Shakey Graves, aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia, is a roots rock, one man band hailing from Austin. Over the course of just a few years, Graves has developed a solid local following due to his intense and personal live performances.
Speaking from a studio in Austin and in anticipation of performing with Robert Ellis at the Kessler Theater on Saturday, Graves was kind enough to speak to DC9 about his time in Austin, his attempts to become an actor in Los Angeles and why he chooses to cover Bruce Springsteen.
How long have you lived in Austin?
I was born and raised here. In my time, Austin has changed 100%. My family used to live in one of those houses that doesn't exist anymore. It was off of Congress. It was a three bedroom farm house with a dance studio inside it. We rented it for 800 bucks a month of something. It was a crazy environment. I have tons of memories of having acreage in the middle of the city. My parents were music people and performers. They had their 80's hippie complex.
You are a one man band. Were you ever involved with a typical four piece?
Not really. I started doing my own thing, playing acoustic guitar when I was in middle school. I began writing my own songs in high school. I was always into recording and I didn't perform in front of people. I thought that I could sing pretty good, but it wasn't until I started recording using multiple tracks and singing along with myself that I knew that I wanted to do this. I was in a terrible screamo band in high school. We would go to Houston and play there crappy house shows. It was loud, teenage music. We had this lead singer who was really into the scene. He was straight edge. He didn't drink or smoke. He would tell us to drink coke. It was pretty awful music. It was just an excuse to go to a friend's house and play music as loud as we could.
Did you listen to roots music, the kind of stuff you play now?
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Oh god, no. Honestly, I didn't listen to a lot of that. In high school, I listened to a bunch of crazy stuff, loud crazy music. Then I started listening to a lot of indie rock, bands like Broken Social Scene and Beck and Death Cab for Cutie. I ended up moving to California and stealing this banjo from an old lady. In my mind, I liberated it. It was a really cheap banjo and she never used it. It was a terrible thing to do and I ended up pawning that banjo. There was a record store I in L.A. that had this great collection of roots records. There wasn't a listening station, so I had to base everything on the album covers. That was when I started teaching myself the back catalogue of people like Skip James and Son House. I got a lot weirder with my musical tastes.
How long did you live in California?
I lived there off and on for five years. I went out there to try and be an actor. I could only handle L.A. for so long. I would go there for five months and then go home for two months. The last time I was out there for any length of time was 2009. That a big time for me musically. I wrote so much music that year. That's when I began playing in front of people and developing the first phase of my show, essentially me and an acoustic guitar. Then, I started using a kick drum. I was playing these parties and when I used the kick drum, it instantly got people dancing. It is very addictive when people are dancing to your music. It blows your mind.
Are you self sufficient as a musician?
Yes, it's totally self sustaining now. As far as I'm concerned, I could retire. I've had high school kids tell me that my music changed their hearts. They told me that I inspired them to play guitar. Yes, it's self sustaining. I write meaningful songs and people are willing to pay money to hear them.
How did you end up on this current tour with Robert Ellis?
We are doing a co-bill for five shows. We share a lot of mutual friends and I've met him a few times. Right now, he is recording a record for some close friends of mine in Houston. He and I haven't had a lot of one on one time, but I am a big fan of his music. He is an absolutely wonderful artist. I think we are switching between songs. I am not sure how it is going to work. On certain nights, I think he is going to bring his whole band. And that is a tough act to follow. Hopefully, we will play a couple of songs together. That's the goal. We are going to have to figure that out. I hope he is open to that.One writer described you as one of the best one man bands in Austin. Are there a lot of them?
You would be surprised on how many there are. There is the next step up, people like Possessed by Paul James. That guy is amazing. And then there is Scott Biram.
You also have Shakey Graves Day in Austin. What does one do on his own day?
The first time I didn't do anything. I figured that if I get a day, I am not going to play a show. I actually went and played laser tag with a bunch of people.
You can always go back to your high school and gloat about having your own day.
[Laughs] Yes, I could. I could give myself a parade and spray myself with champagne. I was a little embarrassed. It was hard to accept such a compliment. I didn't do anything to deserve a day outside of being a great Austinite. It makes me proud of my home town. It means a lot to me.
Where did you get the stage name and why use one?
A long time ago, when I was discovering good music, I began to mine my own music. I was looking for music that didn't have anything to do with me. Some people write music about their own lives and relationships, sort of their perspective on the world. I wanted something different from that. Shakey Graves was more of a blanketed concept that would cover me and whoever I might play with. I had seen people like Bright Eyes and other examples of that happening. I remembering reading this story about Jeff Buckley and how he couldn't get any small shows once he hit it big. He did this ghost coffee shop tour where he used a different name every night. Everything then depended on his music. People got to see Jeff Buckley in a coffee shop and didn't even know it. If the music is good, it doesn't matter what your name is. I like playing a song and having people wonder if it is one person or a band.
Shakey Graves sounds like a long lost Delta blues man.
The only time that I have seen the name was on the first nuclear submarine used in World War II. That ship never saw combat. It was an experimental submarine. The chef on that ship was Edward Shakey Graves. That submarine is on display in Maine. But I didn't get the name from there. I was at a music festival with friends. This guy came up to our campsite. He was tripping heavily on drugs. We talked to this guy for fifteen minutes and he made no sense. At the end of it, he walked away and told us to watch out for the spooky wagons. We thought that was a great name for a country singer. We started naming each other funny names and mine was Shakey Graves.
Why cover Spingsteen's "I'm On Fire"?
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I became a huge Springsteen fan. My parents loved him and I was always a snob about not liking him. I started with Nebraska and now I adore his music. "I'm on Fire" is kind of the last song of his that I should cover. That's one of his most covered songs. It was kind of coincidence. When I finished recording that song, I was proud that my version was different.