At Work: Andy Shauf

Justin Jacobs on May 4, 2020
At Work: Andy Shauf

At 11 songs, singer-songwriter Andy Shauf’s latest album is a musical short story, the tale of a long night of drinking involving a group of intertwined friends and lovers. But it could’ve been a book.

“I wrote 40 or 50 songs, and they were all potential ways to further the story—a total mess of plot points and things that could’ve happened that night,” laughs Shauf, calling from his balcony in Toronto. “As I edited, sometimes getting rid of one plot point meant getting rid of four songs. I got a little lost. Eventually, I figured it out.”

The result is The Neon Skyline—a gorgeously dreamy folk collection that’s lyrical fiction, sprinkled with dashes of Shauf’s real life. The album’s name, for example, is an homage to Shauf’s real neighborhood bar. (“I went there last night,” he says, “And stayed out a little too late.”) And the album’s impressively rich characters (the best friend, Charlie; the bartender, Rose; an ex, Judy, who shows up by surprise) are all amalgamations of real people.

Shauf’s work has always been richly lyrical, his words twirling around his almost whimsically strummed guitar. With his Juno Award-nominated The Party in 2016, Shauf created a hushed, melancholy masterpiece. In writing Skyline, though, “I realized: Why am I trying to be so serious? My friends talk in bullshit and jokes. Things can be heavy and lighthearted at the same time.”

Indeed, Skyline’s characters grin across the bar, downing drinks to ease the pain of change. When Shauf reaches for Judy’s hand in the cold night (“The Moon”), he sings that she tells him: “You know it can’t be like that/ We’ll just make our way to the moon and I’ll see you soon.” When Rose asks if Shauf will take another drink (“Dust Kids”), he sings, “I’ll take another life.”

Shauf began writing Skyline in 2017; he performed, arranged and produced the entire album by himself, only passing it along for mixing and mastering. The album came to life in Shauf’s homemade Toronto studio—an empty, rented garage that he’s filled with vintage gear and “broken tape machines.”

He adds with a laugh, “There’s a lot of broken shit in there.”

But the record emerged as his most beautiful work yet, lyrically conversational and sonically warm, comforting and mellow. Shauf’s voice can be playful when his lyrics call for it and as quiet as a whisper when his characters wince or show regret. In fact, Skyline unfolds like a hazy night at the place where everyone knows your name—and your own Judy, Rose and Charlie are all waiting for you.