Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known as Shakey Graves, returns to Red Rocks on June 23. He'll be performing from his new album, Roll the Bones X, a blend of previously released and unreleased vintage material that harks back to his early years as a musician.
The new record celebrates the ten years since Rose-Garcia’s first self-release, Roll the Bones, dropped on Bandcamp. It tells an origin story of the moments, friends, places and guitar that created the Shakey Graves sound. “I have always loved the concept of a first album," Rose-Garcia writes in the liner notes. "That initial step onto a path big or small, accidental or intentional. It is always significant and cannot be replicated or replaced."
Rose-Garcia often digs through past recordings. He views every song as a snapshot of his life and as a form of abstract storytelling. The annual sifting typically takes place in anticipation of February 9, which his hometown of Austin, Texas, declared Shakey Graves Day in 2012. In celebration of the holiday, he often releases previously unshared material. But this year, he delved more deeply into the years preceding the release of his first album.
“That could have been my only album. It could have mattered only to me, and it would still be exactly what it is,” he says. But that’s not what happened. Shortly after Rose-Garcia uploaded “Roll the Bones” onto Bandcamp, one of the platform’s editors made it a featured album. It became a hit and remains one of the website’s most downloaded records.
However, despite the first album’s catapult to fame, Rose-Garcia says he’s often surprised by how few people actually know it. Many listeners became acquainted with his music through Audiotree videos on YouTube, he explains. All the songs on the current record pre-date those videos. “This is the oldest stuff,” he notes.
Roll the Bones X contains two disks. The first is a re-release of the original Roll the Bones from 2011. The second, Odds & Ends, is a collection of both previously unreleased and released songs, all created during the late aughts. “I made the decision as an archivist to stick with the era-specific focus of those years of my life. It’s a time capsule of seven years," he says.
During that period, Rose-Garcia moved between Austin, Los Angeles and New York as he grew into himself both as a person and as an artist. He documented the journey through countless recordings, often initially captured through his four-track tape recorder and then produced via his Acer laptop. It was a simple process because the laptop was constantly on the verge of exploding, he explains. “It was a good learning tool: If you go too far, you’re gonna crash.”
“The privilege of not knowing what you’re doing is that you bravely go forward,” he adds.
But part of that confidence also came from the people who surrounded Rose-Garcia during those years. “I am nothing without my friends. A wolf pack of brilliant idiots,” he writes in the liner notes. He highlights those friendships with recordings of conversations dispersed in and between all the old songs. For example, there’s “Business Lunch,” on disc one, that contains a voice-mail message of buddies from Texas roasting his performance in a Lifetime film. And on disc two, there’s a number of segments from a phone call with Jason 71 that recounts the moment they met. Jason 71 would lend Rose-Garcia an heirloom guitar named “Jay Manley,” which Rose-Garcia credits with the creation of songs such as "Roll the Bones," "Built to Roam," "Late July," "Doe Jane" and "If Not for You."
This larger context of these songs, also explained through writings and photographs in the liner notes of Roll the Bones X, illustrates that creation doesn’t exist in isolation, and that there are many influences that culminate in an album.
Looking back on creating this compilation now, Rose-Garcia says, “I think I was trying to circle back around and see how that tree had grown. It’s only through perspective that anything gains importance, especially something like a first album.”
Part of that point of view was aided by the events of the past year. “Not to make light or take any of the severity of how extremely dark and intense the COVID-19 plague is on mankind, but it's the only time that I’ve gotten to have perspective and slowed down to look at where I was both psychologically and physically,” he explains.
“It was a really important reminder to go back to my roots,” he continues. Back then, “the mindset I had was of friendship, and it was sort of documentarian.”
Roll the Bones X relays a message: “Myself in the past is telling myself to trust myself in the future,” he adds.
He sees how some fans, who know him as a DIY artist, might see his position now as selling out. But it’s not quite that simple. “As much as the establishment has helped me do what I want — all the weird little passion projects — it’s nothing short of being absolutely ungrateful if I thumb my nose at the industry as a whole," he says. "[But] I refuse to accept anything at face value, especially when making and selling something as spiritual as music can be."
“I’m also a massive Spice Girls fan and love pop music to death. Business at its heart isn’t evil. Pop music isn’t evil. Folk music isn’t righteous. It’s a lot weirder than it is convenient," he adds.
There’s even a balance between playing larger venues such as Red Rocks and the smaller venues that cater to more intimate experiences. While Rose-Garcia is playing larger venues on this tour, which suits his current band’s setup of six musicians and keeps everyone paid, he cautions that “success and scale shouldn’t be considered the same thing.” And he worries that the smallest venues were the ones hurt the most by the pandemic closures. The music industry needs the entire food chain, he explains.
And while he would be happy if the entire “giant” aspect of performance was canceled, he says he also likes the idea that his songs are reaching more people and spreading “that intention out into a million tiny directions."
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