Texas singer-songwriter Shakey Graves has found a louder voice. He talks to Lydia Jenkin ahead of his Auckland show

Being spurned by a 13-year-old girl was the event that sparked the songwriter in Austin, Texas-born musician Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

"The first girl I ever dated, in like 7th grade, had a big thing for guitar players. And she went to Mexico for the summer, and during that time she ended up cheating on me. I'm not really sure what that entails when you're 13, but it still totally shocked me and wrecked my world. And so I had this whole plan that when she came back I would be really good at guitar and really buff, and she'd be like 'Oh I'm so stupid'.

"That didn't really happen in the end," he laughs. "But that whole summer I was dealing with some emotion I'd never experienced before, and all of that was relieved by learning to play the guitar, and it really stuck with me."

He channelled that disillusion into writing songs and kept it up all through school, and even when he moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.


"That's actually when I wrote most of the songs for my first album, because I was really isolated from my friends, I felt like I was in a boring world, and I was really trying to find out who I was, and I had a lot of time on my hands. So that was really when all the writing started to cauterise."

He got a few good breaks with the acting - a recurring role in Friday Night Lights, and several appearances in Robert Rodriguez films, but it was writing music that pulled at his soul.

"The key difference for me is that, musically speaking, you have 100 per cent control over the art that you're making and where it's going, and it's entirely up to you, but you can't really act for yourself in your own bedroom. There's a lot of other people who have to be involved if you're acting, and for me, that just wasn't as fulfilling."

Watch Shakey Graves play Roll the Bones

Rose-Garcia moved to New York, and quickly found himself welcomed into a burgeoning alternative-folk scene growing out of a particular spot in the East Village called Sidewalk Cafe, and a closely associated record label called Anti Folk - a phrase that's a sort of tongue-in-cheek response to the institution of the New York Folk festival.

"When I started playing in New York, the first place I got pointed to was the Sidewalk Cafe, and they have an amazing open mic night. Open mics can be horrible experiences, but this one wasn't at all, it was actually really uplifting and influential, and so in this short period of time there seemed to be this parade of musicians going through this building, and I really got a lot of influence and mentorship, not really intentionally, and it really helped encourage me to becoming what Shakey Graves is now. So it was very important, and formative."

His burning, twisted mash-up of blues and folk, performed as a one-man band, earned him wide-acclaim - touring his first album Roll The Bones, he had everyone from the New York Times to NPR singing his praises, and he quickly garnered a fan base.

But when it came to recording album number two, he decided to spread his songs out and try something a little different, a little more collaborative. While his signature Shakey Graves setup (impassioned vocals, intricate guitar, and a home made kick drum) remains the keystone, there's plenty of other musicians involved with the broader arrangements, and several duets with Denver-based singer Esme Patterson, including wonderfully mischievous single Dearly Departed, written very quickly for a Halloween show last year.

"I found a lot of pleasure in collaboration this time, and I've also found out the pitfalls of collaboration, how challenging it can be" he laughs. "It's exactly as you might expect -- it was kind of lonely when it was just me, but also, if I'm being honest, all the glory was mine, and all the bad stuff was mine to deal with and put on my shoulders. And now if stuff goes wrong, it's still my responsibility because it's my project to a certain degree, but I'm also not alone. So it's about having awareness of all that.


"With And The War Came I started really exploring my own music sonically, and performance-wise, and I experienced a bit of an education in that respect. Some of it was quite surprising, this jaunty 50s to 70s country sound that came out. But I've always wanted to have a big, loud, intense album, and I thought this was the opportunity in my life to really go for it."

Who: Shakey Graves aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia

Where and when: Performing at the Tuning Fork in Auckland on Saturday February 28

Listen to: Roll The Bones (2011), And The War Came (2014)