A good bearer of bad news

Andy Shauf turns heads with debut album

The winning recipe for what became Andy Shauf’s remarkable T he Bearer of Bad News included an ancient cheap-ish guitar owned by his grandfather Ivan (complete with a newspaper clipping under the pickguard that read “Ivan the Terrible”) a Walmart-bought clarinet given as a Christmas gift an old chemistry textbook from the ’60s and a year-and-a-half-long recording window.

All the instruments with the brief exception of the percussion on a single song were expertly played by Shauf. Scans of the science text made up the artwork for the physical album with the cover composed of what Shauf thinks are sugar crystals. Then there was the 18-month recording process in a homemade studio in his parents’ basement in Regina which housed the creation of the folkish literary record that’s drawn frequent comparisons to Elliott Smith and Paul Simon.

But that number ultimately masks the arduous process that was required for Bearer to see the light of day. For a while Shauf was signed to the Los Angeles-based oddly matched Hopeless Records (The Used Silverstein Yellowcard) which re-released his debut album Darker Days in 2009 via the label’s imprint P is for Panda. But the release of Bearer was delayed for some four years. Shauf spent the time demoing and recording. Eventually he was dropped from the label.

“It was really a bummer at the time” he says. “But I’m actually pretty glad it worked out that way because lots of the songs that ended up on the album I wrote in the last year of recording for it. For a while I was pretty set on the idea of making an 18-song album with nine on each side. And then one night I was listening to what I’d one and I was like ‘man this is a lot for someone to take in’ so I just cut it back a little bit.”

The distilling process paid off with Bearer finally released through Toronto-based Shuffling Feet Records in an 11-song 44-minute package. The lyrical density of the recordings was retained with each track featuring an intricate slowly delivered tale that usually concerned itself with frighteningly tragic undertones of mortality self-indulgence and alcoholism. Perhaps the best example of this is “Wendell Walker” the eight-minute Phil Elverum/Bill Callahan-esque epic about the narrator’s hidden affair with the estranged wife of his friend Wendell Walker and the resulting heart-wrenching aftermath when Walker discovers the secret.

A few months ago the track was stunningly captured in the most recent episode of Calgary-shot video series Shot at the Dark . Shauf was on his way to Portland to play a set with Wake Owl (he’s been drumming with them on tours as of late) and managed to arrange a shoot with series creator Brock Mitchell in some barren corner of Kananaskis. The day was frigid — Shauf actually had to stop halfway through the first take due to near-frozen fingers. But just as with Bearers the short-term pain was well worth it.