Shakey Graves Celebrates 10th Anniversary of ‘Roll the Bones’

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of his acclaimed debut album, Roll the Bones, folk singer/songwriter Alejandro Rose-Garcia, a.k.a. Shakey Graves, will reissue the record on April 2 as a special edition double LP, Roll the Bones X (via Dualtone Records). That album kicked off his successful musical career—though when he began writing and recording it, he was actually pursuing an entirely different career as an actor.

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“I was suddenly away from my friends and my family,” Rose-Garcia recalls of that time in his life. He’d moved to Los Angeles from Austin, and it could be lonely living so far from his hometown. “Austin is a tight-knit community. Especially having grown up here, I’m still close with a lot of friends that I have had since high school. That becomes such a wonderful thing, and you don’t really realize how important that is until you don’t have it,” he says. “So to keep myself from going totally nuts, I started to write a lot more music.”

Rose-Garcia took a decidedly DIY approach: “I had a little Tascam 4-track and a shitty laptop that would always crash,” he says. “I basically just made up my own style of mixing and editing. I would burn it to a CD and then go drive around in my shitty car and listen to it.

“I started using recording as a songwriting tool, specifically, as opposed to writing a song on a guitar,” Rose-Garcia continues. “I started to grasp soundscapes and use what was around me. I found a lot of ways to get a lot of interesting sounds.” For instance, for some of the percussive elements, he used a Casio keyboard that he found in the trash while walking home from a friend’s house.

This lo-fi style resulted in a distinctive “Shakey Graves” sound that blends folk music with an array of unexpected elements. “It became a mishmash of old timey music and 2000s indie rock and all this grungy garbage and weird stuff I was listening to that just filtered through my brain and popped out of my hands like that,” he says.

For the lyrics, Rose-Garcia found himself grappling with who he wanted to be, as he was having increasing doubts that acting was actually the right career path for him despite the fact that he was landing roles on popular shows such as Friday Night Lights.

“It was pretty much a ‘dream job’ trying to be an actor, but I still felt very much like I had to look how people wanted you to look,” Rose-Garcia says. “I was like, ‘Do I need to have washboard abs?’ And I hate shaving my face, and I’d have to do it to play ‘Brad the boyfriend’ on some TV show. So I had a lot of fantasies about just driving off into the United States forever.”

At the same time, “I was heartbroken,” Rose-Garcia says. “I had just gone through my first big post-high school relationship that caved in. I think that added to the me wanting to just burn my own life down and escape. And so that’s kind of what the record is about.”

All of that provided plenty of inspiration for songwriting, though Rose-Garcia still took his time, working on the material for about five years before he was satisfied enough with it to release it as an album via Bandcamp under the name “Shakey Graves” (taken, he says, because “I always wanted people to be a little more confused about whether it’s a band or an artist or what”).

Rose-Garcia admits that he wasn’t sure how Roll the Bones would be received. “That whole record is mixed and mastered by someone who doesn’t even really know what those words mean,” he says. Fortunately, just two months after the release, someone who worked at Bandcamp put Roll the Bones in the site’s “Recommended” section. From there, Rose-Garcia says, “For six years, it stayed either number one or within the top ten folk records [on Bandcamp].”

This sudden success with his music caused Rose-Garcia to reevaluate his acting career even more critically. He says he asked himself, “‘What if my [acting] dream did come true? Then I’ll never get to this other thing’—I realized when I woke up in the morning, [music] was immediately what I wanted to do,” he says. “It finally came to the point where I just had to look myself in the eyes and be like, ‘Dude, if your first dream didn’t come true, so be it. Let’s go have some fun.’”

Rose-Garcia moved back to Austin and focused on his music career, going on to release numerous EPs and albums that have been critically acclaimed as well as commercially popular (hitting the U.S. folk charts repeatedly). Still, he says Roll the Bones will always have a special place in his heart. “The record itself has always been my most precious baby in some sense,” he says. “It’s the record of me discovering what it is I even want to do musically. I did want to have that be a slice of what my life sounded like.”

Even though Roll the Bones came out of a difficult time in his life, Rose-Garcia says he’s glad he captured that time in these songs—and he’s happy to revisit it now with this special anniversary reissue. “Those were some of the most important times of my life,” he says. “There’s no way that you can know that when you’re in it. That’s the beautiful part of life, in general, is you never exactly know what chapter you’re in of your own story.”

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