Interview: Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado - Photo by Patrick Richardson Wright

Damien Jurado - Photo by Patrick Richardson Wright

In the world of musicians, there are singer-songwriters, and then there’s Damien Jurado.

What sets the two apart is that while singer-songwriters write and perform music, musicians like Jurado are prolific, like machines, churning out song after song and album after album.

As testament to this, Jurado’s most recent solo album, “Maraqopa,” was released late last month, bringing the number of full-lengths in his catalogue to 10.

The album was a few years in the making, and although Jurado said that the core of it was already done as early as last March, he still wanted to return to it to add more.

Additionally, the label – Indiana-based Secretly Canadian – put a bit of pressure on Jurado to do something particularly special with “Maraqopa,” seeing as it was the album that pushed his number of releases into double digits.

This included adding bonus songs and creating a buzz around the idea of special giveaways and deluxe editions.

“[It’s to] give people more for their buck,” Jurado said with a laugh.

But although album number ten comes with big implications, for Jurado, it was simply one step further in his musical career.

“From my standpoint, it’s different,” he said. “Some of the songs are definitely longer than other songs I’ve ever done before. Some of the sounds, I think…[are] sort of breaking the image of the folk mold, you know, or banner, that I somewhat seem to carry.”

Jurado referenced his ninth album, 2010’s “Saint Bartlett” as an example of trying to take his music beyond the convention of genre.

“With [that album], Richard [Swift] and I were really just trying to expand ourselves,” he said. “And then I think on this next record, I think we’ve gone even a step further.”

Jurado elaborated, explaining that he’s never viewed himself as a folk musician, because with that, comes a series of limitations imposed by others.

“I just see myself as a songwriter,” he said. “Those are just people that write songs. I have the freedom to write any kind of stuff I want. If I’m a folk artist, then I’m under the thumb of the folk genre, you know what I mean? Which means I’m in the folk box and there’s always four walls, you know? And it seems to be kind of tiny…[whereas] being a songwriter, it’s great, because you can do everything you want, you know? And no one is surprised by it.”

One thing that has helped formulate Jurado’s views of himself is his relationship to the songs. While they often spring from personal places and affect him in ways he didn’t expect, he shared that there is a removed aspect to them as well.

“It’s a thing that I always say: the song has a life of its own and I really have no control over it,” he said. “I’m just the mediator between the song and the audience.”

Not only that, but he said that instead of seeking out the songs, he lets them come to him, which they all too often do.

“I never ever sit down with a guitar and say to myself, ‘I’m gonna write a song today,'” he said. “I’ve never done that. I’ve never ever done that. Because it’s fake. I could, and then I could play G and C and give you a…pop song. But it wouldn’t be meaningful. It’d be forced. And, you know, I don’t really see the point of that. So, I wait around. I just wait around.”

When songs do reveal themselves to him, Jurado explained that his method is to capture a glimpse of them, but never try to realize them fully. This usually involves recording whatever is on hand in the version of a quick demo that could literally be mere seconds. Jurado sings or hums or plays the melody, and then begins adding words.

“All of a sudden, I’m rapidly typing out lyrics,” he said. “I call it ‘mental vomit.'”

He stops the process long before a song is complete, only returning to it in the studio, where the idea remains, fresh and pliable and ready to be worked with.

“That’s how it stays there,” he said, referencing how songs become dormant, but never for too long. “It literally is like if someone delivered a box of chocolates to someone’s house, right? And you’re like, ‘Oh, this is great,’ and then you put it in the freezer, right? And then months later, you forget it’s in the freezer, you open up the freezer, it’s a hot day, you want something cold and sweet, and BAM! And it’s like a treasure to you. You know what I’m saying? It’s untouched, it’s untouched, but yet you still put it there.”

Standing directly in opposition to the creative process then, is the part Jurado dislikes the most, which is taking songs on the road and trying to sell them.

“[It’s a struggle] trying to make a connection to or, I guess, really kind of believing what I’m selling,” he said. “Because I’m not these songs, I don’t have any attachment to these songs. Because these songs aren’t about me.”

Yet wrapped up in the downside of self-promotion is also another aspect of the live experience, which is seeing first-hand how fans respond to and interact with the music.

“Connecting with the audience is the most important part for me. It’s the most rewarding,” he said. “Because you can see what your songs are doing. You know how weird that is? You’re holed up in a house, writing this song, you know what I mean. You just think, ‘Oh OK, whatever.’ And then you go out on tour and all of a sudden, someone approaches you, and [tells you how your music has changed him or her].”

In particular, Jurado referenced a show he once played in Texas, something he referred to as the worst show he’s ever played. Earlier that day, he’d had a fight with his wife on the phone, and at the actual show, half the audience was disinterested and noisy, the sound was terrible and his guitar kept cutting out. In fact, Jurado admitted that he ended his set early because of his foul mood.

“After the set…a guy approaches the stage…and he goes on to tell me how much my music has helped him because his wife had just taken her life two months previous to that show, and left him with their six-month-old son,” he said. “Now, all of a sudden, I can tell you, that moment changed my career and how I viewed my music. Because you have no clue who is affects…you never know who’s in the audience. You never know. Either on stage or on the other side of the headphones. You never know.”

Damien Jurado plays tonight at Comet Club in Berlin. The show begins at 20.00.

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