Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka Shakey Graves, was in his new recording studio in the country just outside Austin when I spoke to him about his upcoming visit to Auckland.
Shakey Graves started as a solo recording project in Los Angeles in 2007 when Alejandro picked up his new moniker and sang his songs to an acoustic guitar. One night he was at a party which had a Listening Room attached, and before his turn, on came a band who played loud and had everybody up dancing, which made him a little anxious. So he asked the band if he could borrow a kick drum and just launched into his act, a “blind shot in the dark”, with the extra beat, and it went down a treat, the people kept dancing!
Alejandro had a friend build him a mobile kick drum set fashioned out of an old suitcase (he didn’t have a car so it was easier to haul around), brought his new act back to Austin and did the hard yards, the worst gigs, building a repertoire and then touring. Thus, the first musical character he played (remember also that Alejandro had also been a TV actor in his youth, and still does movie roles) became this busker like troubadour in a cowboy hat and a battered old suitcase. He even busked for a time outside Mumford & Sons gigs.
In 2014, Shakey Graves released an album, And The War Came and one song, Dearly Departed which he did with Esme Patterson (ex-Paper Bird) sharing vocals, got picked up on the radio and Shakey Graves was up and running. The album also won the attention of Americana fans and in 2015 he was awarded “Emerging Artist of the Year” by the Americana Music Association at that year’s AmericanaFest in Nashville.
Now, readers will know that I am a big AmericanaFest fan and advocate, so we veered off into a chat about the impact of the award and the meaning of “Americana”. For Alejandro, the award was a validation of what he had been working so hard to do, even though the label “Americana” is, in his words, “easier to understand from outside the US than from within.” Perhaps it is everything except trip-hop, he mused. I proposed it to be everything which is not purely something else, a broad church. He was quite taken with the idea of being the emerging artist who is not purely anyone else... Then he mentioned his next album is going to be a trip-hop album, before assuring me he was just kidding... Phew!!
That comment in the context of his latest work, a definitely more pop sounding record, called Can’t Wake Up. (Not unlike the shift we saw last year with Amanda Shires’ new album). He is not troubled by the “pop” characterisation, seeing it as further validation of the eclectic nature of Americana. Further, he goes on “there are many shades and varieties to what I do which would be obvious if you had watched me play for my friends, and I don’t think I’d effectively expressed that to the general public. As much as I play any character, I don’t want to be a slave to something which isn’t genuine”
So, sell your suspenders and throw away the cowboy hat are the words he used to signal Can’t Wake Up, but which he now dismisses as “dire fashion advice”. But it has signalled a weariness and wariness about being still seen as a busker.
So what are we going to see in Auckland?
This is, in fact, Alejandro's third visit, and previously he popped into New Zealand on his way to Australia. This year it’s on the way back, after gigs at Byron Bay and in Sydney and Melbourne. And this time he has his full band, in contrast to his first visit as a duo, then the second as a trio, and now with a bass player filling out the sound. And of course the suitcase, which he calls “the fifth Beatle”.
Shakey Graves the band comprises Alejandro ( or Shakey) on vocals, guitar and suitcase; Chris “Boo” Boosahda, his principal musical collaborator in writing and recording, on drums; Patrick O’Connor on guitar and Jon Shaw on bass.
And Shakey doesn’t “tour new albums” so what we get to see is “just me, some solo, some acoustic, some band…..all sorts of stuff …”
Wow, sounds exciting, I can’t wait…
What else did I find out about Shakey Graves?:
• Well, he went to high school with Gary Clark Jr, and they are still friends. He bumps into him from time to time at minor gigs in Austin during down time where he finds him at the back of the hall with old school buddies
• Every February 9th in Austin has been decreed as Shakey Graves Day and he always puts on some shows, and digs into his back catalogue to produce a new record, and practically gives it away, with half the proceeds going to charitable causes. Wow, I know it’s hard for a musician to make ends meet in today’s world, and yet this guy finds a way to “give something back”
The big unanswered question we closed the interview with was whether he will be brave enough to tell the Clearasil joke…
Come on down to the Powerstation if you're in Auckland, NZ on Wednesday, April 24th to find out !!!