Austin-born-and-raised musical talent Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known by his stage name Shakey Graves, recently graced his hometown with a performance for Unplugged at the Grove before heading back on the road to wrap up his 2013 tour. This one-man-band, alongside his suitcase kick drum, embraced a giddily captive audience on Aug. 29 as part of the weekly live music series at Shady Grove. Preceding his performance, Rose-Garcia shared humble insights, interesting stories, and even admitted that he did not always love music.
Erin Dyer: How did you decide upon calling yourself Shakey Graves?
Alejandro Rose-Garcia: I had wanted to do an alias based on this interview I read about Jeff Buckley after ‘Grace’ came out. The year after ‘Grace’ came out he did his Phantom Solo Tour. He went and toured places like Flipnotics and made up a different alias for every single night that he played. I thought it was rad because even with his silly, made up aliases, people would go out and accidentally see Jeff Buckley play. That idea was right for me. The songs should be presentable no matter what. And the way I wrote music, I didn’t feel comfortable being like, 'This is my shit!'
Anyways, Shakey Graves came about when I was at Old Settler's Music Festival in 2007. I was living in LA at the time. I had finally gotten all these songs together. I was living by myself and was kinda sad, missed my friends. I had created all these songs and not really played them for anybody. I came home to Austin and my best friend picked me up from the airport. He put me in the trunk of his car and snuck me into the festival. It ended up being one of those magical, magical weekends where everything worked and everything fit. It was pretty priceless. At some point during this insane weekend, this dude came and visited our group of friends; because you’re always meeting weird, weird people during these camping trips- a very colorful cast. This dude ran by our group and was talking crazy and babbling. I think he was on acid. He was saying all these weird combinations of words, and the last thing he said before he ran off was 'Spooky wagons.' We were like, 'Wow, spooky wagons, that’s pretty profound right there.' So, my friends and I were talking about it around a fire or something, and we ended up naming my best friend 'Spooky Waggins.' So we all got weird names, like: Soloman Doors, Spinster Jones, and Droopy Weiners. I was Shakey Graves.
That same night was the first night I took out my guitar and bombed song circles. And it went amazingly well. It was the first time that I was able to do what I did in my own bedroom... in public. Which is big. All of it felt significant at the time too, which is actually really encouraging now that I’m getting asked, you know, 'How did you do it?'
ED: So, at that moment did you know that you’d have a big music career?
ARG: At that point I was already pursuing it in my own way. My intention was always to make music for someone to listen to. Ever since I started recording, I was like, ‘I think I’m good at this.'
ED: What is the first album you ever loved?
ARG: I used to not know what to do with music, I would buy soundtracks. I was always weird about music. When I was younger, when I was like five or six, I didn’t like listening to music in cars. Adults would put on music while they drove, and I would just find it confusing. I just didn’t like music. Some people are like, ‘I've always loved music,’ and I remember being like, ‘I don’t really like this shit.’ But the first album I really ever loved was the Phantom of the Opera Soundtrack. That’s a fact. My dad had it, and I would request it when I was little. And now I’ve got a pipe organ so I’m blasting that sound still.
ED: What are you listening to now?
ARG: Up until recently, I was kind of at an impasse; I didn’t really know what was going on. And then I went and played this music festival called Pickathon and I got super stoked on all the music in the world. I’m listening to a lot of bands from Pickathon lately- people I’ve gotten to see on this trip. The last two albums I bought were: the new Charles Bradley album that just came out- he’s so grateful and stoked on life- and this album called ‘Passenger’ by Lisa Hannigan. I’m crazy about her. Also, this band called Old Light; and JD McPherson, who I get to play with in Austin in October.
ED: What was the first instrument you learned how to play?
ARG: I started to learn guitar as a vengeance tactic after my girlfriend cheated on me in seventh grade. I loved this girl super hard. She loved guitar players. If you had a guitar, she flipped out. So, one day I pulled my mom’s guitar out of the closet and forced myself to learn it. And once I got past a certain point, I was like, ‘Wow I really like this. This is super rad.’ This is why I always say, ‘Have a plan.’ What are you gonna do when your girlfriend cheats on you? You have a plan! You get buff, listen to rap music, and learn to play guitar. I ended up associating it as a therapeutic thing. Playing guitar can be meditative, to a certain degree, because you’re just so focused on playing. It took my mind off of how actually bummed and sad I was. Without realizing it, I connected…just like you connect smoking a cigarette and riding in a car...I connected emotion to playing the guitar. Whether I like it or not, it has gone on to continuously be a theme in my life, and even gotten more extreme.
ED: Best live show you’ve played and why?
ARG: Pickathon. This year. For all the reasons possible. All the things. It was the most legit place I’ve ever gotten to play music and listen to music. If I could just live in that forever, I would. It was ridiculous. Just ridiculous. It was so fun. It was very encouraging.
ED: What personal qualities or characteristics do you believe have gotten you this far in your musical career?
ARG: Flexibility and intention. I consider myself continuously learning about my own music. And, if anything, I really lucked out by being raised in a performance-based family. I’ve had a ton of support throughout my entire life from family and friends. They have enabled me to do what I do.
ED: Have you always wanted to be a musician or did you have other dreams as a child?
ARG: The first thing I do is, I draw. I love to draw. I have drawn an entire children’s book about a mouse. I printed it out; people have copies of it. I’m like an animation nazi. I have really high opinions about it. It’s almost like a part of me dies inside because I’m not an animator. I’m so happy and inspired and into what I’m doing currently, but I care so much about animation teams. I’ve always had really strong opinions about animation teams.
ED: Do you have a spirit animal?
ARG: Right now the animal that’s working it’s magic on everything is the tiger. The tiger is working really hard right now.
ED: What are your plans for the future?
ARG: My goals are to continue to be open to this learning process that is my life right now. My plan is to never stop learning or being shown up.