Shakey Graves goes beyond the band in SXSW discussion

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Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

In a music industry panel, Shakey Graves aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia joined his manager Bodie Johnson and booking agent Keith Levy to discuss managing a smaller music act and growing it into something to be proud of.

Telling the story of how he started after a question from Janelle Browning from the Berklee College of Music, Rose-Garcia said he wrote music at a young age and acted, but it wasn’t until he was truly desperate that actually good music started flowing.

“I had done a lot of work in Austin as a poor musician…,” Rose-Garcia said. “I started writing songs that I actually believed in. Now it’s about getting in front of people, which is something i’m still working on. I learned so much by forcing myself to do it alone.”

Rose-Garcia said that eventually, with time, emails come in from other people asking for him to perform. It was important to Rose-Garcia to book shows, specifically on tours, and build up to something. He said people often jump ahead and get a manager themselves, but Rose-Garcia said he didn’t look for anyone until he actually had something to manage.

Levy said that when he first met Rose-Garcia, he saw him performing in front of a small crowd, but he knew that Rose-Garcia knew what he wanted the act to become. Johnson said that the trio’s relationship and business evolved in a very natural way, growing together in one huge collaboration.

“It’s not our path to create for him,” Johnson said. “It’s our job to assist him in where he wants to go, and we never want to lost sight of that.”

Rose-Garcia said that the three have a hunger for the business and creative endeavor, and that from the beginning they wanted to do it together. He said the key to appearing creative and engaging fans is making it seem like you came up with the idea originally, and through word of mouth sort of tricking fans into the feeling of exclusivity — originally, he put little information about himself on the internet, putting out videos sparsely.

“I owe so much to just one person knowing and appreciating what I was doing,” Rose-Garcia said. “When I first came back to town, no one outside of my close friends knew I did music… I didn’t know what the club was, where people would show up. I knew Hole in The Wall would still be there, and hopefully will be, and I got a gig playing from 5 to 7 in the front room every Wednesday.”

Discussing signing to Dualtone, Rose-Garcia said that labels have changed a lot, but as a listener the politics don’t matter. The music he was making at the time made him want to align with people who made music like him. Johnson said that as Shakey Graves grew, more calls came flowing in but the ones that appealed to them as a group were the ones that allowed Rose-Garcia to make the decisions, not the giant labels who wanted to control everything as a return for making Shakey Graves blow up.

Recounting the story in detail, Rose-Garcia recalls holding a meeting where he was forced to perform in front of label executives, and one of the owners had a bulldog that kept chewing on an empty water bottle. He felt so uncomfortable, he didn’t go back to the meeting the next day and signed with Dualtone.

Rose-Garcia then dove into his upcoming album, which draws a completely different influences and sounds from his previous albums. He said after making his first record, he told himself he would never make the same record and keep his debut as a memory of sorts.

Finishing off the session with some questions and live music, the panel agreed across the board that they’re not impervious to the pressure of social media, but it’s important to put a wall between who you are and your work. Rose-Garcia said he hates being “slutty” in a social way, and that he’s never mastered image as a part of artistic expression.

“It’s important to be able to step away from your own tough times,” Rose-Garcia said. “If you make something and you like it, it doesn’t hurt to put a photo of yourself on the internet from time to time. If you just be yourself, it’s an easy way to promote.”