Late nights, awkward encounters, and BMXing: A lot goes into the album-making journey, and Atwood Magazine chatted with Andy Shauf on the process for ‘The Neon Skyline’ and his methodology behind it all.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Andy Shauf is a bit of a recluse. He has often stated that his own life seldom has any intrigue, leading to quiet moments in the conversations he has, but despite that, he carries a charm that channels into his music in a seamless fashion. Personal storytelling is not his preference, so, instead, he focuses on the narratives that happen around him, building worlds that are fleshed out and fully realized in only a matter of minutes. This is made apparent with The Neon Skyline.
The narrative-driven sound behind Shauf’s music began to take shape with 2012’s The Bearer of Bad News, an album whose lilting tones and somber tales of a quaint small town saw a new side to Shauf, one that differentiated itself in both substance and presentation than with his previous album Darker Days. After the signing to the Anti- record label, Shauf then released The Party, catapulting him to a new spotlight that lauded his lyrical wit and creative storytelling habits, and rightfully so.
The Party was an exploration of a single night at one single party that saw rejections, merriment, and even death. Suffice to say, it was not the happiest of times for most, leading to a somber, although gorgeous, album. The Neon Skyline takes a different approach, one that grabs the good with the bad and makes what could be awkward situations into ones where one can laugh at or even cherish the moments that have already passed. It’s already looking to be one of 2020’s most admired albums.
Andy Shauf excels at his craft, and his writing is quite simply nonpareil, no other artist possessing the spark he carries. Though he finds no intrigue in his own life, plenty of it surrounds his practices, and Atwood Magazine recently sat down with the Saskatchewan-born artist to discuss the process behind The Neon Skyline (releasing January 24, 2020), what his time in Toronto looked like, and just how good he was at BMXing. Get all the info in our exclusive interview!
A CONVERSATION WITH ANDY SHAUF
Atwood Magazine: Congrats on the new release! It’s been a few years now since The Party, so how does it feel to finally have The Neon Skyline out?
Andy Shauf: Good! [laughs] I’ve been waiting a long time for it, so I’m just happy that it’s finally almost out.
With the new album came a new studio for you. How did this transition play into the overall creation of the album? Were there any new steps added to your song creation process?
Andy Shauf: I mean, I moved to Toronto three and half years ago, and it’s a big city and I’m pretty used to small cities and small-town living, so all I had was this tiny little apartment. I was trying to make some music there and that didn’t really work. I eventually found this garage to rent and then set up a studio there. After that, I kinda just resumed my own studio process.
Sonically, and I could be totally off base here, but I felt there was something shared with The Neon Skyline and Darker Days. Have your previous albums influenced the new avenues of sounds you went for with the new album?
Andy Shauf: I guess in a way. This one was similar to Darker Days, and I totally want to leave that one behind. Like, with The Party and Bearer of Bad News, I was getting into writing on piano a lot more. They were albums where I was focusing on, and I’m still focusing on the songwriting part of it, but I was focusing on the arrangement part. I would end up with a lot of intentional holes and gaps that I would try to fill with arrangements and different instrumentation.
On this one, I wanted to get back to, you know, how I used to write, which was sitting on the couch with a guitar and the end goal was to end up with a song that I can play with guitar and vocals. I added arrangement elements and stuff but I tried to keep it so that I wasn’t leaning on the arrangement so that the songs could still stand on their own. Yeah.
Your creative storytelling is, I mean I could go all day about it, but your lyrical wit is to put simply impressive. However, you’ve said in the past that it really only exists when music is present, which is why you don’t really do poetry or novels. What do you think it is about music that sparks that creativity for songwriting instead of poetry or literature writing?
Andy Shauf: I think partially it’s… well, when it’s signed and when there’s music involved, there’s structure to it, so I’m not staring at a blank page wondering when to start a sentence and when to end a sentence. It kinda is just there already, you know? Trying to figure out how many syllables can be used to express one thing. Yeah.
Something that always gets me with your music is how it seldom focus on just one singular emotion, and I think it’s most apparent with The Neon Skyline. It’s an album with many themes of lost love, but there is also laughter, wonderment, and a general sense of joy. You have an appreciation of incorporating every emotion and thought that goes into one experience. Is that something you think about when making music?
Andy Shauf: With this one, I was kinda looking back at The Party and… well, I felt that it just focused on the emotions of being nervous and awkward. It focused on the heavy emotions, you know? I think it’s weird now but back then it felt natural to try and focus on things that were heavy and try to dive into those, but on this record I was, like, you know, I’m not really that serious of a person.
If something heavy happens, I’ll probably make a joke about it before I, you know, stew on it in a really serious way. I tried to bring out the humor in those moments that were serious and a little more complicated.
I believe your grandmother wanted for you to write about something a little more uplifting, right?
Andy Shauf: [Laughs] Yeah, she wants me to make some happy songs, so maybe these ones seem happy enough.
So you started with around 50 songs made for the album and have now condensed it to 11. How did you manage that? What made these 11 songs the ones that got the green light?
Andy Shauf: I really wanted to make stories that just focused on a single narrative. The Party was all over the place with its glimpse into, you know, different things happening in the same place. This one I really wanted to make it just one guy, one night, and the things that happen to this person. So that’s why I ended up with so many songs.
I wanted to have it all planned out before I started writing, and that didn’t happen at all, so I was kinda finding the plot as I was writing which made it hard. I would just start on one thought and go down that road. And then that was, like, five songs but all went in the same direction, and then I decided that it was a bad idea where I wrote something new that I liked better and that contradicted what happened, like, four songs ago, so I had to cut those songs.
I ended with 13 that I thought worked really well together. I didn’t want to have a 13 song album, I only wanted 10. I ended up only cutting two that I actually really liked and really wanted to make the album but those two didn’t fit well enough with the plot.
Do you think those will be released as singles down the road?
Andy Shauf: Yeah! They are actually coming out around the time of the album as a b-sides thing.
If I remember correctly, at your last show in Seattle, you mentioned you frequented a bar in Toronto. Was this bar the inspiration for the name of the album?
Andy Shauf: [Laughs] It is! The bar’s called The Skyline, and I remember that… [laughs] was that the solo show?
Yeah, that’s the one!
Andy Shauf: Yeah! I remember talking about that because you guys are getting an NHL team and the potential name is The Seattle Skyline [laughs]!
Listen: “Living Room” – Andy Shauf
Going back to the lyrics for a moment, but they are specific and stunning with how well they create a visual image. For The Neon Skyline, what triggered these ideas? Were there some people watching and occasional conversation eavesdropping going on?
Andy Shauf: A lot of them were kind of, like, real-life things. Well, some of them were real-life things, but I think it’s like when you’re a regular at a bar you meet a lot of people but don’t really meet them. Maybe it’s a friend of a friend and he leans over across the bar to the bartender and talks, so you get a glimpse of a little story. It’s kind of just imagining a lot of that.
Some of them, like the song about reincarnation on there, came from a book I was reading. I read this book about reincarnation and every time I went to the bar, I ended up trying to convince people to read it. I was kinda obnoxious [laughs] so I decided to write a story about that.
Did you convince anyone?
Andy Shauf: [Laughs] Nah, I don’t think so. They were all like “No, I’m okay. Thank you.”
I think there’s still time to get them.
Andy Shauf: [Laughs] Yeah, I hope so!
Something else I really enjoy is the album cover. It almost acts as a prelude to the album with the group of what I imagine to be friends walking to the bar. Did you have an idea of what you wanted the cover to look like to convey the theme on the album?
Andy Shauf: Yeah. My friend Megan Penske did the artwork and were talking about what it should be and was kind of picturing it. There’s a moment on the album, I think it’s between—I never remember which comes first—I think it’s “The Moon” first and then “Try Again.” Anyway, I just picture them walking from bar to bar. Yeah, something like that.
I showed Megan an actual picture of The Skyline restaurant in Toronto and yeah. It’s got this big neon sign. I just love the cover because when I look at it, it just feels exactly like when I walk there.
And speaking of visuals, your music videos are some of the most creative out there, so major props to the teams you work with to get those done. With “Try Again,” did you have an idea of what you wanted the visual to look like?
Andy Shauf: I’m not really involved. When it comes to the video stuff, I try to leave it to the people who know what they’re doing [laughs], you know? I try to interfere as little as possible because I get in there… I’m just not, like, the visual person, so I don’t know what looks good. So, yeah, that was all them, and I was really with that one, too.
Listen: “Try Again” – Andy Shauf
I’m going to be seeing you in Seattle in February, and this time with a whole band compared to your last show here which was that solo one. What’s one of the biggest hurdles for you transitioning all of the solo energy into a full band experience? And in the same vein, what’s one of the best parts about it?
Andy Shauf: I really love performing solos because you can kinda get up there and you don’t feel any pressure from other musicians if you start messing up and you can kinda do whatever you want. I love playing with bands in the same way because, you know, there is that support there if you start fucking up. You also get to hear different musicians kind of interpret the parts and stuff and that’s nice. The songs really come to life after sitting in the studio for a year and only hearing it the way you played that whole time.
Are you looking forward to playing any song in particular during your tour?
Andy Shauf: I’m excited about all of them, really. I mean, there’s a different energy on the album and it’s going to be exciting to feel that and just see what people’s energy is like because, you know, it’s a little more upbeat and positive.
Do you still jam out to a lot of pop-punk music or has that reached its end?
Andy Shauf: [Laughs] it’s pretty much reached its end. I still like to listen to heavier music, like, there was this Bully record I was really into and would listen to a lot. Also, the Mannequin Pussy record this year. They’re not really pop-punk but they have some pop-punk elements. But yeah, I sometimes listen to heavier stuff.
Any artist we should be listening to right now?
Andy Shauf: I would definitely recommend that Mannequin Pussy record from this year. Er, well, last year, I guess.
You were given a flute a few years back by your mom. How’s the progress on that instrument going? Any chance for some flute solos in the future?
Andy Shauf: [Laughs] Flute is really hard! I’m chipping away at it. I think it’s gonna be a little while before I can really get those solos going. Yeah, there’s a couple of flute moments on this record. They’re kinda buried because I can only play, like, seven notes total.
Hey, we all have to start somewhere.
Andy Shauf: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly!
I saw a rumor that back in high school you were a pretty talented BMX rider. Is there any truth to that rumor?
Andy Shauf: That is…. True! I BMXed for a long time.
That’s pretty incredible! How long did you do that for?
Andy Shauf: Ah, man. I don’t know—five or six years? In high school, I started skateboarding more because it was just easier for it to take you places. So, yeah, I BMXed for a while. I could do bar spins really, so I did a lot of bar spin combos [laughs].
Last question for you: You’ve been making music for quite some time now. From the Love and the Memories of It days to now, how do you feel you have developed as a person and as an artist? And what plans do you have to keep growing?
Andy Shauf: I don’t know [laughs]. I always just kinda viewed it as just trying to write a better song than the last song that was written. I always do things one thing at a time.
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📸 © Colin Medley
:: Stream Andy Shauf ::
:: Andy Shauf Tour Dates ::
* = w/ Molly Sarleé ^ = w/ Faye Webster
Fri. Feb. 7 – Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups *
Sat. Feb. 8 – Lexington, KY @ The Burl *
Sun. Feb. 9 – Knoxville, TN @ Barley’s Taproom *
Tue. Feb. 11 – Nashville, TN @ Exit/In *
Thu. Feb. 13 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall *
Fri. Feb. 14 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk *
Sat. Feb. 15 – Dallas, TX @ Deep Ellum Art Co. *
Tue. Feb. 18 – Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom *
Thu. Feb. 20 – Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theater *
Fri. Feb. 21 – San Francisco, CA @ August Hall *
Sat. Feb. 22 – Sacramento, CA @ Harlow’s *
Mon. Feb. 24 – Portland, OR @ Revolution Hall *
Tue. Feb. 25 – Seattle, WA @ Neumos *
Wed. Feb. 26 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom *
Fri. Feb. 28 – Calgary, AB @ Bella Concert Hall *
Sat. Feb. 29 – Edmonton, AB @ The Starlite Room *
Mon. March 2 – Saskatoon, SK @ Broadway Theatre *
Tue. March 3 – Regina, SK @ The Exchange *
Wed. March 4 – Winnipeg, MB @ Park Theatre *
Thu. March 5 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Hall *
Fri. March 6 – Milwaukee, WI @ Colectivo *
Sat. March 7 – Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall *
Fri. March 13 – Lyon, FR @ Epicerie Moderne *
Sat. March 14 – Bordeaux, FR @ Krakatoa *
Tue. March 17 – Birmingham, UK @ Hare and Hounds *
Wed. March 18 – Glasgow, UK @ Mono *
Thu. March 19 – Manchester, UK @ Gorilla *
Fri. March 20 – Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club *
Sat. March 21 – Bristol, UK @ Fiddlers *
Sun. March 22 – Brighton, UK @ Chalk *
Wed. March 25 – Brussels, BE @ Botanique Orangerie *
Thu. March 26 – Utrecht, NL @ TivoliVredenburg *
Fri. March 27 – Rotterdam, NL @ Rotown *
Sat. March 28 – Nijmegen, NL @ Doornroosje *
Mon. March 30 – Hamburg, DE @ Elbphilharmonie *
Tue. March 31 – Copenhagen, DK @ Loppen *
Wed. April 1 – Stockholm, SE @ Nalen Klubb *
Thu. April 2 – Oslo, NO @ Ingensteds *
Sat. April 4 – Berlin, DE @ Silent Green *
Sun. April 5 – Cologne, DE @ Luxor *
Mon. April 6 – Rouen, FR @ Le 106 *
Tue. April 7 – Paris, FR @ Trianon *
Wed. April 8 – London, UK @ Shepherds Bush Empire *
Thu. April 23 – Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall ^ – JUST ANNOUNCED
Fri. April 24 – Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall ^ – SOLD OUT
Sat. April 25 – Montreal, QC @ Corona Theatre ^
Sun. April 26 – Sheffield, MA @ Race Brook Lodge ^
Tue. April 28 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club ^
Thu. April 30 – Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw ^
Fri. May 1 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer ^
Sat. May 2 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat ^
Mon. May 4 – Charlottesville, NC @ The Southern ^
Tue. May 5 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle ^
Wed. May 6 – Asheville, NC @ The Grey Eagle ^
Fri. May 8 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West ^
Sat. May 9 – New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks ^
Sun. May 10 – Birmingham, AL @ Saturn ^
Tue. May 12 – Indianapolis, IN @ Hi-Fi ^
Wed. May 13 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Andy Warhol Museum ^
Fri. May 15 – Asbury Park, NJ @ House of Independents ^
Sat. May 16 – Woodstock, NY @ Colony Cafe ^