Andrew Austin is doing some pretty great stuff these days. He just released While It’s Still Light Out, and it’s full of lovely acoustic melodies and intense lyrics. He’s often name-checked as “The Tim Hortons guy” because his jingle has become as ubiquitous as the donut chain itself. As you should expect, he’s got a lot going on, and a lot to offer. I got in touch with him recently to hear about the record, the jingle, and his inspirations.
Let’s start with the Tim Horton’s connection…you’re famous for that little ditty without being particularly famous for that. How did you connect with that campaign? And how did you come up with the idea?
To record this album, I took a leave of absence from my job at Grayson Matthews, a company that specializes in writing music for commercials, TV, and film. During this timeTim Horton’s had an open call to write music for their new tagline, “It’s Time For Tim’s”. This is a pretty competitive industry and it was a long shot, but a huge opportunity, so my boss called and interrupted my leave to see if I was interested. Dave Newfeld and I were still preparing material for the album so it was a pretty fun break for Dave and I to collaborate and it’s kind of cool to be part of something so pervasive. I think a big part of why I got it was the unique advantage of working with Dave Newfeld, one of the best producers out there.
Barry Manilow wrote that “you need a break” thing for McDonalds years ago…so you’re in good company in the food-jingle business. Is that something you’ve sought? How do you feel it adds to your cred as an artist?
I don’t think I’ve ever really sought it out. The way music works today, my feeling is that as an artist, it is good to use any avenue you can for people to listen to your music. I don’t really know if it adds or takes away from my “cred.” It’s definitely allowed me to make infinitely more music than I would’ve without it and also practice my own producing and mixing and all that. And I consistently have music out there in the world and in people’s ears, and I like that. There still might be some sources I wouldn’t want to necessarily lend my music to, but I enjoy the opportunity to license my songs.
You’re from Sarnia (which caught my eye, as I grew up there – left in the early 90s). How long have you been there?
Though I was born in Toronto, I moved to Sarnia and grew up there before going to University, travelling and eventually ending up back in Toronto. It was really cool growing up in Sarnia on the border and close to the great music inspiration from Detroit. And Sarnia has a Great Lake with great beaches. So summers there are really fun. I love living in Toronto now but also love visiting Sarnia where my parents and friends still live.
You chose your producer (Dave Newfeld) because he challenged you, and said your songs needed work. How did that relationship develop when you were working on your record?
I left Toronto and entered this intense, creative environment spending every waking moment working and living with someone I hardly knew in his old haunted church. Dave is such a unique, interesting, and intelligent guy with a backlog of incredible sounding records. We had long conversations about where this record was headed, where Dave would tell me stories of his passed work attempting to quell my early misgivings. Meanwhile Dave would be challenging me to upgrade the songs to compete with great songwriters. But I soon realized the results of his way of working were incredible. I think by the end I proved myself to him as well. All in all I think we each challenged the other to make this record better. I’d love to work with him again having built that trust.
Was it intimidating going to work with him? How did you approach the recording process yourself? How did you prepare?
Intimidation is not the right word for it, but I certainly wanted to impress and inspire him if I could. Leading up to our working together I was mostly writing furiously to complete as much material as I could. I wanted us to have as much as possible to choose from. It was; however, scary to climb the creepy back stairs every night to sing in the haunted church hall!
How long have you been writing songs? What is your earliest memory of loving music?
I really can’t remember writing songs until I was about 20 years old. I think I knew I always wanted to, it just took me a while to get there. I loved singing and playing from a very young age. I remember being 4 years old singing ‘Born In The USA’ over and over and loving Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. But knowing I wanted to perform and write, I think, came in high school when I played in The Beatles tribute band.
You are very developed as a songwriter…who are you idols in the singer/songwriter world?
Thank you! Initially The Beatles started my interest in songwriting. Paul Simon was definitely an influence from early on as well. Once I was mature enough to realize it, I went back to my childhood idols like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Nowadays I think I get the most songwriting inspiration from people I know and work with.
I like your quote about “expressing ideas for people who may have difficulty expressing themselves.” How do you approach your writing…are you thinking about specific people, or more general personas?
Yeah. Good question. For me it’s often specific people. Reality is way easier to work from. Maybe the idea can be general, and it doesn’t even have to be a true story, but I think when a song gets moving for me is when I can attach the idea to someone or something real. I really empathize with the feeling of helplessness. I can relate with how difficult it can be to express feelings.
As an artist, do you feel the internet giveth, or taketh away? What’s your approach to the “industry” side, in terms of promotion and getting the word out about your work?
I know there are lots of unfair things about music on the internet from a business perspective, but I think it all balances out. I’m certainly no expert on the subject but it seems like there’s a great opportunity now to flesh out the art and creativity in many forms on the internet. And good ideas stand out. I’ve had the chance to connect with some creative people I’m really excited to work with to get the music out there to the kids!
What’s next for you? I’d like to hear some more stuff!
Oh cool. Well I’ll be supporting this album for a while with videos and concerts and whatever else you do when you release a record. Other than that I have a lot of music in the bank so I’m hoping it won’t be too long before more of it comes out in one form or another.
Check him out at http://www.andrewaustin.ca/
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