Written by: Logan Cooper
When asked to describe his own music, Austin Shaw wasn’t totally sure how he could box in what he does, but said that his style was usually described as singer-songwriter meets Americana with some
country-rock flair. This does a good job of starting to describe Shaw’s multifaceted music, and also carries some clues to his story in it. Shaw was born in the Midwest, where he grew up playing guitar and listening to a mix of traditional singer-songwriters, country, and classic rock. In high school and college, he played guitar in a few bands – mostly covering the music he was listening to at the time.
However, when his college years came to an end, Shaw took a high-paying corporate job in New York that left him with less and less time for music. After working there for several years, Shaw began to realize that even as his job filled his pockets, it was draining his spirit. That inspired him to make some major changes. He disentangled himself from the corporate world that had been his life, moved to California (“to get as far away from New York as possible”) and began to write his own music – a first for him. Going from the structured and scheduled life he had been living in New York to the much freer he was living in San Francisco took some major adjustment, however, Shaw says that his “past life” give him the discipline and business acumen that have helped him to thrive as a musician.
After finding himself visiting most every weekend, Shaw moved from San Francisco to Santa Cruz in 2000, where he began to teach himself more about the production side of music. He built a small home studio for himself (apparently not too hard of a thing to do) and began teaching himself how to record and edit music from YouTube tutorials. While he now works with a sound engineer – making it easier for him to focus on the artistic rather than the technical side of recording – he still uses his studio frequently. While its privacy means that he misses out on some of the chances for collaboration that come with sharing a more public studio, he also finds that it gives him a quiet place to think and play with different song ideas.
Most of his songs are, he says, at their roots, introspective and cathartic expressions of personal experiences. In his own words, as he writes music, “the breeze will blow open a curtain to an experience that I’ve had.” However, as he puts his own words to paper (or to music) he will often be reminded of something that someone else – a friend, a co-worker, a family member – did or went through, and find a way to weave it into his music to make something all at once deeply personal and easily relatable.
As for the challenges that he has faced, Shaw gives some thanks to his old job for giving him savings he could draw from while establishing himself. However, he also talked about some unique challenges for artists living in our modern, interconnected world. In a city with as vibrant a music scene as Santa Cruz’, Shaw has always felt like he was – for lack of a better term – competing with a lot of really talented musicians, and the internet has written this competition large, as anyone can
find good music from anywhere. While this means that one has to do a truly good job of differentiating oneself from the crowd, it also provides plenty of opportunities for working together. Being part of such a network – whether that means Santa Cruz or the Internet – means not only that you are competing with a lot of talent, but also that there is a lot of talent around to work with, and it is always possible to find someone to collaborate with.
Even as he talks about the challenges that come with making his dramatic change, Shaw still advises anyone in an unhappy situation – whether that means an unfulfilling job like Shaw’s, or an unhealthy relationship, or something else entirely – to make a change for the better. “It’s never too late to change and follow your dreams,” he says.
If you liked what you read about Austin Shaw, and are curious to know more, go ahead and check him (and his new album, “Love on Both Sides”) out at his website or on Facebook, and be sure to give some of his music a listen on YouTube. And, as always, make sure to come hear him at Event Santa Cruz: Live on December 14th.