For many Northwest music fans and musicians, Damien Jurado is, simply put, an icon. After dozens of releases over the past several decades, Jurado has ventured through a variety of musical spectrums and quietly put together a discography as strong or consistent as any one in the region. Which is saying something in the Northwest. In the wake of the release of his new record Maraqopa, Damien and I discussed his influence, from his former pre-school students to Fleet Foxes, and the spiritual awakening he underwent during the making of Maraqopa.
Apes on Tape: So are you at home now?
Damien Jurado: Yes, I am.
I was talking to Sarah (Jurado) and she told me you that guys had some raccoons living in the walls? Is that still going on?
Um, no. They’re no longer around. I’m not sure where they are.
They just disappeared on they’re on accord?
Yeah, they did. I went to Europe and came back, and they were gone.
Good news, then. So anyhow, you’re not a stranger to buzz, but with Maraqopa coming out it’s seemed pretty strong. And Sarah echoed that excitement too. Are you feeling the same way? Are things different with this record?
I’m pretty far removed, you know what I mean? (Laughs). I’m so far removed from everything there, I don’t really keep up with press. I mean, I just do interviews and that’s about it.
For sure, got a good team working for you.
Yeah, yeah. Every once in a while, Sarah will tell me something like ,“oh yeah, the BBC liked it”, things like that. Yeah, I think it’s just best to not pay attention.
Absolutely, I agree. That’s a good policy. So with as many albums as you’ve released, as much time that you’ve logged into the game, I’m not saying this to just stroke your ego here, but essentially to a lot of Seattle musicians, especially those my age, you’re a huge figurehead, somewhat of a local hero. From Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, I know here reveres you, to the guys in Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives. Or Galen of Pickwick, he said you’re one of the reasons he moved to Seattle. But at the same time, you’ve maintained this sort of undercover brother status. Am I rambling or do you catch my vibe here?
Uh huh, yeah.
So do you see that reflected back to you?
Sure. Yeah, I mean, I did an interview in Europe about two weeks ago where someone said when he first heard the Fleet Foxes’ records, he heard me in the records. I guess I hadn’t really noticed, but I came home from that tour and put on their last record. And yeah, I could definitely hear what he’s talking about. It’s pretty cool if you can, you know, see yourself reflected in other artists around you. It’s pretty neat.
I would imagine. On a similar note, I think you’ve had a large hand in shaping that alt-country, acoustic folk scene that’s grown so large in Seattle now. But at the same time, you’ve experimented all over the place from those acoustic ballads to electric rock on I Break Chairs to experimental, tape-recording moves. So is it weird when people just hang onto that folk side or are you just glad they’re identifying you with that?
Yeah, I guess, it’s really kind of funny. The more people latch onto the whole “singer/songwriter” aspect, the more I feel the need to escape it. It’s funny, when we made Maraqopa, Richard (Swift) was basically like, “I think it’s time for you to shed your skin a bit”. Because the whole genre of the singer/songwriter thing is not anything that, I mean, I never listen to it. So it is kind of weird to be lumped in with artists like Bonnie Prince Billie. And these are artists that I really admire and respect. Obviously, they are really great songwriters. But I think for years I’ve been lumped in with artists of that genre, but I don’t really own their records. So it’s kind of a weird thing.
Yeah, definitely. I was listening more to your discography this week. And it’s interesting to hear where that popular conception of you comes from, I can hear that in the more “singer/songwriter” albums.
But there’s just as many records or EP’s or releases that are in a different direction completely.
Totally, yeah, totally. Fans tend to cling on more to that, or it seems like they tolerate my other escapades (laughs).
Yeah, maybe it’s more accessible. And you mentioned Richard Swift. I’ve never actually met him, but there’s been a number of close-connections where I hear he’s an awesome guy. From doing the Pickwick record to the Gardens & Villa record. I know he played a large role in Saint Barlett, but did he play a bigger role on Maraqopa? What kind of relationship was that?
I think with Saint Barlett and also Maraqopa they’re more of a collaboration, because it’s just Richard and I in the studio. With previous records, it was like “here are the songs, people have parts on them”. I didn’t really think much about it. If the guitarist or whoever wanted to do something on past records, I’d say “oh yeah that’s great, go for it”. But it wasn’t until Saint Bartlett where it was just Richard and I in the studio, we were really just bouncing ideas off one another. Those were different records to make, you know. They’re more collaborative.
And with Maraqopa, did you shoot for a distinct aesthetic or any kind of marked stylistic change?
You mean like how I approached the record?
Just in the writing, and when we talk about the different stylistic directions you’ve gone in. Was there something in particular you were trying to capture or channel?
I went through a real, I guess, awakening. During Saint Barlett, that’s when it started. But it came full effect, when I started writing songs for Maraqopa. When I did Saint Barlett that was definitely my searching phase. With Maraqopa, I think it all sort of came to light, on so many levels, emotionally, mentally and especially spiritually. I definitely subscribe to the Christian faith, so a lot of that came to the forefront on this newest record, for sure. There are lots of analogies I give on the record, I speak a lot about being free and light. The word “light” appears quite a bit, and “free”. Things like that definitely show up on the record quite a bit. But I think it’s just because of this awakening I had, or the transformation I took on a real mental and spiritual level.
That’s awesome. And that’s really cool that you were able to work that out through music, as well.
Yeah, yeah totally. I mean I think it was bound to happen. It’s happened, if you look at the history and discography of people like, everyone from Johnny Cash to John Coltrane. It sort of comes to the forefront. Because, you know, it is a real personal thing. Not that I’m in any way, shape or form a “spiritual” or “gospel” singer whatsoever. I’m not. But I think those things will definitely come to the forefront.
Very cool. I’ll let you go in a second, but were you still teaching pre-school or kindergarten during the time when you were writing this album?
Ah, no. I actually left the pre-school gig about six years ago.
Oh, no way. Jeez.
Yeah, I’ve been doing this full-time for six years now. I do miss it. I do miss it.
Do you stay in touch with any of those kids at all?
You know it’s funny, I actually run into some of those kids around town. Mostly on the east side, because the school’s located on Mercer Island. So when I’m on the east side, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Issaquah, I run into some of those kids. It’s really cool, to see how they’ve grown. It’s pretty eye opening.
It’ll be pretty sweet, in a few more years probably, when they start listening to your music more. Not that they don’t now, but they’ll be at the age when it will mean more.
Yeah, it’s kind of weird actually. The other day my son was telling me how his friends’ parents have been listening to my music, and the kids have been listening to it around the house. So he said to me, “I thought you were famous, but you’re really FAMOUS!” (laughs).
The household hero!
Yeah, so I’ve now reached the level where my son’s friends know who I am. So that’s really neat. It makes me feel really old at the same time. But that’s really cool to have even a younger generation than I thought I would reach listening.