Q&A with Damien Jurado

It’s a shame that I have to introduce Damien Jurado – everyone should be as familiar with his music as they are that of singer/songwriters Bod Dylan or Neil Young. The Seattle native has consistently created one solid record after another since 1997. While best known for his folksy songs that spin heart-wrenching personal stories of love and despair, he hasn’t allowed himself to be pigeonholed in one genre. He has masterfully shifted from rootsy ballads, to experiments with found sounds, to pop-rock, and back again. Through it all, it is his sincere yet understated storytelling that grips his fans and keeps them coming back for more.

I’ve been coming back to his songs ever since I first heard “Halo Friendly” 12 years ago. I leapt at the chance to ask Damien a few questions about his song writing, future plans, favorite Northwest bands, and yes, even the weather.

TBI (William Haun): Your latest album Saint Bartlett has received a lot of attention and praise since its release in May. However, you also quietly released an album under the name Hoquiam with your brother Drake this year. On the Secretly Canadian blog you described the project as “proper home” for songs written around the same time as your Caught in the Trees album. Can we expect another Hoquiam album with songs written during the Saint Bartlett period? Are you planning to continue using that side-project as a musical outlet?

Damien Jurado: Hoquiam is no longer a side project for me to have an outlet for other songs, seeing how it’s just as much Drake’s band than it is mine. Over the last year we have been playing a lot of shows, and as of late, been writing new songs together. There will be another Hoquiam record. When we’ll record it, is undecided at the moment. I have a lot of shows that I am doing for Saint Bartlett from now until the end of the year.

Listen to Hoquiam’s “Zombies of the Sea”

TBI: As far back as 2002 you had a tour blog on your web site. Now you’re very active on Twitter and have been using MySpace and SoundCloud to give fans brand new songs (some written & recorded that very day). You seem very willing to use the internet to connect with your fans. What are your thoughts on the the web as a tool/outlet for musicians? Is it the best thing since sliced bread or will it be the end of us all?

Damien Jurado: I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to connect. I’m just writing songs and showing them to people. That’s it really.

Twitter, Facebook, etc. sure, it’s ok.

I don’t think it’s the best thing since slice bread, no. Some people do though and that’s great for them.

TBI: You’ve always been a prolific song writer and last week you started cranking out almost a song a day and posting them on SoundCloud. Is writing a song a day something you’ve always done and you’ve now decided to share them with the world immediately (and for free)? Or are these songs demos or early unpolished versions of a future album?

Damien Jurado: My songs tend to have a life of their own. I just do what they tell me. If it shows up and wants a voice, then that’s what I’m supposed to do.

Whether, these songs (demos) will make any record, is hard to say. We’ll see. For now, it’s just nice to write them out and for people to hear them.

TBI: You’ve said in the past that you don’t bring politics or spirituality into your music. You’re a Christian but you don’t talk about it in your music. However, “This Time Next Year,” the first song you posted to SoundCloud had a lot of Christian symbolism. Have you had a change of heart about using music as a platform to share your beliefs? Can we expect to hear more about matters of faith and truth in your songs?

Damien Jurado: I still believe that music should in no way shape or form be used as a platform for religion or politics. If people want to praise God in a church with a song, or express how they feel about things of a spiritual nature, that is great. However, don’t think for one second you are going to persuade anyone to come to know Jesus or vote democrat or republican, because of a song. If you do, you’re a fool.

Listen to “This Time Next Year” below:

TBI: I saw your show at The Earl in Atlanta in April 2009 with Laura Gibson, another wonderful musician from the Northwest. During your set, a guy in the crowd shouted out that you were “America’s best kept secret.” How truthful do you think that statement is?

Damien Jurado: I thought the statement was very nice. However, I think there are a lot of other songwriters out there, that the same thing can be said about.

TBI: If you were introducing someone to Damien Jurado’s music for the first time what album would you have them start with?

Damien Jurado: Ghost of David

Listen to “Medication” from the 2000 album Ghost of David

TBI: With 15 years of song writing behind you, what lies ahead in the next 15 years of your musical career? Any particular projects you’d like to do, artists you’d like to collaborate with, or directions you’d like to see your music go?

Damien Jurado: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I’ve given thought about sort of fading out. There’s a lot going on in the world of music right now.. exciting things. I’d like to be a spectator for a while. Take it all in. I miss it.

TBI: I finally found your 1997 Vary 7″ record online. The fourth track was not the typical Damien Jurado song – it was called “Rainier Valley” and was this electronic trip-hop instrumental track. Was that yours or was it a split 7″ with another artist? If it was yours, what was the story behind that?

Damien Jurado: No story really. I just thought it would be funny to put something on the 7″ that was completely out of left field.

Listen to “Rainier Valley” from Jurado’s 1997 Vary 7″

TBI: Speaking of atypical Damien Jurado music… any chance of another I Break Chairs-ish album? That thing was a beautiful surprise. Definitely one of my favorites of yours.

Damien Jurado: Thanks. Again.. it’s really hard to say. Maybe. It would be fun. It was a fun record to make.

Listen to “Paper Wings” from the 2002 album I Break Chairs

TBI: TheBlueIndian.com does a lot to promote and support the Southeast’s unsigned & “under the radar” musicians. Who would you recommend our readers check out from the Northwest?

Damien Jurado: Yes! Grand Hallway, The Head and the Heart. Two of my favorite local bands right now. Head and the Heart could very well be the next biggest thing to come out of the Northwest, since Fleet Foxes. The Northwest also has a huge hip hop scene here. We’re a very self sustaining part of America. It’s like living in another country. I love it!

TBI: Can you explain to our Georgia readers what a “Jacket Summer” is? You’ve referenced it several times on Twitter and we only know of blazing 100 degree heat and humidity in the summer.

Damien Jurado: Jacket summer – the look and feel of fall like weather during summer months. We’ve been getting this a lot over the past few months. Day time highs in the mid sixties to low seventy’s (63 – 70 degrees) night time lows of mid fifties to low sixties (50 – 58). There are some days where it will reach near 75, but it doesn’t last long. Here is a funny video that can explain how it is here.

Hear more of Damien Jurado’s music: