Shakey Graves on dressing like a cartoon character and packing a suitcase drum
Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) is a one man force to be reckoned with. Armed with a vintage guitar, attention grabbing musical stylistics and a drum made out of a suitcase, this one man band grabs audiences like no other; you can hear a pin drop at his shows. In advance of his shows next week at the Fox in Boulder and the Ogden, we caught up with Shakey while he dealt with the cable company, school zones and ornery old men.
Westword: How's your day going? Even big rock stars have cable issues?
Shakey Graves (aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia): Oh my god. It's a wasteland in there. I've never had to physically go into Time Warner Cable before, and it's just confused, pissed off people holding remote controls and stuff.
Is that in Austin? I didn't even have cable there because of Time Warner.
Oh god, I don't even have cable; this is just internet stuff. I've just barely started using Twitter and all. I mean, I've had an account for a while but never messed with it, and only recently started to see how quickly it can get you in touch with other bands, and right off the bat yesterday, I was being totally messed with by Time Warner Cable, and they were making me jump through all these hoops. So I tweeted, you know, at Time Warner Cable "Fuck you @timewarnercable!" and right off the bat, Dish Network and DirectTV both were like, "Hey, buddy! What's the deal with you?" and I was like, "Get the fuck away from me, DirectTV, and you too, Dish Network! Get out of here!"
So you have two shows coming up at the end of the month in Colorado, and the last time you were here was at hi-dive right after SXSW, and it was packed. How does that feel to know you are so popular outside of Austin?
Well, that felt great, that show was set up maybe a week before, and I have really lucked out that I have pockets of fans all over the U.S., and at that point, I hadn't toured around there that often. You get people that have three years of pent up "I really want to see this dude" feelings, but there are certain places were the bubble bursts. When I first went to Chicago, it was mayhem. It was the drunkest, rowdiest Chicago people that had been waiting three years, and they just got drunk as hell and wanted to get me drunk as hell. Just insanity. Wait... hold on a second, I'm going through a school zone. Sorry. I've gotten a ticket before.
Speaking of your twitter, you brought up that you got a pair of Guate boots. Are they as awesome as they look online?
Dude, they're so awesome. I don't even know how to wear them, though. They are so crazy looking. I just pay attention to my own feet the whole time I'm wearing them. I haven't figured out what kind of outfit do you wear with these outrageous Guate boots. I mean, for girls, you are probably going to be able to rock them 24/7; I'm used to really monotone footwear, so there's kind of a learning curve for me. A girl I went to high school with sells those, and they came out to a show I played in Nashville and gave them to me as a promotional deal.
You always look stylish; do you shop for yourself and have an idea of the image you want to project?
Of course I shop for myself! I dress like a cartoon character, I have like forty versions of the same outfit, and then just slight variations, but I've always though clothing speaks of your character. Like one half of me is really anal about stuff -- like I hate wearing shorts, but then sometimes shorts make sense. If I could I'd wear a suit every day, and I know that sounds crazy because some people have to wear a suit every day, it wouldn't be a frumpy business suit, though. I believe in underdressing to a certain degree. Big fan of the wife beater, jeans and boots.
Behold the majestical, magnificent suitcase drum.
One thing that people are so curious about is your suitcase drum. What's the history on it?
That was built for me by a close friend. We actually went out on the town last night and saw Langhorne Slim at the Parrish. I met Sean of Langhorne Slim earlier this year, and we have been running into each other on festival circuits, and his bass player played bass for me at one period in time. From there, we went over to White Horse and ran into Cooper from Devil Makes Three, and was like, "What are you doing here?" and he was all, "I live here, man."
Anyway, the suitcase drum was something I wanted to do for a while -- aw shit. Just filling you in. I'm going to Central Market right now; some grumpy old man is giving me a blend of the "F You" under-the-chin thing and a "stop talking on the phone" signal. Anyway, originally with Shakey Graves, the issue I always faced was that I sounded one way in my bedroom and totally different live, and I was trying to have consistency. I didn't want to have excuses like, "Oh, I can't sound the way I want to sound because there's no power outlets.
At that point in time, I was playing with a kick drum and a high hat, and I didn't have a kick drum or a high hat, so I would have to borrow from my friends all the time and take their drum kits apart. Will, the guy that made it, is a drummer, and he's a crazy engineer who can build stuff like a wizard, and eventually, I was asked to be the official busker for the Edward Sharpe and Mumford & Sons Railroad Revival tour, and I needed it. And at every stop, they had someone at the gates to set the mood.
Oh, that's a great gig.
I mean it is, but it wasn't. Maybe one person even remembers seeing me there. I was like at the front gate, and everyone was so excited like, "Rad! I am so not paying attention to you!" But I was still really excited. I was like, "I'm going to play, and then go watch the show," and the best thing about it was I had backstage passes to that crazy show, and my high school marching band played on stage with them, and I flipped out. Me and my friend gave them so much shit. It was almost offensive. It was great.
Did you know ahead of time that the Austin High marching band was going to be the surprise guest?
No, not at all. And of course we found out when we were so excited and drunk backstage, like, "What is THIS?! Is that the marching band?" Giving them older dude shit, yelling "Loyal Forever," our school slogan, and "You better be bleeding maroon and white, buddy! You scared? You scared" These poor little flute majors and stuff obviously terrified at the biggest moment in their life.
You've said that you have plans to expand the band. What would happen to the suitcase drum?
Oh, it would still be a part of it. I'm not going to get a drummer and a bass player. I will basically add on multi-instrumentalists, like violin, some more percussion, so I can just expand on the concept a little bit and get more complex drum beats going.
I look forward to hearing that. Also looking forward to your upcoming Colorado dates. Are you planning on doing anything when you're here?
I'm actually going to come chill for a week. I'm friends with the people in Paper Bird. Macon Terry and I just recorded a song on the next album I'm going to do; he is playing standup bass. I've also been trying to work out some stuff with Esme Patterson. I really like her music independently of Paper Bird, and so I'm going to try to write some songs with her for a few days.
That's a great group to be collaborating with. It seems like you are able to just plop right into super cool scenes, and everyone is just open armed. How do you do it?
I'm not even sure. The scenes only exist when you look back on them, I suppose, and maybe you can be lucky enough to notice you are doing something while you are doing it. But for the most part, it's just a person by person basis. When I first went on tour with Paper Bird, Macon was the first person out of the gate to be like, "Dude, I would love to play music with you. Whenever you want," and then it just kind of extended from there.
There's always that one door that opens, and I feel pretty blessed. Maybe I have a nose for it? I'm not sure, but being open to anything is key. In New York, like bumming a cigarette from somebody could open every door. There was one night I wanted to see some band. I found some people, and I asked to bum a cigarette from this girl, and she said, "No, but I have this joint."
So I was like "Okay!" and she basically was like, "I'm a computer program; here's all the people you need to meet and the places you need to see." And I go, and the whole world opened up from there. I got pointed toward the Sidewalk Café, and at that point, I caught the tail end of a really important period there, it's just the New York experience you always hear about. We will see in history who makes what mark, but as far as I am concerned, I was there with my Bob Dylan and all those characters, they still live in New York.
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