Shakey Graves wants to soothe you with his folky blues

Photo of singer/songwriter Shakey Graves

“Growing up in a theatre environment means I’ve been involved in a lot of productions,” explains Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka singer-songwriter Shakey Graves. “It all helped me paint a picture of what I wanted to see from a show, bringing in elements of improvisation rather than just having a collection of songs to play in front of people.”

The son of a theatre owner and playwright, Rose-Garcia is a compelling live entity, decked out in Stetson and suit, hollering rockabilly one moment, offering plaintive folk blues the next, and regaling the audience with stories and biographical asides. The 29-year-old Texan is already a cult figure in his native Austin, so much so that, by mayoral decree, the city now has an annual Shakey Graves Day.

Rose-Garcia forged his reputation as a one-man band in Los Angeles at the turn of the decade, where he’d originally gone to pursue an acting career (he landed bit parts in Spy Kids 3-D and Material Girls, among others). However, he insists his musical persona came about more by necessity than design. “I didn’t play alone because it was my intended goal,” he says. “I would write these songs, then try to figure out how I was going to get them across. The most economical way was to hire my own limbs and assign them appropriately.”

Armed with an acoustic guitar, amp and a double-pedal kick drum built into an old suitcase, his successful gigs encouraged him to go it alone on record too, beginning with 2011’s self-released Roll The Bones.

Rose-Garcia’s latest effort is the more expansive And The War Came, which has just received a UK release, and on which he’s joined by a full band for the first time: “The title comes from the fact that it’s about life catching up to you, whether you like it or not. No life is led alone, even in a musical context. I used to prefer it that way, because it’s easy to think you’ve got everything under control. But as time goes by I want people in my life more – friends, romance, family… Sometimes those things can seem a little too heavy, but you can only push them off for
so long before they come back. It’s human nature.”

And The War Came is a beguiling journey into witchy Americana, Rose-Garcia taking folk, blues and wired stomp rock through unexpected shifts and turns. His voice runs the range from ethereal hush to declarative howl. Back in the US, the album has already earned him TV spots on Letterman, Conan and Austin City Limits, capped by a Best Emerging Artist gong at last year’s prestigious Americana Music Awards.

Currently on tour, Rose-Garcia is itching to get back into the studio. “I adore recording,” he says. “It’s like an archaeological dig into your own life, processing it out and distilling it into single frames. It’s a very therapeutic and exciting experience.”

FOR FANS OF: Elliott Smith

“I started listening to Elliott Smith when I was still in high school,” says Rose-Garcia. “Despite being an acoustic singer-songwriter, this album [1995’s Elliott Smith] is quite aggressive. It has implied drums, then your brain creates
the rest of it. It’s a very interesting style of playing. I love Needle In The Hay, especially.”

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Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.