Shakey Graves

Shakey Graves

Paul Cauthen

Sat, June 30, 2018

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm (event ends at 11:00 pm)

This event is all ages

Presented by KXT 91.7.

Shakey Graves
Shakey Graves
Back in December 2017, Shakey Graves proclaimed on his Twitter page, “Next album. New sound. Sell your suspenders.” The tweet was tongue-in-cheek, but Alejandro Rose-Garcia, the Austin native who’s been plying his trade as Shakey Graves since 2007, was making a dead-serious point about his latest album, Can’t Wake Up (Dualtone, out May 4). This ambitious, audacious work heralds an artistic metamorphosis for the 30-year-old veteran, whose risk-taking in painting outside the lines has been rewarded tenfold. “This record is the most I’ve ever intentionally worked on a project, musically speaking, in terms of the scope of it and how much thought went into it,” he says. “It’s a dense album; there’s a lot of information going on.”

That is not a hyperbolic boast. From one moment to the next, Can’t Wake Up veers from the inevitable to the revelatory, its thirteen songs teeming with jarring musical and thematic collisions and thrillingly seamless intersections, gnarly psychological hornswoggles and ecstatic resolutions. Central to the prevailing sense of disorientation are the lead vocals, none of which is purely solo. Instead, each lead performance is shadowed by a queasy harmony or slightly out-of-sync unison part, giving the sense—especially on headphones—that these voices are emanating from inside the listener’s head.

Newfound inspirations the Beatles and Harry Nilsson (“I could only deny the inevitable for so long,” he says of his belated immersion in the sacred texts) cohered around Rose-Garcia’s longtime touchstones, including Elliott Smith, Beck circa One Foot in the Grave, Broken Social Scene, Built to Spill and other indie bands of the 1990s and early oughts.

“I’ve never worked like this before, but I went into the record with the idea of having a thesis statement of what I wanted to get across,” Rose-Garcia explains. “And the place that I got at was that I wanted it to be vaguely Wizard of Oz-themed, and I wanted it to be hectic and a little uncomfortable, like what I refer to as the Big Five Disney cartoons: Pinocchio, Fantasia, Snow White, Dumbo and Bambi. All those movies are terrifying—some of the most stressful movies I’ve ever seen. So I started with this Wizard of Oz thing—’Tin Man’ that has obvious allusions to that—and the idea of black-and-white to color.”

The creative process was paralleled by the conception and execution of the striking, hallucinatory cover art. “I built an elaborate miniature diorama in my house and used plexiglass plates, paint and train set buildings to create a forced-perspective illusion and photographed it,” Rose-Garcia explains. “The goal was to have the cover and the process to mirror the album in a way, and I am thrilled with how it turned out.”

Can’t Wake up is Alejandro/Shakey’s second official studio-album project—more official, in any case, than the several mostly solo odds-and-ends collections he’s been putting out through Bandcamp since his very first release, Roll the Bones, in 2011. It was his previous Dualtone album, 2014’s And the War Came, and centerpiece song “Dearly Departed” that lifted Shakey from hard-core cultdom to the elevated status of bona fide career artist.

Up to now, he’s been categorized as an Americana singer/songwriter, thanks to his traditionally rooted songs, fluent acoustic-guitar picking, Texas roots and the aforementioned cowboy hat. Indeed, Shakey was named Best Emerging Artist award at the 2015 Americana Music Awards. But that tag will undoubtedly be dismissed as restrictive and irrelevant once this righteously radical new album gets digested by critics and discerning listeners. Because Can’t Wake Up is an extreme example of what happens when a kid from an artistic family is encouraged to use his imagination from early childhood onward.

“Not that I hadn’t made stuff that I really wanted to, but with this record, I just wanted to go back to building stuff,” Rose-Garcia points out, referencing a lifetime of doing just that. “So the creative process of building this record started out with me in a bathrobe in my house just doing what comes naturally, and then finding pieces of what I want to write about everywhere.”

The figurative term “musical journey” is overused these days, but Can’t Wake Up is largely the result of a series of literal musical pilgrimages that took Rose-Garcia and his collaborators—drummer Christopher Boosahda, guitarist Patrick O’Connor, bass player Jonathan Shaw and honorary bandmember Rayland Baxter—to several far-flung locales. “We went to Levon Helm’s barn/studio in Woodstock, Kevin Costner’s ranch on the Roaring Fork River outside of Aspen, the Belmont Hotel in Dallas, and one final trip to Echolab Studios in Denton. In each of these expeditions, we would ship our gear in, live on-site for 10 days and let the backdrop and local characters really bleed into the experience. The patchwork quilt of it all really feels like the last few years of my life leading up to the birth of this record. This was a new process for me, and a game-changing one.”

A ton of personal experience went into the material, stretching all the way back to the five years straight out of high school Rose-Garcia spent in L.A., taking a shot at starting an acting career and taking emotional lumps as his childhood fantasy of Hollywood was replaced by the bitter reality of rejection and monotony. “Dining Alone,” in which the album hits emotional rock-bottom, ruefully recounts that experience. “Same old shoes on the same old feet/One-track mind, one-way street,” he sings, the juxtaposition of soaring melodiousness and near-despair echoing Harry Nilsson at his most existentially isolated. “Nothing’s going to change for the same old me/Eat, sleep, do it again.”

“Big Bad Wolf,” likewise, comes off like a slice of autobiography, with its references to the “silver screen” and football (he eventually landed a recurring role in the TV series Friday Night Lights, but only after returning to Texas). The title suggests both his preoccupation with animated fairy tales and his unquenchable hunger to create. A similar sense of striving permeates “Kids These Days,” as Rose-Garcia sings, “Everybody tries…to be somebody/somebody’s wet dream prom king,” amid overdriven power chords. “Mansion Door,” by contrast, shimmers with hopefulness, lifted by rippling guitars, Beatlesque psychedelic vocal flourishes, Jiminy Cricket-like whistling and images of “My one and only lonely star” twinkling in the heavens.

At the same time, “Mansion Door” establishes the overarching theme of Can’t Wake Up, which is further played out in songs like “Counting Sheep,” “Foot of Your Bed” (which can be heard as an ardent love ballad or the creepy reverie of a stalker) and “Tin Man,” stoking this song cycle to the sweat-soaked turbulence of a fever dream.

According to Rose-Garcia, the album also functions as a private dialogue with certain listeners. “I get a lot of really intense, very sweet fan mail from people who have either kept themselves from committing suicide by listening to my music or have lost one of their loved ones to suicide, but my tunes were a bright spot for them,” he says. “I got one from a girl not too long ago at a concert who said, ‘My boyfriend finally succumbed to depression, but for a while there, your music was something we’d gather around that would make him feel sane.’ So to a certain degree, this is a ‘Don’t kill yourself’ record. I really wanted to get deep inside that kind of gloomy, hectic craziness—the dream analogy of not being able to wake up or not knowing who you are. Or, in ‘Dining Alone,’ being mired in monotony. And a lot of the ‘you’ on the record isn’t a girl or a boy; it’s the person listening to the record. I’m singing into the ear of somebody who might need it. If heard some of these songs when I really needed them, I feel like they would hit the nail on the head.”

Not every song is suffused in seriousness. “We wrote ‘Aibohphobia’ in the mountains as a group,” Rose-Garcia recalls. “We were trying to work on more serious material, but we had all had a little bit of LSD and started writing that song. Most of the lyric is a palindrome, including ‘Aibohphobia,’ which is actually a joke term for the irrational fear of palindromes. Even the last sentence of the song is one long palindrome. We got the hugest kick out of playing that song for each other.”

He sees the distinctions as well as the parallels between the two artistic endeavors he’s pursued. “Music, to a degree, values individuals being themselves, in that good music tends to be rooted in honesty as opposed to a disguise,” he notes. “It can be storytelling, but it’s usually pretty direct. Whereas acting is about being unrecognizable as yourself. So in a sense, the two modes are opposite. But on the other hand, I use an alias when I make music, because I like the storytelling aspect of having an alias or a band name—it just adds another shade of paint.”

Rose-Garcia has been encouraged to go for it by Dualtone, which has given him a standing offer to release any album he feels warrants a wider release. “They’ve been really wonderful in a lot of ways,” he marvels, “but especially in the sense of trusting me and being very supportive of my putting out DIY stuff in between. Because that’s what this record is—a bigger version of DIY. That’s why I make stuff; I would do it if no one was watching me. The inherent pleasure I get out of creating anything isn’t for other people’s ears any more so than my own.”

In a sense, the album is a microcosm of Rose-Garcia obsessively artistic existence and its ever-expanding horizons. “The beautiful lesson of all this is having to trust yourself, to be willing to start something that you don’t know the outcome of,” he reflects. “Or to lean toward something just because it feels right, even though it may not be what you originally put down on paper. Those are the kind of stories in this record. They’re not so much about specific people, or even myself per se. They’re different shades of every person’s life.”
Paul Cauthen
Paul Cauthen
Paul Cauthen remembers sitting alone in an Austin house after a weekend-long bender. A life making music seemed to be slipping away. Wide awake with nothing to lose, he fell on his hands and knees right there, bowed his head, and threw down a divine gauntlet.

"I dared Him," Cauthen says, recalling his desperate challenge to God. "I said, 'Use me. I'll be a rag doll. Just put me out there, let's go. I dare you.'"

Most people don't plead in the form of a dare. That blend of vulnerability and brash confidence is part of what makes Cauthen and his music -- which often hinges on the same paradox -- so compelling. Whether it was by heavenly intervention or sheer force of will, Cauthen emerged with My Gospel (Lightning Rod Records), his mesmerizing full-length solo debut. Produced by Beau Bedford, the record is both an artistic and personal triumph. My Gospel captures a young artist in full possession of a raw virtuosity that must sometimes feel like a burden: If your singing takes listeners on white-knuckle rides and you write like a hard-luck Transcendentalist poet who abandoned the East Coast for the desert, you'd better do both. Anything else just wouldn't feel like living. "I don't know what else I'm supposed to do in life," Cauthen says. "So I just kept on working. Even when I didn't hardly have money to eat, my songs allowed me to get into the studios. I wrote my way into this thing."

The album is called My Gospel, but make no mistake: These are songs about Earthly struggles to love, connect, and just get by. "I'm not super religious," Cauthen says. "I don't believe God is this guy wearing a white cloak who comes down with wings and beautiful sandals. I do believe that people are put into other people's lives for reasons, and those reasons are unexplained. I believe that is God."

Americana music fans will remember Cauthen's name from Sons of Fathers, the raucous Texicana group he co-founded in 2011 with bassist David Beck. The band earned glowing praise from Rolling Stone, NPR, and others, thanks to two albums that climbed into the Top 10 of the Americana Music Chart. "We had just played a show with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, playing for 7,000 people," Cauthen says. "And I quit. I just knew it wasn't where I was supposed to be anymore."

That was three years ago -- and the impetus for ending up in that apartment in Austin. Cauthen has since learned to channel his racing mind and rumbling baritone into the blues, gospel, and rock-and-roll that fuel My Gospel with gale-force power. Over the course of three years, Cauthen recorded the album in several different studios across the country: Willie Nelson's Arlyn Studios in Austin; FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals; Sargent Recorders in Los Angeles; Modern Electric Sound Recorders in Dallas. The result is a quintessentially American album unlike anything in recent memory. "We were going for timeless. We were going for righteous. Those were the two words that we focused on while we were recording," Cauthen says. "That's it."

Cauthen has been the strongest, loudest singer in the room for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Tyler, Texas, where his grandfather -- a songwriter and gospel song leader originally from Lubbock who worked with artists including Buddy Holly, Sonny Curtis, and other Crickets -- taught Cauthen and his two sisters to sing harmony. "He threw us all in the bathtub because it sounded really good in there," Cauthen says with a laugh. Sundays and Wednesday evenings were spent at the Church of Christ, singing a cappella in the choir. "My granddad was all about music. He'd always ask people, 'Can you sing? What songs do you know?'" Cauthen lovingly imitates his grandfather as he shares the memory, changing his inflection to sound both excited and earnest.

When his grandfather died, Cauthen was 10 years old and heartbroken. He abandoned the guitar he'd taught him to play. "It made me too sad," he says simply. But his grandmother pushed him to pick it up again, and she handed over his grandfather's '58 Gibson acoustic along with Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger as she told him, "Learn every bit of Willie's licks. Then you'll be a guitar player." She also put plenty of Elvis, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, the Everly Brothers, and more in his hands.

As a teenager, Cauthen got into more trouble than most. He got caught with weed and did a little time in jail, then got kicked out of college. "You have to get kicked out of something in order to be a true songwriter, whether it's kicked out of school, or kicked out of your house, or kicked out of a marriage, or kicked into jail," Cauthen says, only half-joking. "I got all those on my résumé." He started working in oil and natural gas to make ends meet, surveying land and enjoying being outside. But all the while, he never stopped singing.

Cauthen delivers the songs on My Gospel with the tortured showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis and seductive ease of Elvis. The idea of a life-affirming power found in the connectedness of people courses throughout the record. The album kicks off with "Still Drivin,'" which calls up the swampy finger-picking of Jerry Reed as it proclaims survival. "It's my don't-give-up anthem," Cauthen says. "Keep on truckin.'" As he thunders, "Still drivin' / when's this break gonna come?" the word "break" points to both a career breakthrough and the universal need for rest. "I love to leave the plots of songs open-ended," he says, enjoying the different possibilities for interpretation the track allows.

Cauthen co-wrote all of the songs on the album with his motley crew of "favorite songwriting buddies" save two, "I'll Be the One" and "Grand Central," which he wrote alone. As Cauthen begs for a chance in "I'll Be the One," he swivels between cocky self-assurance and humble beseeching, crooning, "Oh, I could be your kind of guy / whatever that is, cold, sweet, shy." It's a signature Cauthen vocal performance: playful but also masterful. "Grand Central" uses crying steel to capture the loneliness of rock bottom. Written in about seven minutes not long after he left Sons of Fathers, the song offers a moving portrait of a man who's running out of options but remains proud as he mulls over self-inflicted wounds, confessing, "The only one that's hurting is me."

"You're as Young as You'll Ever Be" has assumed deep personal significance for Cauthen. He wrote the song with his dear friend Victor Holk just four months before Holk died after suffering third-degree burns in a house fire. Holk, who was a sound engineer for Sons of Fathers and Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, came to Cauthen with the line that became the song's title and heart. The two had never written together before. "It's a haunting song for me. I don't..." Cauthen trails off, then adds, "It's hard to play. It's a song I'm blessed with because Victor was a selfless human being that was all for music and the arts." The track is one of several on the album that urges listeners to seize the day. Smoldering, piano-laced "Let It Burn" lingers in regrets and memories as it elevates the seemingly mundane. "I'm just really trying to put somebody into a place where they can take it all in and totally comprehend what happens around them," he says. "These little moments that we have with somebody that were super beautiful that we take for granted."

The sauntering "My Saddle" utilizes guitar, horns, percussive shakers, lush background harmonies, wolf howls, and Cauthen's vocal prowess to conjure up imagery fit for a John Ford film -- and sweep his target off her feet. The American West is one of the ever-present undercurrents on My Gospel: "Marfa Lights" compares a romance to the famous, sporadic heavenly light show in West Texas. "It's a mysterious, cosmic love song," Cauthen says.

Cauthen soars when he explores that conflicted space of crying out for help and demanding it. "Hanging Out On the Line" is one of the most stunning examples, enriched by gospel harmonies courtesy of Muscle Shoals veterans who contributed to landmark Aretha Franklin and Etta James albums. The same gorgeous harmonies flood the title track, which also serves as the album's show-stopping closer. Cauthen launches into "My Gospel" starkly alone before being joined by the otherwordly chorus. Started with Owen Temple and finished in Muscle Shoals with Bedford and guitar player, Nik Lee, the song is a tender acknowledgement of weariness and an invitation to rest in truth, sung with empathy and love. "You have to give up everything, forfeit yourself to the situation, and hope to God that your talents are good enough," Cauthen says of the recording process. "That's how great records are made."

Ultimately, Cauthen is on a mission: to make music he can be proud of that also serves a higher purpose. "On this album, I wanted to push a message that tells people that life's short. Love the ones you're with. Just take any opportunity to run with it -- don't think twice."
Venue Information:
The Bomb Factory
2713 Canton Street
Dallas, TX, 75226
http://thebombfactory.com