5 Questions with Shakey Graves

On Thursday, Oct. 29, we’ll be live-streaming a performance from the Austin-based musician as part of our Front Porch Sessions. We caught up with him before the show.

Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known as Shakey Graves, is finally getting to spend more time at home—something he’s longed for in times past. Despite dropping his latest EP Look Alive in May (which many are calling his greatest work to date), the popular blues and country singer doesn’t have a busy tour lined up. Instead, he’s enjoying connecting with fans in more intimate settings, he says, such as our upcoming Front Porch Session on Oct. 29, which will be live-streamed from Still Austin Whiskey Co. (If you haven’t already, be sure to RSVP to receive a complimentary bourbon tasting kit!) We’re over the moon to be featuring this homegrown talent and thought it’d be a good idea to catch up with him before the show.

Where did the name “Shakey Graves” come from?

I was at Old Settlers Music Festival—I think it was 2007—and I had been writing a bunch of music. I wasn’t going to play at the festival, but I decided to bring my guitar to sort of, you know, roam around from campsite to campsite and test out some of the songs that I had started to make. A lot of camping music festivals are just spent sitting around drinking beer. And so we were doing that one day, and a man came up to our campsite who was probably tripping on something—something more than beer. We had a long, nonsensical afternoon hanging out with this guy, and by the end of it, he wandered off. He wasn’t making a lot of sense, and the last thing we heard him say was something like “watch out for the spooky wagons.” We were were like, did he just say ‘spooky wagons’? We discussed it and all agreed that that would make a great Nashville guitar picker name. And so we all made up names akin to that. And the one that I did was Shaky Graves. Then, when I went to go play my guitar at the campsites later that night (and the rest of the weekend), that’s what my name was. People didn’t even flinch. They were like, Oh yeah, great, great. The rest is history.

Your new EP Look Alive was released in May of this year. What was it like to release music at the beginning of the pandemic?

With new releases, it’s kind of up to the creator how to do it. I hate making stuff and then sitting on it until I’m tired of it, and then releasing it. Usually when you write a record, it takes a long time before other people see it. So I just decided to take advantage of the situation at hand and be like, let’s just put out these songs. Also, if you frame the content with what’s going on in the world, the songs actually do sound like they’re commentary on our situation, specifically lockdown. There’s something about the tunes themselves, just those four songs, that seem like they actually are relevant now, and so they might have lost a sense of urgency, or be less important to me, in six months or a year. I didn’t want to wait, I didn’t want them to suddenly be shelved or disappear. So I decided to just let him go, let them be what they want.

How are these new tracks different from anything you’ve written before?

One thing that made this EP really different was that while we were recording those songs, my goal was to try and film us recording it in the studio that I set up, called Hello, Gorgeous, just outside of town. I don’t want to film and record at the same time, I’m not the best compulsive documenter, and so I ended up getting a film crew together. We basically recorded those songs with people filming us the whole time we were in our studio. Each song was released with a half hour little documentary piece that was themed after it.

What makes Austin feel like home for you?

The face of Austin has changed a lot and is changing even more now that all of these iconic businesses, these places that you sort of thought were waterproof, are suddenly not. I’m going to go to the last show at Threadgill’s North location on November 1, which is pretty strange. I still feel like it wasn’t that long ago when that opened—it seemed like the fanciest building in that part of town, like futuristic. And then suddenly the doors are closing. But I think Austin is home in the sense that people have been gathering here for thousands of years. It’s got a spring that bubbles out of the ground. It’s in the middle of Texas, but it doesn’t really feel like what you see in a Western film. At the same time, though, I guess that’s my understanding of being a Texan in the first place: it’s a diverse place and a little bit left of center. I feel like it’s framed my whole life, I guess. I grew up in a place that’s the capital of Texas, but also bumped into Leslie the cross dresser every day at a coffee shop. And it’s just always business as normal, you know? It often has helped me redefine what normal is, and has helped me spread my expectations a lot farther than just surface level stuff. It’s got a good soul.

What’s on the horizon?

Everything. I look forward to being able to redraw the map of what my career and daily life looks like. [Recently] it’s been such a total reset. Something that I’ve lamented off and on is, you know, the more successful I get always means I get to spend a little less time at home. That’s a price that comes with gaining a larger reach.

So if anything, now I’m getting to do stuff like this show, [Front Porch Sessions]. You know, I love big giant things, but I think most most music fans and musicians always prefer a more intimate setting—even if it’s a loud, crazy show. Right now I get to flex that muscle, as opposed to trying to put on something big and bombastic. I feel like I don’t have to impress. I feel like this is just a time where I really get to focus on being present and then sharing all of this with my community. I feel like it’s all gotten a lot more important to look at what’s around you. When you’re trapped in your house, you realize what your house is, and then you realize what kind of town you live in. And all that being said, I feel really lucky and blessed that this is the place, and that these are the people, and you know, this is my life. I want to make sure I don’t take that for granted. That’s what the horizon looks like for me.

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