“Next album. New sound. Sell your suspenders,” Alejandro Rose-Garcia tweeted late last year. Those six words, though dramatic in their minimalism, were the perfect heads-up to fans who didn’t know what to expect from Can’t Wake Up or the new influences impacting the Texas singer-songwriter.
What Rose-Garcia, the man behind the moniker Shakey Graves, was prepping was a lucid dream-like romp that switches from his past in barnyard folk to more open-minded, experimental pop. Can’t Wake Up sees him unveiling the traditional hooks and catchy howls that he’s exemplified in the past, but it’s rooted in dreams and polished studio tricks, something that calls to mind Patrick Watson or Andrew Bird. It’s dark and playful all at once. And according to him, it felt equal parts risky and exciting deciding to go all in with the absurdities.
“I’ve experimented a lot over the years. There’s hundreds of recordings of me playing shitty synths or bizarre instruments with weird lyrics,” he laughs. “But on this record, I trusted myself to go places that I do go normally, but I don’t always put out. Maybe it’s because of a personal fear of how it will impact my overall look, or if I want people to hear it. On all those fronts, the answer is always yes. Because whenever I don’t share [new songs], I end up going crazy because it feels untruthful to keep it to myself.”
To dive deep into the storytelling mind of Shakey Graves, we interviewed Alejandro Rose-Garcia for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Can’t Wake Up as the prompt, his answers are freewheeling and entertaining—traits that appear in every corner of his music on record and live, including when he headlines the House of Blues this Friday.
1) “Counting Sheep”
DIGBOSTON: How do you make yourself fall asleep when you’re having trouble calming your thoughts?
ROSE-GARCIA: Oh God. You know, I guess it used to be smoking weed. Now it’s definitely not smoking weed because I would go crazy. That’s a weird thing to realize. Picturing in time travel talking to early high school me and being like, “Man, you’re not smoking weed before you go to sleep. Isn’t that weird?” And I’d be like, “Shut the fuck up.” But at this point, strangely enough, I usually watch Forensic Files compulsively because I don’t have to look at it but it tells me a story. Either way, it’s always resolved, too. I don’t have to pay attention to it with my eyes to be able to follow it. I guess I could just listen to a fucking podcast, but I don’t know. I just love Forensic Files. It’s one of the longest-running true crime shows. There’s like 17,000 episodes. That’s an exaggeration, but there are so many. I’m just now realizing that I have to figure out how to get up to date with it because they’re still making them. I honestly don’t know why it would calm me down to hear about crazy things people do to one another. There’s something about the guy’s voice and the music of it [hums]. It still comes out, and it’s still the same format. You just get locked in it. I don’t know how many I can watch before falling asleep. But you fall asleep to “Missing woman!” and wake up to “And then they found out who the arsonist is!”
2) “Kids These Days”
DIGBOSTON: Which current trend leaves you completely baffled?
ROSE-GARCIA: Hmm. Let me see. [laughs] I was going to say racism but that’s just a shitty funny answer, that’s not a real answer.
I mean, there’s the basics of Tide Pod munching or whatever the new version of ghost riding the whip is that’s worse, where you walk along outside of the passenger side of the car while someone else drives it. It seems like a totally weak way of ghost riding the whip. But I guess all of that falls under general YouTube dumbassery. Basically what blows my mind the most are social media influencers. I don’t get influencers. Have you watched Chasing Cameron? Ugggh. Oh god, I don’t want to talk about him! I’m going to say it now, though. I’m not giving him any more time and energy in my life, except for right now. He’s crazy. Basically, he’s an Instagram model, I guess? But he’s become a total package? I’m sure he’s a multimillionaire now. It’s him and a bunch of dudes that go on tour, all kids who have Instagram accounts, and I guess they Snapchat and other stuff. But they have actual shows where 13-year-olds will go and the guys just jump around onstage to a DJ setup. They kind of have crowds. Then they meet everyone in the crowd and take photos and stuff. That’s the thing: It doesn’t totally baffle me, because I went to high school in the age where I had a LiveJournal and didn’t have a phone freshman year but did by senior year of high school. It wasn’t crazy if you didn’t; you probably had a flip phone. But I can only imagine what life would be like if I did have access to this stuff in middle school. I do know I’d be all about it for sure, though. But yeah, taking your social media influencers thing on the road blows my mind. They’re selling out rooms I play in Europe … but the bigger rooms. [laughs] Like, what the fuck? It’s crazy. They’re like 17.
3) “Climb on the Cross”
DIGBOSTON: Are there any religious rules or mottos you think are meant to be broken?
ROSE-GARCIA: In general, I don’t consider myself a religious person but still a spiritual guy. I think there’s a lot of benefit to whatever you believe in. Yet using any sort of scripture from hundreds or thousands of years ago to dictate what happens in current society is pretty horrible. I guess you can boil it down to “God hates fags,” which is the worst of the white girl baptist church way to approach something beautiful like religion. It feels like they use scripture pretty much strictly for that.
4) “Dining Alone”
DIGBOSTON: Where is your favorite place to eat alone? What do you usually eat there?
ROSE-GARCIA: My favorite place is the movie theater. I live right next to an Alamo Drafthouse. I go there way too much. See, because I try to watch everything. I compulsively go see movies. The fact that I can kill two birds with one stone, see a movie and have food and a beer, is great. Sometimes I see things just because the timing is right, not because I actually want to see it. It’s a bummer they’ve made all of their menus the same. It used to be that each [theater] had their own style. Now it’s like anywhere I go, they all carry the same foods. Some of my favorite ones are gone, like this Asian chicken salad back in the day that I could be sustained off of. I don’t know how they got away with that. It’s usually an illusion of trying to stay healthy at the movie theater, but then giving in and getting pizza and a cheeseburger. People think it’s such a grim idea to go alone, but it’s great. It’s kinda like eating at a chain restaurant on the road by myself, in a trashy way. Of course it’s way more fun with people. But it’s there and you go. When we travel around, we spend a lot of time in bizarre parking lot areas where the bus is parked at a hotel and the closest thing is an Applebee’s. There’s a lot of really good people-watching to do sitting around in an Applebee’s in the middle of Montana at 10:30 at night.
5) “My Neighbor”
DIGBOSTON: Who was your favorite neighbor growing up? What were they like?
ROSE-GARCIA: Ooooh! I had some good neighbors. I guess it’s not growing up, per se, but my favorite neighbor was over 10 years ago or so, when I lived in LA the first time I moved out there. I was 19 or 18 years old. My neighbor down the street was this guy named Kevin Brogan. He had a big handlebar mustache and was a super eccentric guy. We became bizarre best friend neighbors. That whole block was a perfect block. Directly across this street was this miraculous old man in his 70s named Peter Quesadalla. He looked like the grandfather of the whole neighborhood. I was dirt poor, so I had this routine of going and stealing a sandwich from the grocery store if I wanted to save a dollar for weed or something stupid. He would always magically catch me doing that as I ran out the door. He would yell, “Alejandro! I just had the weirdest thing happen. I went shopping and got too many groceries. You’re going to have to come over and sit in my living room and let me feed you,” and I’d be like, “Oh shit, he’s onto me.” [laughs] So anyway, down the street was Peter, an all-time breadwinner. He passed away a while ago and it bums me out.
But down the street was Kevin. He really loved scotch. I don’t know much about scotch. I knew much less before I met him, that’s for sure. I’d go over, we would listen to records, and he would show me around, little brother-style. He worked for this company called SpaceX that was a tiny rocket startup at the time. They had been trying to get a rocket into orbit and hadn’t yet. I would go over and watch their early rockets be shot into the atmosphere and watch them mess up. He was a rocket engineer and kept saying, “One day we will get something up there!” and I thought cool, sure, SpaceX sounds like a made-up company so how on earth does a small company get something into there. I checked in on him not too long ago though. [laughs] He ended up marrying his girlfriend at the time, who is named Bambi. He changed his name legally to Brogan BamBrogan. He was one of the people behind the Hyperloop that was supposed to happen in LA. Supposedly he had a crazy legal battle with the other people working on a loop. He sued them for all this money and defamation. He started a rival company. I think his team is behind the one that’s going to happen in Denver or something. So he went from my fun, kooky neighbor to this mad scientist. Who knows? The twists and turns keep coming.
DIGBOSTON: What’s your most commonly used excuse in life?
ROSE-GARCIA: That I’m too sleepy. So “too sleepy,” “give me a second,” or “I’m too tired to think.” Some variation of that.
7) “Cops and Robbers”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever gotten in trouble with the law?
ROSE-GARCIA: Yep. That’s it. That’s all you’re getting.
8) “Mansion Door”
DIGBOSTON: If you had unlimited funds to create a dream home, what would it look like?
ROSE-GARCIA: Ooh. Wow, good call. It would kind of look like … well, I’ve always wanted my house to look like either I’m trying to solve a murder my whole life or like I’ve put together some sort of conspiracy, or like I’ve read every book in a library. Basically, I want a controlled chaos of sorts. Like Hogwarts but not in a castle. I’d like for it to be a house you can’t see from the road but it can see everything somehow. It would have to be an obscured spire of some sort with a good vantage point on a river of some sort, or property that’s on a river. There would be a bowling alley in it and maybe a sci-fi roller skating rink. You would have to have wings to the house, and in the winter it would get too cold so nobody could go in the south wing. People would be like “What’s in the south wing?” and you get to tell them, “No, don’t go in there.” It would have to be a house where there would always be one room you never get to see, no matter how hard you try. That’s my dream house.
DIGBOSTON: What’s your most trivial fear?
ROSE-GARCIA: Funny, it’s sort of oxymoronic, having a fear that’s not that big or important. I’m afraid of watching animals bite me. When I was little and caught a lizard, a very small lizard, I would lose my mind if it bit me. It doesn’t matter the size. I’ve watched small bugs bite me. Making the connection between watching a little mouth bite me anywhere? No matter if I can feel it, it freaks me out. I guess it makes perfect sense in a lot of ways because some animals should scare you if they bite you. Even if it’s the most trivial of bites, it scares me a lot. I’m not like, “Oh well, I’ll go to town now.” Even those tiny crabs. Being pinched by a little crab? Can’t do it.
10) “Big Bad Wolf”
DIGBOSTON: What was your favorite children’s story or book as a kid?
ROSE-GARCIA: Well, I was raised learning how to read Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side comics. Those used to be my life at age 6 or so. I guess my favorite Calvin and Hobbes book is probably There’s Treasure Everywhere. It’s a collection of the comic strips.
My favorite story-story would likely be the one I was read all of the time called Big Dog Little Dog that I still love. It’s about Ted, the little dog, and Fred, the big dog. Ted wears red and Fred wears green. They go on a winter trip together for some reason and Ted likes to drive slow. Fred likes to drive fast. They go to a hotel and Ted’s bed is too long. Fred’s bed is too short. They call one another in the night and decide to switch rooms. Basically, the whole point of the book is that it’s okay to be different than other people.
11) “Backseat Driver”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have any “backseat driver” traits?
ROSE-GARCIA: You know, yeah. I definitely get kinda antsy on long road trips on road politics. If I’m in a car and somebody is tailgating for a bit or not going with the flow, I can’t take my mind off it. If they’re messing with the radio and messing up highway traffic, I go crazy. I can’t think. Like scoot over or do something, man. Come on. Anybody.
12) “Foot of Your Bed”
DIGBOSTON: Do you store anything underneath your bed?
ROSE-GARCIA: Oh yeah. I think, at this point, it’s socks, underwear, sometimes food. I don’t think there’s any food under there right now, which is great. There’s assorted picture frames and posters. There’s a 5,000-piece Beatles puzzle that’s done. I keep saying I’m going to hang it on the wall, but I haven’t so it’s going to stay under there forever. It’s complete and glued and just needs a frame that I’m never going to get. It’s pretty, though. It’s an Abbey Road puzzle.
13) “Tin Man”
DIGBOSTON: Out of all of the messages, big and small, in The Wizard of Oz, what’s your favorite one?
ROSE-GARCIA: Hm. Don’t do heroin. For real! Remember everyone runs through a giant field of opium? She says she wants to just take a nap there. Everyone is like, “Nah, come on, get out of here!” It’s super fucked up. I rewatched it the other day and was like, “What the fuck am I looking at? How does nobody talk about this part?”
SHAKEY GRAVES, THE WILD REEDS. WED 9.19. HOUSE OF BLUES, 15 LANSDOWNE ST., BOSTON. 7PM/ALL AGES/$29.50. HOUSEOFBLUES.COM