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One-Man Bandstands

Shakey Graves and Chief White Lightning get lensed
Chase Hoffberger, 11:45am, Mon. May. 20, 2013
photo by Jared Gastriech
Shakey Graves in a slightly more reserved state of being

Sitting with local mainstay Chris Brecht at North Loop’s popular Workhorse Bar last Wednesday, I was informed quite unceremoniously that “the age of the male singer-songwriter is dead.”

“I don’t think there’s a place for male songwriters to use their own names anymore,” announced the musician and man behind local radio streaming system Austin Independent Radio. “Nobody wants to see a marquee filled up with guys’ names. They’ll think they’re getting some coffee shop singer-songwriter even if they’re not.”

John Wesley Coleman might have something to say about that, but rolling through my list of local favorites from the past few years, I understood. Solo acts are starting to show up as band names. Even Brecht, who’s recorded two albums under his name since 2008, has gone the way of the moniker, opting for SundayHouse on his next album, currently in production at Jonas Wilson’s studio in Bastrop.

Brecht’s logic also applies to two members of the local scene that are celebrating the release of new music videos: Blind Pets bandleader Josh Logan and Shakey Graves handler Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

Logan’s clip celebrates his one-man band Chief White Lightning, a shit-kicking skuzz rock act that sounds like a ’64 Chevy just broke down on the wrong side of the road. His video for the two-minute “Hand Like Yours” arrives courtesy of Residual Kid’s Max Redman, the prolific 12-year-old bassist who’s long held an interest in stop-motion videos and intricate LEGO constructions.

Logan reports that he pitched Redman on an idea to create a LEGO scene that follows the plot line of CWL’s track, with the only specification being that Redman find a way to grow a tree in a town towards the end of the song. Two weeks and more than 1,500 frames later, Redman came forth with the final product.

“Give that kid an inch and he’ll take a mile,” Logan says of the rising star, a longtime favorite of the Blind Pet. “I always tell people that Max is my hero. The way he reacts to things: he’s such a creative person. He’s done more in his time than people who say they’ve done everything. He’s going to grow up to be Austin’s Beck.”

Shakey Graves’ first official video debuts thanks to a lofty project from Florida filmmaker Jessi Southern, whose Kickstarter-funded “Fool’s Road” project has found her working with a different artist in a different city each week since last August, with the idea being that she’ll come in and produce a hand-picked artist’s ideal music video. For Rose-Garcia, that meant breaking his body through his own chest, spitting fire from his mouth, and generally causing mayhem in a series of poorly lit sewage tunnels.

“I’ve always enjoyed contrast in music videos,” he says. “Something that simply enhances the context or mood of the song through puns or elaborate concepts. ‘Unlucky Skin’ is ultimately a song about death, but it’s masked in up-tempo, semi-sweet banjo melodies. I wanted something that matched thematically.

“I’m a huge sci-fi nerd and really wanted to make something fun that my friends would want to participate in and which ultimately wouldn’t become dated or corny.”

So Rose-Garcia pulled his friends together “in our favorite drainage ditch” and told them them to bring as many weapons and beers as they could carry. Once assembled, those friends stomped into the tunnels, which aren’t as extensive as the video makes them seem. Rose-Garcia said Southern used a bit of trick photography to “make it become a nonsensical hive.”

“[They] really overcame a lot of claustrophobia to help run cameras and flesh out ideas,” he says of his local cohorts. “At one point, my friend Dylan even made a miniature of himself out of a One Direction boy band doll we bought from Target, which we burned to death in a smaller tunnel inside the tunnel.”

And what about that first scene, the one in which he’s piercing his head through his torso and birthing himself unto the world the same way Ace Ventura broke out of the fake rhino? Rose-Garcia says that maneuver was the plan from the start.

“I knew the video should start with me busting out of my own chest, because in the long run, I like to keep Shakey Graves as a character in some sense. I mean, there’s a reason I don’t use my own name in my work. I feel that it helps suspend disbelief, in myself and others, and allows for an open channel or any music or ideas to present themselves.”

Meanwhile, Logan reports that he and Shakey Graves are in talks to put an EP out together, confiding that he was “one of the first people to book” Rose-Garcia at Trophy’s Bar & Grill a couple years ago when the NPR darling returned to Austin.

“Being a one-man band, it’s hard to get shows,” says Logan. “That sort of stuff doesn’t happen until you start to get press.”

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