Shakey Graves is quickly becoming an inspiring independent roots music success story and in a big way, despite what seem to be his best efforts to remain as unassuming, humble, and non-commercial as possible, while people gladly shove dollar bills at him left and right for his music that speaks to them in such a crafty and sincere manner. He’s becoming sort of a unknown superstar, a cult enigma, not from sly marketing, but because he’s really as socially awkward and troubled, yet full of light and brilliance as he seems, all while still coming across as unusually grounded and affable for someone with such a robust creative spark. He’s simply a dude who wants to share his songs with you, and remains as surprised as anyone how much his simple, one man presentation has been embraced warmly by appreciative, attentive, and distinguishing fans of roots music and songwriting.
Over the last few years, Shakey Graves has become a superhero of Bandcamp, with his squiggly little recordings like Roll The Bones regularly dominating the lo-fi, self-serve, user-driven format, while his name has found its way into the lineups of prestigious, world-class festivals like Pickathon, Stagecoarch, and Newport Folk. Shakey’s success almost seems part mistake, part inevitable, but overall it’s an excellent story to renew one’s faith in the power of music, and the world’s ability to still pay attention to a worthy voice.
From playing residencies at Austin bars like The White Horse and Hole in the Wall, to touring the world to critical acclaim, playing his guitar and banjo while beating on a suitcase bass drum, Alejandro has risen like a chute out of the ashes of cultural decay as a one man show, and a one man show only. But 2014 promises to see a sea change from this rising roots artist. He’s assembled a band to take his song craft to the next level.
“I kind of reached this impasse where I’d been playing the same songs for you know, going on like three or four years,” Shakey explains in a recently-aired and excellently-produced episode of Arts in Context from Austin PBS station KLRU (see below). “My brain has been going through some craziness trying to figure this out. Essentially, when I recorded my first album, which turned into this live show, which has really gotten its own legs, you know I really didn’t have anything to hit, I didn’t have any expectations … The live stuff became its own sound. At the same time, people started really enjoy listening to my music, and especially sort of the live stuff. So I’m at this weird impasse where I just want to make the strangest music possible. And I don’t want it to particularly sound anything like my live show.”
“I love the way my live show sounds,” Shakey continues, “but it’s not interesting to me to put out an album like that. You know, me and ten songs with the suitcase is not what I’m into. So I’m trying to piece together a bigger album, but at the same time going into it with the mindset of being able to play these songs live the way they sound recorded, trying to do a hybrid of the first album I did and the live stuff. So inevitably that means I have to start working with other band members to a certain degree.”
At South by Southwest in mid March, Shakey, who was on many big music outlet’s short list of up-and-coming SXSW artists to see, was showcasing his new band approach to his sound and style. Despite his own open apprehension about the new approach—“I’m also terrified of alienating people who enjoy what I do right now,” Shakey says—it fits intuitively into what you might expect from Shakey with a band, while still being offbeat enough and unexpected to accomplish the fresh approach Shakey is looking for, if only for his own personal artistic fulfillment.
“I might not be able to get away with this stuff, or it just might not be Shakey Graves,” he says. “That’s really the reason I have a name in the first place, is that at any point I can be something else. You know, it’s no Alejandro Rose-Garcia, or maybe Shakey Graves is just when I’m me, or when I’m playing guitar and doing the suitcase drum thing. And maybe this band I’m putting together turns into its own band. I don’t know.”
Whether the band thing sticks for Shakey, or he slides back into the solo show, it’s the sincerity and sheer appeal for Shakey Graves the musician; the natural, almost accidental charisma, and underdog charm, that makes him one of the best artists in 2014 to put stock into and sit back and watch it rise.