Band: Andy Shauf
Album: The Party
Label: ANTI- / Indigo
Andy Shauf is inviting you to The Party. The Party is the ANTI- Records debut for this Canadian songwriter, who grew up in small-town Saskatchewan.
Awkward characters show up “Early to the Party,” and either reveal life-changing secrets (“To You”) or try their hardest to reveal nothing at all (“The Magician”). In “a city the size of a dinner plate,” everyone knew the guy who keeled over dead after smoking what he promised would be his last pack of cigarettes (“Alexander All Alone”). The girl dancing by herself, unselfconsciously, in the middle of the room, with the “Eyes of Them All” upon her. One moment you’re dancing with someone who bears an uncanny resemblance to your ex (“Martha Sways”), and later you start slagging your best friend as way of endearing yourself to his recently dumped ex (“Quite Like You”). Did that all really happen in the same night? It certainly happens in the space of this tightly narrated thirty-eight minutes, all set to ornate arrangements of fuzzed-out guitars, string sections, clarinets and dreamy synths, all draped over delicate piano, acoustic guitars and rainy-day drums.
Shauf grew up in a musical family who would often perform together at their church—which, for the 12-year-old Shauf, was more discomforting than inspiring at the time. He picked up the drums and played in pop-punk bands in high school, and got into emo before someone slipped him an Elliott Smith album. That sent him down a rabbit hole into ’70s singer-songwriters like Paul Simon and Randy Newman, and soon he was writing his own material. The summer before Grade 12, while his friends were all working summer jobs, Shauf stayed home and made his first record. After high school he moved to The Big City—a.k.a. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan (pop. 193,000)—and started touring Western Canada, mostly DIY venues in punk scenes. The soft-spoken guy with an acoustic guitar found himself opening for hardcore bands a lot. “I always expected to get my ass kicked, but people would just end up buying CDs.”
In 2015, after toiling for six years in relative obscurity, Shauf’s 2012 release The Bearer of Bad News was re-released in the U.S. by Portland labels Tender Loving Empire and Party Damage. Choice festival gigs started coming in: Newport Folk Festival, Iceland Airwaves, Toronto’s Field Trip, two tours of Europe. Wasn’t he sick of those songs by then, though? “The album was something I was still proud of, so I was okay with touring it a little bit longer.”
On The Bearer of Bad News, Shauf started out with 100 songs and whittled it down to 11, the cream of the crop—no wonder it turned heads. This time, older, wiser, and with a clearer vision and narrative construct in mind, the self-produced multi-instrumentalist and master of subtlety focused on 15 and cut it to 10. Brevity is key: these vignettes and character portraits are as rooted in classic pop songwriting as Aimee Mann or Ron Sexsmith, with shades of the Shins, Belle and Sebastian and Grandaddy seeping into Shauf’s modern arrangements. Recording began with a band in Germany in early 2014, but Shauf—who is endlessly rewriting lyrics and rearranging songs, building them up and then stripping them back to their basics—decided to start anew back home in Regina. There, he set up shop at Studio One, located in an old CBC building, and was left to his own devices. He plays all the instruments, with the exception of the strings, handled by Colin Nealis.
The Party is not exactly a concept record, but it was a way for the singer-songwriter to get out of his own head. An after-party record, more like it. Or for the hangover the next day, when only Shauf’s songs can make any sense of the emotionally-charged scenarios that played out the night before.
When The Party was over, Shauf had no regrets—even if its characters have more than a few. You’re invited to The Party. It’s one you’ll never forget.