Artist Discovery: Shakey Graves

In the spirit of helping you discover the range of talented musicians on the 2013 lineup, we’ve enlisted local writer, Arden Ward to tell the stories behind some of the most buzzworthy musicians on the 2013 lineup. First up? Austin’s own Shakey Graves! You can catch him during Weekend 2 of ACL Fest (Saturday, 10/12) at 4:30pm on the BMI Stage.

By Arden Ward

Hailed as Austin’s best one-man band, Shakey Graves is an artist of understated power and overt mystique. His bio simply reads, “Shakey Graves is a gentleman from Texas.” Perhaps that’s all you need to know before stumbling into his music — and stumble you should.

Rooted in the darker side of the folk tradition (think Townes Van Zandt), Shakey Graves magically balances lyrical depth with lighthearted accompaniment that creates an awe-inspiring, accessible sound. His two albums — Donor Blues EP and Roll The Bones — expertly capture the juxtaposition of a lo-fi aesthetic and energizing stage shows. The Donor Blues EP (released in 2012) catalogs previously unreleased home recordings using a subpar mic and 4-track recorder, whereas 2011’s Roll The Bones runs the gamut of charming folk tunes and haunting deliveries masked in up-tempo beats.

Standouts from Roll The Bones are abundant, making it no surprise that two years after its release the album consistently ranks on Bandcamp’s top-sellers list. Title track “Roll The Bones” is lyrically dense but cleverly constructed with simple instrumentation that begs you to tap your foot to the beat. “Unlucky Skin” swells with bluegrass overtones that are offset by soft vocals. And his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” is sparse and sexy, supplemented by female harmonies.

The true beauty in Shakey Graves as a performer is his ability to captivate an audience with subtleties. Armed only with a guitar, a soulful voice, and a kick drum fashioned from an old suitcase, his performance is not that of the passive singer-songwriter. From the moment the first drum beat sounds, you’re consumed by the experiential nature of his music.

After touring across the country and experiencing growing critical acclaim, Shakey Graves takes the stage at ACL Fest this fall for a performance that will solidify the native Austinite as a mainstay in the Live Music Capital. “I remember standing in that dusty field watching the first ACL unfold while I was still in high school,” he says.

“Comprehending that I will now be standing on one of those mighty stages, singing from my heart to the city I was born and raised in simply fills my heart to the brim.”

Image via Austin Chronicle | John Anderson

Ahead of his ACL Fest debut, we asked Shakey Graves to compile a playlist commemorating the end of summer. It includes a few of his favorite one-man band songs, too — one of which may surprise you. Take a listen to this playlist, perfectly constructed for the final days of summer freedom, and get a better grasp on Austin’s enigmatic one-man band.

Shakey Graves’s End of Summer Tunes

1. “In The Summertime” – Roger Miller
Ahh, summertime, when the birds come out, when hot love goes cold, when the night is full of the sounds of grown men yodeling into the humidity. Mr. Miller’s musical attitude always knocks the tongue-in-cheek melancholy out of the park.

2. “Can Song” – Sonic Youth
Drive as fast as humanly possible while listening to this song for me… please.

3. “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise” – Les Paul and Mary Ford
If you are still driving as fast as humanly possible, slow down, park if you have to. The sun is coming with its hi-fi sheen.

4. “Everything Goes My Way” – Metronomy
Last summer I skipped along the beaches of Florida biting my lower lip and doing the mummy dance to this song for obvious reasons. If you had to watch that, I apologize… but now everything goes my way.

5. “My Own True Love (Tara’s Theme)” – The Ventures

Shhh… do you hear that? Babes? Coconut oil? Break ups? Home? Oh… nevermind, it’s just that Tara girl. This summer sucks.

6. “Sleeping In The Midnight Cold” – Jesse Fuller
Once upon a time I found a ratty record for a dollar and took it home. After an earnest listen and close inspection, I was blown away to discover that I had purchased a signed copy of this man’s flagship record. It was a good day… and yes, that is a kazoo.

7. “Down In My Hometown” – The Flatlanders
Ever cried in a historical theater due to the weight of an entire year? No?… me either… certainly not to this song. 

8. “Choir Vandals” – The American Analog Set
Somewhere in Austin, Texas, the ghost of teenage me is cruising around in the ghost of a blue Cabrio listening to a scratched up ghost CD with this song on it. He is smoking Camel Lights and whipping his hair back and forth. He is certain that being an adult is as simple as charcoal filters and getting drunk off of one 40. He is a dumb ass.

9. “Hurry Sundown” – Bubble Puppy
One of the coolest sounds to ever burst out of Austin’s chest…one of the worst band names to ever burst out of the ‘70s’ bum.

10. “Eagle Rock” – Marco Benevento
I have troubles now, for I have watched Marco Benevento beat his piano senseless. Now I am stuck making this tiger face all the time. Kill me.

11. “Streets Of Glory” – Old Reliable String Band
I think this old standard possesses some of the most honest lyrics I’ve heard.  The key phrase is “some of these days”… not all. Ya feel me?

12. “The Beautiful Waitress” – Terry Allan
Terry explores the fine line between stalking someone and falling in love with them within the time it takes you to eat lunch.

13. “Boys of Summer” – Don Henley
I wish to god this song didn’t get under my skin like it does. Unfortunately it’s a terribly sad tune, get your dose of cheese and let that girl go.

Watch Shakey Graves perform live at ACL Fest during Weekend 2 (Saturday, 10/12) at 4:30pm on the BMI Stage.