It’s apparent almost immediately. Just moments into Can’t Wake Up, the new album from Austin, Tex.-based singer-songwriter Shakey Graves (aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia), the 13-song collection reveals itself as a tradition-breaker.
Gone are the lo-fi acoustic recordings of 2011’s self-released Roll The Bones. Gone are the dusty, countrified anthems and familiar, folky foot-stompers that served as the backbone of 2014 breakout album, And the War Came.
And while it’s rumored he still makes room for it on the tour bus, gone is the need for Rose-Garcia to use his trademark, all-in-one guitar case/kick drum/tambourine stand.
Can’t Wake Up is something different. The new offering takes all of the styles and tropes the 2015 Americana Music Award-winner has accumulated to this point and recalibrates them with lush instrumentation, off-kilter harmonies, and unabashed dream-pop backdrops.
From the psych-loop, singing saw, and harp swells of Foot Of Your Bed to the kick-drum chug and electric twang of rocker Cops And Robbers, these are songs looking to vigorously expand on the seemingly singular sound of Shakey Graves.
“It was a very intentional goal,” Rose-Garcia said recently from his home in Austin. “I knew if I put out something that took a step back, or tried to expand on a theme I’ve worked on for years, I don’t think this project would ever be viewed as anything else — and that was never its goal. Talking points started driving the boat a bit. It became more about the cowboy hat and the stories the press releases are about rather than the music I made.”
Other than the obvious expansion of sound, talking points for Can’t Wake Up have centered on Rose-Garcia’s cinematic nod to things like The Wizard of Oz and Disney films in his new compositions. But it’s really a multitude of factors that led the Texas troubadour to his first real musical crossroads.
Shakey Graves And the Horse He Rode In On, a package combining a 2012 EP and a 2015 rarities collection, was released last year. But it had been four years since Rose-Garcia had produced new music with And The War Came, an album that had been years in the making.
In addition to his musical tastes simply changing and growing in that time, the musician and actor also fulfilled a long-running dream to take over his childhood home. Much of Can’t Wake Up was recorded there, and the elimination of travel between home and studio provided countless extra hours to expand musical ideas.
More than anything, it was just time to challenge the over-arching vision for Shakey Graves. And for Rose-Garcia, that meant making sure not to let the band’s success put limitations on his creativity.
“The most important thing,” he said, “was taking a lot of this back into my own hands. I knew that it couldn’t sustain itself if I kept doing something that wasn’t honest to me. Why not show that there are many sides to this coin? That’s the whole point of the project.”
Although Can’t Wake Up likely won’t be the last time that Shakey Graves will add new sounds to its canon, purist fans shouldn’t worry too much either. The band’s charismatic leader hasn’t completely fallen out of love with the acoustic guitar yet and relishes the chance to continue surprising those who think they have it all figured out.
“I really just needed to get back to what interested me,” said Rose-Garcia. “And there’s somewhere in between that I’ll always keep looking for. But nothing excites me more than imagining people are either like, ‘Well, it’s over. The thing I loved is gone.’ Or, ‘Oof, finally! This is my s**t now!’ They’re both wrong.”
Whatever the next batch of songs ends up sounding like, they’ll have to wait. An actor who has appeared on the television series Friday Night Lights and in the feature film Spy Kids 3, Rose-Garcia recently reunited with the latter’s director, fellow Texan Robert Rodriguez, on a new project.
To help celebrate the 25th anniversary of Rodriguez’s storied debut, El Mariachi (shot on a budget of $7,000 using a crew of two), the director recently held a contest challenging aspiring filmmakers to make a short film using the same constraints. In solidarity, Rodriguez also made one and asked Rose-Garcia to participate. Things went so well it was turned into an upcoming feature film.
But regardless what detours may come with a return to the big screen, more music from Shakey Graves is sure to follow. Can’t Wake Up is likely set to stand as a creative turning point for the band, but more than anything, confirms that Rose-Garcia is really just getting started.
“My goal is to get back doing it as soon as possible,” he said. “The process of making this record was more fun than I’ve had in a long time. And now, taking it out into the real world and finding out what its limitations are, how people are reacting to it, how it works on stage versus recording — all of that is beautiful. It’s kind of the heart of what I’m looking for in anything.”
Shakey Graves w/ Lauren Ruth Ward
When: 8 p.m. June 24
Where: Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave, North Park
Cost: Sold out