Americana Folk duo Clever Hopes (Andrew Shaver & Eva Foote), have released their debut album, Artefact. Written in Australia after the breakup of a deeply rooted love, the album tells the tale of heartbreak through honest and vulnerable storytelling, with just a touch of whimsy.
We caught up with Andrew and Eva to talk about the stories behind the making of the album and collaborating with a dream team to make it happen.
Artefact is your debut album. It follows a resolution Andrew made to begin writing more music after directing a play full of songwriters and wanting to contribute meaningfully with friends and peers. Could you tell us more about why that was important to you? What was your journey back to songwriting like?
ANDREW: Music has always been a part of my life. Jeff Tweedy talks about declaring himself a songwriter when he was 7 years old and had yet to write a song. I had the opposite problem. It took me decades to call myself a songwriter. My friends wrote songs. I listened to them. I hosted a concert series for 6 years but never played it. I directed and acted in shows full of musicians, but I left the music to them. It just wasn’t the part I had cast myself in creatively. In my mind, there were just too many people who were better than me, who always would be, to try to even try that hat on. I didn’t want to take up that space. I felt that I was more useful in support of, rather than, in the act of. Things really changed when I was directing the Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova musical Once with a cast full of musician buddies, including Eva. Every night after the shows, we’d all drink whiskey and pass around the guitars. I was able to contribute so long as we were playing covers. As soon as people started playing their own songs, I became the guy who helped pass the guitar from one person to the next, spectating again. It made me sad and then it made me mad. I vowed to never feel like that again. A month later my relationship imploded, I went to Australia, bought a beater guitar, and wrote this album.
The album details the remnants of an explosive breakup through thoughtful storytelling, with Andrew and Eva both singing to tell the stories. How did the addition of Eva’s voice and perspective help the songs take shape?
ANDREW: In all honesty, Eva’s voice and perspective are what allowed me to give in to songs, both as a performer and a songwriter. I wrote these songs from a very personal perspective about a shared experience and the person I shared that experience with wasn’t there to give her side of things. This isn’t, you know, Rumours. Working with Eva allowed me to explore the other perspective in the songs. It freed things up knowing there was someone else advocating from a position outside of my head in the stories. It wasn’t until a few days before recording Made You Mad, for example, that we realized Eva should take chunks of the verses – that we needed to flip pronouns. It opened things up in a way that was so obvious afterwards but wasn’t part of the original shape of the song. I think it makes the song immensely more interesting and immediate in its emotional resonance.
You both have experience in theatre. There’s a really beautiful narrative and compelling emotion in the performance of this album. How did your background in theatre impact the creation of this album?
EVA: I think because Andrew and I had worked together in a theatre context, it was clear to me what his style is in terms of working creatively. He is super focused on story and supporting narrative, and was committed to the idea of two distinct characters in a song. As an actor and a singer, I couldn’t ask for an easier time in the studio. To have a leader who considers every detail so carefully, who is looking out for the why of a song, and not just the what. I think that is one of Andrew’s magic abilities as a director that translates so well into his work as a musician, to make creative decisions that originate from his commitment to the Story.
You worked with a number of guest musicians, Noah Reid, Joe Grass, Matthew Barber, Justin Rutledge, Kev Foran, Steve Zsirai, & Marshall Bureau on the album. How did collaborating with all these artists help bring the album to life?
ANDREW: This album doesn’t exist without any of them. I chatted with Matthew, one of my oldest pals and the producer on the album, in the early days about how we wanted to record: in-studio with a band live-off the floor, or more slowly in his basement studio piece by piece. Maybe it’s the theatre-maker in me, the fact that I’ve spent the better part of the last twenty years in rehearsal rooms making things from the ground up leaning into the collective imagination, but there was really no question that this needed to be a shared creation. Corner Hotel is the only song on the album that doesn’t have the acoustic on it, and that’s because when we came back from break to start on it, the boys had found something that was so entirely different from how I’d conceived of it, that I didn’t even bother trying to play. I just let them go. Matthew said we were rolling, so Eva and I started singing and we laid it down like that. That’s the kind of exhilarating magical mystery I’d experienced as an actor, but never as a musician. A terrifically insightful piece of advice I got going into the studio for my first time was to try to be as kind a shepherd as I could for the songs so that I could let them show me where they wanted to go. The songs I took into the studio were a shell of those that came out.
EVA: For me, it was like …uh, walking into a studio full of the most handsome, talented men ever. Soooo, that was alright! Andrew is a collaborative, impulsive creator, so he brought in a team that would really work cohesively in that flow. All these guys had ideas, knew when to step forward with something new or step back. They’re all beasts of musicians too, and confident, sensitive, funny people. The whole experience kinda had a rainbow over it, which I think happens when you collect a team of people who just really want to be there and believe in the sum of the thing and not just their individual mass. I think we all kind of felt it become something brand new when the band started playing.
The title track from the album, Artefact, is an easygoing hopeful tune. The track feels like a moment of peace in an album detailing heartbreak. How did you go about bringing that sense of optimism to that song?
ANDREW: Oh, that’s wonderful, I’m glad you think so. It’s what I was hoping for with that track. On an album full of heartbreak, it’s the French lyrics in Artefact that turn hopeful. “La vie est belle et bieveillante”. I much prefer the idea that on the other side of this pain, the world is beautiful and conspiring with you. I wanted to dig into that shared sense of wonder and beauty by having everyone in the band who felt comfortable singing in french, sing that choral part with me. There are only 5 of us singing but in contrast to most of the other tunes, which are primarily just Eva and me, it feels like a whole new world of people showed up. I secretly dream of people dancing to it at a wedding.
The album feels very healing and cathartic. What do you hope listeners take away from the album when they experience it?
ANDREW: I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had our hearts broken in one way or another at some point or another. If you’re reading this and thinking “not me”, I think maybe it just hasn’t happened yet? Or, look, maybe you’re golden and you really oughta share your secret. That said, I wouldn’t trade this experience to erase that heartbreak. There’s a beauty in the sadness, a hope in the melancholy. I tried to find a universality of feeling in the specifics of my experience so that people could hear these songs, recognize something of their experience in them, and be moved to feel…something. Anything. That part really isn’t for me to say. As we began releasing these songs, my buddy Glen gave me a piece of advice that I think is pertinent here: that I needed to let go and allow the songs to go out into the world and have the lives that I never dreamed they could. I hope that if they make you want to cry, or to laugh, or to just sit and quietly reminisce, that you let yourself feel it all, with abandon. I just hope they make people feel something.
EVA: When I was learning Andrew’s songs, I jokingly referred to the album as being “Sad, Sad Fun” which I guess still kinda sums up how I feel about it. I think Andrew’s songs are intensely personal, specific, detailed and profound to his experience. But then, because he’s himself, he brings play and imagination and high energy to his work and the songs aren’t only sad. They can even feel… dare I say? FUN! I hope someone who’s really down in the dumps listens to this album and it gets them off their couch. Or someone who’s really really OVER their last relationship listens to it and gets a glimmering memory of a special moment they didn’t know they remembered. Love is so weird. And so worth it. And I believe that most when I listen to music. Deep, I know!