Andy Shauf Adds Synths to His Signature Sound on New Recording of "Covered in Dust"
Published May 14, 2021Andy Shauf has very quickly crafted a signature sound with drawling vocals, tense and nuanced storytelling, and punchy clarinets that round out his lush, chamber pop arrangements. It's impressive as-is, even more so knowing that he produces and plays each instrument on every record.
But a new recording of "Covered in Dust," a deep cut from his 2012 album, The Bearer of Bad News, finds him countering his organic intimacy with the synthetic sounds of the MODAL Electronics ARGON8. Though Shauf's clarinet accents and homespun vocals are as present as ever, the original version's acoustic guitars, aching strings and buzzing room tone have been replaced by punchy synths.
When tasked with reimagining one of his songs with different instruments, "Covered in Dust'" wasn't his first choice — "I started redoing a different song, but I ended up tweaking it so much that I turned it into a new song" — but he ultimately settled on it due to how oppositional the original version's warm palette was to the cool tones of the ARGON8. "I looked through the songs that I've made and it ['Covered in Dust'] seemed like the right choice to give a different treatment [to] because it was such a specific sound on the album. The original version of it is so specific that I figured I could flip it all the way around to it a synth song," says Shauf.
He certainly succeeded — the new arrangement hints at new wave balladry while still retaining many of Shauf's familiar elements. The chorus of clarinets was recorded with the Royer Labs R-10 ribbon microphone, while Shauf's vocals were delivered into the Mojave Audio MA1000 tube microphone. All of the microphones were plugged into the Universal Audio Apollo x4 audio interface, and Shauf used entirely UA plug-ins to record and mix the track, most notably the EMT 140 Classic Plate Reverberator and Capitol Chambers. (The song was mastered by David Roman of 4130 Mastering, also using entirely UA plug-ins.)
"There's a really nice thing that happens with those [plugins], makes it feel like a real space," says Shauf. Where previous recordings took Shauf to studios all over the world, including Castle Röhrsdorf in Germany and Jason Plumb's Studio One in the CBC's Regina building, Shauf recorded this new "Covered in Dust" iteration in his studio space in Toronto's West End, where he also recorded his 2020 album, The Neon Skyline. The gear helped Shauf create a full-sounding space setup from the barebones confines of his studio.
The analogue components juxtapose nicely against the digital sounds of the synth, opening up the possibilities of Shauf's future compositions. It's not that Shauf is a stranger to synths — he owns two, a Prophet and a Juno — but "I mostly use them for touring, so someone else is playing them and someone else is getting to spend all the time learning them, and I pretty much haven't got the chance to learn them. But using [the ARGON8] and the little screen, you see the filters and you see the envelopes and the waveforms. Now that I'm seeing all this, I understand. Diving into that was really, really fun."
He adds, "It also gave me more of an understanding of how synths work, so I feel like I can probably go to my Prophet now and understand a little bit better. The way that envelopes work and filters work. I'm gonna dive in a little deeper."
These days, Shauf has been, "basically, just working on music and trying to stay healthy." He says, "I've been working on music that hopefully will become a new album for myself, and also have been doing a lot of long distance writing with the Foxwarren guys."
The new Foxwarren project, the follow-up to the band's 2018 self-titled album, is — similar to Shauf's dabblings with the ARGON8 — embracing a more digital style. "We can't really get together during this time. We're all over the country at the moment. So [we're sending] demos back and forth over email and everybody has their little recording setup. So we could start a song, you know, 'Here, you record the drums, and I'll record this,' and we'll make a huge mess in our inboxes."
Who knows — maybe there will be synths on it.