Divine guidance steered Alejandro Rose-Garcia to music

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Although Alejandro Rose-Garcia has been acting since he was 5 years old, he found himself frustrated when he started pursuing that career as a young man. But he found professional and personal rejuvenation in another art he'd pursued since childhood: music.

"When I was starting to see the general value in my own (music), it kind of made all this smashing my head against the wall that I was doing for stupid acting roles that I didn't really care about … a moot point," Rose-Garcia says. "You can't really act for yourself in your own bedroom."

Over the past five years Rose-Garcia, who plays the Ark Thursday, has carved out a career in folk music under the stage moniker Shakey Graves. Although his musical abilities are mostly self-taught, inspired by the records of classic performers like Leo Kottke and Townes Van Zandt, he says his own fingerpicked guitar style originated when he took just a month's worth of guitar lessons at age 12.

"The first fingerpicking song (my guitar teacher) ever taught me was 'Dust In the Wind,' which is pretty hilarious," Rose-Garcia laughs. "I learned one s---ty classic rock song and the rest is history."

Rose-Garcia initially worked as a lone-wolf singer-songwriter, but for his most recent album and tour he's fleshed out his sound. Last year's "And the War Came" featured a full band that has joined Rose-Garcia on the road, an experience that he says is "still pretty miraculous" every show.

Although Rose-Garcia has more musical companionship this time around, the new album's lyrical focus is mostly on losing touch and breaking up. He says while many of the songs were inspired by specific events in his romantic life, they also pertain to fallings-out of all kinds.

"When my career started to take off and I started to tour all the time, I fell in love with a girl and I ended up leaving her behind," he says. "It was a pretty terrible experience. There's definitely plenty of that in the album, but it does cover a lot more outside of just that relationship."

These days Rose-Garcia seems to be in a good place personally and professionally, noting that he's "lucky" to be "really busy." He chalks some of that up to his unique spirituality. Although his parents both came from what he describes as "old-school religion," they encouraged him to explore faith as he wished. Although he continues to draw inspiration from a variety of religious influences, he began to realize his personal spirituality in 2006 after hearing a voice speaking to him.

"At a certain point it feels like Shakey Graves is an outside character, or can be, or is an inspiration from another place," he says. "It's not constant. It's not like I ride around with a ghost pet or something like that. But every once in a while I feel kind of divine guidance, if you want to call it that."

And when Rose-Garcia receives that guidance, he follows it.

"I always prefer to listen to that sort of stuff and sort out whether I'm crazy or not afterwards," he says. "It's turned out pretty good so far."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Shakey Graves

with Nikki Lane

8 p.m. Thursday

The Ark

316 S. Main, Ann Arbor

Tickets $20

(734) 763-8587