From Austin to the Graves7/20/2016
Alejandro Rose-Garcia, known by his stage name of Shakey Graves, was born in Austin, Texas, and honed his music in cities like Los Angeles and New York. But regardless of where he was living or playing, whether his music was in a bar or on YouTube, Rose-Garcia’s approach stayed the same: one fan at a time.
“I always tried to approach it as a sort of anti-marketing,” he said in a phone interview, describing the process of growing his fanbase. “I try to make it more of a word-of-mouth process, never trying to convince people that my corner of the map was something they had to explore.
“The way that I absorb music best is when someone I trust shows it to me. I always wanted to feel like I was discovering things organically instead of having them thrust at me. So that’s how I approach my own music as well.”
Rose-Garcia started as a one-man show. When he self-produced his debut album, he handled most of the instrumental duties, and his early shows were lone-wolf affairs as well. But when it came time for 2014’s “And the War Came,” Rose-Garcia brought in other musicians to work with and develop into a fuller band sound.
“It was a long, slow burn,” he said. “The musicians that I added just so happened to be people who were close to me, so it was a little more intuitive than it might seem, but it was still uncharted territory. I didn’t rush into it because I’m still a little flabbergasted that bands can live together for 20 years. One of the things about being a solo show is you’ve only got one person to fuck up.
“This is more collaborative than my music has ever been. It seems disingenuous for me to try and do it the old way anymore. I just have less interest in doing that. I feel like I’ve climbed that mountain.”
Having other musicians behind him has also taught Rose-Garcia the value of restraint and the importance of trusting in bandmates and not trying to do everything himself.
“As a band leader, you don’t have to do anything if you want to,” he said. “That’s one of the key features. It often sounds worse if you’re trying to do everything. You’re stepping on toes and wasting musical space.”
Austin has the distinction of being a city that tends to envelope its artists, whether they like it or not. When you say someone is from Austin or Seattle or Nashville, people automatically get an idea in their heads of what they should sound like and act like. But for Rose-Garcia, his time in L.A. and N.Y.C. proved to be even more instrumental in making him the performer he is today.
“Most of what I am as a person was nurtured in Austin, but nothing was executed until I went to the big cities,” he said. “Austin, at its worst, can be sort of a nest and not very challenging. There are gigs to be had, and people who come to the shows and lots of musicians are like, ‘Great, see you next time.’ But in L.A. there are more people, so there’s more talent and less space for dicking around. Los Angeles was where I really cauterized what I had, musically. New York helped me really be proud of who I am and what I have; it really helped me learn how to brand myself and learn what my strength was and how to put it out there. I wouldn’t be half the man that I am today without those cities.” CV