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Shakey Graves on new album ‘Can’t Wake Up,’ opening for Paul McCartney at ACL Fest

Staff Writer
Austin 360

“Can’t Wake Up,” the first new full-length from Austin’s Shakey Graves since his 2014 breakthrough, “And the War Came,” drops on May 4, and sonically, it’s a departure for the Americana standout. The folksy sensibility and witty lyricism are still there, but the new songs emerge through a psychedelic haze. No longer the singer-songwriter with a one-man band who charmed audiences at the Hole in the Wall, he’s now making rich indie rock for a full ensemble.

Austin fans who pre-purchase the album are invited to a special performance at GSD&M’s Back Lawn at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 3. You can pay for your copy of the album and pick up a wristband for the show across the street at Waterloo Records. Fans who already pre-purchased online should check their email for an invite.

After the release, the artist also known as Alejandro Rose-Garcia embarks on an extensive North American tour, playing large venues across the country including a Stubb’s show in Austin on June 16. Many of the dates are already sold out. He wraps the tour with a headlining gig at Denver’s magnificent Red Rocks Amphitheater in August. Then he’ll be back home for the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October.

We caught up with Rose-Garcia to talk about strange daydreams, the state of the world and what we can expect from his live shows this year.

Austin360: Talk to me about the title of the album, “Can’t Wake Up.” Where did that come from?

It kind of came naturally … really far on. I kind of waited until I had all the music and lyrics and kind of looked at it as a piece and tried to figure out what ties it all together. Something that I subconsciously did was talked about dreams a lot. Not dreams, like specifically dreaming, but fantasy and kind of irrational fears and regret. Just sort of like a bunch of head stuff, when you get trapped in your own head. I guess “Can’t Wake Up” is that. It’s when you get trapped in and you kind of can’t snap out of something.

There’s a hazy, dreamy quality to a lot of the songs.

I feel like there’s something zeitgeist-y that feels like that in the world right now. Not in a negative sense, but it feels like we’re kind of stuck in the middle of something, I’m not sure what. But as humanity we’re like, “We’ll go to other planets and Teslas and free thought and medical breakthroughs,” and also just like burning coal and hating each other … just destroying everything.

Your sound is very different on this album.

That’s funny too, because it’s still recorded in the same way that I’ve always made music. I made most of it in my house. A lot of the songs are me playing everything. It’s just that I’m into different stuff now. I seek different audio experiences. It’s very surreal.

Is part of it that you can afford to hire a band now? In the early days it was always just you.

That is true, but that also didn’t really affect my recording process, because I would just fake something. …There’s a lot more at my fingertips (now). I can play a piano or a mellotron or play drums or bass. I used to just have a guitar and so, of course, the music that comes out of me is going to be different. But it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t hearing this even when I just had a guitar. And it doesn’t mean that we have arrived at what I actually sound like. I hope to continue to just grow, I guess.

You say that the stuff you’re listening to is different. What kind of stuff are you into right now?

There was a time when I was only listening to prewar music or music from the ‘30s or Alan Lomax. There was something that I really liked about old music. And then also, I’ve always supplemented that with a really odd dosage of contemporary saccharine pop music. I’ve just always liked pop music and really loud aggressive noise music. Somewhere in between that is what I like.

That actually makes sense. I see you as somebody who’s approaching old-timey Americana with a very aggressive attitude.

Absolutely … I was one of those people who didn’t grow up liking the Beatles … kind of revolted against it. Now is the time I’m getting to actually experience the Beatles … and a bunch of the Kinks and stuff like that. A bunch of British pop music is now kind of in the forefront.

So you’ve moved from the ‘30s to the ‘60s is what you’re saying?

That’s exactly right … you nailed it.

Speaking of the Beatles, you’re on ACL Fest with Paul McCartney this year. How does that feel?

I’m really excited to check that out. ACL can be a tough festival to watch music at. Even when you play … you still have to fight your way in. I felt much less urge to fight my way to the front to see Deadmaus play. … But yeah, I’ll push my way forward to see Paul McCartney. I’ve never seen him and might not again.

David Byrne’s who I’m the most excited about. I’m reading his book right now and it’s saving my brain. … He put it out a little while ago. It’s called “How Music Works”… as I’m trying to design a new show … it’s helping me brainstorm ways to translate this record … and not have it seem alienating or inconsistent with other songs during the show. And also to make sure that even though there are going to be a lot of new soundscapes on the stage it still feels like you’re watching me do it.

What’s going to be different?

For instance, I play keys a lot on the record. … It’s all the questions. Do I want to stand and play a keyboard? Am I cool with sitting down? What does my stage look like? Can I make sitting down … feel like you’re in my house with me? Is there a way to make synthetic instruments feel homey? I’m going to try. … I have some tricks up my sleeve.

IT’S McCARTNEY: A deeper look at the 2018 ACL Fest lineup