up playing open mics for the rest of your life? In Maine you can just be. It’ll always be home.”
Christian Cuff and Jacob Cuff (who this week is releasing an EP titled “I Am”) will play at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, at the Criterion Theatre, 35 Cottage St., Bar Harbor. Tickets are $12 and $15. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/christiancuff.