Damien Jurado Hits His Stride | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Damien Jurado Hits His Stride


Published November 2, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated November 2, 2016 at 12:57 p.m.

  • COurtesy of EliseTyler
  • Damien Jurado

In most circumstances, dreams don't mean much to anyone except the person who dreamed them. Exceptions are sometimes made if a dream prominently features the person to whom the dream is described — especially if that person is doing something naughty. But it's a rare feat to make the masses care about an individual's nocturnal picture show, and even rarer to turn a dream into a celebrated work of art.

Stephen King, Paul McCartney and Salvador Dalí all claim to have been inspired by their dreams, creating Dreamcatcher, "Yesterday" and "The Persistence of Memory," respectively. Dalí is a good segue to Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado. His psychedelic magnum opus, the Maraqopa saga, was born of a vivid dream some six years ago.

Jurado's last three records tell the story of an unnamed wanderer's journey through a futuristic utopia called Maraqopa. Themes of humanity, the rapture and self-discovery are sewn into the story, though the narrative remains largely ambiguous. Beginning with 2012's Maraqopa and continuing through 2014's Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, the story concludes with 2016's Visions of Us on the Land. Jurado performs on Friday, November 4, at Signal Kitchen in Burlington.

Prior to the Maraqopa saga, Jurado had released a full career's worth of music, the earliest in the 1990s post-grunge era. But when he began a working relationship with musician/producer Richard Swift — on 2010's Saint Bartlett — Jurado felt he had finally come into his own. The two enhanced their collective inclinations on the three albums that followed. Seven Days caught up with Jurado by phone ahead of his East Coast tour.

SEVEN DAYS: Speaking metaphorically, you once said Saint Bartlett was your eyes being opened, Maraqopa was you standing up, and Brothers and Sisters was you walking, starting a journey. What is Visions?

DAMIEN JURADO: I think Visions is more of a confidence. Think about a baby who is starting to walk. His arms are still out to the side; he's not walking completely upright; his steps are still shaky. So, walking forward with Brothers and Sisters, it still may not have been a sureness. But I think with [Visions], there's a real sureness about it, a confidence that I don't hear in [my] other records.

SD: Do you think that the Maraqopa saga could lend itself to other forms, like narrative fiction, visual art or film? What would it look like?

DJ: I picture it like a Terrence Malick movie. I would want him to direct it. There's a narrative, but it's loose. If I didn't tell the press what the narrative was, I don't know if they would necessarily know what was going on.

SD: Have you written a full synopsis?

JD: No, because it wouldn't leave room for interpretation. It's one of the things I really like about abstract writing. For instance, there are many people who think the Bible says one thing, and other people think it says another thing, but the overall ground base of the Bible remains the same. It's people's interpretation that changes.

SD: After four albums with Richard Swift, were there any concepts or ideas you didn't get around to trying?

JD: It's really hard to say. When I walk into the studio, there's not really any preconceived notion of what the record is going to sound like. I never have any clue. I always just walk in there with a bunch of acoustic songs. It's exciting. You sort of let the song lead you to wherever it's going. There are things I would love to try, and I think I will eventually do those things. It's like predicting a storm without the perfect equipment.

SD: When I saw you perform in 2014, it was just you, a guitar and a stool. What will we see this time?

DJ: It's pretty much going to be the same. I'm a solo artist, and that's one of the things that people keep forgetting. I've done a few U.S. tours with a full band, but the reality is, it's so expensive. I don't know how people even make money touring with giant bands. I prefer to play on my own. I think there's more strength in it. [Also,] the majority of my fans prefer me on my own. There's no need for them to go to a concert to experience a duplication of the record.

SD: How much do you pay attention to the current Seattle music scene?

DJ: Not much. I'm kind of the same way with the whole national scene. I don't read a lot of major publications. I think it lends a real strength to one's work. If you can seclude yourself, even from the internet, you'll find that your art will become far more interesting, because all you hear is you. You're the world that you're creating. I think too many artists now are too focused on getting the good review. It's almost as if they're trying too hard, as if they're making records to win the favor of the press, instead of trying to win the favor of their fans or themselves. I don't really have time for that. It sounds boring to me. That may sound elitist, but it's what I think.

SD: In 2012, you started getting back into painting. Is your painting style informed using similar methods as your songwriting?

DJ: No, it's the polar opposite. It's like having two different kids, with different personalities. One needs attention to the finest detail, and the other takes no time and doesn't need that much attention. With music, it seems to be less thought out. With painting, I think that, even though I work fast, there's way more thought that goes into it, way more planning.

SD: What piece of visual art has made a lasting impression on you?

DJ: Andrew Wyeth's "Braids." The fine strands of hair — he painted every hair on her head. I was so fascinated by the realism. He did a whole series with her, and it was the first time I ever saw a nude woman. The other painting that comes to mind is Warhol's Elvis paintings. They're so simple, yet embody so much. The American icon, the Wild West. It's such an American painting. And the fact that it repeats itself. I really like repetitive things.

SD: Your family is obviously the most important thing in your life. What's something you never knew about yourself until you were a father?

DJ: Kids don't see you how you see you. I'm very thankful for that. I also learned that while there are lots of bad things in life, you just can't control that stuff. There's no need to control it. You don't always have to know where you're going. It's OK to just live in the present and be mindful of the now.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Walking With Confidence"