Alejandro Rose-Garcia learned how to play the guitar after his seventh-grade girlfriend cheated on him three times. “I don’t know how you cheat when you’re in seventh grade, but she did, and I had this thing to get back at her,” says Rose-Garcia, a.k.a Shakey Graves. “I was going to work out and be really buff and get really good at guitar. Only one of those things actually happened.” The 13-year-old poured his heartbroken, vengeful self into music, and it did something. “Right then, I knew I was going to always play music, at least for myself,” he remembers.
Little did the one-man band know he would not just be playing music for himself, but for a growing fanbase across the States and around the world. The Austin, Texas-raised alt-country folkster transitioned from a vindictive guitar novice to an ace songwriter and performer. Although Rose-Garcia’s interest in music began in middle school, it didn’t fully develop until 2010 or ’11 when he was completely immersed, head down, in his performance.
Originally, Rose-Garcia was more interested in theater than rock. His dad was a manager for a big theater, so Rose-Garcia found himself backstage and on stage. This turned into the pursuit of his own acting career, which began in his high school theater group The Red Dragon Players and led to roles in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003), Material Girls (2006), and Shorts (2009) as well as a recurring gig with Friday Night Lights.
For Rose-Garcia, acting and songwriting gave him an outlet to express himself. Music, however, offered a new avenue of artistic fulfillment. It also offered an emotional release uninhibited by a director or script. “I don’t think music is therapy per se,” Rose-Garcia says. “You can’t solve everything by playing guitar, but there’s a certain thing about something you do for yourself that takes the turmoil inside and puts it somewhere else. That’s what it did for me.”
Shakey Graves’ inception officially happened sometime during 2008. It began as a made-up campfire Indian guide name and turned into the perfect stage name. With a kick-drum suitcase and hollowed-out guitar, Rose-Garcia blends lo-fi earthy blues with soft, storytelling country, and a splash of cloudy melancholia; see 2011’s Roll the Bones.
His upcoming album is a more professional record that’s a grab-bag of throwback country, aggressive blues, and spacey rock. “I like a nice mix,” Rose-Garcia says. “My albums are different from my live performance. They are a lot bigger.”
Recently, Shakey Graves has been building a rep thanks to a slew of festival appearances, from Sasquatch to SXSW. He’s set to hit more festivals this summer, including Pickathon, High Sierra, Winnipeg Folk, and Telluride Blues & Brews. “I’ve been playing these really wonderful festivals, which are becoming the new model or mind-set,” Rose-Garcia says. “They offer a great opportunity to meet these people that I don’t really put a face to, and I’m becoming a huge fan and also friends with these artists that I massively respect and admire. It creates a personally invested interest.”
The singer/songwriter may play songs primarily from the country and folk genres, but he gets lyrical inspiration via everything from Wu-Tang concerts to comic strips. “I still read Calvin & Hobbes,” Rose-Garcia says. “The most important lessons are hidden in children’s cartoons. It’s that deep stuff I want to include in my own lyrics.”
For the Pour House show, Rose-Garcia will be bringing a few people from his family band, along with folks from his corner of the map. “This is how I do music, and I have a lot of fucking fun doing it!” he says. The Texan musician is excited to be reuniting with some Charleston acts he has come to know and love like Shovels & Rope. He says, “It feels like a dream, and I don’t want to ever wake up.”