Northern Transmissions spoke to Andy Shauf on the road—“in California, somewhere, I can’t remember what it’s called”—heading back to Canada from touring his most recent album, The Party through Europe. The Saskatchewan-born musician has been coasting on the success of The Party, a folk-rock concept album that describes the inebriated progression of a party over the course of a night. It is playful and a little fuzzy, not unlike our discussion—
NT: I appreciate the setting of The Party. It reminds me of hometown parties, where people get together to drink together—because of similar age, or proximity, or because they went to high school together—but not necessarily because they are real friends. I’m guessing The Party is one of those parties?
AS: Yeah, it’s kind of like a smallish group of like, acquaintances-ish: Friend groups that are like, friends of friends, you know? That’s kind of what I picture … It’s not taken from real life, but there are a lot of familiar scenarios to things I have encountered in real life. It’s not, like, based on anything in particular.
NT: I love this album’s inclusion of strings and synths. It reminds me of early Sufjan Stevens albums that use strings and horns to enhance the narrative. Do you find that certain instruments have a quality that is more suited to storytelling?
AS: I’m not sure. There are a lot of great story songs that are just a voice and a guitar, or a voice and the piano. I think strings and stuff can add a theatrical aspect. If you listen to Randy Newman’s stuff, it’s very narrative, but it is brought to life by string lines and weird horn lines that make it sound goofy, or string lines that make it sound sad. I think it just adds another sort of theatrical feel, a lot more emotion, I guess.
NT: So was that something you were conscious of in the production of The Party?
AS: I don’t know. It’s not like I was thinking, “Oh, this line needs a string line to make it sad,” or something. I was more just trying to fill out spaces, just making it work musically. It was just a coincidence that it worked in my favour.
NT: You have just gotten back from Europe, and are continuing your tour in North America now. Were there any spots that really stood out?
AS: Yeah, playing in Europe is always exciting. You never know what it’s going to be like when you’re halfway across the world. We played [Primavera Sound] in Barcelona and I thought, maybe there will be 10 people who will see my name and be like, “I guess I will check it out.” But it was a full theatre of people. And it was like, “Wow, who are you people, and how do you know about me?” Places like that always stand out.
NT: Getting back to the idea of storytelling in relation to touring, several reviews have commented on the seemingly cinematic quality of The Party, as if you’re describing a film through the lyrics. I haven’t seen you perform The Party yet, but from your perspective, is it like rewatching a film every night?
AS: Well, most of the time when I’m performing, I’m just trying really hard not to mess up. It’s more of a concentration on what I’m doing rather than following along to the lyrics. It’s more about trying to remember the lyrics.
NT: Do you follow the track list, or do you mix up the live set?
AS: We’ve been playing a bit of a mix, old and new. The album is kind of a concept record, but [the songs] are kind of stories on their own, as well. I can leave things out, and it doesn’t make it weird or anything.
NT: I just want to say I loved your casual shout out to Joy Division’s “Transmission” in the song, “Martha Sways.”
AS: I actually don’t know that song … I’m actually not sure that I’ve heard it, still. But I keep saying I should check it out. Maybe it’s a subliminal stealing.
NT: Are you influenced by other music?
AS: I listen to a lot of music. I listen to the classic songwriter-y music.
NT: What are your top five favourite albums?
The Beatles — White Album
Randy Newman — Sail Away
Wilco — A Ghost Is Born
Chris Cohen — Overgrown Path
Joni Mitchell — Blue
NT: Is there anywhere you’re looking forward to going to?
AS: In the past three months or four months I have been in so many different places that I am just really looking forward to getting to go to all the Canadian cities again—Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina—all those nice cities that aren’t so unfamiliar to me.
Interview by Brit Bachmann.