The Neon Skyline is a true piece of musicianship, evoking nostalgic sounds and the tonality of sixties pop/rock, like The Beatles and The Doors, with storytelling akin to Bob Dylan. Canadian pop folk artist Andy Shauf will release the project via Anti Records January 24.
Neon Skyline is a concept album, something Shauf has much experience in over the years. Shauf’s 2016 release The Party, also a concept album that followed a group of people at a house party, building on their individual side stories. Shauf’s new record follows the events in a single night, starting with the narrator going to a local dive bar, when he finds out an old fling is in town and from there the story unravels with each song.
“I started out writing story songs about ten years ago,” Shauf told American Songwriter. “There was a point when I wrote two songs on an album that linked together, and it was kind of rewarding and now I am stuck. I can’t seem to stop doing that.”
“My life at that point was sitting at a bar, so that’s the resemblance in real life, so all the plot points are fictional but still relatable,” said Shauf.
Concept albums are a kind of craft and not something abundant in today’s music, nor something many artists can successfully do, but Shauf did so not just successfully, but you seem to relate to the characters and story while listening to the songs. Each song is like a chapter in a good book or a scene in a movie.
Shauf explains how writing a concept album affected his songwriting process for the better, although it was not easy.
“I look at it as a challenge. For this album I ended up with forty tracks because I was constantly searching for the plot so it’s definitely challenging, but I enjoy it,” he said. “But a lot of the songs just didn’t work toward the storyline. The ones that worked best musically and best for the story, were the ones I picked.”
Shauf being a varied musician with several skills, had previously written his records on piano, but for Neon Skyline, he shifted to writing with guitar and voice only. He explains he wanted the songs to be more independent and be able to stand on their own without fancy instrumentation or arrangements.
“I wanted to make an album that was more focused. I leaned a lot on arrangements on my last album and I wanted to change that,” said Shauf. “There were so many things I couldn’t do because of the arrangements. I wanted to make it so the songs could stand on their own with just guitar and voice. And when you’re writing a guitar-based thing it’s just a different kind of rhythm, it ends up more upbeat and with a different feeling.”
In addition to a different songwriting process, Shauf approached recording techniques differently for Neon Skyline. The album was recorded on tape using an eight-track machine a definite daunting task but worth it for the sound that tape provides.
Shauf said he recorded all the tracks except one using tape and with minimal digital overdubbing.
“Tape is cool but forgotten for a reason. It’s a total pain in the ass,” he said laughingly.
Neon Skyline was recorded in Toronto in what Shauf called a “garage-like” space. It was new and Shauf had never worked there before. He immediately immersed himself into his project finding raw creativity in the make-shift space.
“I’m the type of person who when I start working somewhere, I just cut myself off and work, I enjoy being anywhere I can do that,” he said.
Shauf was also careful to choose a producer he trusted, ultimately recruiting a friend, Rob Schnapf. Shauf was familiar with his sound and knew exactly how Neon Skyline would sound with Rob.
Neon Skyline is Shauf’s sophomore album with the label Anti Records. A few years in Shauf calls his experience with Anti as nothing but great. Shauf credits his liking of Anti to the fact that everyone at the label is a true musician and nerd like he is, something Shauf hasn’t ran into often in the music industry.
Shauf will embark on the road to share the triumph that is Neon Skyline in February. He will kick off the first leg of his international tour, playing Ace of Cups in Columbus, Ohio.