Most know the Austin-based musician Alejandro Rose-Garcia as the guy, usually seen in an undershirt, cowboy hat and jeans, who plays acoustic guitar and a Samsonite suitcase for a kick drum. He started his professional career as a busker and has maintained the street performer spirit. Rose-Garcia self-released his first album, “Roll the Bones,” as Shakey Graves in 2011 and now plays with amp stacks behind him rather than a hat in front.
But this gentleman no longer sounds like the Texan we once knew, and his new album, “Can’t Wake Up,” is a step towards his full potential as a creator. Shakey Graves has long been referred to as an Americana singer/songwriter, but he’s recently departed from the confines of one genre.
Those who knew and loved his earlier tunes may be a little disappointed in the new direction, but Rose-Garcia felt it wouldn’t be genuine to continue along that old road. He said, “I don’t feel comfortable or necessarily real being, like, a starving fake busker. I detest busking, and I always did – I had a busking license once. I’d never want to take that out of someone’s hands if that’s what inspires them when they see me play a suitcase or whatever, but this record was much more what I wanted to hear, much more the kind of music I listen to."
Although Rose-Garcia is glad to be free from his days of busking, it’s actually what helped kickstart his career as Shakey Graves. Following the acclaim from “Roll the Bones,” he was offered the official busker position for the Edward Sharpe and Mumford & Sons Railroad Revival Tour, playing that famed suitcase for guests entering the venues.
In his most recent full-length album, Rose-Garcia worked on tracks across the country in a variety of makeshift studios. He wanted to avoid the typical recording process and opt for something more inspiring while exploring the ideas of sleep and sleeplessness. This approach led to some unfamiliar sounds and unorthodox studios, one of which was Kevin Costner’s ranch on the Roaring Fork River just outside town. Rose-Garcia said they would “let the backdrop and local characters really bleed into the experience.” So, in a way, there’s a piece of Aspen in “Can’t Wake Up.”
This album has a much more serious tone than past releases, as well as a more intensive storyline. For the first time in his career, Rose-Garcia went into this project with a thesis statement in mind. The idea was to loosely tie the album together with a “Wizard of Oz” theme. Tracks such as “Tin Man” pair in more literally; others accomplish this through their whimsical and sometimes hectic nature.
In addition to the thematic method, “Can’t Wake Up” pulled from personal experiences more heavily than past work. This includes the rejection Rose-Garcia faced at a young age in L.A. pursuing an acting career. He had parts in “Friday Night Lights” and the “Spy Kids” franchise but ultimately moved on.
Despite the depiction of a freewheeling rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, Rose-Garcia puts in the work to make his touching sounds.
“I don’t wistfully sit by the Mississippi River and pull tunes out of the earth, you know what I mean? It’s not like that hasn’t happened in my life; I have a deep connection to the music I make,” he said. “I make music to try and express the experience of being alive for hopefully 80-100 years. How is there so much beauty and grief at the same time? What’s the point of all of this? That’s why I make stuff.”
Shakey Graves will play at the Belly Up Friday, Dec. 14. Tickets are already sold out.