Prairie Dog Vault

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Andy Shauf

Regina’s Paul Simon makes beardos swoon like little girls

by James Brotheridge

Andy Shauf
w/Julia McDougall and Evening Hymns
The Artful Dodger
Sunday 11

When I interviewed Andy Shauf, we were talking in his Regina home. He moved into the Cathedral neighbourhood house from his parents’ place in rural Saskatchewan, where he had recorded most of his new album, The Bearer of Bad News.

There, he had a big, empty room to set himself up in. Here in Regina, his studio and practice space is the basement of a shared house.

Shauf practices and records here, as do his bands, Foxwarren and College Kids. His bandmate (and the guy who actually owns the house), Darryl Kissick, is records his own solo work down there, too.

It’s a more crowded experience for Shauf.

“When I was at my parents’, they were gone all day so I could just sit around, figure it out. Now I never know when people are going to be walking around upstairs.”

(Later in our talk, someone in the house takes a big, echoey pee — clearly audible in the recording space — that leaves no question as to whether the person was standing up. Another fact of life with roommates.)

Weird circumstances for someone College Kids and Library Voices member Carl Johnson calls “the Paul Simon of Regina, of Saskatchewan, of Western Canada.” But Shauf’s dealt with weirder.

After signing with an American label who released his 2007 album, Darker Days, he was pitched into music industry limbo for years.

“I was supposed to release a record in 2009 on Hopeless Records, and they just kept stringing me along and had me touring the States, trying to promote my other album that wasn’t selling at all,” says Shauf. “Eventually, they let me go. I asked to be let go because nothing was happening.

“I had 150 songs or something from over those years, waiting to release a new album, so I narrowed it all down.”

I ask, and Shauf says 150 songs isn’t hyperbole. If it wasn’t that many, it was close.

“I went through a phase where I would write so many songs. I don’t really do that anymore. There were a lot of really bad songs.”

What was the worst? “There were a lot of worsts.”

Shauf continued to tour and play locally in the intervening years, building a reputation across Canada for a compelling voice both literally and lyrically and an uncompromising dedication to songwriting.

Johnson remembers when he first experienced Shauf’s music.

“He, or someone putting on the show, asked me to play the Buffalo Lounge; the only time I’ve been in there. I remember just watching him play and it just blew my mind. I remember he played an acoustic song by himself for the encore. He stood in the middle of all these kids. I was just as in awe as any of the teenagers there that night.”

Shauf moved back in with parents following the release of Darker Days, beginning demos for whatever release would come next.

“When I moved there initially, my dad was like ‘Okay, this time you can pay rent,’ and I was like ‘Okay.’ And he was like ‘$300 a month’, which is totally reasonable.

“That lasted three months. I ran out of money.”

Luckily, his parents were fine with him sticking. (They really do seem like game people, having sung harmonies at a show of his at least once that I’m aware of.)

Once Shauf escaped his contract with Hopeless Records, he started work on a follow-up. Originally, he thought of doing a double album since he had such a backlog of songs and hadn’t released any recorded material for so long.

Eventually, he winnowed that down to a tight 11 songs — what is now The Bearer of Bad News.

He played virtually everything on the album, apart from the drums on one song done by Avery Kissick. That means vocals, piano, bass, violin, clarinet, drums, guitar –– all recorded and performed by Shauf.

“Everything changes a million times until it feels like it’s right,” he says.

The trial-and-error process was complicated by the fact that he was working with a home studio of his own design. “I’m not super good at recording, so mostly I’d set up stuff close to my desk so I could hit Space and walk over quickly.”

The cumulative picture –– a young man working on an independent release by himself in his parents’ home in rural Saskatchewan –– is surprising, especially when you look at the finished product. Full bands would have to work damn hard to produce something so purposeful.

Johnson obviously envies the ability.

“I’ve never seen anyone play that many things that well that naturally, but he still keeps the song as the centre point,” he says. “Nothing conflicts with that. It’s always one thing in the centre and everything he does serves that purpose.”

Still, Shauf was dispirited during some of the process for Bearer.

“There were a lot of nights where I was like ‘Am I ever going to finish this?’ I worked on it for a year but some days, I would just sit there, trying one piano thing and being like ‘This is the worst thing ever.’ Then just playing Wii Tennis or something.

“I can be pretty lazy sometimes. There were a lot of nights where I was wondering if it would ever come out or if I’d finish it or if I’d just get a job.”

DEATH AND SONGS

Maybe some of those dark feelings were peaking into Shauf’s mind when he was writing the songs for Bearer. He can’t trace what draws him to gloomy topics, here represented in some doomed relationships, botched heists and deaths.

I ask Shauf for the body count on Bearer.

“Two, I think.”

“Two?” I pause, thinking about it. “No, I think it’s three.”

“Really?”

“Because it’s two murders and a suicide.”

“Oh yeah.”

If he doesn’t know why he’s writing about these topics, he’s at least aware that people have done songs about killings before. He says he wants to avoid using these elements just for the shock value — to not be the Will Ferrell of murder ballads, to paraphrase Shauf.

“I at least try to make them interesting. “Jerry Was a Clerk” isn’t your typical murder ballad.”

Shauf really isn’t the type to trumpet his greatness. Johnson doesn’t have any problem doing that for Shauf — even if, after talking about how good Shauf is over a 10-minute phone call, he feels a little self-conscious about it.

“I’m such an unabashed hype man, but it’s true. It’s sincere,” Johnson says.

“When I talk to Aidan Knight or Matthew Goud or other people like that in the same genre as him, we all gush the same. Just gushing like little school girls at how great he is.”


Julia And Her Producer

When a McDougall enlists a Shauf, awesomeness results

Julia McDougall didn’t take off her coat until we were well into our interview, so it wasn’t until then that I noticed she was wearing a sweater for Andy Shauf’s new album, The Bearer of Bad News.

She says she only had one warm sweater that, through frequent wearing, was getting a little gross. So Shauf let her have the sweater for free.

“I’m seriously like his orphan,” says McDougall, probably joking.

She describes how she got Shauf to produce her new EP, I Don’t Really Care, in similar terms.

“Basically, I was just so pathetic, really pathetically desperate for a producer. I think Andy felt really bad for me, so he agreed to do it.”

The two had similar roots. They’d both been singer/songwriter types playing in the old Saskatchewan hardcore circuit. McDougall says they never met back then, although they do have MySpace messages from back in the day where they said “hi”. And they did play a Weyburn show together where they weren’t introduced to each other.

When talking about I Don’t Really Care, though, she makes it clear that Shauf was a big part of the process — not least of which because everything she says about the album involves the word “we”.

“I’m saying ‘we’ so much because really, Andy helped me so much with it. It really was a straight-up collaboration,” says McDougall.

“Of course, the songs are mine and I wrote them. The ideas were mine but the way they came together was so much a collaboration.”

McDougall’s last release was Who Is This, a 2009 album put out under the name Julia and her Piano. Since then, she’s convocated from Simon Fraser University, where she studied composition, and moved back to Saskatchewan. She’s also recording under her own name these days.

Originally, the four songs on this release were intended to be part of an album, but that’s been delayed for the moment. From the sounds of it, putting the EP together was enough work for McDougall and Shauf.

Though it wasn’t without its charms.

“One of the tracks that has piano, we recorded on a grand piano in a little church two hours south of here in a town called Bromhead. It’s a really weird little town. The population is seven or less. There’s all these old buildings, like a rundown gas station. It’s really quiet,” says McDougall.

“Every day that we were out there this summer, this one farmer who lived across the street from the church who was always out harvesting, he’d always stop by, check in and have a chat with us when we were taking a break outside. Say ‘Pretty nice day out’ then head back to his work.”

Still, McDougall’s life is full up, especially since she’s the executive assistant at the Artful Dodger, an all-things-to-all-people arts space/concert venue/cafe/et cetera.

“This past month or two, I’ve had no life. It’s just been go to work, then call up and ask, ‘Andy, are you ready? ‘Yeah.’ Then, we’ll fight one night because it’s tough and we’re tired. Then another night we’ll be like ‘Yeah! This is awesome!’

“It’s been my whole life,” she says. /James Brotheridge