To immerse yourself in Andy Shauf’s triumphant third full-length, The Party, is to conclude that the Regina-raised singer isn’t anyone’s idea of a social butterfly.
As beautiful as the album’s blend of sombre folk and DIY chamber pop is, the songs revolve around keenly drawn characters who often reek of quiet desperation. “Early to the Party” zooms in on a girl who’s clearly never figured out that when the invitation says 8 p.m., you don’t show up until at least 9:15; over regal keys and layered strings Shauf sings “You’re the first one there, overdressed and underprepared/Standing in the kitchen, stressing out the host.”
Anyone who’s ever shrunk into the background while some blowhard holds court, meanwhile, will have no problem relating to “Begin Again”. (“Listen to this half-wit spilling his guts after a bottle of wine.”) One gets the impression that Shauf has been there.
“I’m definitely not a very outgoing person,” the singer admits with a quiet laugh. “When you’re a kid and you’re in school and you have your little group of friends everything always feels comfortable, so I don’t think that I was a particularly quiet kid unless I got into a situation where I was a little out of my element. Things like talking to adults was hard. And now that I am an adult, it’s still hard to talk to adults.”
It might make sense, then, that Shauf is happiest going it alone. The singer’s first stab at the album that would become The Party started with a working trip to Germany with a backing band in tow.
“I got a grant to record at a studio near Dresden, so I decided that, to make the most of the 10 days of the time we had for recording, I would take a drummer and a bass player and a keyboard player. We went into the studio all together, and that was a really weird thing for me. I’d never done that before, and it really didn’t work out. Because of how I work, it’s not super easy to integrate other people into my process. It’s a lot of tinkering, and a lot of following ideas, which makes other people pretty impatient—when they give me input, it kind of derails my ideas. So it was kind of a frustrating time. By the end of Day 7 we were listening to what we’d done and realizing that it wasn’t working. The last few days were more sitting around and drinking beer—and wallowing—than recording.”
So Shauf retreated to Canada and scrapped the songs he’d made before heading to Germany. He’d eventually craft a ruminative record drawing on themes of isolation, loneliness, and crushing social awkwardness, playing most of the instruments, with Colin Nealis adding strings.
Released on heavy-hitting U.S. label Anti- (home to the likes of Tom Waits and Neko Case), the result is one of the great triumphs—Canadian or otherwise—of the year. The amazing thing about The Party is that it’s anything but a downer, with the record’s pastoral guitars, angelic keys, and winningly vulnerable vocals perfect for Sunday afternoons at imaginary cottages.
As for those days when avoiding human interaction isn’t possible, Shauf understands your pain. Devastating doesn’t begin to describe “Everybody’s laughing at me/I wish I’d just stayed home,” from the majestically mellow “Twist My Ankle”. Maximizing the impact of such lines is that they come right from the heart of the person who wrote them.
“The songs aren’t based on my life,” Shauf says. “But I think that sometimes fiction can be really autobiographical even if situations aren’t ones that you’ve specifically been in. You end up putting a lot more of yourself in a story than if the story had been just about you. So when I make a character, I guess it’s just really a thinly veiled version of myself.”
Andy Shauf plays the Fox Cabaret on Friday (October 14).