by Whitney Youngs
The solo singer songwriter is possibly the most recognizable symbol of Americana. Such performers represent unswerving individuality and freedom of expression with no compromise, other than how much sound one person can make and how much meaning one can impart. They are the medium and the messenger.
Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka Shakey Graves, drives rhythm, melody and meaning with his flurry of ever-steady Travis picking fingerstyle guitar precision conjoined with the calculated and syncopated stomping rhythms that mathematically flow from him. Shakey Graves is something of a prodigy, but his one man band act is no sideshow when you consider the pure athleticism of his stomp technique, which can’t be understood until you try standing in his shoes, marching dual kick pedals through a single song, let alone an entire set of his footwork. His live legendary performance of “Roll The Bones” on Audito Tree Live boasts over 35 million views and showcases his self powered sound.
“Just ‘cause you have an acoustic guitar, it doesn’t give you the privilege of anything,” he said post-performance at the revered Austin City Limits show. “I would play a song with just an acoustic guitar and it wouldn't translate. Percussion is essential, as an attention getting device. That drum makes people inherently turn their head and listen. It became sort of a trademark that I didn't particularly intend to do, but with certain songs, it really is the only thing needed.”
Shakey Graves emerged from Austin, Texas like a dusty carpetbagger with his kick drum trunk, hollow body guitar and rollicking musical dreams. His self-released debut album Roll the Bones in 2011 featured his sensational solo delivery and he was quickly anointed chief busker at large on The Edward Sharpe and Mumford and Sons Railway Revival Tour, serenading crowds at every neatly planned stop. He was on his way. Taking his gig to the main stage was the next trip. Without detracting from his medium, Graves has added skillful players to metastasize the message without shooting the messenger, and is grateful for the opportunity to grow with his audience.
“There's a level of expression that I always wanted to achieve, also kind of transcendence,” he said. “The audience gives you a chance to become whatever it is you want to be in front of them, and that's a huge privilege.”
Performing live has dialed his dynamics and maintained his minimalism in order to accentuate every note, every beat and every breath. In league with new alt-country songcraft – which is precocious and precious – Shakey Graves is a modern minstrel expressing today’s new sensitivity. His voice is sweet and greasy with a soft swagger, like a back alley Elvis. His vocal melodies inject meaning into his lyrics which are abstract and montage-like, winged with musings like the ramblings of a late night drunken journal entry discovered the next day, written on crumpled napkins. His words are clues you follow like a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to the wellspring of his inspiration. When he sings them it all makes sense. Rose-Garcia draws from his experience as a professional actor to lend theatrics to his vibe and showmanship. He became Shakey Graves in order to bend reality and give something bigger than himself, dipping his cup into the hazy ether of the spirit world to show you his ghost.
“There's a close layer between reality and what runs alongside reality,” he said. “Decoding and trying to convey that is the enjoyable part of writing music.”
Shakey Graves plays BeachLife Ranch on September 22.