By Meghan O’Neil
CALGARY — Despite feeling like Andy Shauf’s haunting clarinet and piano interludes have swept you into a sprawling concert hall, the only walls off which the acoustics bounced were the ones in his parents’ basement.
“They let me move home for a year. Well, they let me move home because I ran out of money and, so, I made an album.”
Shauf recorded the four-song EP, Sam Jones Feeds His Demons (March 2012), while living back home in Regina. He returned to that basement later in the year to create his latest full-length, The Bearer of Bad News, which he’s taken on the road across North America and the U.K. He recently brought the album to Republik last month, supporting Ontario-based eerie folk group, Timber Timbre.
Shauf’s parents’ basement became his self-made studio when he was in high school, producing recordings he says he’s happy can’t be found on the Internet.
The Shauf family owned a music store in town. His first instrument was the drums before he picked up a five-string guitar that had seen better days. He didn’t know how to tune or change the strings, but still played it.
“I learned how to play power chords in my first band. I learned how to play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ then I started writing songs with power chords and I haven’t stopped,” Shauf laughs.
Those teenage power chords and drum solos evolved into dark folk melodies produced by instruments all played by Shauf.
He tells stories in soft whispers during The Bearer of Bad News. He cites the last two tracks on the album, “Jerry Was A Clerk” and “My Dear Helen,” as an example. Both stories unfold on the same tragic night, each told from different unsettling perspectives.
“I was getting into writing story songs with a running narrative and I wanted to make two songs that connected that weren’t really obvious and cheesy. It felt good to do it because it felt natural and it was kind of a good moment.”
Shauf spent over four years writing The Bearer Of Bad News.
“I wrote probably 100 songs in that time. I kept the good ones. I don’t think most of those will see the light of day,” says Shauf. “There were some stinkers.”
Already, Shauf has a new album in the works. He’s taken the process out of the basement and has begun recording in a studio in Dresden, Germany. He’s also planning to take the album in a slightly new direction with the addition of a few sounds.
“I’m just trying not to repeat myself with everything,” says Shauf. “I’ve always been really against using synth and sample drums and things like that, but it’s a new thing to explore. Who knows? Maybe I’ll scrap it all and it’ll be acoustic with mandolin,” he laughs.
He references singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist St. Vincent and melodic rock group Tame Impala as inspirations for new directions. This sparked his curiosity to try it out himself.
“It seems to be kind of a trend. I don’t know why it’s like that. Maybe everybody is tired of using their acoustic guitars.”
Catch Andy Shauf at the Calgary Folk Fest on July 25th.AB, Alberta, Andy Shauf, Calgary Folk Music Festival