Shakey Graves: Shaking It Up

This Austin musician proves he’s rock solid

Photo: Kirk Stewart

Alejandro Rose-Garcia has no problem if you call him Shakey. In fact, he likes it. “When people call me Alejandro, it can sound like I’m in trouble with my mom,” the singer and Austin, Texas, native says, laughing. Shakey Graves is his stage name, after all. And if the music gods are just this year, many more people will soon be hearing that name.

Out this October, his second album, And the War Came, is one of the year’s most astonishing records. A greased-lightning mix of troubadour folk, sizzling blues guitar, kick-start percussion, and wry, crafty lyrics, the album sounds like Bob Dylan hanging out at R. L. Burnside’s house, passing around a jar of hooch (check out the jaw-dropping “The Perfect Parts”).

The new effort is a stark contrast to his 2011 debut, Roll the Bones, a collection of deathly quiet lo-fi recordings. It garnered a healthy amount of attention in music blogs, but it was his mind-blowing live shows that really made people take notice. With an acoustic guitar and a kick drum fashioned out of an old suitcase, he routinely stunned crowds who came in expecting little more than a folk snooze-fest. “It was the control freak in me,” he says, referring to recording and touring solo. “It wasn’t some attention-getting tool.”

Before he began focusing on music full-time, Rose-Garcia was garnering some notice as an actor. With his mother’s encouragement, he dropped out of high school after his junior year and moved with her to Los Angeles. “I was really into theater in school and wanted to try acting,” he says. “My mom was a playwright, so she understood the creative process. One day she said, ‘If you really want to do it, let’s go now.’”

In L.A. he went on one audition after another, landing bit parts in Lifetime movies and various television shows. “I was the guy you saw for two minutes on CSI,” he jokes. Ironically, his biggest acting gig came when he visited friends back in Austin and went on an audition for Friday Night Lights. He was hired for the recurring role of the Swede, a party animal who tries to woo Julie Taylor, the coach’s daughter. Still, Rose-Garcia was quickly souring on the cattle calls of the audition circuit. “It just wore me out. I was spending months just praying to get a callback.”

He had started writing songs in high school and, with the money earned from FNL, moved to New York to try his hand at various open-mike nights at venerable singer-songwriter clubs like the SideWalk Café. He got his ass handed to him the first few times, but he persevered and word soon spread about the one-man band with the suitcase. He toured extensively, only to come home after one road stint to find that his girlfriend had left him and the home they shared. It became the foundation for “Dearly Departed,” one of And the War Came’s best tracks. A fuzz bomb of hand claps, guitar, and the dynamic guest vocals of his friend Esmé Patterson, it’s a raucous but lonely lament on a failed relationship.

But Rose-Garcia’s favorite cut on the album is “Hard Wired,” a wobbly gallop written about two different but equally intense relationships—one of love, one of friendship—that take place in the haunts of his once-again home of Austin. “I was just playing around for six hours and then the song just came,” he says. “It’s like Austin. They call it the Velvet Rut. It’s a pretty good place to do nothing until something happens.”