As a child growing up in Austin, Alejandro Rose-Garcia — known to music audiences as Shakey Graves — often waited in the wings at Bass Concert Hall while his father worked jobs with the stage crew for theatrical productions. Saturday night, he returns to those old stomping grounds — but this time, he’s one of the stars of the show.
“I spent a lot of time not being allowed to get on that stage,” he remembers. “And being told, ‘No, you cannot go climb through the “Cats” set. I was like, ‘It looks so cool, can’t I touch all this stuff? Can’t I be on this stage?’ But the answer was always no.
“And now I can. So take that, Bass Concert Hall!” he exults with a laugh, looking forward to Saturday’s KUTX Birthday Concert at the premier University of Texas campus venue. Rose-Garcia joins touring pop acts Jenny Lewis and Tuneyards at the second annual event presented by the local public radio station.
Rose-Garcia actually played KUTX’s first birthday bash last year, but his set was seen only by those invited to a preshow private soiree in the Bass backstage area. Though he acknowledges that such gigs “can be hit or miss, where you’re essentially just background music for a party,” he has fond memories of seeing many old friends in the crowd, and of unveiling some new material with singer Esme Patterson that they had been working up in the studio.
Indeed, last year’s event was like an in-development snapshot of the year that was to come. Some of those songs turned up on Shakey Graves’ Dualtone Records debut “And the War Came,” that came out in October and helped make him a rising star of indie-oriented Americana music.
He spent almost all of last fall on tour. “It was grueling, but it was a blast and a total learning experience,” he says.
He made his national TV debut as a musician with an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s late-night show.
The qualifying phrase “as a musician” is necessary, given that Rose-Garcia had a minor recurring role in the Austin-filmed network TV series “Friday Night Lights” in 2007. Such a high-profile opportunity probably provided a leg up when he began pursuing music a few years later, though he points out that “I was a pretty deplorable character in that show. It was more like, ‘Keep your daughters away from that man’ than ‘Oh, he plays music too.’”
Shakey Graves will be back on network TV again in a couple of weeks, playing “The Late Show with David Letterman” on Feb. 13. It’s the start of another busy stretch that will include his first visit to Australia and New Zealand before a spring tour across the U.S. and Canada in March and April.
One place Shakey Graves is not planning to be, ironically, is at South by Southwest. Though he doesn’t rule out a limited appearance, “this will the first year that I think I’m going to step away from the madness,” he says. “It’s funny that it was such a big deal for me to even make it to SXSW in the first place, and now it’s a big deal for me to not make it.”
The fact that he can skip SXSW, an event largely geared toward up-and-coming acts, speaks volumes about the breakthrough Shakey Graves made in 2014. His jump from independent artist to the roster of Dualtone, a Nashville label that recently helped push the Lumineers and Shovels & Rope toward stardom, was a key step, though it involved abandoning the no-iTunes, no-Spotify approach he successfully employed in promoting his 2011 debut “Roll The Bones.”
Rose-Garcia is pragmatic and philosophical about such compromises. “My goal with all this is really to leave no stone unturned,” he says. “I don’t want to make it so far into my career and then have no worldly experience with a record label.
“Even though things are changing, (the record-label model) is still a relevant thing; it’s something that is not particularly just going to go away overnight. So I decided to lean full-in with this release and do it by the books, just to see what the exact opposite is like.”
Working a variety of approaches is a wise move for anyone seeking a career in music at a time when the business is unstable and unpredictable. Rose-Garcia points out, though, that his previous forays into acting didn’t offer greater assurances.
“They’re both kind of the same sort of magic beans scenario,” he says. “It was pretty impossible to do either. But it really came down to the fact that you can’t just act by yourself in your house. And music is so fulfilling to me anyway; I do it because I do it.
“There was kind of a stupid ‘aha’ moment where I realized that every day, I’m interested in waking up and messing around with music. Whereas I didn’t always feel like waking up and shaving my face and trying to pretend I’m a high schooler in a movie that I wouldn’t want to watch anyway. It came down to personal fulfillment.”
KUTX 2nd Birthday Concert
with Jenny Lewis, Tuneyards and Shakey Graves
8 p.m. Saturday
UT Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive