Shakey Graves on New Album “Movie of the Week” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Shakey Graves on New Album “Movie of the Week”

Alejandro Rose-Garcia discusses new project that invites listeners into a collaborative universe

Oct 05, 2023 Photography by Aiden Bonecutter Web Exclusive
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There’s a famous urban legend that claims playing The Wizard of Oz on mute and Pink Floyd’s 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon simultaneously produces strangely synchronous results. Whether or not there’s something to that is beside the point; it’s the individual’s experience that counts.

It’s the kind of experience that Shakey Graves (the longtime moniker of Austin, TX-based musician Alejandro Rose-Garcia) hopes you’ll have with his new album, Movie of the Week—except rather than pairing it with an existing storyline, he hopes you’ll create one of your own. The record is the soundtrack to a movie that exists only in the minds of Rose-Garcia and his bandmates. There is a plot, but again, that isn’t the point.

“I can tell you what the plot is to me, but let’s put it this way: the first time I really became aware of a concept album was when I found David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars when I was in high school,” Rose-Garcia says. “I was super confused and tried desperately to make every song in that record be about something. But I don’t think you would ever say that there’s a plot to Ziggy Stardust. It’s more like a universe of songs.”

Creating a universe is what Rose-Garcia has been doing for years, whether intentionally or not. Shakey Graves as an entity feels like a musical Schrödinger’s cat—it’s not quite a solo act, not quite a band, but somehow both. It’s not quite country music, it’s not quite folk, it’s not quite rock, but somehow all three. Movie of the Week feels like the synthesis of everything Rose-Garcia has built: a heady intellectual concept laced with his silly sense of humor, a musical blend that invites comparison to Radiohead and John Prine, and a broad creative perspective inclusive to “slutty pop music” and Spice Girls.

“I love how the human brain applies plot to things. Like if you put a movie on and then play music over it, your brain will connect and recontextualize them. My intended goal is to have people apply that concept to this album,” Rose-Garcia continues. “My theory is that if I started a live show by saying, ‘I want you to very specifically pay attention to the songs that I’m singing today, because there’s a story I’m going to tell you through these songs about a murder,’ I bet you would be like, ‘Oh shit, this is where the murder happens,’ etc.”

This phenomenon is something that frequently happens with musicians whose work inspires something of a cult following. Fans will scour images, social media posts, and interviews, and create narratives where there aren’t necessarily any. It’s something Rose-Garcia himself has been subject to, which he notes with a hint of mischievous pride.

Movie of the Week is only the fourth official Shakey Graves album, but his longtime fans possess an extensive knowledge of a deep back catalog of songs from live sessions, demos, and unreleased material typically available only on YouTube or for free on the annual “holiday” where his entire Bandcamp catalog (including hidden EPs and live albums) becomes available for no charge. Many fan favorites exist as multiple versions from vastly different points in Rose-Garcia’s career, and stumbling upon new ones often feels like part of a treasure hunt. On Movie of the Week, it’s very intentional.

“For each one of these core songs, the version that’s on the album is what I considered the most direct, palatable version of that song. But while we were recording them, we made multiple versions with really different feelings and approaches. The initial versions of this record were more challenging and with a lot more space, and I finally settled on a mix between making stuff for myself, but not really forcing the listener too much out of [typical] song format,” Rose-Garcia says.

In typical Shakey Graves fashion, Rose-Garcia saw all the extra material as an opportunity to expand on his experiment. Concurrent with the album’s release, an interactive feature appeared on his website that allows you to enter a prompt and receive a custom, AI-produced film title, synopsis, cover art, and the thing that turns it from a gimmick into an enchanting surprise: a soundtrack created using the massive archive of recordings from the album’s creation. If you like that specific soundtrack enough, you can download it for five dollars.

“You can put in any word—you could say thriller, or you could say, like, cactus,” Rose-Garcia says gleefully. “Through a series of things we’ve set up it will remain within this universe that I’ve built, but your prompt will be positioned in a place that makes it very specific to what you enter.” (Entering “cactus” into the search bar results in a film entitled Discordant Harmonies, where a “small-town music teacher discovers a unique talent for growing musical cacti.”)

If you think that sounds like mad scientist behavior, you’d be right. Where other musicians might be precious about exposing so many aspects of their process, Rose-Garcia is delighted. “What I like is the idea that somebody’s going to make a better album out of this body of music than I can, but they’re going to do it on accident,” he says. “It’s going to be titled something more interesting, arranged in a way that I had never thought about, and might even be able to pull a narrative out of it that I didn’t intend. It makes this album regenerative.”

There is a massive amount of generosity in that sentiment, and it’s consistent with the arc of Rose-Garcia’s career. With Movie of the Week, he has made the listener a collaborator. In the universe of Shakey Graves, every song is a renewable resource, containing infinite possibilities.

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