Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf doesn’t have a lot to say about his indie-rock contemporaries, but if you want him to get wordy, turn the conversation to the folk and smooth rock sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“I’m pretty stuck in the ‘70s, and I haven’t been spending a lot of time listening to new music,” Shauf says. “I love singers like Paul Simon, Randy Newman, and Joni Mitchell. I think, in my mind, I’ve decided that’s the peak era of music. I am obsessed with it, and it definitely pushes its way into my writing and my recording processes.”
The influence of those songwriters he loves is present on Neon Skyline, Shauf’s latest full-length record — his sixth. Shauf has that same ability that has given Simon and Newman much of their staying power — he’s a strong storyteller, and his sincerity permeates through a range of emotions, from downright sad to acerbic or funny.
Like his previous release from 2016, The Party, this new one is a concept record, but it didn’t start that way.
“I wanted to make like a folk record, like, a classic guitar-and-vocal kind of album. It didn’t end up that way, but that was my initial musical goal,” he says. “It kind of morphed as I went along and was recording and arranging the songs. I've been writing a lot of like story-based songs for a long time, trying to get away from writing introspective, personal things. So, this new record, it's, it's my second attempt at a concept record. It focuses on these friends who go to a bar, their regular bar, and what happens that night."
The title track kicks off the record and immediately throws you into a soft rock time warp.
Before the vocals begin, the music conjures up the spirit of classic songs, from Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” to Squeeze’s “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell).”
It has a lilt that immediately envelopes you, and when the words join the party, you can’t help but settle in for the long haul to see where things end up: "I called up Charlie about a quarter past nine and said ‘What’s going on tonight?’ / He said, ‘No plans, but I wouldn’t mind holding a lighter head tonight.’ / I said ‘Come to the Skyline, I’ll be washing my sins away.’/ Oh, he just laughed, said ‘I’ll be late, you know how I can be.’”
Shauf’s songs don’t use musical extremes to get our attention. They don't need to. He maintains a comfortable air even when weaving in subtleties, like lush woodwind sounds or allowing a drumbeat to eclipse the winding guitar riffs.
If you’re wondering how much of the songs on Neon Skyline come from Shauf’s own life, he says it’s a small percentage. He’s more interested in creating compelling stories, rather than being overly focused on being personally revealing.
“My life isn't that exciting, he says. "I tour for most of the year, and there are definitely personal things in this record that aren't far off from my real life. I’d rather give character names and be able to embellish the truth a little more, so it’s not, you know, outright lying about myself.”
“With this record, I was trying to incorporate humor a little more," he adds. "I don’t know, indie songwriters and songwriters, in general, these days are kind of — and I'm guilty of it too —so focused on heavy emotions. I hope people can see the humor in these songs and even in the moments that are darker and heavier.”
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Shauf tours with a full band, but outside of that, don’t look for him to do any significant collaborations in the future. He’s pleased with how things are now.
“I work a lot alone, and that's kind of my process. I find it hard to work with other people. There’s a lot of compromises that have to happen, and I’m not a big fan of that.”
He might try some new things, though. “I'm a huge ABBA fan, so I've been trying to find the time to work on something disco-pop-inspired that may never see the light of day."
Andy Shauf is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, February 18, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets are available via Eventbrite.