Interview Conducted by Abby Utley and Ehmed Nauman
Article by Abby Utley
Imagine an ice cream sundae: it’s a smooth, fully decked out, all inclusive treat for your tastebuds. Now translate that satisfaction to your ears. In one soundbite, you can have it all: a decadent fusion of acoustic guitar and keys that set the foundation for a tangy clarinet and a crunchy saxophone. Oh, and you can’t miss the vocals – the caramel drizzle that seeps into every layer. It’s a sound that nurses any craving, any bad day – it meets you right where you are. With one listen, you know this is some gourmet songwriting. Not your mother’s songwriting, if you will.
Canadian musician Andy Shauf, 34, is one of the most unique and accomplished independent artists of our time. He got his start as the drummer of a Christian pop-punk band until 2006. He initially garnered plenty of attention from Canadian radio charts. After opening for The Lumineers around the time he self produced his record The Party in 2016, his status as genius was confirmed. In Andy Shauf’s music, you’ll find a safe space, a comfortable seat for your weary soul to take a breath. You cannot replicate a sound like Shauf’s, as his records are overflowing with rawness and authenticity.
While on his North American tour for his latest record, Wilds, Shauf spoke to us a little about his writing style, his influences, and his gear preferences in his world of self production. Shauf was initially into emo music, or rather, contexts with “loud band[s] where you get to move your body.” He looked up to Blink182 drummer Travis Barker and punk band Dashboard as he played on his high school drum set. At the time, Shauf was following the lead of his friends, the tide of the trends, but little did he know he had something different to offer that was stirring inside him.
“Someone recommended Elliott Smith and his writing was totally different to what I was listening to,” Shauf said. “He blew my mind and got me more interested in being more creative with my writing.”
Now, Shauf’s lyrics are some of the most distinguishable in the music industry. They’re very vivid and are revealing of his inner thoughts as they arrive at a spontaneous pace. Yet there exists a mysterious nature to his songs. This often provokes many listeners to assemble their own theories regarding Shauf’s plotlines.
Compared to his reserved yet honest attitude, his crowds often overcompensate with enough zeal to power a whole Beverly Hills neighborhood with electricity. I mean, if you stand in the crowd at a Shauf show, you’re bound to hear some questions thrown out into moments of silence. ‘Is Judy real?!’ The crowd at the Vic Theatre on March 24th certainly wanted to win some rare secret from the songwriting god standing center stage. Whether or not he revealed anything special, I’ll keep confidential. But of course there is also plenty to be gained from sitting with his earnest lyrics and just letting the scenes play out in your head, as if you’re being told a story by a friend.
“I love to read short stories. I’ve kind of always been interested in how you can do that. How you can string together words to make images in people’s minds,” Shauf said. “I find it fascinating that you can translate that to other people’s imaginations.”
Some of his best lyrics are so simple that they are good. They slip right off the tongue to mirror the casual interactions between characters of his song-stories. This nonchalant quality, combined with folk undertones, make for a casual yet still meaningful listening experience. Shauf finds a place to express his feelings in unpredictable and very specific settings.
For example, in his critically acclaimed record from 2016, The party, you’ll find that each song depicts a scene from one very messy, emotionally charged night. From start to finish, you feel tension on account of the narrator (Andy’s) fear and insecurities. He spends verses deliberating his choices and his social instinct, and he does so with increasing drunken confidence. There is so much to absorb from all of his records, if you do let the whole song rush over you like misty rain. The lyrics are simple, but they are some of the rawest you will find among modern independent music.
As Shauf’s relationship to music and songwriting has taken some evolutionary turns, I get the feeling that the way he sits down to write his records today is a bit different than it was ten years ago. He said, “These days, I’m trying to base songs out of characters more than settings. The setting just comes out of the character more these days than the other way around.” His writing process is deliberately ritualistic. So as the days pass, Andy Shauf’s notebook gets some fresh ink.
“I think there was a time when I figured you could just wait for the inspiration to strike but the older I get, the more I realize it’s kind of like a muscle.” Shauf said. “You need to stay active or else it gets harder to do. Everyday that I’m not on the road I sit down and try to write something or work on something that I’ve been writing.”
Geniuses are not exempt from struggling in their line of work, no matter how accomplished or talented they are. Like any other artist, Andy Shauf still has to trash lines, learn from his mistakes, and take the course that he believes is as organic and unrushed as possible. Daily effort, he believes, is just preparation for that special moment of truth, when a song starts to come together. The power of consistency means everything in his line of work.
Shauf also admitted his tendency to isolate himself and remain pretty self sufficient. Although this is what distinguishes Shauf’s music production from many others – his control from start to finish – he also admitted that he is “quick to dismiss something…. When someone else is bringing something else to the table that [he hasn’t] quite wrapped [his] head around.” But if he’s working with a group who knows him well and that he is comfortable with, they don’t hesitate in calling him out. This occasional headstrong tendency doesn’t pose too much of an issue simply because he has a good attitude and sense of humor to ease a plethora of tensions.
Andy Shauf is an exemplary indie artist. He is a renaissance musician, equipped with fluency in clarinet, guitar, piano, bass, drum playing. Most of his records are self produced and recorded. Aspiring artists not only have a lot to look up to in Andy, but also to take inspiration from. Andy has undoubtedly gotten to where he is today by wielding his scepter of imagination at all times. We – the honorable Shauf audience – don’t know for sure who Judy is, or how Jeremy and Sherry are doing, or if any of these characters are even real. But we do know situations like theirs. We’ve been offended by a person as obnoxious as Jeremy, and we’ve been left by someone as fleeting as Judy. We take away something different when we hear about these personalities from a humorous, gentle, earnest guy like Andy Shauf.
As Shauf’s North American tour for Wilds has recently come to a close, he is now embarking a European tour throughout this spring season.