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Damien Jurado: Portrait of the Artist as a Free Man

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader


In my sheer excitement to interview Damien Jurado, I very nearly forgot to ask him about fellow songwriter John Vanderslice, with whom he is currently touring, and it seemed as if he was more excited to talk about Vanderslice than himself. ďHave you heard his latest record?Ē he asked me toward the end of our interview. I had no choice but to confess that I had not (Iím pretty good at B.S., but not that good). ďItís a pop masterpiece. Johnís one of those guys whoís always continuing to grow . . . heís a guy who Iíve always respected, because you never know what youíre going to get with a John Vanderslice record.Ē

Jurado and Vanderslice will be in the area for two nights this May. On the 6th, they will play an all-ages show at The Firehouse in N. Manchester (thefirehouse.net), and a 21+ show on the 7th at The Brass Rail (brassrailfw.com).

If you take a listen through Juradoís catalog of 10 proper albums, and numerous EPs and singles, youíll begin to understand how that last statement of his is probably one of the highest compliments one could get from the Seattle native. From the stripped down folk-pop of 1999ís Rehearsals for Departure, to the distorted, straight-ahead rock & roll of 2002ís I Break Chairs, to last yearís lush, string-and-reverb-drenched Saint Bartlett, Jurado has continued to prove that he is the kind of songwriter who refuses to allow himself to be pigeon-holed into one specific genre.

ďThere was one journalist who called me a chameleon. I thought that was a good thing; I think he meant it as something of a negative jab, but itís true. I guess I am a chameleon in a way. I like different kinds of music; I want to make different kinds of records. Thatís my biggest pet peeve, and not just with modern bands. Itís my problem with indie rock in general, you know? I think people are making the same records over and over, and itís just such a formula, and itís completely boring. A band has to change.Ē

And itís that kind of philosophy which has helped Jurado stay relevant over the years. Even more than just being relevant, though, heís known as one of the most consistently good artists in the music business. ďIím just trying to do my best to be the kind of artist that I would want as a music buyer. There have been great artists, even people like Bob Dylan and Neil Young for instance, where thereís a period of their catalogs when people are just like Ďeh, I hated those records.í I donít want to be like that. I want to be the kind of artist whoís known for putting out consistently good records. Thatís what Iím trying for, anyway.Ē

Aside from the musical aspects of Juradoís songwriting, one of the things that has kept people coming back again and again to his albums is his lyrics. Often melancholy, like the line ďwhy try pretending you care, when feelings arenít there, just be honest with meĒ (ďLove the Same,Ē from 1999ís Rehearsals for Departure), he can turn it around just as quickly into, say, a light-hearted celebration of the pleasures of going to an afternoon movie (ďMatinee,Ē from 2003ís Where Shall You Take Me?), where he sings ďmy best friendís girl works the ticket stand. When the boss is gone she lets us in. We all see a matinee.Ē One of the things that fans and reviewers tend to focus on with Jurado is how confessional his lyrics seem to be, so I had to ask him about that.

ďTo be honest with you, Iíve only had one confessional record, and that was [2008ís] Caught in the Trees. That was really it. Every other one of my songs is fictitious. Itís the biggest question I get from fans, though. ĎIs ďOhioĒ a real song?í or ďĎMedication,í geez, thatís a heavy song. Is that about your brother?í And I have to break it down to them and say Ďno, itís just fiction.í It surprises a lot of people because I think it affects them in that personal way, and Iím thankful for that. Iím glad it does, because that tells me that Iím doing a good job. Itís not just some stupid story, you know? Itís actually affecting somebody.Ē

That kind of fictitious storytelling is a hallmark of what Juradoís songwriting is all about, though. By mostly keeping to subject matter outside of his immediate life, and constantly changing up his musical style, he keeps himself free to explore any number of musical possibilities. ďIíll give you an example,Ē he said on the subject. ďThe freedom that you hear on an Ornette Coleman record, or a John Coltrane record, or even a Santana record, or a live Grateful Dead recording, to me itís complete freedom. Thereís no constraints as to where theyíre going to go with it, and to me thatís a big influence, because I can take that and apply it to my records. Thereís nowhere that I donít want to go. Thereís nowhere I canít go, and that goes back to the earlier thing, which is that Iím not constrained. I can keep them guessing, and thatís the good part.Ē

More info on Damien Jurado can be found at his official website, saintbartlett.com

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