Catching Up With Andy Shauf

The Canadian behind one of our favorite live shows of the year on why two clarinets are better than one.

Music Features Andy Shauf
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Catching Up With Andy Shauf

Andy Shauf’s live set is one of the best things we’ve seen on stage all year. His five-person show features not one but two clarinets, and it’s a wonderful enactment of the Canadian singer-songwriter’s 2016 Polaris Music Prize shortlist nominee The Party. The album, with Shauf’s confident coos, gentle guitar strums, ambitious arrangements, tasteful strings and those revelatory clarinets, is smooth stuff for the most comfortably mood-lit rooms of your house.

When Paste first talked with Shauf a year ago, he was telling us about creating the characters he sings about on The Party, a concept album stuffed with awkward moments and drunk confessions. “People feel like they can really be themselves when they’ve had a few drinks,” he said, “or they can really not be themselves.” Since then, he’s been touring and playing the festival circuit consistently. We caught up with him following his set at Los Angeles’s FYF Festival to talk about his live set-up, Polaris and his personal FYF stand-outs.

It’s not often you see someone playing live with two clarinets as part of a four- or five-piece band. How did that happen?

It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I mean, I put clarinet in almost every song on the last two albums. I used to live in Regina, Saskatchewan, and there’s no “gigging clarinetists” there… I moved to Toronto and I met some saxophone players who played clarinet as well, so it’s really nice to have that texture in the live show.

Was there something for the richness of the sound that required two people to play it?

I played the clarinet on my albums and I’m not a good clarinet player. So most of the lines are about the harmonies. So if there’s only one…it just wouldn’t really work to get those harmonies across.

The Party is a year-and-a-half old and it’s a well-executed concept album. Have you seen any of the characters since you’ve gotten to the festival?

Well…they’re everywhere [laughs] But you really have to get to know people before you start to see those characteristics.

Did you know all the people you wrote about?

They’re not like straight-up based on anyone, but it’s things that I’ve seen happen to friends and seen things. You always just pick up little ideas from real life and they’re kinda based on my friends. I don’t know if they’d want to know that, though….Everything’s negative [laughs]

You closed with “The Magician.” How did that song and the writing come about?

That song was really early in the writing process, so at that point I didn’t have a “Party” theme. I was mostly writing about myself and being in my mid-20’s and feeling like I had no idea what I was doing in my life. But I was thinking about it more as someone who fakes it til they make it. Like…we’re all just impostors.

The Polaris Music Prize has been really supportive of you. What does being on the shortlist last year mean to you as a Canadian artist and being in the company of other people nominated for the prize?

It’s a great thing for Canadian music. I feel like just because I was on the long list and shortlist, my album got a lot more attention obviously. But it’s just a great way for people to find your music. People aren’t listening to the radio anymore. I mean, you make albums and you hope that people like them. To be included on that list was really an honor.

Speaking of making albums, are you in the studio yet for the next one? What’s in store?

I’m trying to write it and trying to figure out what’s happening. It’s in the very early stages. But I’m hoping..I want to not spend so much time fiddling with this album, so I’m hoping to get it out next year.