Saskatchewan’s folk hero brings The Party back home
Cover | by Stephen Whitworth
Andy Shauf is having one of the biggest years a Saskatchewan musician has had in ages. In May, his new album The Party arrived and it quickly scored a nomination for the Polaris Prize — the annual, independent Canadian music award bestowed on the country’s best record. Shauf didn’t have much time to get excited, since he spent his spring touring Europe and his summer opening for Case/Lang/Veirs (that’s the new supergroup made up of k.d. lang, Neko Case and Laura Veirs). So, kind of busy.
Shauf didn’t win this year’s Polaris. The prize, awarded at a fancy Toronto gala on Monday, Sept. 19, went to Montreal’s Kaytranada for his album 99.9%. It seems unlikely Shauf needs consoling but if he does he’ll likely find it — and more importantly, some amped-up audiences — when he returns home for two shows in October.
I spoke with Shauf over the phone a few days after the Polaris gala.
So, what’s this week been like?
A little slow. I’ve just been hanging out. I had the Polaris gala and a hangover, and now I’m just writing.
You’re in Toronto? Are you living there now?
Yeah, I am. Yeah, I live here. I don’t know if I’m here forever, but it’s convenient at the moment.
Jeff Tweedy [of Wilco] says you’re supposed to go to Chicago and work with him. I guess the flights from Toronto are pretty direct. What was it like to hear that? Are you going to take him up on his offer?
Yeah, definitely. I went to Chicago, I dunno, six months ago or something, and did a little bit of recording with him at the Loft [Wilco’s rehearsal and recording space], which was a pretty crazy experience — a little bit uncomfortable. Super nice guy. Also one of my heroes, so super intimidating.
Speaking of music all-stars, that was a hell of an opening gig you scored this summer. What was it like opening for Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs?
It was amazing. It was the easiest tour I’ve been on — we just showed up every day and got treated really well. It was really cool being on a tour with them, not only because they’re like, all-stars, but because they’re also just really nice and treated us really well. it was great.
How did that gig come about?
The album was released on Anti-, so label-mates. I think maybe they requested me? But I’m not actually sure. I know that k.d. lang has listened to my music for a little while, so maybe it worked out that way.
Did you get to spend much time with them?
Didn’t really spend that much time but they were around before the soundchecks and at meals and stuff, so a lot of small talk. I saw them every day. [Neko Case] is funny, she says whatever she wants — a pretty entertaining person.
Any tour stories?
I had these patches on tour at the merch table — little characters from the cover of the album — and Neko and k.d. and Laura were really into them so I gave k.d. some patches and she showed up the next day with one sewn on her hat. That was pretty cool.
Speaking of your album cover, I really like it. How much input did you have into that?
Quite a bit. I got my friend Meghan Fenske — she’s an artist from Regina, I think she lives in Calgary now. She illustrated all the characters. We talked a lot about layout, and what the characters were doing. It took a long time to get that locked down.
The illustrations are specific to the characters in the album?
Some of them. There’s the guy lying down and his ghost is coming out.
You always have characters on your records. Have you come up with any new ones in the last year? You’ve met a lot of people and had a lot of experiences. Or have you had it with characters now?
I’m trying to come up with new characters and scenarios. I don’t know how much the travel has informed my writing. I end up taking a lot more from myself than from things that I see around me. For the next one, I want a more tightly knit narrative and I haven’t quite accomplished that yet. I don’t know what the process is. I’m just trying to fill-up notebooks so I can pull it off. It’s totally foreign territory to me at this point.
The last time you did a Prairie Dog interview, Devin Pacholik asked what your fictional heavy metal band would be called. You didn’t have an answer for him them. Do you have one now?
No. I’ll continue to think on that.
This interview was condensed for blah blah blah, I’m supposed to write that, right? Oh yeah, also: “Stephen Whitworth is Prairie Dog’s lazy editor. He doesn’t interview people often so hopefully this didn’t suck too bad.”