The crowd started forming for Shakey Graves’ mid-afternoon set at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees festival well before the band was slated to take the stage. Stretching back towards the main stage, it was clear that this was an artist at his tipping point, and fans were abuzz waiting for the set to begin. And then it didn’t. The set time came and passed, and by the time the man of the hour took the stage to clarify that the power was out and to lead the crowd in a sing-along of his hit single “Dearly Departed,” things were running late.
“It’s funny because this seemed like the perfect setup,” says Alejandro Rose-Garcia, the Texas native behind the Shakey Graves moniker. Power eventually came back on and the set went on with a full-band setup as planned, if a little late and cut short.
“Usually I pride myself and the people I work with on being pretty run and gun,” he says. “Worse things have happened—let’s put it that way.”
While saving the set was the big Shakey news of the day, Paste caught up with Rose-Garcia later that day to talk about acoustic-vs-electric, what’s next for the project and the catch-22 of being precious with your favorite bands’ work.
: This set brought up a good question: When the power was out, you played probably your most widely known song, “Dearly Departed.” It’s something that works very well when played unplugged, but that’s a far cry from the sound of most of your songs—especially in the live setting. Do you think people who know you by that song are surprised by the more electric stuff?
Alejandro Rose-Garcia: That’s something, the acoustic vs. electric thing, is something that I think about a lot. I really do. It depends on the audience for me. Sometimes, I think people feel a little bummed out: maybe they would love an entire acoustic Shakey Graves show. I would too! I really would. But it has to be the right audience for it. Some people don’t care at all about “Dearly Departed”—they’re into the songs off the new album, or they’re into some of the older lo-fi stuff. Some people don’t even have any qualms whatsoever, they just like going to see a show. I try and cater to everybody and also just play what makes me feel good, because at the end of the day I feel like if you’re just trudging through music, it’s not really doing anybody a favor.
: It’s been a minute since you released this last album. What are you working on?
Rose-Garcia: I’m sort of on the fence with all of this in the sense that what Shakey Graves actually is is just when I record music—it’s turned into [a name for] when I play alone. We just toured Europe for the first time. The album is old, two years old, and it hasn’t even come out in a lot of places in Europe but we sold out every place we went to, upgraded rooms in most of them, just because of the power of the Internet. People would come to see the show and I did at least half of it alone, which I hadn’t done in a really long time. It was a really nice return to form for me, but it also reminded me why I enjoy having a band—there’s a certain sense of backup and a level of dynamics keeping it off the ground.
: As you’ve done more electric stuff, has that affected the way you’ve been writing?
Rose-Garcia: That’s the question—it goes back to what we’re working on now. And when I say “we,” it’s that I’ve gotten this band together to play songs that I’ve figured out or played all the parts on. But the things that they bring to it really add to the song. They play stuff I don’t know how to play! It sounds stupid, but that’s what a fucking band is. So it’s sort of that question of how do you present things?
I’m still very fascinated by the idea of side projects. When I was coming up and listening to bands, everybody had side projects. There would be five bands for every one band; the same members would reunite with other people—Wolf Parade would be part of Broken Social Scene, or whatever. So I’ve thought about the concept of naming this band something differently because we’re all writing music together or even just doing a full-band record and acknowledging it as that, as opposed to trying to pull back and kind of do my own thing.
I could put out Shakey Graves [solo] albums every year if I wanted to. If you just left me alone and I sat in my house, I would put out an album a year probably. It may not be good, but it would have that quality that I feel like people won’t find in my live show because, to me, that’s not what I’m interested in [lately]. I like recording for the texture of it and the way I can manipulate stuff, and I also like the live show for its boisterousness and the freedom that I intend to bring to the stage.
Check out Shakey Graves playing “The Perfect Parts” at Paste’s Riverview Bungalow at SXSW in the player below.
: You do collaboration very well, too. Obviously the Esme Patterson song, but I’ve also seen shows where you’ll hop on stage with Lucius—
Rose-Garcia: Yeah, we’re trying to record that still.
: Oh yeah?
Rose-Garcia: Yeah! We’re definitely trying to record that song [“Can’t Help Falling in Love”] at some point.
: Well is there some kind of quality that draws you to people you want to collaborate with?
Rose-Garcia: A lot of it is setting up play dates, which is very nice. The Lucius thing was kind of all put together by Newport Folk Festival; Shovels and Rope and I did a Neil Young song together, which we put together for Newport also. They were leading the after-party.
I don’t think people see as much of a collaborator in me as I see in myself. I just haven’t really showcased that. In general, what I’ve always presented is my one-man band thing. It’s a very insular concept. I’m not a technically proficient guitar player in the sense that I’m not out there noodling with everybody, but I think what I haven’t entirely showcased yet—and I intend to—is the level of production that I’ve learned over all of these years. I really do feel like I know how to manipulate performance or help direct songs. I think I’m a good co-writer. [Laughs] I think I am.
: Even “Dearly Departed” doesn’t sound like a Shakey Graves song to me.
Rose-Garcia: It’s not that it isn’t, but I’ve been debating with myself whether it’s important to set up more parameters with that; like, when I play as Shakey Graves it’s just me. I’m not sure if that’s more important to me just to sort my mind correctly or if people even care that much. I feel like it’s a little more alienating than it could be.
: Do you feel like that song is a good way to draw people into your music that is a little less accessible?
Rose-Garcia: That was my idea. That was the concept with letting that song run like that, I thought it might snag a bunch of people who wouldn’t even come near my music in the first place and alienate a fair amount of people that were really precious about what I had put out before.
: You think people were alienated by that?
: It does sound different.
Rose-Garcia: I would hope that people would be as flexible as I am with it, but I know some people weren’t. I’m very hard on bands that I love, in that sense. I think the thing that you worry about is that it’s a new direction. So every time it’s like, “Oh GREAT. This is where they’re going with this? Fuck.” But I think it’s worth blowing that [criticism] off and being aware of that, simultaneously. I’m getting really close to the limit of “Shakey Graves” for me, or the limit of it being such an expansive thing. Acknowledging collaboration is going to be more important moving forward and kind of redefining what it means if you sign up to see one of my shows.
Just because you have a lot of stuff to showcase doesn’t mean you should do everything. Whatever’s going to come out next, I’m going to really take my time on. I’m more or less done experimenting in a lot of senses.