A Bored Singer-Songwriter In The City Of His Dreams

A monosyllabic interview with Damien Jurado

He says that there are only walls and a bed in the room where he is. “And a sense of humour”, he adds. Damien Jurado is not a very talkative man. Although the songs on his latest album, “Maraqopa” (Secretly Canadian, 2012), paint previously unexplored landscapes of raw (and defeatist) Seattle folk lo-fi, Jurado doesn’t feel much like talking about where they came from. He only admits that he is “exploring” some other place and that, for the moment, he is thinking of following this course along with his friend Richard Swift, with whom he already collaborated in the intense and harsh “Saint Bartlett” (2010). The release was recorded in Swift’s National Freedom studios, with a live spirit (polished lo-fi) and the firm intention that the songs should expand and contract as if they were alive. Here Jurado, “the godfather of the folk boom” according to the Seattle Times, continues to experiment - using children’s choruses ( “Life Away From The Garden”), unexpected falsettos ( “Museum Of Flight”), and melancholy pop ( “This Time Next Year”). His is a sound built over the course of the last 15 years (and 11 albums), but about which he has hardly anything to say. If you don’t believe me, judge for yourselves.

What does “Maraqopa” mean?

It’s the name of a fictional town that I visited in a dream.

Although this is the second time that you have collaborated with Richard Swift, “Maraqopa” seems to be almost the opposite of “Saint Bartlett” in terms of calmness, at times closer to rock than to folk. Was this just something that happened, or was it premeditated?

“Maraqopa” is continuing the process that we had on “Saint Bartlett”, only taking it further.

Nothing Is The News”, the first song on the album, is sort of a perfect introduction to the album: it has a little of “Saint Bartlett”, specifically the end, something progressive, and at the same time it serves to set the stage for the listener for “Maraqopa”. Was that your intention? What is the song about?

No intention really. It was how the song was written. Every song starts with just that, a song. We record it and then build around it. I could say what the song is about, but would rather leave it up for interpretation.

On other songs, like “ This Time Next Year and So On, Nevada”, your sound seems like the perfect evolution of “The Ghost Of David”, a ghostly lo-fi that has gained in intensity and form with the years. Were you trying to maintain a sort of balance between that sound and that of “Saint Bartlett”?

Sure. I don't know if I see it as such, but that sounds good.

In “ Museum Of Flight” you play with your voice in a way that you hadn’t explored so far. Do you think that you are moving in a new direction?

Not really. When we tracked that song, it was early in the morning. So, that may have had something to do with it. As far as something new? Sure. I mean, again, it's the continuation of a process. You go on living. Breathing.

Would you say that your music borrows from Americana as a genre?

I would say - they don't.

Voices are very important on “Maraqopa”. It seems as if all of the blank spaces in the songs are filled. I’m speaking specifically of your incredible work on the nostalgic “ Life Away From The Garden. What was your intention?

The voice is another instrument. In songs like “ Life Away From The Garden” it just seemed fitting. The right instrument to use.

Do you usually work on your albums with a concept in mind?

“Maraqopa” is a concept record. However, I also think that it is more than that. It's really open for whatever you or the listener gets out of it. Any further explanation, I feel, would only take away from that.

I have always had the feeling that your music was influenced by the contained sadness and rage of grunge. I suppose that the fact that you were born and raised in Seattle must have affected you in some way.

Grunge has never influenced my work.

After 11 albums and 15 years of career, at what point do you feel yourself to be at? Do you continue to explore your sound or do you think that you have already found what you were looking for?

I’m exploring. I will continue to explore. Once I have found my comfortable place, then it will be time to quit. Not being challenged is ultimately the death of musicians.

You have released “Maraqopa” on your website as a limited edition, including three 7” singles with two new songs on each, taken from the album sessions. Are you thinking of releasing an EP including all of them in the future?

No, because they don't fit well as a work, or album, if you will.

Could you tell us two things that especially inspire you?

My family. My faith in God.

What will “Maraqopa” be like live? Will you be alone on the stage, will Swift travel with you, will you have a band?

I will be touring with a six-piece band. We will be playing a lot of songs off of the new album, as well as songs that are not on the album.

Your two favourite albums from last year were …

Shabazz Palaces. Richard Swift.

And what writers would you recommend to us?

Lenny Bruce. Allen Ginsberg. Groucho Marx. Rod Serling.

You started out releasing your music on CD, but lately you have returned to vinyl. What do you think of the vinyl revival? Are you a collector?

I don't know if it's a revival. I also don't know if it adds anything. I buy most of my music at second-hand stores for a dollar. So, again, I don't really know about that kind thing.

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