This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The musical stylings of Alejandro Rose-Garcia better known by his stage name, Shakey Graves either fit comfortably into a range of classifications, or don't satisfy the parameters of any existing label and are altogether wholly undefinable, depending on your perspective. Those in the former camp have alternately dubbed him everything from Americana to folk to bluegrass to roots rock.
So how would he describe his music?
"I'd describe it as … uh … geez …" he said Wednesday in a phone interview. "I've been asked this question for three years and I still don't have an answer."
While some artists bristle at ultimately pointless attempts to shoehorn them into just the right subgenre "That's like the real '90s hardcore thing to do," Rose-Garcia joked. " 'No dude, it's not grindcore, it's sludge! It's post-hardcore, not hardcore!' " he noted that it not only doesn't bother him, it actually helps him better achieve his secret (if not exactly nefarious) agenda.
"My main delight comes from keeping people off-balance, I really enjoy throwing people for a loop. All the genre classes are fine, 'cause really it's enabled me to do that in a way more extreme way than I'd even planned," he said. "I've put out stuff that sounds really soft, put out almost everything except stuff that sounds extremely loud. But strangely enough, a lot of what I'm playing these days is experimenting with being extremely, extremely loud. That's just awesome. I feel like people come to the show to see me sing sweetly and wear suspenders, and I'm like, 'Raaaaawwwwrrrr!' "
OK, so no one who goes to his show this Sunday at The Depot in Salt Lake City is going to confuse him with Pantera circa "Vulgar Display of Power."
The point is, people get so consumed with what label is attached to the musician that they don't allow themselves to get consumed by the musician's music. Which misses the point with someone like Shakey Graves.
OK, you insist on insisting he plays folk? He'll concede that but only so far.
"I'm really setting out to create some weird, off-color folk music. I never wanted to set out to make straight-up folk music straight-up folk music doesn't interest me all that much," Rose-Garcia said. "… I'm not blasting Joan Baez all the time or anything."
So what, exactly, is the Austin, Texas, native blasting?
While acknowledging "stuff that influences me is everything from really hokey pop music to really aggressive blues-laced rock and old-timey folk I really don't have a singular influence," he ultimately settles upon three original sources for his style:
1. The 1994 Beck record "One Foot in the Grave": "It's like this really off-kilter attitude guitar, and it's sorta like his swipe at a country album, which is so cool. I loved it. Every song is like 2 minutes and 30 seconds of just kinda weird, experimental, dissonant Beck s-. It's all kind of country twangified."
2. Troubled troubadour Elliot Smith: "It would be seemingly like a really sweet song, and then you'd listen to what it's about, and it's like a song about shooting amphetamines or something like that."
3. Not-quite-underground country/folk singer Townes Van Zandt: "He was like the fully actualized version of something I had theorized about how I wanted to write poetically. There's Bob Dylan and there's Neil Young and Tom Waits and folks that are easier to come across, and I found Townes a lot later, when I was already kind of feeling like I was set in my songwriting ways, and he kinda reminded me to loosen up a little bit more, I guess."
If only you had a nickel for every time you heard some neo-folkie cite that triumvirate as his inspirations, right?
Ultimately, Rose-Garcia espouses his own theory of evolution (not the Charles Darwin type). Coming from a family steeped in theater and performing arts, he says it became natural to adopt a mindset of "a lot of improvisation and letting the work become what it wants to become." And so his has.
His brand of folk music has moved beyond the stereotypical 1960s hippie stuff. His second album, "And the War Came," which came out just over a year ago, moved beyond the stripped-down vibe of his debut, "Roll the Bones," and embraced a broader sound. Even his live performances, which once consisted solely of him singing, him playing guitar, and him working a kick-drum fashioned out of a suitcase, have transformed into a bigger stage show complete with a supporting band.
The latter has proved an especially important component, as he maintains the mentality that he must continue proving himself, never becoming self-satisfied by what he's done.
"Getting on Conan [O'Brien] was our first late-night thing, so that was just a huge milestone. [But] making it to Conan doesn't mean you've made it. It's not like, 'Pack it up, whores! We just got on the Conan O'Brien show! We f-ing did it!' It was a huge tip of the hat, and I was so proud of the work we put in. It was definitely seeing something come to fruition and getting honored," he said. "… I take it really seriously and I'm really hard on myself which I think is a good thing. I'm not brutal, but I'm very concerned with trying to stay in tune, to not hobble myself or typecast myself as, 'Well, this worked once, so it'll work for the rest of time.' … I almost feel like a participant in my own music at times, you know, as opposed to someone who knows everything about it."
After faux-lamenting his lack of a unique, self-anointed "hokey" descriptor for his music such as Nashville contemporary T. Hardy Morris labeling his stuff "frunge" (as in folk-grunge) Rose-Garcia ultimately settled upon the phrase "emotional spectrum music," noting that what he plays and performs is "just me working as a conduit for what I experience."
Ultimately, he acknowledged it doesn't matter what it's called, just so long as people enjoy it.
"I think influence is kind of the sign of making it," he said "… Basically, inspiring people is about as big as it gets for me. The first time I ever heard someone cover my song, or anything like that, that was the first time I felt like I had made it."
Perhaps, in the end, "influential" is the best label any musician can hope for, no matter what kind of music they make.
P With Tennis.
When • Sunday: doors at 7 p.m., show at 8
Where • The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15 in advance, $18 day of; Smith's Tix