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Shakey Graves on the Thrill of Writing a Great Song: "Holy Shit, I Made This?"

There's something inherently blue collar about working on cars.

Grease stains. The inescapable smell of motor oil on calloused hands. Engine grit collecting under already dirty fingernails. The cigarette breaks.

Similarly, there's something inherently blue collar about Alejandro Rose-Garcia, the 25-year-old actor/musician behind Shakey Graves and one of NPR's "Ten Artists You Should Have Known in 2012."

So, it seems only fitting that we here at Crossfade should catch up with the critically acclaimed musician while he was at a brake specialist in his hometown of Austin, Texas, ahead of a Miami appearance this Saturday, March 2, at The Vagabond with He's My Brother, She's My Sister and Paper Birds.

"My brakes are fine, but my father recommended this place 'cause they do a free 28-point inspection," he says. "Typically when my car is acting up, I'll take it there, they'll tell me what's wrong with it and then I'll go get it fixed somewhere else. I actually just need an oil change."

Blending elements of folk, blues, rock 'n' roll, and "(sur)real" life experiences, Shakey Graves' music is an aural example of quality American craftsmanship, the kind of timeless Americana you're unlikely to find on Top 40 radio. He's OK with that.

"The way that songwriting really resonates with me is when I've written a song that I can walk away from and be like, 'Holy shit, I made this?' and I can listen to it over and over again and not feel masturbatory," the songwriter says.

"I probably have five or six songs sitting on the shelf that I'm in no rush to write, but I can't wait to hear them," he adds. "I know how they sound -- to a certain degree -- and I know what they're missing. It just hasn't come to me yet."

 

Rose-Garcia's writing and recording process is best described as compulsively organic; he isn't concerned with how long it takes to write and release music. It just happens.

In December 2012, Shakey Graves released Donor Blues, an EP he calls a kind of supplement to his first independent release, 2011's Roll the Bones. Each of the songs on Donor were written and recorded in 2009 (as was a great bulk of the tracks appearing on Roll the Bones) when the singer was living and working as an actor in Hollywood.

"The acting industry in Los Angeles couldn't be more opposite of organic creation," he says. "You go out there as a human furniture piece and you try to be the best piece of furniture until you become the house, I guess... I don't know. That's a terrible analogy."

Introduced to acting at a young age by his mother, the Texan really took to the performance aspect of the craft. And even though he's enjoyed moderate success as an actor (Rose-Garcia has worked with fellow Austinite Robert Rodriguez on several occasions and had a recurring role on Friday Night Lights), Shakey Graves has become a kind of therapeutic outlet for the young musician to narrate his own story.

"Music is the thing that I've curated myself. It's my calling, I guess," he says. "It's what I really found and then developed entirely out pure love for it. And for me, I'm going to do it whether someone's watching it or not."

People are definitely watching.

Shakey Graves. Opening for He's My Brother, She's My Sister and Paper Planes. Saturday, March 2. The Vagabond, 30 NE 14th St., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $10 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 18 and up for women, 21 and up for men. Call 305-379-0508 or visit thevagabondmiami.com.

Follow Crossfade on Facebook and Twitter @Crossfade_SFL.

Follow Victor Gonzalez on Twitter @Victor314.

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