Vestiges of the Canadian Prairie: An Interview with Andy Shauf at Newport Folk Festival

Andy Shauf's album The Bearer of Bad News was released in the U.S. this year and he embarked on a tour that brought him to the Newport Folk Festival.
Andy Shauf

Andy Shauf‘s most recent album The Bearer of Bad News was released in his home country of Canada in 2012. Yet it was only released in the United States this year. I first heard it ahead of Newport Folk Festival and I immediately recalled the music of Elliot Smith and Nick Drake. Almost the entirety of the album is depressing, but his songs and stories are well crafted. Shauf created Bearer with his modest means, in his own home.

During his set at Newport, Shauf admitted that most of the songs on the album were kind of “downers” before he did one of the happier tunes. While that one ended up receiving a lot of applause, the entirety of his solo set was enjoyable. People raptly listened, sad tunes and all. Afterwards, PopMatters had a chance to speak with Shauf about his songwriting and recording processes after his Newport set, learning a little about this modest musician from Canada.

What do you think our readers should know about you?

I’m from Regina, Saskatchewan which is a small city. Mostly farm kids and football fans. I don’t really fit in but we’ve got a little group of musicians and pals.

Who else is in your musical circle?

There’s a band called Library Voices, they are a six or seven piece pop band. They’re my pals. Rah Rah is another band. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them.

Is this your first time in Newport? Who are you looking forward to seeing this weekend?

Yeah it is. I got here today but I’m really looking forward to seeing José González and Sufjan [Stevens]. I’ve never seen Sufjan play so it’s pretty cool.

And you are on tour with First Aid Kit?

I’ve done two shows with First Aid Kit. I think we have like three more together.

How did it feel to play in front of the Newport festival crowd earlier?

It feels good. With outdoor shows and festival shows, I always kind of feel a little bit out of place — because my songs are pretty quiet and sad, mostly lyric based. But coming to this festival I felt a little bit more confident that people might be here to actually listen to my songs. Which was nice. [It] felt good.

So you would be more home in a darker…

Yeah a quiet room or something.

On The Bearer of Bad News, you play all the instruments correct? Can you describe the recording process?

I recorded it in my parent’s basement, so it was just a lot of me. It was kind of the same as like [a] demoing process. I record guitar and a vocal then I add stuff to it. Let it sit for a week and go back to it, take stuff away, add different instruments. It took a long time just ’cause I had an infinite amount of time to work with. There was no deadline or anything.

You play clarinet on it. That’s an odd instrument for a rock album right? Well maybe it’s not quiet rock…

[confidently] Oh it’s rock. [laughs]

What’s the first instrument you learned?

The first instrument that I learned was the drums. Then I learned guitar in high school. My mom bought me a clarinet for Christmas, probably a year before I started recording that, I saw a band play and they had a clarinet. I thought the tone and texture of it was really nice. So I figured I’d rip them off and try and do it myself.

It’s impressive you learned it in under a year.

It’s actually not the most difficult instrument to play. I’m not good at it by any means but it’s kind of like you blow into it and you press buttons.

I used to play trumpet so I imagined its three buttons are easier to learn than however many there are on the clarinet.

Even with the trumpet you have to have your ambature correct. I have a trombone as well. I figured if I can play the clarinet I can play anything but those are impossible to learn.

What’s your favorite instrument in the recording process?

I take a lot of time on the drum parts. I like to be really specific about that. Or piano. Piano is probably my favorite instrument to write on. With the guitar I always get locked into certain things that I always do. Piano is all just sitting in front of you. It’s infinite.

On The Bearer of Bad News, you have songs that are stories, are they based on people you know? I’m not sure if you know someone named “Wendell Walker.”

Actually, there was someone on Twitter [who] was named Wendell Walker and he found my song which is pretty funny.

How do you get the characters for your songs?

Most of the characters on that album are people that could exist in the prairies. “Wendell Walker”, that one is a bit extreme. But there are two stories that are connected and they are about an old farmer whose wife passed away and he lives on his farm. It’s just kind of someone that I thought of. A small town farmer, someone who would go to my grandparent’s church. That’s what I had in mind.

You mentioned prairies – so that’s party of Saskatchewan’s natural environment?

Pretty much. I describe the climate a lot. Like in “Wendell Walker”, it’s winter. It’s cold and isolating. That’s pretty Saskatchewan. Pretty prairie. “My Dear Helen” talks about the summer and the muggy heat. So that’s kind of Saskatchewan climate-wise.

What artists did you draw inspiration from for this album?

Well, The Bearer of Bad News, when I was making that I was mostly listening to The Beatles. I always get compared to Eliot Smith and he’s obviously been an influence on my music. But I like to think I’m doing something different than he was.

In another interview, you said you wrote like 100 songs before you culled it to 10 for this album. What happened to the other 90? Will you be working on those at all?

No. The reason that I ended up with that many songs was just because I had been demoing for the new album while I was in a record contract. They just wouldn’t let me release a new one so I just kept writing and writing. The ones that didn’t make it should never see the light of day [laughs]. Some of them are okay and I play some of them live still but I’m a big fan of scrapping songs.

What’s the most fun to play?

Usually the one I like to play is the newest one. I always like to try out new songs.

And I assume you have been crafting new songs since The Bearer of Bad News came out in 2012?

Yeah I’m almost finished. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years I guess. Pretty much right before this tour started, I was in the studio finishing it up. So I got couple more to do and then I’m done. It’s a little bit more upbeat than this one. The subject matter is probably still depressing.

Will that see release next year?

Yeah. Hopefully spring.


Begnins, CH • 08.27.15 • JVAL Openair Festival

Lucerne, CH • 08.28.15 • Neubad

Lausanne, CH • 08.29.15 • Bleu Lézard

Brighton, UK • 09.01.15 • Prince Albert

Leeds, UK • 09.02.15 • Oporto

London, UK • 09.03.15 • Dingwalls w/ Jacco Gardner

Larmer Tree Gardens, UK • 09.04.15 • End of The Road Festival

Vlieland, NL • 09.05.15 • Into The Great Wide Open Festival

Amsterdam, NL • 09.06.15 • Paradiso (Sugar Mountain Festival)

Hamburg, DE • 09.07.15 • Prinzenbar

Cologne, DE • 09.08.15 • Wohngemeinschaft

Oslo, NO • 09.09.15 • Mono

Bergen, NO • 09.10.15 • Perfect Sounds Forever Festival

Groningen, NL • 09.12.15 • Take Root Festival

* * *

Madison, WI • 09.18.15 • High Noon w/ LOW

Chicago, IL • 09.19.15 • Thalia Hall w/ LOW

Ottawa, ON • 09.20.15 • CityFolk Festival

Toronto, ON • 09.21.15 • Mod Club w/ LOW

Montreal, QC • 09.22.15 • Bar Le Ritz w/ LOW

Boston, MA • 09.23.15 • Brighton Music Hall w/ LOW

Brooklyn, NY • 09.24.15 • Music Hall of Williamsburg w/ LOW

Hamden, CT • 09.25.15 • The Outer Space w/ LOW

Washington, DC • 09.26.15 • Black Cat w/ LOW

Halifax, NS • 10.23.15 • Halifax Pop Explosion

Minneapolis, MN • 11.11.15 • First Avenue w/ LOW

Omaha, NE • 11.12.15 • Reverb Lounge w/ LOW

Denver, CO • 11.13.15 • Larimer Lounge w/ LOW

Salt Lake City, UT • 11.14.15 • The Complex w/ LOW

Los Angeles, CA • 11.16.15 • Troubadour w/ LOW

San Francisco, CA • 11.18.15 • Great American Music Hall w/ LOW

Portland, OR • 11.20.15 • Doug Fir Lounge w/ LOW

Seattle, WA • 11.21.15 • The Crocodile w/ LOW