Music Musings: Interview with Shakey Graves, Part Two

Shakey Graves Interview Part TwoPhoto Courtesy of FDRMX

What follows is Part Two of FDRMX‘s interview with Shakey Graves before he took the stage at the Bandshell in Prospect Park for the Celebrate Brooklyn festival.

FDRMX: I noticed you use a vintage mic. Do you use one in particular, or do you have a favorite kind you like to use?

SG: My dad got me what’s called a Shure 55. It’s a reissue, it’s not an old one. But it’s the old Elvis mic style kind of thing. I thought it was kind of cheesy when I got it, like, “Thanks Pops,” but just like any equipment theres a way that when you sing into it, instead of the microphone being directly aimed at you, you can move on both sides of it, so it’s an intimate, strange thing. It’s like making out with a robot, it’s cool.

FDRMX: I can see how that would work with you with sing since you can go from whisper to yelp, a Shure 55 would be good for that.

SG: Yeah and since it’s got a metal casing around it, it’s got this strange sound.

FDRMX: You’re known for your spooky indie sound, who would you say are some of your influences?

SG: I’m an old-school Elliot Smith fan. He had a big influence on my guitar playing, because his approach to finger picking is really specific, so when you hear his song start, you’re like, “That’s Elliot Smith.” There’s an album that influenced me a lot in making kind of weird music that Beck put out in ‘95 called “One Foot in the Grave”, I think it was his second album, but it’s this weird country blues, all the songs are like 2 minutes 30 seconds long, really weird and kind of experimental but it’s amazing. The edges are really rough, there’s a lot of crap on it, there’s a lot going on, but it just inspired me. My first album, I wanted it to sound like that. I wanted a lot of texture, feel really confusing and not really sure what was going on. I did essentially all of that with an acoustic guitar and me, my voice.

FDRMX: Do you prefer working as a one-man band or would you rather collaborate with people?

SG: Oh I love working with people. It’s really fun to do the one-man band thing. All the benefits are also the detracting factors. There’s full control, and if it sounds right, it’s an amazing epic experience, it’s just as fun as playing guitar, but then add in the drums, and it’s really satisfying. I haven’t played with people since I was a different musician, since before I started developing my style. So now when I collaborate with people it’s a whole different game.

FDRMX: Do you see yourself putting a band together with your style in mind?

SG: Sure. I’m playing with a two-piece tonight. So it’ll be me and a drummer. I’m pretty in to letting the songs dictate. I’m not sure if there’ll be a static band that stays all the time, or if even the band would play the same instruments all the time. …It’s really challenging to do two hours as a one-man band, sometimes you have to do two hours, or two two-hour sets. I could do it, but I would get tired of listening to what’s up there myself. There’s only so much I can do up there. So spreading it out is (A) fun and (B) practical…. Just giving the show an arc; I don’t want to be just one note, and I’ve suffered from that plenty of times… This isn’t even close… everything’s changed so much I have no idea what everything’s going to look like in five years.

FDRMX: Your music’s ever evolving.

SG: Oh yeah.

FDRMX: I’m curious about your song-writing process. What’s that like as a solo act?

SG: That’s kind of what I use recording for. I’ll usually write a song, record it, and then kind of continue to workshop it myself. Then if I do get ambitious, and start adding layers to it and making, you know, finding textures within the song, usually I’ll get it out of the ability for me to just play it with the guitar, so then I’ll find parts, and I really only have three elements or four elements, so how can I translate that into a one-man band song, because that changes the tempo, or like it could switch it into a waltz, evolve into a different part and then, so its sort of a self collaboration. Then you battle-test it out in the world, and sometimes I’m like, “Whoa,” and I’ll play it that way forever…. And the same goes for putting a drummer in, because, essentially I already play drums, so I don’t need drums, we could, but it’s sort of ham-fisted… And then other songs, it’s like, “Oh this has been wanting drums forever!”

FDRMX: Do you like performing, writing or recording more?

SG: Oh God, they’re all different. Especially recording and performing, are pretty vastly different, Now I used to say recording, but I might say performing now cuz I’m so burnt out on recording but recording is so much fun, it really, really is. But I mean, I m in a place where I’m really I feel like I’m really starting to perform, I’ve performed before, but it’s starting to be that I have more confidence and starting to have the crowds that actually pay attention and create that sort of feedback loop on itself and it’s very romantic.

FDRMX: Do you feel like you’re analog over digital when it comes to recording?

SG: Yeah, just based on sound. If you can get the same stuff with digital, which you can cuz everything’s so crazy now, I mean there’s plug-ins for fucking everything, and that’s awesome. The tangibility of analog is what I prefer, like it kind of bums me out that since I don’t know how to work final cut the way that I want to, I can’t do half the stuff that I want to just because I can’t figure out what drop bar or which menu to go into; I have no idea. And then with analog it’s all knobs, and vari-speed, and you can get stuff that’s like, “Whoa, what plug-in did you use?” You’re like, “Slowed the tape down.” It’s great. And the whole, running the tape faster and recording and then slowing it back down to normal, so recording vocals at a higher tape rate and then slowing it down so you have this deep weird baritone that’s still you…. It’s crazy.

FDRMX: What’s your favorite part about performing?

SG: Playing the fuck out of music! That’s the stupidest answer ever, but it feels unbelievable to be on the stage playing a song that you wrote and know, and being able to play it really, really loud, and have it be clean, like some of these sound systems you get to play through, it’s a dream come true, it’s amazingly epic. Getting to play certain festivals, I can’t believe how loud it is. Strumming your guitar and having it be “WAHHHHH!” you’re like, “YES! This is so great!” All music should be played this loud.

FDRMX: It’s not rock if it’s not loud.

SG: Doesn’t matter what it is! Just play it super duper loud. Even flute solos – just go for it.

Photo Courtesy of FDRMX

You can find Part One of FDRMX’s interview with Shakey Graves in our Encyclopedia of Music.