“I never wanted to do anything else besides play music, which is very fortunate and made my life have direction in a world where nothing else interested me at all,” Shafer said.
For the first time in a decade, Shafer is releasing an album totally independent from a label. The album is a culmination of his songwriting, he said, an exercise in vulnerability and concise writing. The album, “Living in the Elephant Cage,” is a tight ten tracks clocking in around 26 minutes inspired by his journey processing what he calls the “peak of darkness.”
Shafer is humble and self-deprecating when talking about his musicianship, saying he’s not that great of a singer or guitar player, but wants to get out what he has to say. Shafer wanted to make sure the songs were simple and clear, so listeners would always understand the message. He considers his style contemporary Americana, but the past few years Shafer has worked to refine his minimalist approach to songwriting and eliminate the fluff and excess.
The “peak of darkness,” Shaffer said, is the moment when a person is on a precipice where they’ll either fall into a depression or take a step forward and hope it makes them better. The ten songs came from a pool of around 150, Shaffer said, as he worked his way through a difficult time in his life.
The title track, “Living in the Elephant Cage,” comes from Shafer learning to live with anxiety for years and not knowing what it was called. The album is personal, and hopefully relatable, in the times of isolation. Shafer calls it a heavy sound — vulnerable, forgiving and a little dark — a conversation between his head and his heart wrapped in a folk album.
“I don’t think this record is for everybody, I think this record is a thing to listen to by yourself,” Shaffer said. “Some people will get it, some won’t be interested in it at all. That makes me like it even more.”
Like many working musicians, the COVID pandemic threw a major wrench in Shafer’s life. A regular at open mics and live performances throughout the state, Shafer found himself at loose ends without gigs to play. Shafer said his whole life had been based on live music up until the pandemic, but he took the opportunity to find out what more he could have outside the music. The fear and isolation led Shafer to write a lot of music and though he didn’t take up knitting or baking, Shafer did say he got a dog during COVID named after musician Warren Zevon.
The work recording “Living in the Elephant Cage” started before the pandemic, originally for a small label. Work resumed after the pandemic started to settle, but creative differences led to Shafer taking sole ownership of the album after all the recording was finished.
There are no hard feelings with the label, Shafer said, and he expressed gratitude for the help in getting the album made. Releasing the album independently and without a label is a boon for Shafer, with a pay-what-you-want model for it. Shafer is putting the digital-only album up for download on his website, along with SoundCloud and Spotify. Curious listeners are welcome to download the album for free and Shafer will have a Venmo link for anyone that wants to put dollars down for the sound.
“You can pay whatever you want or take it for free and I won’t be offended at all. Take it, come and get it,” Shafer said. “If the person listening wants to come back later and put some money in, great. If they don’t, that’s okay too. It’s an amazing experiment for me.”
Shafer worked in almost every aspect of the music scene throughout his decades in Colorado, from venue management to booking agent, what he calls the “richness of his life.” He’s happy and satisfied with his life as a working musician, making enough to get by. Releasing the album on the pay-what-you-want model is perfect for Shafer, because he just wants to make an album of music he’s proud of available to as many people as possible.
“I put my gut and my ass on the line to write these songs. It’s brash, fun, relieving, like I’m getting stuff off my back,” Shaffer said.
Instead of a spectacle of an album release party, Shafer is performing an intimate pre-release show the night before the album goes live. Playing at The Wheelhouse in Niwot on November 14, Shafer said he doesn’t feel the need to celebrate, he’s just happy to have released an album. “Living in the Elephant Cage” will be released November 15.