Shakey Graves burst onto the the music scene with his debut album ‘Roll The Bones’ in 2011, combining folk, rock and country music and a kick drum built out of a suicase. Now the muscian is partnering with Wild Turkey for their ‘Trust Your Spirit’ campaign and their ‘101 Bold Nights Musical Mentorship’ competition where he will help mentor another rising muscial talent. I spoke with Shakey with about why he left acting for music, the best local drink you don’t know about and what it’s like owning a haunted guitar.
What was your first drink?
Well the legal version, my friends took me out on my 21st birthday and it was a classic blend of not knowing what we were doing and actually having a good idea. We went to a wine bar because of its proximity to my best friend’s house (laughing) even though I don’t think any of us were of the mindset to appreciate a good wine bar. This was pre-Uber times, but we had something called the Party Taxi. And it was absolutely decked out. Not a limousine — it was someone’s minivan — but they had screens and a karaoke set up, and this nerdy person drove us around. So that was my first big night out. It was pretty memorable.
Did wine become your drink of choice after that?
Well honestly, living in Texas a lot of stuff is kind of survival-based beverages (laughs) because it’s like living in an active volcano, you know? I definitely drank a lot of terrible beer. Without a doubt my favorite regional cocktail that I don’t see a lot of places but I think is amazing is called The Chilton. It’s from Lubbock.
What’s in it?
It’s vodka, the juice of four lemons and soda water. And then it’s a salted rim so it’s like a super intense Gatorade. They just drink it where it’s absolutely brutally hot. And you’d think it’s not good but it somehow is just absolutely amazing.
How did your partnership with Wild Turkey come about?
They’re doing their ‘Trust Your Spirit’ campaign and Wild Turkey came across my music and they really aligned with my story. I grew up as a theater person. My mom is a playwright and an actress and my dad was a set designer. Being an actor was my dream. In my early twenties I moved to Los Angeles to work in good old Hollywood. And it was insane.
I was always not brown enough to be a Hispanic person and not White enough to be the ‘ABC’ boyfriend. So I got to audition for the drug-dealer-slash-kooky-boyfriend stuff all the time. It was really deplorable. But there’s always that magical carrot at the end of the day that makes you think maybe one day I’ll get that amazing job. Then in the meantime I had started to just make music for myself. I was constantly writing and trying to keep sane by creating stuff.
And then it was a gradual transition to music?
Slowly I started to make stuff that was better than I even expected it to be. Kind of a classic story of going to chase one dream and then having another one land in your lap. And I finally made a decision to stick with what actually felt good. Something that I felt excited to wake up and do every day. That’s what this whole campaign with Wild Turkey is — remaining true to its spirit for 200 million years since they uncovered the first bottle back with the dinosaurs (laughs).
You did get to act out your own story in a video for them.
It was an absolutely psychedelic thing to film that and have them bring my story into a film set. It was like my wish came true in this roundabout way — all I wanted to do was to be on a shoot somewhere, but then I had to chase my dreams to be on a shoot to tell that exact story. So it’s like the weirdest experience ever.
What else will you be doing with the brand?
This is the best part. They also partnered with a record label that’s here in Austin called Spaceflight and they’re doing this cool mentorship program called ‘101 Bold Nights’ It’s sort of a sweepstakes if you’re an aspiring musician in the position I was back in the day and wanted something to boost you forward. You sign up for this and I’ll give you a phone call and we get to do an hour long virtual mentorship. And then Spaceflight is gonna do some amazing stuff with them too.
You said as an actor you felt you weren’t Brown enough or White enough for most roles. Your music is also hard to fit into one category.
Definitely. I think there’s been a problem with this for a long time. The music genre thing was built to sell stuff. To package things as opposed to some sort of anthropological research where you’re like let’s make sure we can categorize everything so that there aren’t any mistakes. I still consider that I play folk music in the sense that I write songs from my own specific personal journey through this life. And then also from the point of view of an American and also like a global citizen trying to figure out what’s going on with the world around me.
You have a very comfortable stage presence. Is that from your acting background?
It’s definitely years of torture and practice and musical theater abuse when I was little (laughs). Where you’re like well I guess I want to go sing songs from ‘Annie’ right now. But it’s always scary.
Which is your favorite Wild Turkey release?
Straight 101 is my favorite. There is that classic aspect that I do like. I’ve kind of wanted my wardrobe to look like a cartoon character’s — where it looks like I’m wearing the same thing every day but I just have 10 of the same shirts. I end up gravitating more to products that are milestones you can return to. So I think the 101 does that for me.
Do you have a favorite guitar that you own?
Sometimes life feels like a role-playing-game where you end up acquiring magical objects. I have this crazy guitar, a 1932 Gibson L-7, given to me by someone who saw me a play a show one night. It belonged to his grandmother’s boyfriend who was a jazz player. I took the guitar home and tried to commune with it. I would play it and it would dive out of tune — it didn’t want anything to do with me. And slowly I was like I mean, you no harm. We’re gonna be friends. I started playing it in open tuning and it has since become a signature of how I play and a style that I developed from this one guitar.
Have you ever had a memorable drink or meal with one of your idols?
My wife was in a band and had a show at the The Carlyle Hotel and Whoopi Goldberg ended up coming. She was like “what are you guys doing tomorrow? Come to my house in Jersey and we’re gonna have a barbecue.” She has like a museum of a house that’s got all this incredible top-tier hoarder stuff: Beatles memorabilia, amazing paintings and Disney film stills from Dumbo that are signed by the artist. I’m a big ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ person, so I was freaking out.
You have a new album coming out.
It’s called ‘Movie of the Week.’ I did a score for a friend’s movie and was like this is amazing. And they were like it’s a little moody (laughs). So I ended up taking some of these melodies and kind of made a soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist. It’s real wild sounding and definitely a more personal record than I’ve put out in a while. The world has just been so intense — I guess forever — but in the last few years specifically. It’s definitely more of a frustrated, at times apocalyptic album — but with a little bright spots.
You’re known for playing with a suitcase drum. Did you try out different brands to get the right sound? Is a Tumi different than a Samsonite?
I had started to do a one-man band thing but I didn’t have a car and didn’t have a drum kit. So I made weird detailed drawings imagining a suitcase thing just so I could be self-sufficient. I took that to my friend Will who’s this crazy builder-psychopath-fisherman dude. The first one was a yellow suitcase that started to fall apart. The one I play now is lined with aluminum and built to last. He chose Samsonite. Like American Tourister? No dice! But still no call from the Samsonite corporation. You think they would’ve hit me up by now.